A cross-country college choice

Deciding on what college to attend is a monumental decision for many high school seniors. For many it is the biggest decision they have yet had to make, and it represents a significant change in their lives. Right now, as we approach the time when letters and emails of acceptance go out, I wondered what would prompt a student to pick a school all the way across the country — and what the experience would be like. Conveniently, one JMU student who made that kind of choice is an intern in our Be the Change office this semester. Brian Rather (’12) is an English major from Phoenix, Arizona. Here’s what Brian had to say about choosing Madison …..

Changing Scenery

by Brian Rather (’12)

My decision to come to James Madison University was based on spontaneity and an urge to experience a change of scenery. I loved growing up in Arizona. I had supportive parents and a great group of friends, but my aspiration to experience life elsewhere superseded all of the wonderful components I treasured in Arizona. I can vividly remember looking at four computer boxes full of my belongings as they disappeared into the mailroom. Eighteen years of my life, shipped across the country.

The first semester of my freshman year was one of the biggest turning points in my life. I was living on my own in uncharted territories for the first time. Everything was new to me. I had moved from a metropolis scorched by the desert sun to rolling hills spotted with rural towns, so I wasn’t going to involve myself in the same types of things. Where I saw opportunities to participate in the activities I enjoyed in Arizona, I turned the other way. I took French instead of German. I played Frisbee instead of lacrosse. I changed my major from business to writing. I would have even chosen Jess’ Quick Lunch over my favorite southwestern food, a burrito. I viewed Virginians as foreigners. At first their kindness and hospitality came across as fake. It was as if I were living in a community of actors. In fact, I believed that anyone around this area who showed Southern hospitality had alternative motives and was out to get me.

Toward the middle of my second semester, though, I became acquainted with the East Coast lifestyle and had established myself in a great community. I no longer felt among foreigners and embraced the rural Virginian lifestyle. I decided to become a volunteer leader for an organization called Young Life. I now had a purpose and a community that supported it. Harrisonburg became my home.

Of course there were inconveniences that accompanied living so far away from Arizona. The hardest part has been a lack of contact with my parents. I remember going on walks when all of my friends went home for the weekend. I’d watch the cars pass on Interstate 81 feeling stuck and alone. My friends were always there to help my situation by offering to have me for Thanksgiving, or inviting me to go out to lunch with their parents. I was truly thankful for their generosity, but it’s not the same when you’re with another family.

My decision to go to college across the country may have seemed crazy to most, but it has turned out to be great. From growing up in the desert of Arizona, to now residing in the rolling hills of the Shenandoah Valley, I have been opened up to so many new experiences that I otherwise wouldn’t have. The first few times I boarded the plane to Virginia I felt like Tom Sawyer taking off into the unknown. Now I feel as though I’m going home.


About James Madison University
This blog is about the people of James Madison University — a caring, committed and engaged community spread all over the world, making lives better and brighter, healthier and safer, kinder and bolder. As Gandhi suggested, we are taking steps to BE the CHANGE we wish to see in the world. And these are our stories....

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