Every fall for the past three years I have made the nine-hour trek from my home in Maryland to Ann Arbor, spending the majority of the drive daydreaming about the Big House, reunions with friends and colliders from Rod’s Diner. However, as I recently made the journey for the fourth and maybe final time, my daydreams were interrupted by the realization that, while I obviously have my favorite spots in Ann Arbor, I have yet to make Ann Arbor feel like my own home. It’s not that I have a desire to graffiti my name across buildings, but I do sense a need to explore beyond the confines of the campus proper in order to feel I have both paid my dues as a student here and have made paying my dues worth my while.

I don’t blame myself for not realizing my lackluster exploration until now, as it’s all too easy to get into a routine of class, work and extracurricular activities and stay on that path throughout. In fact, I only came to this realization after studying abroad in Argentina, where weekend excursions and local community fair visits were favored over school work and class time. Much of what I learned from my time abroad came from wandering the streets of new cities, stumbling upon new people and places and immersing myself (the best my Spanish would allow) in the culture. This made me realize that just because Ann Arbor isn’t an ocean away doesn’t mean it lacks its own culture and quirks, and I for one am guilty of getting caught up in University life and failing to seek out the quirks and discover its good ol’ charm. That being said, my goal this year is to remove myself from the hustle and bustle of student life in hopes of becoming more familiar with what lies beyond the Modern Languages Building and North Quad.

My first destination on my quest to tour Ann Arbor is the Ann Arbor Farmers’ Market. I’ve heard about it time and time again from local students and professors, but I have never made the effort to actually visit it. Other places I plan on visiting in the near future include the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum (which I hear is good for all ages) and the Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum (which I’ve passed before but have never taken the time to explore). And since I know many of you are either locals or have actually ventured off campus and explored Ann Arbor already, please, send suggestions my way!

Now, I understand that some students are really set in their routines on campus and are disinclined to venture out, but I challenge any homebody to take baby steps — literally — and see what new and exciting places and people there are right on the outskirts of the University. Recently, I walked past Main Street and discovered a plethora of new restaurants, coffee shops and boutique stores which are seemingly ignored by the student population and appear to be more frequented by Ann Arbor locals. While a simple visit to a store isn’t a profound exploration, it does allow for some quality people watching, which I find one of the best ways to learn about a town.

Now that I’ve been babbling for a couple hundred words and have hopefully convinced a few of you to grab your map and camera, I’d like to leave students with this thought: In a city as diverse and eclectic as Ann Arbor, there are endless opportunities for exploration and discovery. And though it’s easy to forget this as paper due dates approach and midterms loom overhead, there’s a lot to be said for a little venture off-campus. We might not be here for the long haul, but we’re here for now so we might as well get a bang for our buck. So, Farmer’s Market next Saturday anyone?

Leah Potkin can be reached at lpotkin@umich.edu.

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