Living in the middle of nowhere isn’t fun, and going to college in the middle of nowhere really isn’t fun, unless you do something about it. There are a lot of drawbacks to attending a rural college that I did not anticipate when I chose my school.
I saw the beautiful acres of prairie surrounding campus and pictured it as a place where I could focus on my studies and be free of the distractors of city life. Little did I know that the only department store around was Kmart, there was only one bar to go to, no restaurants open on Sundays or even open past 9:00 and practically nothing to do for fun in town besides going to a run-down bowling alley (yikes).
While I could drive half an hour or more to access these things, I realized that when you’re stuck somewhere, you might as well figure out how to make it enjoyable.
Here are five ways to have fun at a rural college:
1. Attend on-campus activities
Maybe you don’t want to go anywhere near your resident assistant or your hall director, but going to the activities they host can actually be pretty entertaining most of the time. If you’re attending a rural college, it can’t hurt to at least check them out.
Sometimes these activities consist of game nights, crafting, movies or even baking or cooking. They’ll also usually provide you with the supplies for these events free of charge. My school has an annual event where you can adopt a goldfish, which turns out to be a pretty cool opportunity for many students.
Outside of residence halls, various clubs are always hosting events on campus. Pay attention to the posters, and don’t be afraid to go. Again, this is a nice option because it is usually completely free to you and you don’t even have to leave campus. You could end up at an open mic night or a panel discussing political views — it’s all up to you.
2. Craft nights
If you can’t find anything to do in town, find something to do in your dorm or your apartment. One thing you can do with your friends on a night in is a craft or painting night. Load up on canvases, acrylic paints, brushes or whatever else you want to use at the local dollar store. If your rural town doesn’t have a dollar store, you can still make a trip to the closest store and save the supplies for when you’re ready.
If you’re 21 or older, you could also get a bottle of wine for your painting night and do an imitation of places like Cheers Pablo. Depending on the night, my friends and I all paint the same thing, pick a category to paint within or just make whatever comes to mind. Craft nights could be a cheap way to have some fun in a rural college town where there isn’t much to do. In addition to this, it’s a great de-stressor as well as a bonding activity.
3. Go outside
If you attend a rural college, you’re likely to be surrounded by nature or, at the very least, farm fields. Some schools, like mine, have their own nature reserves, and it would be a waste to never visit them.
Depending on your geographic location, you might be able to go on hikes, bike rides, walks or even cross-country skiing. I know these aren’t the first things that come to mind when you think of the word fun, but bring along a friend or two and you might change your mind. As an added bonus, these activities can be very restorative to a tired student.
4. Take a drive
If exercising just isn’t your thing and you know someone who has a car on campus, you should go explore the country roads. It’s a way to experience the beauty of a rural town without breaking a sweat. It’s surprising what lies deep in the country.
On one of my drives, I ended up discovering a local buffalo farm, which I didn’t really realize was a thing, as well as scads of beautiful, abandoned farms and cottages. You could even find the perfect spot in town to watch the sunset. Embarking on country-road adventures is probably my favorite thing to do at my college.
5. Check out local businesses and restaurants
While it can seem like a downfall that rural college towns often don’t have the chain restaurants and stores that you might be accustomed to, it also means that the businesses in town are entirely unique and each one will be a totally new experience for you.
Many businesses in rural towns are family owned and operated, which guarantees a more personable environment and experience than cookie-cutter restaurants like Denny’s. If you gradually sample the restaurants in your town, you’re bound to find a new favorite, and you’ll also have a good time.
Restaurants aren’t the only places you should check out. Sometimes the small shops on the main street of a rural town are quite quirky, and in turn, they are fun to explore. Some of the shops I’ve seen in small towns around me include a succulent shop, a scrapbook supply store, a glove store and an antique store so stuffed that customers could barely walk through it.
My favorite quirky shop I’ve seen so far is a teddy bear store. I don’t know how they stay open, but I do know that all the students have to walk past a creepy display teddy bear with beady, red eyes on the way to the local bar. My point is that you should get out there and investigate the places that make your town unique; it will always be an entertaining experience.
These are just five ways that you can have fun at your rural college. Universities in big cities may have access to many more things, but this does not mean your school has to be any less fun. There is a beautiful simplicity to rural towns, and you get to be a part of it for four years, so learn to enjoy it in any way that you can.