Making the adjustment from high school to college is a big one, but making the adjustment from a big city to a small college town is even bigger. Many students at Ohio University come from or live near big cities. When they first move in and experience Athens, it is a complete culture shock. Everything they grew up around doesn’t exist in Athens, a town surrounded by nothingness. There are no tourists begging them to take their picture, no skyscrapers, and no malls five minutes away. The transition from big cities to Athens is eye opening, but this small town does have its perks and can teach a thing or two to these urban dwellers.
I am one of these urban dwellers who made my way to Ohio University. I am a proud Jersey girl, and live about 30 minutes out of New York City. Deep down in my heart, I am a New Yorker. Every free weekend I find myself on the next train to New York Penn Station. I am a die-hard NY Rangers, Yankees, and Giants fan. I can easily roll off all the subway routes, and can tell you which NYC pizza places are completely lying to you when the sign on their window says “World’s Greatest Pizza.” Even though I love NYC, its hot dog stands, and its outrageous sales tax on clothing, I thought I was prepared to attend college somewhere new. Like many other Ohio University students who come from big cities, I wanted to have the chance to experience a typical, quaint college town. While my relatives and friends warned me and told me I was making a huge mistake, I rejected their opinions and happily enrolled at Ohio University.
Coming from living in or near a big city and living in Athens for the first time is indescribable. It is an overwhelming experience, full of feelings of confusion and feeling out of place. Why are these creepy people randomly saying “Hi” to me on the sidewalk? And are cars actually leaving the right amount of space between them and the car in front of them? How can people be in no rush and hold doors open for multiple people? Why is everyone so frickin’ nice? To be honest, I hated the niceness and small town hospitality at first. I wanted cars to beep at me for walking across the street when the light was still green. I wanted people to bump into me on the sidewalk and never think even once to apologize. As much as I tried to get rid of my New York/East Coast state of mind and accept the lifestyle of a small town, I simply couldn’t.
I am definitely not the only urbanite turned Bobcat who has felt this way. Freshman Jenna Sopko is a fellow New Jersey native. She lives roughly an hour from the Big Apple, and an hour and 10 minutes from Philadelphia. “I live in the perfect location, between two cities, and was lucky that I could go to them all the time, whenever I wanted,” Sopko said.
Living so close to two large cities has made Sopko believe she belongs in a city. “I practically grew up roaming the streets of New York City. I’ve window shopped down Fifth Avenue. I’ve eaten more bagels and slices of pizza than you can imagine,” she said. “It has become my second home, and it’s the place I can see myself living when I’m older.”
More than anything Sopko misses always having something to do. Whether she was seeing a play on Broadway or shopping in Times Square, her options for fun and having a new adventure in the city were endless.
Athens is a completely different story. The biggest “adventure” Athens has to offer is driving to Walmart. If you’re feeling extremely adventurous, you can drive the 15 minutes to the Fun Barn in Nelsonville to play arcade games and see a movie. Ohio University has made Princeton Review’s Top Party School List multiple times, and no wonder why. What else is there to do in this small town besides drinking? And when drinks cost a whopping $1.50 compared to Yankee Stadium’s $10 beers, how could you not participate in the nightlife?
Bobcat and Washington, D.C., native Katie Linz struggled adjusting to Athens. She is from a suburb in Northern Virginia, on the outskirts of D.C. “I come from a city that is so diverse, and I miss that. I miss being surrounded by so many people from so many different parts of the world,” Linz said. “I miss stores being open past 10 p.m. I miss always having something to do, and as weird as it sounds, I miss D.C traffic.”
I could go on and on for hours about city traffic. At home when I am stuck in rush hour, all I do is complain, but now I miss it. I don’t necessarily miss the traffic. I miss how people reacted. I hate to admit it, but I miss the road rage. I miss people riding your tail and flipping you off when you accidentally cut them off. And by accidentally, I mean 100% on purpose because their lane was moving faster than mine. No matter what hour of the day or night, chances are you will never experience that much traffic in Athens. Most students walk everywhere, so the amount of driving in this college town is low. Some students do not even have cars on campus, which comes as a surprise to me because there is barely any means of transportation in this tiny town. No trains and no subways. The closest thing you can get is a Green Cab, and you don’t even have to hail it down.
While living in a small town in the middle of absolute nowhere has been a difficult adjustment, it has its perks. Chicagoan and sophomore Maddie Plaster, just like me, wanted to go to college in a perfect, little college town. When she first drove to Athens, she immediately felt that small-town vibe and knew it was the school for her. Living in Athens has made Plaster grateful that she has had the opportunity to live in two places that are so different. “Being in a small town opened up my eyes to a whole different life that I never experienced,” Plaster said. “Athens not only helped me to appreciate my home and my roots, but it also helped me to appreciate small towns and the quaintness and peacefulness of them.”
At times, I am grateful to live in Athens and do feel that in some ways, as hard as it is for me to admit, Athens is better than a big city. The biggest perk that pops into my head is safety. I feel safer here than I do in NYC because Athens is so small. There are two different police stations on campus, and I constantly see police cars driving by. I can walk home alone or late at night without worrying about getting mugged or something much worse happening. I can walk around Athens with a purse and not have to hold it tightly to my body in fear that someone will pickpocket me. Sopko also enjoys this newfound feeling of security. “I feel safe walking down Court Street late at night or walking home from the library at 4 a.m., something that I would never even considering doing in NYC,” said Sopko.
While living the small-town lifestyle over the past two years has been challenging, it has also been rewarding. I have realized that you don’t need to take a cab or taxi everywhere. I can walk to class, or pretty much anywhere else I need to go. Here, when you walk the 10 minutes to class, you are able to experience all the wonderful architecture and nature that come with Athens. Senior Brett Littrell, a Columbus native, also enjoys having everything within walking distance. “Everything is so close and what I love about living in a small town is that I feel like everywhere I go, I run into people I know,” said Littrell. He’s right. I can’t walk between classes without seeing a familiar face, which makes this campus feel so cozy. I have learned that patience is a virtue, and that complaining and going on a rant about how long a red light is won’t make it change any quicker. I’ve also learned that you should be kind on the road, and let a car merge into your lane. (Just because I learned that one does not mean I’m going to follow it, but it’s a good life lesson!) Finally, I’ve learned that there is nothing more powerful than the strength of a small town. Athens has experienced deaths and tragic fires, and because this is such a little, tight-knit community, everyone came together in times of need and supported one another.
Athens and small towns are not for everyone; however, small towns can leave a lasting impression on city people. I have to admit, Athens hasn’t completely sold me on the idea of living in a small town, and that’s OK. I don’t regret my decision to come to school here, and I hope that other city dwellers feel the same way. I’ve experienced so many new things here, and have fallen in love with the Bobcat family. Even though I know that I belong in the city, I have a whole new outlook on small towns. In five years when I am hopefully living in NYC and am running 10 blocks in stilettos to try to catch the train or subway, I can always think back to college and Athens. I know Athens will always serve as my escape from all the hustle and bustle of the city. And I know that if I ever get tired of the bright lights, loud sounds, and casual run-ins with the Naked Cowboy, I am always welcome back on the bricks.
Danielle Podlaski is a junior at Ohio University majoring in journalism with a minor in sports msanagement. She is a proud New Jersey native, sports lover, and Dunkin’ Donuts fanatic. When she is not shoveling snow as an Ice Girl for the Columbus Blue Jackets, you can find her interviewing the Ohio University Men’s Ice Hockey Team between periods. Her dream job is to be a reporter for the NHL Network or NBC Sports.