Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Midwestern tale


(The following was published in Global Study Magazine in 2004 and appeared as a pdf on the CESL website at until it was restored here)

Thomas Leverett explains why the charming Midwest should be considered as a study destination

One of the first things you notice about the Midwest U.S. is the weather: it’s somewhat extreme, and it changes quickly. The Midwest covers a large area, roughly from Ohio to Nebraska, Kansas and the Dakotas, and this is pretty much true everywhere. Thunderstorms wake you up; an occasional tornado will scare you until you learn how to handle them. People talk about the weather a lot. That’s partly because everyone has the weather in common, but also partly because it’s never boring. And some days you’ll be glad to be inside studying; others are so beautiful, you leave your work behind and go out in them. The Midwest is genuinely hospitable to visitors; it’s less crowded than the rest of the country, and, perhaps because it is made up of traditionally farm areas, it has always needed and welcomed its visitors. Most travelers aren’t so thrilled about the scenery; it’s rolling farmland, with forests here and there, no mountains, no sea, no ocean. But life is comfortable, and people like that. There isn’t much traffic; prices are reasonable, people know you at the local grocery store, and people have time to talk. My town is like that, so I have very little to show my relatives when they visit, but they like visiting anyway, since some people know them now, even after they only visited once, several years ago. They can sense that life is comfortable here, and they relax a little. The area has a wide variety of places; Chicago is a stunning city, but even the smaller cities, like Cleveland, St. Louis, Kansas City, or Minneapolis, have their charm and character. The Mississippi River and many other rivers flow through, carving pretty wooded hills around the area; the Great Lakes provide the feeling of a large body of water, without the danger or the salty smell of the ocean. Wherever you go, you’ll find interesting and different things to see, and you’ll find a way to get there, though it may not be as easy as you think, especially in winter. As in the rest of the U.S., people drive a long way to get to places; New York is two days away from my town by car; California is three or four. Public transportation is difficult, especially in the smaller cities, and many students feel that they really need a car. But cars and car expenses (gas, license, etc.) are cheaper than in most places, so you may find that getting a car yourself, even as a student, is possible, even if it’s not necessary.

Some come to the Midwest because the universities are good, and relatively cheap compared to those on the coasts; the cost of living is better too. Other people move around the U.S. a lot, and stop here, as I did, because the pace of life is easier, people are friendlier, and life is easier to manage than in other places. I have learned to live without the ocean, the fresh seafood, and the high life of the big cities, but that’s because I have concluded that it’s better to live a good life most of the time, and see sights on your vacations, than to live in a more spectacular place, but have trouble making a living, and still not see much. My friends in the Midwest travel more than my friends on the coast; they’ve seen more of the vast and beautiful country, because they’re in the middle of it. And that perspective can be important when you get to know them.

We have seen many visitors over the years; some have stayed, and most of those who returned remember their visit well. When I ask them what they liked the best, it’s not the scenery, the seafood, or the nightlife, though we have some of that. It’s the people. They made friends here; they had fun here, and they remember it well. They would love to return, and when they do, they’re generally happy to find that it hasn’t changed too much; there’s still very little traffic; people may still remember them; the weather still changes dramatically and regularly, and people they know are still talking about it.

"Some (students) come to the Midwest because the universities are good, and relatively cheap compared to those on the coasts"

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