Growing up in metro Detroit, my parents always told me that smart girls can go to college wherever they want. I was encouraged to work hard and dream big. So after graduating with honors from a suburban private school, I matriculated to another private school, this one in Chicago. My college life consists of studying hard to maintain a scholarship-level GPA, clocking a few hours a week at my cushy work-study job, and walking around a postcard-perfect lakeside campus.
Whenever I return to visit Detroit, however, my "welcome home" is tinged with mixed reactions. I'm either congratulated for successfully fleeing the sinking ship of the Motor City ("Escape while you can!") or scorned by earnest "Save Detroit" crusaders for abandoning my ailing hometown in its time of need.
Going to college is one of the few times in life when it's relatively easy to move away and start over. You apply, you're accepted, and you pick up and move into a ready-made new life with automatic friends and clearly defined goals. For me, going away to school was less about leaving Detroit than it was about seizing the opportunity to challenge myself and live somewhere other than where I grew up. Chicago was close enough for me to come home when I wanted or needed to, but far enough away to force me to confront the hallmarks of independence: doing my own laundry, figuring out public transportation, getting my homework done without being reminded.
Will I ever return to Detroit full time? After all, my family is here and I have a lifetime of connections in the tri-county area. But I worry, would I be able to get a job in my field, or afford grad school? Would I even be able to land a job in Chicago if I chose to remain there? Or would I run out of rent money before I even made it to interviews?
Whenever I'm driving back and forth between the cities, the signs on I-94 entrance ramps give me an ultimatum: one direction to Detroit and one to Chicago, each path with its own faults. One way brings guilt for participating in "brain drain," the other brings the bittersweet dismay that turning my back could be the key to my future elsewhere.
Then I remember that it's not an ultimatum at all. After graduation next spring, I can go wherever the winds — and the job market — take me. But for now, I'm just going to enjoy the best of both worlds, riding along I-94 as both the path to urban independence in Chicago and the country road that takes me home to Detroit.Sallyann Price is a Metro Times editorial intern. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org