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Advice for UGA Freshmen on Navigating the Classic City

First off, congrats on being a part of the freshman class smarter than any other freshman class before yours! Even though you’ll spend a good amount of time trying to achieve a GPA like the one you had in high school, at least you get to do it in a wonderful little town like Athens. It’s easy to see Athens as just a college town, but you’re not just joining the Bulldog Nation—you’re also joining this community, at least for four years or so. My college experience got a whole lot better once I realized Athens existed beyond campus. Here are a few things you should do as a new resident of Athens.

Spend Less: The Tate Center theater shows movies—a mix of fairly new releases and classics—and admission is free for students. Also, go to Ciné downtown, where your student ID gets you a discount ticket price of $7.50. Ciné shows mainly indie and foreign films, has an intimate atmosphere and sells food and alcohol. The local multiplexes also offer student discounts.

Listen Live: You’ve probably heard about Athens’ great music scene and that a couple of famous bands like R.E.M. and the B-52s originated here. Experience the music scene for yourself. Some kind of live music happens pretty much every day of the week. Many of the greatest nights I spent in Athens were spent at the Georgia Theatre or the 40 Watt Club. Keep up with Flagpole’s Calendar to know what’s coming up at all of the many music venues.

Go Dawgs: Even if you hate sports, you need to experience a fall Saturday in Athens. Sit in the student section, even if it’s 100 degrees and you’re shoved in the stands like sardines. You’ll either want to attend every home game and scream your lungs out for the next four years, or you’ll start planning all the weekend trips you can take to avoid the chaos. Just a heads up, don’t plan on driving anywhere near campus on game days.

No Orbit: Avoid riding buses through Tate, particularly Orbit, especially during a class change. You’ll never be able to get the smell of BO out of your nose. Plan your route to and from classes accordingly.

Study Spots: Face it, you probably won’t get any studying done in your dorm room. Although the Miller Learning Center is conveniently located, I quickly got tired of it. The study rooms fill up fast, especially during midterms and final exams. There are a ton of coffee shops and cafes with free Wi-Fi within walking distance of campus. Even if these coffee shops don’t fit your desired study environment, they’re great for fueling up on coffee, meeting friends and a change of scenery. Some of my favorites include Walker’s Coffee and Pub, Hendershot’s and Two Story Coffee.

Designated Drivers: If you’re going to drink, have a safe way to get home. In addition to walking or taking a taxi, Uber or bus to get back to your dorm at the end of a night of drinking, you can use Designated Dawgs, a student-run nonprofit where students volunteer their time to provide “safe, free, non-judgmental” rides home on Thursday and Friday nights.

Eat Well: I love that Athens is small enough to know when a new restaurant opens or closes, but you can live there for four years and still regularly eat at a place you’ve never tried before. Even while on meal plan, explore the food scene as much as possible. Two of the more famous restaurants include Five & Ten and The National, opened by celebrity chef and Athens resident Hugh Acheson. Although neither of them have menu prices conducive to student budgets, save up to go to on a birthday or anniversary, or invite your parents to visit so they can pick up the check. Some of my favorites that didn’t break my bank include Trappeze Pub, Ted’s Most Best, White Tiger Gourmet, Cali N Tito’s, Food for the Soul, Heirloom Cafe, Last Resort, Mama’s Boy, Marti’s at Midday, Ike & Jane and Tlaloc El Mexicano. Peruse the Flagpole Guide to Athens for hundreds of tasty options.

Have Some Laughs: A lot of funny people live in Athens, and going to stand-up or improv comedy shows is a great way to spend your time. Most shows are free or very inexpensive. Flicker Theatre & Bar, Hendershot’s and The Office Lounge host regular comedy nights, and nationally known comedians often visit the 40 Watt, The Foundry and The World Famous. Improv Athens, a student organization that placed third in the nation at the 2015 College Improv Tournament, has free shows in the MLC throughout the year.

Get Outside: Exercising and spending time in nature away from laptop screens are important for balancing the stress of a college workload and all of the other things you have on your plate. You can read a book, bike the paths, go for a run or spend a day at the beach at Sandy Creek Park. The State Botanical Garden of Georgia, North Oconee River Greenway and Bear Hollow Zoo at Memorial Park are all worth a visit, as well.

Experience Everything: After growing up in a suburban town like many of my classmates, I was pleasantly surprised at how I never felt bored, even though most people consider Athens a small town. I pretty much only went home for the holidays, because Athens kept me busy and entertained. After Athens Farmers Market visits, Gym Dogs gymnastics meets, art exhibits at the Georgia Museum of Art, plays at University Theatre, Slingshot Festival, AthFest, Indie South Fair and so many more events, I left Athens having experienced the university and the vibrant “small” town.

Laura James, a former Flagpole intern, graduated from UGA in May.