What's your idea of a dream vacation? Relaxing at a secluded beach resort? Experiencing the "up all night" spirit of a big city? Maybe a challenging backpacking adventure? Well, while college isn't exactly a vacation, it will be a change from the routine of home. When you kiss your high school and hometown goodbye, what kind of place do you picture yourself going to?
Every campus is a world unto itself, but every campus is also part of a larger community. Your college experience will be different depending on what that community has to offer. So as you make your plans for post-high school life, think through your geographic options. These students will help you figure out what different places are really like.
The urban scene
Every day, millions of people work and play in Houston, Texas, one of the nation's biggest metropolitan centers. For Chihiro Takahashi, a junior at Houston Baptist University, the hustle and bustle is nothing new. As a native of Kyoto (one of Japan's largest cities), Chihiro is accustomed to the pace of urban life. Even though Houston is thousands of miles from Kyoto, Chihiro considers it her "second hometown."
"You can find anything in this town," Chihiro says. "It's so diverse. You're in Texas, but you can eat authentic Middle Eastern food. It's great."
While HBU is located in southwestern Houston (not downtown), big-city conveniences are but a step away from the campus. As Chihiro points out, "We have pretty much everything we need right here." Plus, with public transportation at their fingertips, HBU students "don't really have to have a car."
Chihiro feels that a bicycle is sufficient for navigating the area around campus, but she admits that the Houston weather can cause problems. "Biking is hard here," she says. "It's so hot! It always summer or spring."
One way or another, most HBU students take advantage of the opportunities around them. Chihiro notes that student ministries are a big part of life for herself and her fellow HBU Huskies. "We have very strong community service projects," she says. Early in the school year, most students select a local organization and commit a portion of their time to the group. Chihiro, who is involved in Student Ministries, spends almost every Saturday at a center for mentally challenged people. "We go out as a group and donate our time. Most students get involved in ministry of some kind."
Besides her weekly commitment, Chihiro says the city offers an unlimited array of service options. "Sometimes we'll go to Galveston and clean the beach or go downtown to a homeless shelter and play with the kids there," she says.
Besides offering a variety of service opportunities, Houston has many venues for cultural enrichment. In addition to ethnic restaurants and grocery stores, Houston is home to several museums and professional sports teams. Some sections of the city don't look "Texan" at all, Chihiro says. "There's a large Chinese community and Vietnamese community in town, so if you go there you feel like you're a world away."
And of course, there's the HBU community. Despite the bustle around them, Chihiro says students have a strong sense of kinship. When she first came to Houston three years ago, Chihiro didn't know anyone. Now the city and the campus feel like home. "I've met so many different people here," she says. As students, "We feel very close."
Carrie Matthews, a senior at Bryan College, also feels close to her fellow students. She says Bryan, in the small town of Dayton, Tennessee, is a place where everybody knows your name. "We're like a big family here," she says. "We can even walk up to the president, Dr. Brown, and he'll know our names."
Carrie, who grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, says the move to a rural environment was "a good adjustment." The size of the school and the surrounding community were "just what I was looking for. I really wanted that family feel."
And it's definitely not the kind of place where a person can get lost. "When you're on the main campus you can see all the buildings," Carrie points out. "The farthest we have to walk is down the hill to our chapel."
You also don't have to walk very far to get to a nearby wooded area. "We've got hiking trails all over," Carrie says. "We have a great view of the mountains, and there are lots of trees." Fall Creek Falls, a nearby state park, also serves as a favorite location for nature lovers. There, students enjoy hiking and swimming, and (at the yearly all-college picnic) lively tug-of-war and kickball matches.
Although Dayton is small, Bryan students still have access to the essentials of college life. "The local Wal-Mart is a favorite, of course," Carrie says. Dayton also has several restaurants and fast food joints, but when students really want to get away from it all, they head to Chattanooga. There, they can shop at the mall and enjoy the two-dollar movie theater.
But for the most part, Bryan students take advantage of the unique spirit of their own small, close-knit community. "There's a lot you can get involved in," Carrie says. "Because people know you as a person, not just another student, they really will encourage involvement. You have your chance here." Carrie herself has been involved in a number of activities, such as varsity tennis, intramural volleyball and the school newspaper.
Familiarity with their fellow students sparks many Bryanites to support all kinds of campus activities. Carrie says, "School spirit is really strong. Ever since I was a freshman I've tried to go to most of the games." Cheering on the Lions athletic teams, especially soccer and basketball, is one way the students unite.
It's that personal connection, Carrie says, that makes Bryan special. "I've built great friendships here, not only with my peers but also with professors."
Students at Palm Beach Atlantic College have a different opportunity to bond with their classmates—at least if they're willing to wake up early, early in the morning. And what can entice college students out of their beds before 10 a.m.? For avid surfers (the so-called Dawn Patrol), it's the call of the day's best waves.
Jason Carlson laughs. "Many a class has been missed because of Dawn Patrol," he admits. But as a senior at PBAC, he finds it hard to resist the lure of the beach. Growing up in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, Jason didn't have many opportunities to surf, but he didn't waste any time once he entered PBAC. "I started surfing as soon as I came here," he says. "I also learned to scuba dive."
When Jason visited the PBAC campus as a high school junior, he thought it was in an "ideal location." Because he was interested in studying marine biology (which is now his major), the Florida school proved to be a perfect match. "The beach has big appeal, but the college itself has a lot to offer," says Jason, who's now co-president of the marine biology club.
The West Palm Beach community has also met all of Jason's expectations. "We've got a beautiful campus in a pretty city," he says. "The only thing that might drive you away is that it gets too hot in the summer."
Besides location, Jason says that one of PBAC's best qualities is its small size. Instead of being "just a number" at a larger school, students here have the chance to really get to know their professors and, in turn, to be known by them. And with many students living on campus, there's a strong community spirit.
Building good relationships with the outside community is also a big priority for PBAC students. They're all required to do 45 hours of community service, called "workship," each year. Jason has spent some of his hours working in Backyard Bible Clubs, where he and other students spend two to three hours a week with inner-city children. Other workship activities include senior adult ministries, beach clean-ups and school-sponsored missions trips during spring or winter break. "The students get really excited about going out and working with others," Jason says. "It's a good experience."
Rocky mountain high
Halfway across the country, at Colorado Christian University, early risers are probably checking the sky for signs of fluffy flakes. Jill Cotton, a senior at CCU, says, "Every year, we take bets on the first snow day."
Like her fellow CCU students, Jill looks forward to snow and the skiing and snowboarding that come along with it. "People are always out in the mountains," Jill says. "There's so much to do." She estimates that almost one in 10 CCU students are active in the school's snowboarding club.
In addition to skiing and snowboarding, members of the CCU community go to the Rockies for rock-climbing, hiking and cliff diving. The area also boasts ideal sites for river rafting and water skiing.
"This location is amazing," Jill raves. "As soon as I got on campus I knew I wanted to be here."
Jill, who grew up in Aberdeen, Washington, came to CCU to play soccer. Although she enjoyed being on the team, she says that she "ended up staying because of all the other stuff. There are some amazing ministry opportunities." Now, Jill sings with the worship team and works as an R.A. on campus.
According to Jill, the CCU student body is "really proactive." That may be due, in part, to the inspirational qualities of their surroundings. As Jill says, "Here the sky is always blue and the mountains are just awesome."
When they're not trekking through the mountain range, CCU students enjoy life in Lakewood, Colorado. Jill finds the Lakewood community very supportive of the school. "They pour into us and we pour into them as well," she says. And of course, Denver is only minutes away, giving students the chance to participate in inner-city ministries and attend big-name concerts.
The combination of bustling suburban life and natural tranquility provides a balance CCU students enjoy. "We're placed in this amazing environment that we'll probably never get to experience again," Jill says. "It's amazing."
Life in the 'burbs
Corey Mitchell, a junior at Northwestern College, knows firsthand a setting that combines city hustle and country hush. Northwestern, outside St. Paul, Minnesota, benefits from being near an urban center, but it also provides students a place to get away from it all.
Corey says, "The campus itself is around a busy suburban area, but when you're on the campus you can't see that world. Here, it's very wooded, so the campus is almost like a park."
Northwestern also lives up to its reputation as a community in the "Land of Lakes."
"Quite a bit of the campus is on a lakefront," Corey says. "There's a small island in the lake with a bridge to it. It's sort of a haven for students."
Although it's generally too cold during the school year for many water sports, Northwesterners may occasionally venture out for a game of broom ball. Huh? Corey, who hails from Middleburg, Pennsylvania, admits he'd never heard of broomball either until he came to Minnesota. He describes it like this: "It's similar to ice hockey, but you don't wear skates. The stick you use is like a cut-off broom, and you hit a small plastic ball."
Learning a new hobby is only one of many benefits Northwestern has offered Corey. Moving, he says, "takes a bit of an adjustment. But coming from the East Coast to the Midwest meant more of an adjustment in people's attitudes. People here are very open and friendly compared to the hustle and bustle of the coast, where everybody's going their own way."
In fact, that friendliness was what attracted Corey to the college when he first visited. "I loved the atmosphere," he says. "The student body was very welcoming. We have a very sociable campus."
Of course, for students who want a little more action, or the conveniences that cities offer, St. Paul and Minneapolis are only minutes away from campus. "A lot of students get away to the cities on weekends," Corey says.
The urban area also provides unique ministry opportunities. "We have what we call a ‘coffeehouse ministry' where a group of students goes into the cities on Friday nights and visits several coffeehouses there," Corey explains.
When students have had enough of the bustle, they can quickly slip back into the Northwestern world, which offers quiet refuge in the midst of all the cities' activity.
College life isn't confined to the borders of your campus. What you find outside those ivy walls is a big part of what makes your experience unique. So, whether you plan to venture north, south, east, or west, remember: Although there may be no place like home, there are certainly many places that will start to feel like it.