There is an inevitable and invisible security blanket that small towns slowly, affectionately, and lastingly weave and patch together as children grow up in the community. The comfort of knowing every road like the back of your hand, being worshiped by the community for every achievement you attain and recognizing just about every face you pass at the local grocery store: these are small pieces that make up the quilt. For me, it was unbearably tough to imagine unraveling myself from that blanket and moving away on my own, and the idea seemed impossible. Now, two years later as a sophomore at a college two hours away, I tell everyone from my small town to wriggle out of their warm, habitual shield and move away. Every tear, afterthought, fear and struggle that I went through during my decision was so beyond worth it. Here are some of my favorite reasons why I believe everyone, if it is an option for them, should leave their small town for college:
1. You are free to be your total, complete self.
Who you hung out with in high school was pretty much what defined you. Although I was involved in a variety of groups in high school, I was always slightly embarrassed and muzzled by my peers, and what they would think if I joined a certain club or affiliated myself with something other than what they thought was "cool". In college, no one cares. In fact, it's "cool" to be involved in whatever you want. You secretly loved reading for fun in high school but didn't want your "cool" athlete friends to know? Awesome, you're in luck. Join a book club or a writing club in college. Your new friends will love that you're happy.
2. You'll be exposed to everything.
One aspect that I certainly do not miss about living in a small town is the narrow-mindedness and judgmental vibes that were given off by some of the people who lived there. I never realized how much I was truly sheltered from until I moved away. I admit, I was one of the ones that was shocked to meet a gay person, I felt out of place if I was in a setting with many people of color, and I didn't fully understand the people that wore all black, chains, or God-forbid an outfit that they truly felt comfortable in. Now, I love meeting people that don't give a flip about what people think. I have gay friends, hippie friends, athletic friends, friends of color, friends from other countries, religious friends, even friends that wear tap shoes to volleyball games and scream at the top of their lungs. Just a life full of variety and diversity that I would have never imagined having if I would have stayed where I was. I love people that do what makes them happy.
3. All eyes won't be on you for once.
Gossip. It is unavoidable in a small town. Yes, I certainly loved being caught up on what everyone was doing with their lives, but it is very nice to know that if you mess up one weekend or fail a test, the whole community won't know about it the next day. I know first hand that the reason for the gossip in small towns is because most people are bored; I remember it very well. Being away has given me a chance to talk about healthy, substantial things. There isn't much time to put people under microscopes and pick at every single aspect of their lives.
4. You're forced to make a new name for yourself.
This was a tough square of the quilt from which I had to untangle myself. It is an undeniably great feeling to be known. In a small town, good athletes are celebrities. They are worshipped, almost like religious figures. But being a good volleyball player or the star of the football team will only help you in high school. Sorry, but no one cares about that stuff in college. Moving away allowed me to find things that I was passionate about, and things that I truly wanted people to recognize me by. In the real world, telling a future employer that I broke some of my high school volleyball team's records is just about as impressive as telling them I learned to walk before I was one.
5. You'll make connections.
My dad was right, life really is all about who ya know. Staying in your small town is great and I respect the people that are able to do that for their entire life, but the opportunity to meet people from all around the world is an irreplaceable treasure. Especially for later on in life. The more people you know, the more success you'll have. At least in my opinion.
6. You will create tons of new, quality friendships.
It's amazing, people in college are friends with each other for reasons other than popularity! Crazy... actually, mind-blowing. Coming from a high school where popularity, looks, affiliations and how wild you got on the weekends was sadly how some people chose their friends. Don't get me wrong, I love my high school friends. You'll come to realize that there is a bigger world out there and once you're done with high school, it's time to focus on your life-long friends; sometimes that means making new ones. Trust me, you don't want friends that are just tickets to weekend fun that will only boost your popularity level. I was sometimes guilty of that during my four years.
7. You'll develop a new appreciation for your parents and your family.
When people ask me what I miss most about home, my family is my immediate response. Not living twenty steps away from my grandparents, aunts and uncles, and just about every other family member whom I saw almost every day was a tough adjustment; but you'll realize that they're always gonna be there. Family is forever, you can call them whenever you want. When I go home, I cherish every sweet second I get to spend with them. Typically, every second spent at home now is with them. I wish I could pack up my siblings in a suitcase and bring them with me; but surprisingly, being away has made us tighter than ever before.
8. You'll gain a sense of independence and responsibility will have a whole new meaning.
I never really realized how much I depended on my parents in high school. I was so blessed to even have that as an option, because they did everything for me. They made me breakfast, got my groceries, did my laundry, went to every one of my games (and always brought my water bottle, because I forgot every time), stayed on me about my grades and supported me pretty much one-hundred percent financially. If someone was being rude at school, they were there to give me advice and sometimes would step in to back me up. In college, you do your own laundry, make sure you get to where you need to be on time, are responsible for your own grades, make a new support system out of friends that will come watch your events, stand up for your own self and really have to learn how to manage money. I regret ever complaining about my parents being "up my butt" in high school because they're my best friends now. They've given me the world.
9. The term "bored" becomes more foreign.
Going "toilet-papering", driving down back roads listening to music, eating samples at Kroger, sitting in McDonald's parking lot with friends until seconds before our curfews, posting up in fields in the backs of trucks hoping the police didn't come, those memories I will never forget. We made our own fun, because there really wasn't anything to do. Going away to school and being on your own allows you to do whatever you want. You can choose to be involved in the party scene, while also volunteering for your new favorite clubs and organizations, take small weekend trips to go hiking with your friends, dissect your new city for hole-in-the-wall places to eat, attend your new city's events and become accustomed to what is "in", go to some of the hundreds of parks, pop in on a free concert downtown, people watch in a coffee shop and so much more. To me, moving away was like getting a brand new box of crayons. You don't know which one to start doodling with first, yet you're so excited to test everything out.
10. You will be filled with a feeling of gratitude and gratefulness for where you came from.
Personally, moving away was an eye opener as to what I was missing out on, yet at the same time how thankful I am to have a close, compassionate, "do-anything-for-anyone" community back home. I'll never forget the feeling of non-exposure yet immediate open-mindedness that I felt during my first month of college. I was worried that I wouldn't know what to do at a real party, I felt like everyone's style was way more up to date and trendy than mine, and I wasn't too in-the-know about what the world had to offer outside of Independence, Kentucky. I am now thankful for the people that gossiped, having parents that were constantly on me, the security blanket that my town wrapped me in, being recognized and recognizing people everywhere I went. I learned which of those things I truly needed and depended on in my life. Moving away has showed me both sides of the spectrum.
Sometimes, when life gets to be too much, I love hopping in my little old Honda Civic and heading up the interstate, where the concrete roads turn to tree covered, dusty back roads that lead to my warm, welcoming, simple family home. I crave a home-cooked meal, a chilly Friday night football game where the distinct sounds cowbells and smell of homemade kettle corn fill the air, and a night in the bed that I slept in every night of my life before college. The feeling of excitement and being missed by your family is indescribable, and something that I wish everyone could feel.
Home will always be there, but you will never get to relive your four years of college. Broaden your horizons. Expose yourself. Meet people. Make connections. Find your passion. Experience new things. Appreciate what you have. Go after the impossible. Lose yourself. Find yourself. Be yourself.
Aside from the education college blesses you with, it will open your eyes and give you a blank slate that you can do absolutely anything with; there are no limits.
Crawl out from under the small town security blanket, even if it means being cold and uncomfortable for a while.
I promise, it will be the best gift you could ever give yourself.