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What It’s Like Being from a Small Town at a City School

This post is from a student, parent, or professional contributor. The opinions expressed by the author are their own and do not necessarily reflect the positions, viewpoints, or policies of Niche.

When I decided on the college I was going to attend, I noted the big difference in location from my hometown to the college town that I would be moving to. As with any college freshman, I was super excited to move out of my old home into a new, exciting place at my university.

Needless to say, things looked a little bit different this year.

For the fall semester, we were totally virtual. Knowing this, I found some off-campus housing and stayed there for the semester. I still stayed in Princeton, but a decent distance from campus.

For spring, all undergraduates were welcomed back to campus, and I finally had the opportunity to live in my dorm the way I had been looking forward to.

Living here has been nothing like being home.

I come from a rural town in the northern part of Pennsylvania. Princeton has far more of, well, just about everything, even within walking distance.

It has been an interesting change of pace that has left me to marvel at the way the rest of the world works.

The Biggest Eye-Openers When Moving from the Country to a City Campus

There are so many options.

One of the first things I noted about living in Princeton was the sheer number of places and options I had at my disposal.

For example, back at home, I was used to waiting long periods of time to go somewhere if I needed something, like groceries or clothes or anything in between. It was far more convenient to hold out as long as possible with the hopes of only having to take a single trip out for a large number of things.

Relatively close to home, all there was was a small Dollar General, an overly expensive grocery store, and a couple of gas stations. This was good enough for a lot of things.

But at times, we would need to make a more specific purchase that just could not be found in any of these three places, and we would have to drive quite a few miles. To do this on a frequent basis would be expensive and inconvenient.

My family is low income, and between school and work I never had the time to dedicate my entire day to going to buy a pair of shoes, for instance. In order to work around this, it made more sense to wait until several people needed several things, and maybe even carpool with friends if they needed to go all that way as well.

Living here, things have been quite different.

While off-campus, I was on the outskirts of town. Things were within walking distance, but not everything, and I would still have to set aside an hour or so of my day if I wanted to go somewhere without public transport.

This was not a very big deal for me at the time. It was still a pleasure to get a break from my work and have the chance to stroll through the nice neighborhoods in the area.

Currently, I am on campus, and everything seems so close.

The historic Nassau Street is filled with small shops and restaurants that are just a short walk away through our beautiful campus. There are tons of both unique shops and chains, and the thought of seeing everything before I graduate is honestly overwhelming. I am accustomed to choosing between the same three options for places to go, so having this many choices is exciting and strange for me.

There are strangers, everywhere.

Coming from a high school with around 30people in the average graduating class means I really got to know everyone in my school, along with many of their families.

Working in a popular local restaurant on top of that meant I got to know just about everyone in my town before I left.

I was fully aware this would not be the case when I went to college, and I was comfortable with that fact. But, I have actually found that I tend to run into a lot of people I recognize on a daily basis while on campus.

Even so, I am still surrounded by strangers, especially when I head into the town of Princeton.

Sometimes I still find myself questioning who all the people around me are, if they are new around here, or just passing through, and I have to remind myself that I simply am not going to know everyone that I come across anymore.

Even without the small town feel that creates a strong sense of community and breeds kindness throughout the town, there is still a feeling of connection between people here. Princeton has proven to be friendly and accepting, even if the amount of people I am surrounded by takes some getting used to.

There’s still something special about a hometown.

While I have talked about many of the things I enjoy about Princeton, there are still some parts of my hometown life that I miss.

Obviously, my high school friends are not here, and that is always a bummer, but we do stay connected virtually. In addition to that, my family is a few hours away, and for a lot of students this fact tends to be difficult to adjust to.

At home, there was a ton of beautiful, natural scenery. Princeton has a beautiful campus, but it is not quite the same. Forests were all around, and it was common to see wildlife living in the backyard or be able to view spectacular sunsets over huge fields and tall mountains.

Most of all, though, I miss the local restaurants. There were not a lot of options in my hometown and the surrounding areas, but the options that we did have tended to do their work very well.

One of my family traditions was to always get pizza every Friday night from a specific pizzeria that is actually owned by my friend’s family with my dad.

A different place made the very best banana cream pie.

My own workplace always had excellent homemade soups.

The Chinese takeout from a restaurant in the next town over could not be matched by any chain around.

Food of such high quality sometimes managed to convince my friends and me that the long drives were worth it. These are all things I can get here, and they are still good, but they are just different. You never really consider that everything you know and love will still be around, but it simply won’t be the same, which creates a degree of homesickness for a reason you were not expecting.

Embracing the Switch from Country Life to City Living

Naturally, the transition from high school to college is always exhilarating and comes with lots of twists and surprises.

Location of your university should always be a significant consideration. I was excited to live in a new and unfamiliar setting.

All in all, I have more than enjoyed my time so far at Princeton. I can see my new friends, grab any type of food whenever I feel the desire to, and make any impromptu shopping trips I find necessary. I certainly am excited to continue finding the benefits of this lifestyle and keep visiting more and more of the endless options I seem to have right outside my door.

The shift has nevertheless been interesting, but very enriching, and I encourage anyone living in a situation similar to mine who is curious about seeing the way the rest of the world lives to take the first steps necessary to find out.

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Author: Heidi Temple

I am a first-generation student at Princeton University. I am currently planning to concentrate in Molecular Biology there. Then, I plan to go to grad school and eventually pursue a career in medical research.