When you first hear about Bloomington, Indiana, it sounds like any other minuscule town lost in the middle of a bunch of cornfields. For those who know better, Bloomington, Indiana represents a new, exciting and temporary home for the hundreds of thousands of students who come to study at Indiana University. Men and women from all over the country, even all over the world, arrive giddy as ever, thrilled to leave the hometown they grew up in, ready for a fresh start. Goodbye high school drama, old stereotypes and all those people we hope to never see again. There now exists a whole new world to explore and an entire new identity to be created. The possibilities seem endless—but not for me.
I stood apart from every other wide-eyed student visiting IU’s vibrant and blooming campus for the first time. Even as a freshman I knew these streets like the back of my hand. I’m what fellow classmates label a “townie” since I grew up and went to high school in this very town. My dad works as a professor, which gave me a generous discount on tuition and made it indisputable that I attend this school, no other options considered. I personally wanted nothing more than to leave my hometown and attend a school as far away as possible.
Before I knew it, orientation rolled around. During this unfortunately mandatory event, I watched every single one of my assigned 15-member freshman “pack” gawk and awe in admiration at every school landmark. I sat through skits, introductions and affirmation time and time again of this campus’s diverse and wonderful qualities. But to me, this all sounded like recycled, old news.
Feeling nauseous from rolling my eyes for three hours straight, I ended up sneaking out after lunch and never coming back for the rest of what should’ve been a weekend-long event.
I held no disrespect for what my school aimed to accomplish. I simply felt above it all. This was my town, my campus and I knew it better than any other naive freshman out there, which I believed made me exempt from having to sit through tedious and pointless events like orientation.
Or so I thought.
The first two years of college, I refused to branch out and stayed close to friends from high school who also chose to stay here. I convinced myself that being stuck in my hometown meant I lost my chance for a fresh start, so I might as well just stick to what I know. Why try to reinvent myself when I’m surrounded by people who only know the “high school me”?
As time went by, I grew to resent my hometown and my school with a burning passion. On especially bad days I rushed home to stay with my parents who only lived a few minutes away. At first this was only a biweekly occurrence, but it soon turned into a daily ritual. Thoughts of graduating and getting away from everyone I knew consumed me; I felt desperate for a fresh start.
But before I could graduate, a career advisor wisely suggested halfway through my sophomore year that I get involved in some extracurricular activities to boost my resume. Though at first reluctant, I began registering in different volunteer programs around campus and joining a few clubs. I even got a part-time job at a popular clothing store downtown to help as a resume builder for the future.
These decisions, which I first viewed as obligatory annoyances, began to slowly ease my bitterness towards my school and allowed me to form an identity outside of my high school friends. I met new people who felt passionate about causes that I found myself suddenly taking an interest in, even enjoying. Volunteering with underprivileged children at Big Brothers Big Sisters made me feel like I was making a difference in the world and the clubs I took part in, such as Public Relations Student Society of America, helped build up my confidence.
Fast-forward to my junior year and my college career did a complete 180. My friend group grew into a healthy mix of old and new friends, townies and out-of-towners, high school friends and college friends. I let go of the ones who failed to encourage and inspire me to grow as a person and only viewed me as my “high school self.”
Suddenly campus seemed like a comfortable place to walk around, downtown became exciting and full of familiar faces I felt eager to see and my visits home decreased dramatically. I even found myself dreading the idea of graduating.
The point? I thought I couldn’t be happy because I wasn’t given the opportunity to move far away from home like most college students, but I learned that you can reinvent yourself no matter where you go to school or live. As it turns out, the people you surround yourself with heavily influence your personal growth.
And finally, arguably the most important lesson I ever learned in college: Learning to choose my friends carefully and to weed out the ones who didn’t hold my best interest at heart. Of course, I still intend to get as far away from my hometown as possible after graduation. But for now, this townie learned how to make the most of her college experience.