Having done brief stints in both the largest East and West Coast cities in the United States, I feel comfortable making the following observation. People who live in major metropolitan areas often choose to take vacations to rather far-flung, middle-of-nowhere destinations. It’s as if they feel the more obscure a destination, the better. Have you ever wondered why that is? Why people who live in a city with 150 independent coffee shops, 75 concert venues, and 30 organic grocers would make an active choice to use their hard-earned money and vacation time to literally get off the grid? We’re talking about two weeks of trudging through a jungle with a 50-pound pack full of dehydrated food and no place to charge gadgets. People do this for the same reason that many 18-year-olds opt to attend small colleges in tiny towns that feature little more than mom and pop diners and obscure museums. In both cases we are talking about people who are seeking out experiences that will push them beyond what they already know.
I am not completely crazy. I understand that two weeks and four years are not the same amount of time and they do not require the same kind of investment. But I also understand that many of these little colleges in seemingly random locations offer the same type of socio/cultural challenges as the jungle jaunt vacation. Many people, often smart, curious people, want to engage with the world in a way that will push them to expand their understanding of many facets of life. Many of the small, out-of-the-way colleges in this country very intentionally assemble student communities full of diverse cultures and varied life experiences. This is done with the ultimate hope that these students will interact with each other and make impressions upon one another that will break down and rebuild their worldviews.
The physical geography of the college you attend will have very little impact on whom you become. Yes, mountains are fun, oceans and lakes are refreshing, and having every variety of pan-Asian cuisine at your fingertips is very satisfying, especially at two a.m. during finals week. However, the social and cultural landscape of the college you attend will play a much more significant and lasting role in your development. Colleges that promote diversity of all measures, accept and encourage cross-disciplinary study, and demand active and engaged learning (both within and beyond the classroom) will directly impact who you become.
Twenty-two is not that far off. But from the glow of your laptop, inside your childhood bedroom, it feels like forever. The reality is after college you will have many opportunities, if you so choose, to live in sleek, fast, vibrant cities that suit your personality and tastes. And if you have been fortunate enough to attend a college that has stimulated and challenged your mind, you will utilize these sorts of locales and their myriad offerings to the greatest extent possible. It is almost unfathomable how much bigger your world gets when you spend some time living in an intentionally small yet highly diverse community that fosters social growth, big crazy ideas, and an obsession for learning on all levels.