Everyone says you go to college to come out prepared for “real life.”

It’s our last stop on the road to adulthood. It’s the place to be challenged, learn an astronomical amount, find yourself, and emerge as a confident, experienced individual, ready to take on the world.

That’s the narrative, and in many ways, college does fit this script. In freshmen year we’re faced with the desire to find our respective niches and fit in while being surrounded by strangers. We’re forced to throw ourselves into unfamiliar situations and navigate new terrain. On top of that, as the ominous question of what you want to do with your life hangs heavy on your head, a truckload of work is dumped on you that sometimes makes you want to hightail it back to high school.

But as the initial culture shock of new people and new place dissipates, and you fall into the familiar routine of classes, studying, extracurriculars, and social life, and as the comforting bubble of campus begins to engulf you, you may begin to wonder—what am I missing?

The answer to that question is manifold, but I will begin with a simple word: Reality.

Yes, college and campus life is our reality, but outside of the perimeters of Mount Hope Avenue and the Genesee River, it is nobody else’s. Travel across the footbridge to Genesee Street and you won’t find anyone else wondering what dining hall to eat at or how many hours to spend in the library that night. Take the bus downtown and you’ll find people who never asked themselves the question of what private university to apply to or what major they should choose.

We all come to Rochester to attend school, and to many of the students here, that has come to mean that UR is Rochester. It has come to mean that the 707 acres our campus occupies is enough space to fulfill all the aforementioned college achievements. That’s the reality: a large cohort of relatively like-minded people of similar age going through a shared experience is, to them, enough to foster “life” experience.

They may not realize how limiting this mindset is, or how much the city of Rochester, no matter how small, has to offer. School is hard. We can all agree on that. There are days when you feel like you’ll die in Rush Rhees without ever seeing the light of day again. But there are also days when there’s a let up in the deluge and, miraculously, free time appears.

Let’s talk about what you can do with it outside of the 707-acre campus.

First of all, I think it’s perfectly fair to say that trips to College Town or East and Alexander on Thursday nights don’t qualify for the “off-campus” criteria. In lieu of that, we can start with an easy one: the Public Market. Located downtown, just off east Main Street, the Public Market is the perfect place to immerse yourself in Rochester culture, as hundreds of Rochesterians from all walks of life go there to shop. Have a chat with a vendor, buy local food, and enjoy the sight of realities so different from your own all converging in one place.

Missing nature? Feeling active? Rochester is dotted with beautiful parks and opportunities for recreational activities. Genesee Valley Park (just across the street!), Ellison Park, Highland Park, Ontario Beach Park, and Martin Luther King Jr. Park (my favorite place for ice skating) are some of the nicest parks I’ve ever seen. And we can’t forget High Falls, where a footbridge extends across the river gorge overlooking the waterfall and conveniently ends up at the door of the Genesee Brew House.

I could continue this infomercial and go on to list all the amazing things I’ve seen and done in Rochester, both as an Urban Fellow this summer and on my own time, but all anyone needs for that is self-motivation, a bus schedule or bike, and Google, so I won’t waste your time.

Instead, I’ll end with a personal statement. In the past two years of attending UR and spending both summers in Rochester, I have truly developed as a person. But it wasn’t just overcoming hard classes, stress, and social anxieties, nor partying, playing sports, and making friends that made this happen for me. It was taking every opportunity I could to not just be a student of Rochester, but also a citizen of Rochester. It was volunteering with students of Rochester City School District; engaging in community rallies and events; living off-campus; working at an off-campus job; eating at local, underappreciated restaurants; biking around the city; and signing up for a summer program dedicated to learning about urban life in Rochester, giving back to a place that gives so much to me.

Don’t become one of the seniors that I’ve heard so often regretting they never explored the city. Act on that wonder, do some Googling, leave the bubble, and find yourself in reality again.

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