Leaving Small-Town Life for the Urban Jungle

J Free

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Alex is originally from Sunfield, a tiny Michigan town about an hour outside of Grand Rapids. With a population of about 578, Sunfield is a very small, but well-connected and locally cherished place to live. In 2019, the 22-year-old finally made her long-planned move to Los Angeles—a city of millions.

Alex talks about her experience leaving her comfortable small-town existence in exchange for the big city life.

How do you feel about life in the countryside? What are the ups and downs of living in a small town?

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Life in the countryside is very idyllic and quiet. Especially in my childhood, I enjoyed playing outside in the garden or in the woods and fields. Family plays a huge role in our small town, most people’s relatives live close by. I find that very nice about suburban life. Traditions are carried on. People have a strong sense of home.

As with most small villages, Sunfield and the surrounding township have the basic amenities. That’s good, since it would be a hassle to drive to a bigger nearby city for every errand. Public transportation is limited, and runs infrequently. It’s safe to say that without a car, you're pretty much screwed here.

Another classic small-town problem: No matter where you are... everyone knows everyone. News spreads like wildfire, people talk. So you have to be a bit careful about what you say and do here (laughs).

What do you enjoy and dislike about urban life so far?

One big difference: in the city, you're anonymous. Compared to life in the village, that's a really nice change. You can basically start over where no one knows you. However, the same can also be seen as a disadvantage if you know and love the intimacy of small towns. In the city, you often don't even know your next-door neighbor. Nevertheless, in the city you also have the opportunity to meet a lot of new people very quickly. That’s definitely not the case in small towns. It’s true that city people are a lot more open-minded than country people.

The infrastructure is much better in the city. You can get around easily without a car, even though LA isn’t as connected as some other big cities in the US. One disadvantage of living in the city, however, is the constant noise. I also miss the peaceful greenery that surrounded me back home.

How has everyday life changed for you since moving to Los Angeles?

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Obviously, my professional and social life has changed tremendously. As for smaller changes... one thing I am thrilled about is that I can go grocery shopping at any given time. Back home, places close super early. I enjoy the option to be spontaneous, being able to meet friends at a multitude of bars in any neighborhood.

After moving away from a small town, you do gain a whole new appreciation for home though. I think many people find it hard at first, overcoming that regret of leaving your close-knitted community behind. I’d already gone through that after high school, so this time around it wasn’t too hard to leave. But without my time away at college, the adjustment would have probably been much bigger.

How did people back home in Sunfield react to your decision to move away?

What shocks me often is how different life experiences can affect small-town people. Moving away for college impacted and changed me greatly, but I also had friends who stayed with their parents while going to a smaller school. Or friends who came back after college to stay in Sunfield. I remember the reactions of my friends and acquaintances after announcing my permanent move to LA. Many thought it was a great and courageous idea, but would never have gone through with it or tried it themselves. Others people, even those of my same age, were downright shocked and could not fathom leaving home for a big city. Those are exactly the people who will probably stay in Sunfield forever, and would never even consider leaving.

Of course I had some friends with similar post-college plans, but it’s definitely true that the majority of small-town folks are less open-minded. My parents always supported my plans, for which I am very grateful. My grandparents, on the other hand, couldn’t really relate. They often ask me why I decided to move so far away, since there’s no place like home. I think they were a little disappointed and sad, but eventually, they came to terms with my decision and started supporting me.

Do you ever see yourself moving back home, or to another rural town, now that you’ve become used to life in the city?

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At the moment, I can't imagine moving back to the countryside permanently. Especially in terms of my career, the city offers much more opportunities. I always liked meeting new people, which is so much easier in the city. I’ve truly enjoyed city life so far, the hustle and bustle (and the noise) doesn't bother me at all.

Later in life, when I decide to start a family, I could see myself moving back to the suburbs, not necessarily close to home though.

Are any of the classic misconceptions about small-town folks vs. city dwellers accurate in your opinion?

Not really. Sure, there are people in all places who fit the bill (like the less open-minded village people), but generally speaking, I don't think most misconceptions apply to the majority of people.

However, I can confirm one thing: I find that people in the city are more focused on their own lives and stay out of other people’s business (in part due to the anonymity), while small-town people love to gossip. There is so much talk about other people, I was really tired of it.

City vs. small town — Which team are you on?

At the moment, the city is clearly the winner for me. In this stage of my life, I simply can't imagine living in the countryside full-time. I do like to visit home, and I will always appreciate it—but right now, I just enjoy living in the big city. Of course, there are small-town aspects and traditions that I miss in the city from time to time, but overall, the many opportunities of the city outweigh the disadvantages for me.

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