“Oh my God, say coffee!”
This was the first line of dialogue spoken to me at college. The students were intrigued by my “New York” accent. I stepped out of my parents’ Ford Taurus for my pre-orientation canoe trip on the Delaware River before my semester started at Lafayette College in Easton, PA.
I introduced myself as “Sam from Brooklyn” and the stereotyping began. I did not know about small-private-college-NJ/PA culture, but I was about to learn that it was all about: White baseball hats with funny acronyms, The Dave Matthews Band revered like it was the Jimi Hendrix Experience, and Lacrosse.
Having spent the majority of the first 18 years of my life in Brooklyn, I knew nothing about these things. The culture shock caught me by surprise, but in time I adapted.
If you went to high school in a big city and starting college in a small town, there are some things you should be aware of.
Differences and Challenges
If you were raised in a big city, you probably grew up walking around your neighborhood, people watching, and learning about different cultures from the melting pot. Aimless walks with your friends were their own education.
In a small town, you will see a lot of the same people over and over, whether it’s your classmates or the locals when you leave campus. You may find yourself craving the anonymity that being surrounded by strangers in a city can provide.
If you were raised in a big city, you might consider “going out” to be watching live music at a major concert venue, picking out highly specific dance clubs and bars for people across the spectrum, the big game, or even just walking around with your friends soaking up the variety of life.
In a small town, there’s the one fancy place and the more laid back one, that’s it. If your school has a strong Greek presence, you will become familiar with the interior of houses. If you don’t go Greek or Greek life isn’t big at your school, your dorm or off-campus house will turn you into a homebody. You can expect occasional bouts of feeling stir-crazy.
Breaking the chains
When I was in college, The Olive Garden was the place to be. I’d go there with my parents when they visited and we’d see everyone else there with their parents. Or you could go to Arby’s or Perkins (the Denny’s of Pennsylvania).
Coming from a place where you have your eclectic favorites, you may find yourself frequenting fast food establishments to get a break from the caf. Basically, as a city person, you’ve probably spent much of your life mocking tourists for coming to your special place in the world and then eating at McDonald’s. You will do the same, and it might require a drive.
The school store becomes your one stop shop, like an educational Costco. You will not only buy your books, you’ll buy clothing, food, and pretty much everything from there. Imagine if Staples expanded to sell all things and it was the only place you could go.
In a city, you can walk or take public transportation to do your shopping. If you have a car with you at school — which in itself is a major life adjustment — then you can make those shopping trips with your friends to the mall.
If you’re thinking about getting a car in college, check out our article: “How to Maintain Your Car While in College”.
Tips to Facilitate the Transition
While you may find yourself yearning for highways and skyscrapers, there are some wonderful benefits to living in a small town. Try these tips to help you adapt to you new location:
Just because you’re from the big city doesn’t mean you’re better than other people.
You may think that you have been exposed to more of what’s considered to be sophistication and culture, but keep in mind that cities do not make up the majority of America, they just receive the most attention.
Be open minded about the small town where your college is located. If you take being exposed to a new culture as a learning opportunity, you are bound to absorb important lessons from the people that surround you.
Appreciate your close friends.
People who grow up in big cities tend to know a greater number of people because of the population density. A lot of those people are merely acquaintances, which come and go. Take this opportunity to make close friends. These are the ones that last a lifetime, when the acquaintances you barely knew fade away.
Build a community.
While being in a small town means seeing a lot of the same people wherever you go, this is a great chance to build a community. There is something to be said for being surrounded by friendly faces whenever you go to the grocery store or walk in the park. Be courteous to your new neighbors, ask them about their lives. Making the effort to turn your town into your community will help you feel at home in a way that seems impossible in a city.
Try new things.
Being in a new location means new attractions. If your town has an orchard nearby, picking apples with friends can be a great activity in the fall. Maybe there’s some hiking trails that people go to in the area. Or you can try out trivia night at the town’s bar. Whatever your town is known for, go out of you way to try it at least once. Who knows, it may even surpass some of your city experiences.
Don’t play a role.
Many of your classmates may be planning to move from the little town where they were raised to the big city. They might see you as the representation of what city life is like, but you do not have to be that. Just be the person that you are, blend in if it makes you comfortable. You don’t have to remind people of where you are from.
Take road trips.
Go home when you can. If you’re able to, you should return to the city a few times each term. It staves off the homesickness that a lot of college students experience. You will appreciate home even more, and it can help you find peace in the small town.
You can also take road trips to neighboring towns and states. This is a great way to get to bond with friends and explore new parts of the country you weren’t familiar with.
Remember, you chose to go away to college for a reason. This part of your life is different from other parts of your life, and one day when you look back, wherever you end up in life, you will always have your small town college years, which shaped you.
Orenstein, H. (2012, May 23). Transitioning From High School To College: From Cities To Small Towns, Small Schools To Big Schools. Retrieved September 16, 2014 from Huffington Post