Nearly three months ago, I packed up my little Jetta and left Grand Rapids. For the first time since toddlerhood, I was heading off to live in a new city, surrounded by new faces, starting a new life. My destination: Ann Arbor, MI.
In September, I started my master’s program in environmental policy at the University of Michigan. My program here is housed within the School of Natural Resources and Environment. My mother attended the school pre-“Environment”; my grandfather graduated when it was still called the “School of Forestry.” Now, with several hundred students and faculty tucked into one building, I get all the coziness of a small school within the bustle and excitement of a big-school city. The past three months have swirled by in a flurry of skimmed articles, just-caught buses, and discussions over falafel and hummus about the drawbacks of capitalism.
Though the trees are bare and the snow imminent, Ann Arbor (A2) is still lovely and exciting. Here are a few things I’ve come to appreciate during my time here thus far:
- My house: I live with three fellow first-year graduate students in a tall, skinny house south of campus. We managed to evade the undergraduate housing zone, so our neighbors have well-tended gardens in their front yards instead of red Solo cups and vomit-stained futon mattresses. The house has its quirks. For one thing, it’s painted two shades of sea foam green, a color which I happen to love. Inside, we have lights without switches, switches without lights, and a bathroom tiny enough that our cats can barricade themselves inside simply by opening a drawer when the door is closed (which has happened. Twice).
- Free food: Everybody on campus knows that the swiftest route to a graduate student’s heart is through her stomach. Yes, sometimes I attend lectures and receptions because I’m intrigued by the presentation. Sometimes I attend solely for the refreshments. And sometimes I become the phantom that slips into the back of a room, loads her plate with Swiss cheese cubes and miniature brownies, then vanishes without a trace.
- Public transit: While in Grand Rapids, I rode the bus exactly twice. The Rapid didn’t run near my suburban home, and I could usually track down a ride when I needed to leave Calvin’s campus. My A2 house sits near three major bus lines, and my subsidized (read: free) bus fare makes public transit a far more tempting commuting strategy than a half-hour walk through rain and snow. The first time I stepped onto an A2 city bus, I had only a vague idea of my destination, and no clue how to make the bus halt when I got there. After debussing on the wrong side of downtown, I vowed to master the system. Three months later, I’m no transit expert, but I can get to campus and back in one piece. The buses are clean and quiet, and I know I’m in the Midwest when my fellow passengers thank the driver on their way out the door.
- Campus Chapel: This tiny Christian Reformed congregation has quickly become one of my favorite groups of people in A2. Affectionately known to some as “Calvin East,” the Campus Chapel is a common resting place for Grand Rapids and Calvin transplants—and anyone else who wanders through the red doors. The building is spare, the liturgy contemplative, and the sermons masterful. I feel deeply blessed to have found this place.
- Biking: As the buses run only sporadically on weekends and downtown A2 is a miserable place to park, I’ve relied on my bike for most extra-curricular travel. I once carried a large bowl of coleslaw to a potluck by jamming it in my messenger bag and praying it didn’t leak as I biked to the north end of town. Quick grocery run? Load up the backpack and schlep it home. While I fear only Europe and the West Coast can boast truly “bike-friendly” cities, Ann Arbor’s trying. The bike lanes are crumbly and the drivers impatient, but I actually enjoy cruising through downtown on a busy Saturday night.
- Trader Joe’s: I unabashedly adore this store. Is it the Waikiki beach vibe? Is it the inexpensively priced pecans and frozen sweet potato pizzas? Is it the fact that they carry chocolate-covered everything? Yes. Yes, it is. Someday, Trader Joe’s will discover Grand Rapids. Someday.
- Bookstores: A bibliophile is never free from temptation in this city. Literati provides a tidy array of new releases. The West Side Book Shop holds dusty rarities. Kaleidoscope—well, Kaleidoscope is what happens when a vintage shop and a used book store fall in love and move in together without going to Ikea to buy enough bookshelves. Delightful chaos ensues.
- Insomnia Cookies: Only in a college town would you find a business that delivers warm cookies to your door at 2 a.m.
Geneva Langeland (’13) survived graduate school with minimal blood loss, escaping with her ms in environmental policy and communication. She now works in Ann Arbor, Michigan, as the communications editor at Michigan Sea Grant. There, she gets to hang out with educators, researchers, and communicators who love the Great Lakes as much as she does.