Tips on Getting to Know Your College Town
Kristen Mulvena is a Queens native and first year graduate student at Stony Brook pursuing her Master of Social Work with a specialization in Higher Education. This past May, Kristen graduated from Binghamton University Summa Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. In August, she completed her second summer as an intern at Graduate NYC. Kristen is passionate about the role of mental health in college persistence and success and hopes to someday work in a university counseling center. When she’s not interning, Kristen enjoys singing, theater, reading, and trying new food.
When you’re new to college, it can be overwhelming adjusting to campus, especially in a new city or state. You can get so caught up in trying to memorize where all of your classes are, your new friends’ dorms, the closest supermarket, where all the students go to hang out, that you might not take a lot of time out to explore what lies beyond the walls of your school. For some students, the only trips they’ll take off campus are to get groceries and go to parties. But very often, there is much more to behold just beyond the boundaries of campus, especially if yours is a closed campus (one with defined borders/property), rather than open one (like numerous schools in the CUNY system, New York University, and Brown, which are simply integrated into an existing city). Taking the time to venture off campus to explore your new city or town can prove to be a very rewarding experience in your time as an undergrad. It can make a once unfamiliar place feel more like home.
After my freshman year, I never dreaded going back to school and I was never homesick. It always felt like I was traveling from one home to another. Sometimes in conversation I’d even find myself saying “I’m going home” when I meant that I was going to Binghamton. That never just meant campus, it means the city of Binghamton. I’ve lived in it, shopped in it, and worked an internship in it. A number of students also call Binghamton home year round. They go to their hometowns for shorter breaks and holidays, but in the summer they continue to live in Binghamton. This can be observed in many college towns.
More often than not, students are a big part of the economy in the towns and cities that surround their schools. By patronizing locally-owned businesses in your new home, you’ll be helping to keep it thriving. Students often take for granted the fact that, without the surrounding sprawl, schools wouldn’t be capable of existing. It’s usually a two-way relationship in which both parties mutually benefit. Restaurants and local shops are a great way to support your college town. Locally-owned restaurants are very popular in Binghamton; they make for great date spots, birthday outings, or the perfect venue to just get out of the dining hall for a night. Some are even owned by Binghampton professors and alumni! When I asked my peers to share their favorite restaurants, I got an endless array of answers. Much to the credit of the variety of food offerings around the city, everyone has different allegiances, and there’s food to satisfy the palette of even the pickiest eater. Binghamton is also known for the “spiedie,” a sandwich made with special marinade and cubed meat of your choice, local to the Southern Tier of New York state. When President Obama came to visit, he made sure he had one! Find out what food your school’s town or region is known for and dig in.
There’s also lots of fun to be had that doesn’t involve alcohol. Places like the roller rink, ice rink, mini-golf, and, in the case of Binghamton, the local observatory, are fun ways to unwind with a group of friends and feel like a kid again. Local sports teams are a great way to develop pride in your school and city. The Binghamton Bearcats are a Division 1 athletics program, and students are invited to sit with the “BU Zoo” and cheer on the student athletes at games (which, at most schools, are free for students with ID). Off campus, there are discounted student tickets to Binghamton Mets (the minor league affiliate of the New York Mets) baseball games and Binghamton Senators hockey games during most of the year. I know I would never be able to pay only $13 dollars for rink-side seats at Madison Square Garden for the Rangers! Check your town’s local listings; if you go to school in a city with a major league team, there might also be student discounts available. Despite not having the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Museum of Modern Art nearby, there is no lack of culture in Binghampton. “First Friday” is a celebration of the art galleries and local artists that happens – you guessed it – the first Friday of every month. Find out what museums and galleries are near your school, because you never know what you might discover about the history of the surrounding area.
If you’re really feeling adventurous and you have a license and car, grab a group of friends on the weekend and check out the cities within driving distance of your school. You never know what you’ll discover even further out of your comfort zone. As much as it’s often said that college is a bubble, it’s truly as big and engaging a bubble as you make it. I know my experience wouldn’t be the same had I just chosen to keep my focus on campus for the last three years of college.
For a listing of the 50 best college towns in America, check out: http://www.bestcollegereviews.org/50-best-college-towns-america/
Whether or not your college makes the list, there are still hidden gems and noteworthy places in every college town that are worth your while, so start exploring this fall!