On Feb. 2, I stepped onto a plane in Tokyo and, 16 hours later, found myself back in Northfield. Over first semester and interim, I had spent various amounts of time in a variety of large cities. Though I have lived in a small town almost my entire life, readjusting from my short time in larger cities proved difficult. For the first time in my life, I understood why many students choose to live in a big city after graduation.
The first thing I noticed was the public transportation. In large cities, nearly everywhere is accessible by train or bus. Not only are these options numerous, they are often fairly inexpensive, especially if you live in the area and can get some kind of year-long pass. In some small towns, it can be difficult to get places if you do not have a car. Fortunately, in Northfield, this is not a big issue. Most places are reachable by walking or biking though it does get cold in the winter – and April, and St. Olaf provides numerous transportation options to students as well.
The reason, however, that transportation becomes such an important factor in a large city is because there is so much to do. No matter how specific your niche is, you’ll find year-long activities. Whether its going out dancing, finding quirky bike or book shops, eating at a variety of restaurants, walking through museums or enjoying performances at theaters, you’ll always have many options in a big city. For some people, this convenience is essential. In a small town like Northfield, which has a lovely bowling alley, but no movie theater, sometimes you have to be creative to make your own fun. Still, there are advantages to that spontaneous creativity. I always enjoy taking a trip to Target just to play in the toy section before eating at El Tequila or tubing down the Canon River during the summer before enjoying fine Indian food at Chapati.
But I enjoy the scope of the big city more. You will never run out of new, interesting people to meet. Your daily trip to work can turn into an adventure. Especially after the intimate college setting, many people are looking to make new, diverse friends. Small towns are different. Some people may like being able to walk into a small coffee shop and run into people they know.
The reason I think students show a big preference for large cities simply comes down to employment opportunities. Big cities offer a wider range of jobs. When it comes down to the numbers, there are just more opportunities in a big city. If you are looking to pay off loans, sometimes you’ll move to where you can get a job. Small towns are great places to work if you can find a position that fits what you want to do. The trouble is finding that position.
Big cities and small towns both have their advantages and charms. Each person will probably discover their own preference over their lifetime. My advice? If you get the chance, try both. Then, if possible, go where works best for you.
Jordan Tyler ’14 firstname.lastname@example.org is from Northfield, Minn. He majors in English education.
Graphic by: Isaac Burton