Is Vienna waiting for you?

The value of getting out

Growing up in northern Michigan, European cities were more like figures of speech than places I could ever see. Much of the world outside of Roscommon felt like this to me until I finally “got out.”

For many, college is our first chance to get out into the world. It is a time to learn who you are outside of your hometown and find identity aside from a high school mascot.

The next step we choose to take after graduation ranges from the workforce to universities, or maybe even a gap year to some place like Vienna for a fortunate few. As a class of 2020 graduate, the world seemed to end as soon as it was my turn to explore it.

Despite the terrible anxiety of coming of age in a pandemic, I was relieved to have a reason to stay home for my first year of college. Living on my own seemed impossible, even in a place as innocuous as Big Rapids. I had all the reasons in the world to stay in.

Moving to another state for work or school was unimaginable. That was only something that people with more money or better grades ever did. Soon enough, I had to learn how small my world was. My mom, my primary caregiver and roommate for the previous five years, decided to move 1,000 miles away to the anti-Michigan of Florida.

Splitting my time between Big Rapids and Dunedin, Florida for the past two years has shown me how trapped I was in rural Michigan for so long. I believe others are still in a similar spot. 

Over 90% of Ferris students are full-time Michigan residents. According to the 2020-2021 Ferris State University Fact Book, roughly 43% of our students are from a 50-mile radius of the Big Rapids campus. A considerable portion of our student body is practically still in their backyard.

I’ve said about counties in west Michigan, “if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen most.” While I love this state, its nature, its people and all the ways it has built me, I encourage Ferris students to experience more.

Billy Joel’s “Vienna” has been an anthem for young adults on the edge of escaping the first phase of their life for decades. For me, Vienna is still more figurative than geographical. I made Dunedin my Vienna. It was representative of a whole world that I’d only ever caught glimpses of. It was always waiting for me with its warmer weather, beaches and  more restaurants than bars and chains (no offense to Crankers or Applebee’s).

I believe that Ferris is a great place to get your bearings, save money and start flexing some adult muscles. Still, we should not get so comfortable in a nice place that we never learn more.

Working in Pinellas County, Florida put me in truly diverse rooms for the first time in my life. I heard people speak different languages, describe their various backgrounds and occasionally gawk at my humble Midwestern tendencies like saying “pop” rather than “soda” or driving 20 minutes to find a Walmart.

It goes without saying that Florida’s state politics are strikingly different than Michigan’s. When I tell Michiganders about my life down south, they either pity or fear me. Actually living in Florida, though, has kept me from caricaturizing an entire state of people. I see more Confederate flags in rural Michigan than I do in the Gulf. There is, of course, important work to be done in Florida. It is difficult to watch their trajectory as a feminist, an LGBTQ+ ally and a student of history.

I have faith in the state of Michigan to keep positive momentum. In Florida, there are clear causes that need all the help they can get. I am grateful to have gotten out so I have the chance to join them.