Until I left for college, I had lived in the same house my entire life. It was a modest ranch house on a rural highway in small-town Illinois. Our large back yard butted up against a field, which was either high-oil soybeans or white corn, depending on the year. My hometown was paradise, and I thought that it was the only place on Earth I’d ever want to be.
I had a lot to learn about who I was and where I could end up.
I moved into my first dorm here at North Central College and went through instant culture shock. My little town of 3,000 people was nothing compared to Naperville, which is a high-end, well-to-do suburb with just shy of 150,000 residents. The next town over, Aurora, is the second-largest city in Illinois. This was not my sort of scene. However, over time, Naperville became less of a novelty and more of a norm. The country always felt like “home,” but as I grew accustomed to the accommodations that suburban life had to offer, it became less of a nightmare.
Over the next few years, internships would take me to new places that varied across rural, urban, and suburban stereotypes. My internship at Charleston|Orwig placed me in an area very similar to my hometown, albeit in Wisconsin. It was the classic rural American dream. It was close enough to both Milwuakee and Madison to have access to a big city, but rural enough to have a similar environment to that of my childhood. It was my most recent out-of-state internship that really gave me a new perspective of urban and suburban living.
When I moved to California to work for AdFarm and Know a California Farmer, I knew that life would be different. I knew I’d be in a new setting. However, the “rural” places I visited in California were in no way the sort of “rural” I knew. Even “small” towns had populations above 20,000 and large towns were even larger. I worked in downtown Sacramento, lived in the suburbs, and frequently relied on public transportation to get around. It was an entirely new lifestyle for me. While it was a world away from the lives I’d known in both rural Illinois and Naperville, it proved to me that I could leave my comfort zone and still manage to flourish.
This is an interesting dynamic for me. And as much as I herald my experience as a rural dweller, I know that life could get even more rural. My parents now live outside of a town of 400. I grew up in a town of 3,000. From either place, it’s about a half-hour drive to the nearest department store. I have friends in North Dakota who have to drive double that to get to a department store. And we are lucky to live within a hour and a half of Chicago, which means that we have easy access to any resources we may ever need, however random or obscure. Again, I have friends who live in much more remote places, where a trip to a “big” city isn’t an easy feat, and even the “big” cities are relatively small.
I’ve been blessed. I’ve been lucky enough to experience many different walks of life. I know that if I had to live in an urban or suburban setting, I could find a place to belong there. While I like to dream about settling down in the country with an open view of the sunset and clear, bright stars above me each night, I know that I can make my home wherever life takes me. There are positives and negatives to any setting I may settle into, and I’m pretty dang happy to have insight on the different types of community I could settle into.
Knowing what I know, I’m sure I can find my place anywhere. Besides, you can take the girl out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the girl.