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Northfield remains the quintessential college town

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This week, thanks to the creative efforts of students from St. Olaf, Carleton and artist Stephan Koplowitz, Northfield hosted a performing arts event, the Northfield Experience. Participants in the Northfield Experience toured the town and took in choral performances, video art, dance and theater pieces. But you already know that from the A&E article in this very Manitou Messenger issue about the Northfield Experience, so I won’t bother explaining much beyond that. Instead, I am going to talk about my own personal Northfield experience.

When I first visited St. Olaf, my admissions counselors and student tour guides heavily touted the benefits of living in Northfield. As the narrative goes, the two colleges energize the town and the Cities are a short forty miles away. This means despite its small size, Northfield still provides many opportunities for a college student eager to explore the world. I was sold on this picture of Northfield which, even at its size, is bigger and better than the town I left behind. I was excited to discover all the opportunities Northfield had to offer! Who doesn’t love cows, colleges and contentment, anyway?

Then, after a few months of living in Northfield, it seemed like all anyone could talk about was how small and confining Northfield was. Again, this didn’t bother me as much as it bothered others (did I mention that my hometown is tiny?). The presence of any sort of shopping or art scene was a relief, and I think for me the size of Northfield was a perfect next step. What I did notice, though, was how difficult it felt to get involved in the many activities that Northfield had to offer. I would call my parents at night, and they would ask if I had frequented any shops or new restaurants or gone to some big event in town. Every time I had to say no. St. Olaf tended to consume my life for most of my college career. Why bother catching the bus into town when I had homework or events every night right here on campus? 

I realized how foolish I had been when staying on campus this summer. Between the quiet campus life, the lack of obligations tying me to the Hill and the heat, it seemed much more reasonable to go off campus every so often. These times exploring Northfield were the highlight of my summer, and this year I tried to use the lessons I learned to intentionally enjoy the town more. Now I have a store of fun memories that I would never have had if I had continued to stay on the Hill. From studying at Hideaway over a cup of hot chocolate, to walking down to Brick Oven Bakery for a treat, to trekking to the Northfield Arts Guild through a blizzard to see “Hedwig and the Angry Inch”, to visiting the co-op during Dairy Day and getting to sample various milk and ice cream products. Through actually getting off campus, I have learned that the various people trying to sell St. Olaf to me when I was visiting weren’t lying. Northfield may be small, but it has so much worth getting off the Hill for.

The Northfield experience has been integral to my St. Olaf experience, and I wish I had realized that earlier. If you are going to be a student next year and you are reading this, learn from my mistakes and take advantage of the beautiful town around you earlier than senior year. You will be glad you did.

Dylan Walker ’18 (walker1@stolaf.edu) is from Mountain Grove, Mo. He majors in Classics with concentrations in Film Studies and Women’s and Gender Studies.