For many students at the College, Williamstown is a rural escape from their hectic urban or suburban hometowns. However, Williamstown, though small, can have an urban feel compared to some places – that is, the country. I set out to talk to a few of our brethren from rural backgrounds in an effort to find out what their experiences in the purple bubble were like. For those readers who did not grow up in a rural area, here is a window into the small town life that some students experienced.
Williamstown is not your typical small town, according to students hailing from other rural areas. “Even though Williamstown is small, there is still a lot more urban influence than in Eureka, [Mont.],” said Karina Hofstee ’14. “The proximity to big cities as well as different kinds of people [here] really give Williamstown a different feel. At home, the families have been there for years, most peoples’ parents went to school together, we are kind of separated from urban influence.”
The College, in many ways, defines Williamstown and sets it apart from other rural regions. “Williamstown is exactly like my town,” said Jordan Freking ’12, “if you take away the College, the number of people my age, the mountains, the beautiful backdrop that is the foliage and the overall ideological progressiveness of the people here.” (Not to mention, Freking hails from Le Mars, Iowa, the “Ice Cream Capital of the World.”)
“Rural” can also mean something quite different when you get outside of the closely arrayed towns of New England. “My nearest neighbor was a mile away,” said Ford Smith ’12, who grew up in Emigrant, Mont. Once at the College, Smith learned how different life was growing up in a rural area. “Most kids in the suburbs mow their lawns, but I would go out and cut the field and bale it and pick up the hay bales and bring them to the hay barn,” he said.
Apparently, one important activity in small town life is hunting. “Nobody goes to school the first day of hunting season,” Smith said about the high school students in Emigrant. “You’re supposed to go to school, but kids who want to go hunting just go hunting.” Johnny Ray Hinojosa ’13, from Alamo, Texas, is also a hunting enthusiast and likes that he had easy access to the outdoors. “It wasn’t very hard to just pick a day and go out hunting and not make a big deal about it,” he said. Hinojosa sees hunting as an important part of the culture in rural areas. “Hunting is a great bonding experience, and it teaches you a lot of practical skills for life,” he said.
For many students, their rural upbringing was an overall positive experience. The high school often played a large role in the community. Hofstee ’14 definitely experienced this sense of community at her high school in Eureka, Mont.: “The high school was a pretty big deal in the town, especially the sporting events,” she said. Frekingfound that many of his high school activities in Le Mars created a traditional high school experience as a well as a sense of community. “Homecoming spirit week, high school football, and Home Ec classes” brought about “traditional ways of building community,” he said. However, some students from small towns, such as Hinojosa, believe their high school experience was “not very different than any other.”
Aside from the big, traditional events that the high school hosts, the social life is pretty laid back. “If you drive down Main street either at lunch or after school there will be a bunch of high-schoolers in cars cruising up and down the street,” Hofstee said. “It is like, the only thing high-schoolers have to do at lunchtime”.
The high school night-life, though, has some similarities to that of the College. “The high school social scene consists mostly of parties that are even worse than the ones at Williams,” Freking said, “and for me specifically, that meant playing video games in the basements of my friends’ houses in the country.”
For most, the sense of community within their towns was what meant most to them. “The crosswalks don’t have to tell you to wave, you just wave. It’s a lot more friendly,” Hofstee said. Smith pointed out that the strong sense of community was something he found most people both “loved and hated.”
Freking had mixed feelings about his rural hometown upbringing. He definitely enjoyed the sense of community, since, he said, “you do know more people, and your families know each other.” But he also believes that he has always been “more of a city person.” This factored into his decision about college location: “I purposefully limited myself from going to a city for college,” Freking said, “because if I had gone to a city I would’ve gone crazy and been more about the city than the school.”
As for life after Williams, most of the students want to be in a location somewhere between rural and urban. “I will probably end up living in a somewhat urban area, just because my skill set from Williams is not designed for a rural area,” Smith said. Many students from rural areas would like to continue living in a somewhat rural location, but with big city amenities close by. “I would definitely like to live in a rural area,” Hinojosa said. “It has to have reasonable access to bigger cities, but nothing too big.”
In the end, rural life is more than a location or a landscape; it’s a state of mind. “Life just takes a slower pace than the city where everyone is hustling and seems to be always stressed about something,” Hinojosa said. “It even translates into the way I drive. I’ve had friends ride with me from bigger cities and they get impatient because I set the car at 30 m.p.h. cruise control. I hate to generalize, but it seems like they don’t see the enjoyment of taking slowing down the pace of life.”