Occupying a not too-large piece of America, nestled among the paper mills of Wisconsin's heartland, is what I've found to be a down-to-earth, welcoming university.
It is a school chock full of opportunity. But in order to recognize that - and this isn't at all criticism - I had to look a little below the surface.
The truth is, the school could have proclaimed itself "The Coolest, Most Life-Enhancing, Career-Cinching University on Earth," but the second my eyes fell on the return address label - Appleton, Wis. - I'd have tossed the catalog to the back of my desk and forgotten about it. A born-and-bred Easterner like me just doesn't ordinarily take notice of a place like that.
I was attending a larger, well-known school in a big city back East, where there was all the action and excitement you could ever want. Crowds of students tumbled across campus at night, shouting with anticipation, or heartfelt pride, or political anger. Famous names regularly breezed through for panels and speeches on politics, school, the arts, sports, the media. And there was always plenty to do on the weekends.
Still, I wasn't happy. I was looking for a change, and the catalog stayed on top of the pile on my desk.
To this day, I can't quite explain what drew me to Wisconsin. Was it the cheese? helpful friends suggest. The cows? The scenery? The farms? ... The cows?
Certainly, the school offered everything else I needed. Its academics looked top-notch. The softball coach had promised me a spot on the roster, and my high school counselor had nothing but praise for the conservatory of music. But after life in the Eastern metropolis, I'll admit I was worried about being bored.
After I decided to transfer mid-year, I can't tell you how many times I had the following exchange:
"You're transferring? Where to?"
"Lawrence University, in Appleton, Wisconsin."
"Wisconsin?" they would echo, regarding me curiously. "Are you from Wisconsin?"
I'd smile. "No, actually I'm from New Jersey."
So now that I've been a Lawrentian for six months, I can tell you, the rumors are true - you won't find all-night discos, packed streets, or frequent surprise in Appleton.
No, for me, this place represents a different kind of action, one that comes from the heart. I scored the winning run in our softball conference championship last season, for example. That's a feeling you can't get in any nightclub.
And in a Chinese class of six, your thinking had better be sharp as the questions zip around the table. There's jazz, too - an individual's musical communication needs its proper venue, and the people and places at Lawrence provide that for me.
As if all this wasn't enough, I came to Lawrence at the perfect time to jump into the position of editor in chief of the student newspaper. That duty has forced me to grow a little, get stronger, face the community head on. With everything going on, I wouldn't have time to go cow-tipping if I wanted to. It's a busy life, with fulfillment through situations I certainly hadn't anticipated. Indeed, opportunity knocks in mysterious ways.
So, in a few days, I'll pack up and leave the big city to head back out to Appleton. Much as I'm embarrassed to say it - for the first time in a long while, I can't wait to go back to school.
* Tara Shingle is a senior at Lawrence University, in Appleton, Wis., majoring in music and East Asian languages and cultures.