Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Diversity Series

Coping With The Leap To Urban From Rural
By Leigh Baker

The uncomfortable, homesick feeling that comes when one moves from the comfort of home is intense enough. When moving from a severely rural area into a brutally urban setting, however, the pressure becomes immense. According to the Network of Rural Ministries Serving Youth, one third of the nation’s students live in rural America, which describes the age at which most people leave their homes to venture into “the real world.”

Although this is not an overly startling statistic, it goes to show that the small percentage of students who are enduring these conditions are in for a surprise when the time comes to leave their humble abode.

Matthew Engel, a 20 year-old student in New York City, says that his transition was especially difficult. Engel comes from a small beach town in Northwest Indiana that lines Lake Michigan with sand dunes and saw grass. Its population is a mere 1,300 people.

“It takes me 25 minutes just to get to the grocery store,” says Engel. He loves the place from which he comes and is truly thankful for the plethora of childhood memories that he now has. Engel enjoys talking about his home, despite its rural qualities. “It’s quiet, it’s friendly, and everybody knows everybody. I love the familiar faces.”

So why make the transition if home is where the heart is? Despite this vast appreciation, he says, “I understand what I have to do.” He came to New York City to find the opportunity that he felt he needed in order to succeed, opportunities he says he could never find in his hometown. He says, “City life is tough. Some days I love it, some days I hate it, but in the end, I really appreciate the chances I’m going to get out here.”

Engel says he really does love the life of a hardened New Yorker, but it’s so chaotic that it sometimes seems to be too much to handle. That is why, he says, going home is such a treat. “It reminds me of my childhood and gives me a nice break from this hectic thing I call my life.”

Growing up in a small town, as many people do, has its advantages and disadvantages. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 24.8 percent of the total population is considered “rural.”

Another young adult, Kristin Cieresewski, grew up in a small town in Southwest Michigan replete with cornfields and friendly neighbors. The high school she attended is set next to a cow farm in which, during the warmer months, she says that you can smell the manure wafting through the air vents. The town itself only has 2,500 people, though the school district slightly exceeds the town’s boundaries. The district is continually growing, but Cieresewski spent her elementary years in classes of no more than fifteen students.

She speaks of her hometown with longing. “I love my home, but I was definitely ready to get out of there when the time came.” She left for college at Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, Michigan, only about an hour’s drive from her house. The main campus itself is in a rural area, but Cieresewski is attending the downtown campus, which is set in a city of nearly 200,000. Though this doesn’t quite compare to Engel’s jump to a city of eight million, Cieresewski faced struggles of her own.

“I’m not used to the people. They all seem to be in a rush when I seem to have no place to go. It’s almost scary,” she says. Similar to Matthew Engel’s move, the shock of city life took some time to set in. Now, Cieresewski says, she has become used to it, but sometimes it’s a little overwhelming. “Sometimes, I just need to relax and take a break from all the madness.”

Many teens leave home with no regrets until they realize that their friendly hometown truly holds a special place in their lives and hearts. These two fresh city faces, Matthew Engel and Kristin Cieresewski, are enjoying their newfound freedom in a new place, despite its differences from everything they have come to know thus far in their lifetimes.

The rural areas of America are some of the most comfortable places to grow up, but leaving home sometimes poses a predicament. Many people are strong enough to handle the change, but there are a number of options for those who have difficulty. Some end up revisiting their rural homeland, while others take advantage of the services offered through their school or community to cope with their stressful surroundings.

City life may not be for all of those who first think it is, but those who endure the initial struggle seem to love the experience in the end. “It’s all simply an experience,” says Engel, “and I’m glad that I’ve stuck it out for this long.”

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