I’ve written about my love-hate relationship with the suburbs a few times. There’s just something suffocating about it; it’s slower than the fast-paced, energizing city, but way faster than the low-key places I considered “home” for most of my life. The skies are smaller, the roads are busier, and there’s just this feeling of suburban monotony.
That’s not to say there aren’t benefits of going to school here. There are plenty of resources at my disposal, and I’m a short drive or train-ride from Chicago. I have my pick of restaurants, stores, movie theaters, clubs, hangouts…it’s not bad. It’s just not always “me.” And it’s even less “me” after I’ve been living with my parents for a month over break. You get used to a different pace, and while it’s nice to have a routine again, it’s strange to be reacquainting myself with my suburban home-away-from-home.
Every time I come back to school from break, I’m faced with a sense of stir-craziness. I try to find unique ways to distract myself from the fact that I’m stuck in the suburbs, and that very few people around me appreciate the rural life. Even the kids from other “small towns” are often from “small towns” that are significantly larger than where I grew up. So, I’m an island of hick.
I’m confident in my ability to adapt; I’ve survived three-point-five academic years in the burbs, and a whole summer in suburban/urban California. After an extended stay in the country, though, it takes some time to readjust. The key is to find outlets for yourself. And here are some ideas:
- Locate the “country spots” around you. Here, we have Saddle Up, a line dancing/country bar. (Beware: you run the risk of people “trying too hard” to be real “country” when they’re not at these places. They’re harmless, but may not be everyone’s piece of cake.)
- Get involved in organizations. I’m doing some volunteer stuff with the farm bureau in this county. Because it’s fairly suburban, there aren’t a lot of active farmers and the farm bureau can always use more help. I’ve also done work with area 4-H groups.
- This can apply to non-ag organizations too! Just keeping busy in general is a great way to carve out a “home” for yourself in an area that may not be what you’re used to.
- Parks are a great way to get a small taste of nature in a concrete jungle. In Naperville, we have the Riverwalk, which is a beautiful winding path along the river. In some places, it’s very far removed from the bustle of the rest of the suburb. It’s a nice quiet haven.
- Decor. Surround yourself with things that make you feel like this is where you need to be. Some of my favorite photographs from my 4-H projects are on the walls in my dorm. Most of them have to do with rural life. I also have souvenirs from past trips, conferences, and internships. My AgChat Foundation badge from the 2011 conference, ticket stubs from my road trip to see the Cubs play in St. Louis, a jar with the 4th Generation Farms logo on it from California…
- Find random distractions. Today, after three days of 14+ hours of work/homework/class, I decided I needed a break. I asked a friend to watch my computer and supplies and I stepped outside of our art building for five minutes of playing in the snow. I made a snow angle, threw a few random snowballs, then came back inside and got back to work. It was spectacular, it was a chance to decompress, and most of all it was something that reminded me a little bit of home.
- Find hobbies. Can’t do your favorite country activities? Figure out something new you enjoy. For me, this included jewelry making. Needing a break from the city also prompted me to rediscover drawing and painting.
- Get away. While I do need to focus on school and work right now, I can look forward to going home next weekend for my nephews’ birthday parties. It’ll be a quick trip home, but it will also be a breath of fresh air in the middle of a very busy term.
Being here isn’t the end of the world. In many ways, my dysfunctional family here at North Central College has helped to make this place a “home” in its own way. While this isn’t where I’m meant to settle down, it’s where I’m meant to be for now. Every now and then, though, I need a little feel of country in my life, and these are just a few of the ways I get my fix.