by Alana Patrick
St. Olaf College
Going away to college can feel like being whisked away by a whirlwind of sorts: not only is your bedroom suddenly shrunk to ungodly dimensions and your house transformed into a bustling dormitory, but it is also likely that the view from your window -- and the entire area beyond that -- is unfamiliar. Just like that, you have been hurtled into (literally) new territory that will, whether you like it or not, be home for the next nine months. Toto, we're not in Kansas anymore...
Although the thought of living in a new town or city may be daunting at first, it doesn't need to stay that way. Just as meeting people on campus will make you more comfortable at school, so will your getting acquainted with the surrounding area help you settle in for the next four years. Read on for some ways to make your college town your home.
Don't know where to start in your exploration? Take a tour. If you're in a big city or a historical area (think Boston, for example), you can pay for a guide. But if you're in a small town or are simply the typical broke college student, then do it yourself! You can travel on your own schedule and won't have to listen to a boring guide ramble on about the holy patch of pavement upon which Thomas Jefferson once stood. Round up some friends and decide on a mode of transportation (which, depending on how far you'd like to wander, could range from a car to a bicycle to some comfy tennis shoes). Let's go!
Make sure you know the locations of those go-to places. If there's a doctor's clinic in town, find it -- just in case you'll need it later. Same goes for a hair salon, a grocery store, and the closest gas station.
Find out where the locals hang out, dine, listen to music, etc. If there are festivals in town, make a point to attend one or two. Chances are, many will be geared toward the student-aged population anyway (a benefit of living in a college town). Finally, discover what makes your area unique. When I began attending St. Olaf College as a freshman, I soon discovered the Northfield, Minn. pride surrounding the historical capture of outlaw Jesse James -- pride that culminates in a town-wide outdoor celebration every year. Becoming aware of this hometown glory gave me a clue into the local atmosphere, not to mention an excuse to catch a fun celebration!
Although most of your time at college will be spent with other students, it doesn't hurt to make connections in the wider community. Get a job in town, attend a local worship service, or volunteer. The people you meet will give you a perspective outside your campus "bubble."
Moving to a new place is a transition, and it will take time for your new town to feel like home. Give it time. Try these tricks. Soon enough you'll realize there's no need for those ruby slippers; you're already home.