an aerial view of downtown Milwaukee WI

Now this is what I call a city!

When coming into college, you hear a lot fears about moving from a small town to a city. There are plenty stories in pop culture of scared Stewart Littles coming from a friendly, small town to the mean and nasty big city.  What you don’t normally think about, however, are the kids coming in from a big city to Winona.

It may not sound strange to some of you, but to me, Winona is small town living. Making my way from Milwaukee, a city of 600,000 people, to the comparatively tiny Winona, population of 28,000, was actually more of a transition than I would have ever thought when coming into college three years ago.

One thing to know about me is that I am not what you would call a “country guy.” I don’t really think a dirt road is a good place to chill and I cannot bait a hook to save my soul. I’ve lived in an urban bubble my whole life, completely oblivious to how the world worked outside of the metropolitan area.

Then I moved out to Winona and I saw more jacked-up pickup trucks with NRA bumper stickers and blaring country music than I have seen in my entire life. All of a sudden, I was thrown into a situation where I was becoming friends with people who actively lived the small-town lifestyle.

And then there’s me, the from hippie Milwaukee who’s out there trying figure out why I can’t pay for my coffee with a song (just kidding, I know how money works).

While I like to joke around about small towns and I am looking forward to living in a city again, the transition has helped me realize a lot about myself and how the world works. Thanksgiving is right around the corner and I would like to say how thankful I am for the years I spent here in a smaller city.

I am heading into my last year in Winona, and looking back, here are a few things I was able learn from the small town life.

I Made Friends with People of Different Backgrounds and Mindsets

I’ll admit, Winona isn’t the teeming melting pot that a lot of cities are, but I have been surprised at how many amazing friends I have made who come from vastly different lifestyles. Winona has a very interesting combination of students from large cities to students from the most rural parts of the upper Midwest.

Getting the chance to become good friends with people from both of these backgrounds and getting to know how they think is a great opportunity that is lost in the city.

I Learned to Make My Own Fun

This is going to sound like I’m bragging, but I have always been spoiled when it came having things to do. I lived 5 minutes away from Miller Park and 10 minutes from downtown Milwaukee so any band I wanted to see would basically come to me.

Giving up that convenience really forces you to new outlets for fun. I’ve rafted down the Mississippi River, raced chairs through the SLC, picked up weird hobbies and threw a dance party in my residence hall elevator.

The places you will go when you are bored are incredible, and most of the time, these places are where the best stories come from.

I Enjoyed Peace and Quiet in Nature

I have always loved nature and the outdoors. However, it’s hard to get out and explore nature when you can hear cars zooming past. Living in Winona, we have the convenience of being surrounded by natural beauty.

Having bluffs, rivers, lakes, and natural beauty is something special to Winona, and getting out into the peace and quiet is something that isn’t easy when you live in a city.

I Created a Sense of Community

Possibly the thing I love most about Winona is the sense of community the campus can build. What is really cool here is that everyone is connected on our compact campus, and this has gotten more and more relevant as I’ve meet new people throughout my 3 ½ years here.

Looking at bigger schools like UW-Madison, UW-Milwaukee, or the University of Minnesota, I noticed that the campus is pretty much a city itself and there isn’t much sense of unity. There is a lot of life on our campus, and every one is connected with one another.

Smaller towns have this sense of connectedness that big cities fail to create.

I hope my little spiel has inspired you to take a second and think about where you are from and how wonderful it is to have this unique background. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!