Long before I had even filled out a single college application, I told my parents that I needed to go to an out-of-state school if I wanted to reach any of my life goals. “If you believe in me so much," I'd tell them, "then you need to understand that I have to go to a big city for college! So I can make our wildest dreams come true!” Of course, my parents always replied with a blunt “No, you don't.”
I am from a really small town smack dab in the middle of Indiana. My neighborhood is literally surrounded by corn, and I have many colored ribbons in my room from showing pigs and sheep in our county fair. But I had always been an explorer and an adventurer. And like any angsty teenager, I was anxious to get out on my own. There was so much of the world I wanted to see — and I was sure my adventure was going to start with college.
When it came time to start checking out schools, I began by looking at colleges in Indiana. Then, to my parent’s surprise, I started looking at colleges in other states. Since I had decided to study journalism, I thought it would be wise to attend a college in a big city, like Chicago, New York, or Los Angeles. It wasn’t a rash decision. I had done some research and it seemed like internships were a key part of landing a dream career in journalism — internships I could best land if I attended a big city college.
When I started applying to schools, I had my parents' help for the in-state college applications. But when I tried to apply for out-of-state colleges, I was forced to do it on my own. They wouldn't even proofread my college submission essay. And on top of school, sports, and extracurricular activities, applying to out-of-state colleges became too much to handle.
So I ended up only applying to one school — Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana (or, as the town is sarcastically nicknamed, “Funcie"). My mother and I had previously gone on a college visit there; I spent the night with many of my friends who were already attending the school, and had a nice time. But I never got that “gut feeling” that everyone talks about when choosing schools. In fact, none of my inner organs were triggered when I walked on campus.
Nonetheless, on August 14, 2011, my best friend and I packed up, and moved all of our belongings into the smallest room on the eighth floor of a non-air conditioned dorm building at Ball State. My spirits were not high. This was the dorm where they put the majority of freshman students, and it was terrible. And hot. And small. And the elevator only went to the sixth floor, so we had to sweat even more as we lugged our heavy backpacks up two more flights of stairs.
At that time, I had not accepted the fact that I was going to college in-state. I came in with clear intentions of transferring after the next year to a college far, far away.
But that first year — no, actually the first week — changed everything. After unpacking and making some sense of our new lives, my friend and I wandered about our dorm halls, found our classes, joined campus organizations, and began making friends. My classes were great. Opportunities within journalism and extracurricular activities seemed endless. I realized that actually studying and talking about journalism, the thing I wanted to do with the rest of my life, felt so different from anything I had experienced in high school — and I hadn't needed to go to Chicago or New York City to experience it. More and more, I started to get that “gut feeling.”
I didn’t transfer after my freshman year. Instead, I got more involved at Ball State. I joined a Christian organization, called CRU and was asked to lead a freshman women's bible study the next year. I continued to lead it for the following two years, as well. Within a year, I was the editor-in-chief of our school's magazine. Our team covered events relevant to campus life, produced an iPad edition of the magazine, and even got to visit the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. I lead a complete redesign of our website. These were all amazing, hands-on experiences — experiences that I don't know that I would have gotten to have if I'd been in a huge city, fighting with thousands of other students for low-level journalism internships.
And despite my high school fears that attending college in-state meant I'd never see the world, I actually traveled a lot in college. I felt very fortunate to be able to explore the world, but I also felt fortunate, after all of those journeys, to go to my home. To be able to enjoy a nice home-cooked meal, my familiar bathroom and my familiar bed (that had obviously been used by my familiar dog in my absence). I think I would have had a much harder time handling the transitions of travel if all of my trips ended in me returning to an unfamiliar city, a new roommate, and a small dorm that would never really be home.
The opportunities I experienced at my in-state college were incomparable. While I can’t say for certain what would have happened to me if I had gone to school in a big city, I can say with complete confidence that I am beyond happy to have stayed in Indiana, and that staying close to home didn't prevent me from learning to work hard, or having a broad range of experiences. I didn't have to leave my family or my home to become the globe-trotting journalist I wanted to be.
And of course, being only two hours away from free dinners and laundry turned out to not be that bad, either.
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