NewsPub Notes

What It’s Like to Leave Athens to Go to College

Editor’s note: This week Pete has turned his column over to Louise Platter, a recent Clarke Central graduate who left home for college last month.

It’s difficult to write about leaving your hometown—maybe even harder than it is to leave. Leaving Athens was like ripping off a bandage. I packed up my things, got in my car and drove out of town. Writing about it isn’t so easy, because it’s the opposite of leaving. I have to confront everything I left behind and everything I left it for.

This year I’m a freshman at Converse College in Spartanburg, SC. It’s about two hours away from Athens and is my mother’s alma mater. It’s a small, close-knit community, and between the beautiful campus and engaging classes, it’s everything I could ask for in a school. The only problem is, it’s not Athens.

Athens is the place I grew up. It’s where my parents live, along with many of my friends and the teachers and leaders who have shaped me into who I am. It’s where I went to elementary, middle and high school. I’ll spare you tedious descriptions of learning to read and ride a bicycle, but suffice it to say that almost everything I know about the world, and about myself, I learned in Athens.

All of this considered, it’s not hard to see why I have always thought of Athens as my town, and the hardest part about leaving is knowing that “my town” will go on without me. Other people will frequent my favorite downtown boutiques; other students will camp out in Jittery Joe’s for hours; other teenagers will discover my hiding places. At the end of the day, I am not essential to Athens.

I, on the other hand, am discovering that Athens is essential to me, even as I learn how to continue without Athens. At times, this feels like an insurmountable problem, but it is also an incredible opportunity. Many people think of Athens simply as a college town, but I’ve never experienced it that way. For me, Athens will never be about UGA football games or finals week. It’s just home. This move allows Athens to continue to be just that for me. I know I will make lots of memories at Converse, and I’m sure that in 20 years, I’ll look back on this town with fondness. I hope that in time I’ll be able to make something of a home here, but divorcing my college experience from my hometown means that Athens will always be purely home for me.

In many ways, Athens is a fundamental part of who I am. It’s my experiences and beliefs and memories. My identity is intertwined with my home, and I hope that the people I meet at college will get to experience a part of my old world, but I am learning that my location does not make me who I am. Whether I’m in Athens or Spartanburg or anywhere else, I’m learning that I can rely on myself for stability and security.

I consider myself very lucky to have a place that will always be home, but a crucial part of my college decision was to find a place where I could grow, and in a small town where I’ve lived for 18 years, there was only so much more growing I could do. Picking up and moving to South Carolina was not the most comfortable option for me, but I know that it was the right one.

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t already homesick. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t already planning trips back. I hardly think I’m making a groundbreaking discovery when I say that leaving home is really, really hard, but millions of people do it every day, and I can only strive to preserve the parts of me that Athens created and discover new parts of me here in my new town.