For many students, college is the first time living outside of their hometowns. Coming from Orlando, Florida myself, Gainesville was an entirely different city than what I was used to. Rather than a huge city, Gainesville, Florida, is undoubtedly a “college town”—or a community that is dominated by its university population. In cities like these, students tend to utilize a “take it and leave it” approach to living. Many go four years without truly experiencing their college town and learning to appreciate it. So rather than treating one’s town as a stepping stone to “bigger and better” cities, why not see all your college town has to offer?
You can get more involved in your community in a number of ways:
Going to Local Events
In many college towns, local events are prevalent and an easy way to get involved in one’s community. Farmers markets and pop-up shops are always happening on a weekly or monthly basis. If you’re on the lookout for events, follow your community Instagram for updates! (Subtle plug to Only in Gainesville). Not only will it boost their pages, but it also helps viewers like you to find new shops or businesses in their college town. There’s the benefit of these markets often being held close to campus. The Florida Vintage Market has a great selection of clothes and items— and it’s walking distance. If you’re feeling uneasy about checking out a new event alone, bring some friends along! It makes for a great hang-out outside of the normal activities.
If you’re really searching for community engagement, get out into your town for some service! Whether you’re a part of a volunteering-based club or just looking to get involved, community service provides plenty of opportunities to join a great cause. Ranging from Keep Alachua County Beautiful to Best Buddies, there truly is a project out there for everyone. Your town’s website usually contains a list of organizations seeking volunteers; use this to your advantage and find a cause you’re passionate about! Volunteering builds emotional ties to a cause you care about and thereby aids your community. Win-win!
Supporting Local Businesses
Small, locally-owned businesses are an almost intrinsic part of college-town living. Coffee shops and restaurants are commonplace near campus and frequented by students alike. Supporting local businesses such as these keeps money in the community and keeps small businesses thriving. Not to mention, it’s more environmentally friendly! While chain restaurants can be tempting— go for a small business eatery if you’ve got the chance. If you’re seeking out ways to incorporate “shopping small” with a limited budget, reserve purchases for gift-giving or other special occasions. Either way, small actions go a long way to helping your community businesses.
If you’re living in a college town, chances are that you’ve spent most of your time on campus. To break out of the everyday routine, switch it up by exploring your area! If you usually study in a campus library, head on over to a coffee shop. Or, spend a day sightseeing all of the places you haven’t quite gotten around to seeing yet. Take pictures and bring your friends along to find the staples of your college town. If you’re looking for recommendations, check out your community Instagram or talk to some friends who are long-term residents. Learning to appreciate all that your town has to offer is a great way to connect with businesses and other residents. You’ll never know what you’ll find until you try!
Get Out and Be Active
In college towns like Gainesville, nature preserves and trails are available to anyone. Hiking, biking and walking trails are easily accessible for both beginners and long-time adventurers. Getting out into the greenery of your community is incredibly engaging and a great way to explore the general area. While it may not be within the hub of the town, an activity like hiking can still be a ton of fun and may help foster a newfound sense of appreciation for your community. For anyone with a penchant for the outdoors, this is the way to go to boost community engagement!
There truly is no shortage of ways to become more involved in your community. Your actions, no matter how small, can make a difference in the lives of locals and your own. Think of it as giving back to your community and being grateful for its service. It may be only four years for you, but for locals, it’s a lifetime. So next time an opportunity arises, get out there and give back!