Sometimes it can seem like every other person you meet here at the College is from “20 minutes outside Boston” or Darien, Conn. But as it turns out, we have students from nearly every state in the Union: 49 to be exact (sorry, South Dakota). So how do these students cope with moving so far away from home? How did they even find out about the College in the first place? I spoke to some students from under-represented states in order to get their perspective on what is different and what is the same at home and here at the College.
While we all had reasons in choosing a small liberal arts school, universal name recognition was definitely not among them. I wanted some insight as to how people from different regions of the country were even hearing about the College, let alone applying. One main draw was athletic pursuits. Gabby Markel ’17, of Girdwood, Alaska, heard of the College in her pursuit of a NCAA ski team, “which only about 20 schools in the country have,” she said.
In addition, our own creepy marketing strategies may actually be working. Zoe Grueskin ’14, who hails from Iowa City, Iowa, said, “I found out about Williams when they sent me a view-book my junior year of high school, and I liked it immediately.” For Rose Courteau ’14 of Fayetteville, Ark., “it was cheaper for me to go to Williams than it would have been to attend the University of Arkansas.” Still others have had the College on their radar long before the application process, like Doug Wassarman ’16 of Middleton, Wisconsin, whose mother graduated in 1985.
It may come as a shock, but not everyone who comes from states like Arkansas or Iowa lives in a small town. Grueskin was quick to point out that “Iowa City is a college town, home to a Big 10 university and a relatively diverse population of about 70,000, so adjusting to Williamstown was about coming to terms with living in a small town without all the food I love or a coffee shop open late or my favorite bands passing through.”
Of course, others find this small, New England town to be comfortingly similar to home. Phillip Brockman ’17 noted that, “this region has a lot in common with my hometown of Thompson, North Dakota: two-month summers, sketchy cell coverage at times – there’s even a small river running through both! It is everything I love about North Dakota with the added bonus of nearby mountains for skiing excursions and access to the ocean.”
Just because someone is from a rural region does not mean that they find so many similarities. Markel said, “I didn’t think that I did initially [missed home] but apparently I talk about Alaska all the time, so I must. Alaska has a lot of open space, something that’s hard to find in the East, and everything is just bigger, a little more dramatic.” For Courteau, the differences she felt in coming to the College were both big and small. “I will say: I had never seen a lacrosse game before I came to Williams,” she said. “I honestly still can’t grasp how much I had to absorb that [first] year. Perhaps because I never fully identified with the South, I had been in cultural limbo for a while, and the world from which I came didn’t feel attacked – or if it did, it didn’t affect me as much because I had never fully aligned with it.”
So will these students return to their home states? The answers ran the gamut. Brockman’s response was to the point: “Hell to the no.” Others view Williams more as a four-year break from their home state. Markel said, “Although I’m sure I’ll live other places in my lifetime I can’t imagine calling anywhere else [but Alaska] truly ‘home.’” Most were ultimately unsure – we are, after all, only college students. Wassarman stated, “I would really like to go experience another part of the country after I graduate, maybe California. I’m getting pretty tired of seven months of winter every year, although Madison is wonderful city and I could see myself going back later in life to settle down.”
The next time you hear about someone from somewhere outside the usual subjects, take the time to ask about it – and, whatever you do, do not just ask if they live on a farm.