"You guys know you live in the middle of nowhere, right?"... Or something to that effect were astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson's first words during his lecture at Bucknell University this past winter.
Part of the appeal of many colleges is their location, either in the bustling center of or near a city. Alternatively, other schools pride themselves on their college-town or even rural location. Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, the home of my school, Bucknell University, is far from urban, or even suburban.
I always felt as if I had grown up in a "small town." Whether that be suburban Orange County, CA, or the metropolitan Washington, DC and New York City areas, I grew up in a variety of typical American suburbs within close reach of a big city. However, I didn't truly understand the concept of a small town until I moved to rural central Pennsylvania for college. With a population of about 5,000, Lewisburg is a quiet college town about three hours from both Philadelphia and New York City with not much in-between.
A college or university's rural location is often looked at as a downside or an inconvenience, although there are actually many advantages of going to school in the "middle of nowhere." While Tyson joked about our school's isolated position, he still made the trip out there. Sure, many great speakers and performers are based in more urban locales, although their presence is much appreciated in an out-of-the-way college town and these events have been known to bring the university and local community together.
Aside from what the university itself has to offer, just the fact of being in such a different environment also provides many opportunities, both intellectual and extracurricular. I've explored our beautiful natural surroundings on long walks and runs. I've found unique restaurants with panoramic views of the Susquehanna River. I've even walked with my friends over a mile to satisfy a Dunkin' Donuts craving.
During our usual Sunday morning walk on the Buffalo Valley Rail Trail, my friend and I once unknowingly ventured in Amish County, seeing a horse and buggy traveling on dirt roads to a distant farm we'd only before seen in movies. This was certainly not a sight I would encounter back home in the suburbs. Similarly, I never expected to play a sport in college, although I joined the rowing team during my freshman year. While all types of schools offer diverse programs including athletic, academic, and social activities, the atmosphere of an isolated school provides extra encouragement for on-campus involvement.
If college is a time to discover oneself and embrace new cultural experiences, then living in a rural setting can be just as fulfilling as living in a city. You might have to try harder to find things to do, but the search is part of the adventure. Naively, I was originally skeptical about Bucknell's location. However, I eventually discovered the beauty of my unique surroundings, and that there is a lot to learn from immersing oneself in a completely new environment.