As someone raised in a big city who moved to rural southwest Ohio for college, the adjustment to new surroundings was quite a lifestyle change.
At first, I was known as the rude New York guy who wore “Brooklyn” T-shirts, and predictably that became my nickname on campus. Because I was there, the old cliché that wherever you go in the world, there will be someone from Brooklyn held true, and I was put into a box of how people thought someone from the borough was supposed to act. That made me angry because I felt misunderstood, but I also didn’t do myself any favors by playing into that stereotype.
I couldn’t stop wondering to myself, “Why does everyone look me in the eye and strangers say ‘Hi?’
I eventually embraced the “nice Midwestern” sensibility and now feel it helped me become a more polite person. But at first I struggled socially, hated the fact that nearly every place to eat closed at 9 p.m. and that the hippie-run pizza place in town was downright terrible.
Being a green 17-year-old away from home for the longest period since my months at summer camp required building the survival skills needed to become a successful college student, both academically and as a person, so that I could relate to others who were from very different backgrounds than mine.
Certainly it’s not just city kids like me who had to make those adjustments. However, because that was my experience, this is geared toward those people. With quite a few bumps in the road — socially and academically — I did survive, thrive in the classroom and got an education along with experiences I will remember for the rest of my life. Trust me, it can be done.
In that spirit, here are some tips on how to survive the sometimes rocky first semester at college when you’re a long, long way from home.
FIND PLACES TO EAT
That pizza place in town with the weird whole-wheat crust might be terrible, but there are surely other spots to eat that are good. For me, it was the pizza in nearby country towns and a bar and grill that had good sandwiches. There is always a nice coffee shop, diner or homestyle restaurant. You just have to look around, experiment, and find it. In most small towns, there is a place that serves country food like biscuits and gravy, chicken and dumplings or my all-time favorite, meatloaf. Mmm.
MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE LOCALS
Talk to supermarket cashiers, gas-station clerks, campus security guards and anyone else who is willing to have a conversation. I once thought small talk was somewhat trite or had an aloof attitude about it, but just knowing people’s names and having a familiarity can create a much more comfortable environment. With practice, it becomes a lot easier, and before you know it, the waitress at the diner or the bartenders at the local bar will be calling you ‘Honey.’
Read more: Going Off to College — From a Parent’s Perspective
MAKE AN EFFORT
Try not to rail about how things are stupid, the local deli doesn’t do made-to-order sandwiches or constantly carp on how things are done at home. You’re not there anymore. It won’t help, and people will get tired of your rants quickly.
EMBRACE YOUR NEW SURROUNDINGS
Whatever people do in the place where you find yourself — camping, fishing, hiking or going for ice cream at the Dairy Freeze — embrace it like it’s second nature and no different than walking to the pizzeria around the corner to get a slice. Doing what the locals do, not being a curmudgeonly contrarian and getting in the spirit will build social equity and help you make friends with interesting people who you may never have otherwise become cool with.
BEFRIEND SOMEONE WITH A CAR
In many small college towns, there is no option to leave the locality without a car. So if you meet someone cool and they have a car, see if you can become buddies. Even getting off campus and out of the town for an hour can make all the social stresses and academic anxiety seem like a million miles away.
GET A DRIVER’S LICENSE
You probably can’t afford a car yet, but even having the ability to drive is a big deal. Who knows, someone may let you borrow their car to go to the mall with a girl or take a drive in the country. The feeling of freedom and a sense of control that can come with the privilege to drive can prove invaluable.
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For those headed to college for the first time or returning students, I hope this can be helpful to your college career. My dad used to tell me that going to school and getting good grades was like my job. So while you should have fun and enjoy yourself at college, it’s also important to remember you are there for the serious pursuit of getting a degree and a path to gainful employment.
And remember, like Ferris Bueller said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
Noah Zuss is a reporter for TheBlot Magazine.