WWS Blog

Reflections on Leaving a City for a Small Town

Nov 11, 2015
Published by:
Dustin Palmer, MPA '16
NYC Municipal Building

Each week, I go from a prison outside of Trenton, New Jersey to a Princeton University classroom to the New York City Mayor’s Office in Manhattan, all within a 48 hour span. It’s not a routine I anticipated when I applied to graduate school two years ago, but it has become integral to my experience here at the Woodrow Wilson School. And it certainly keeps me on my toes.

When I was applying to policy schools, exuberant alumni quickly made the Woo my top choice, but I was concerned about moving to Princeton. A small expensive town with cold winters in the middle of New Jersey? Not exactly where I imagined spending two years of my life. I knew the trade-off for an unparalleled education would be worth it in the end, but frankly, I was worried about pining away for all the places I’d still like to live.

In fact, my social life at the Woo quickly became as vibrant as in St. Louis or Washington, D.C., and at times while overseas this summer I missed my active school routine. Now I’m three semesters in and the truth is I’m almost embarrassed at how pleased I am to live in Princeton, just as I am to admit my newfound passion for playing squash. When in Rome, right?

But to some extent, the location isn’t really a trade-off at all. On Thursdays, I intern in the municipal building in New York City (and inevitably stay for a drink or dinner in the city with Woo friends). On Wednesdays, I travel east to tutor young incarcerated men and learn from their experiences and hopes. And I bicycle and camp in all directions on the weekends. I never realized how credible of a nickname “the Garden State” really was until moving here.

And that’s just during the typical school week. I’m writing this post from Delhi, India, as I wrap up a terrific policy workshop on sanitation and government service delivery issues with my fellow second year classmates. I spent part of the summer in immersive Spanish study in Medellin, Colombia and the rest of it interning with an Indonesian NGO in Jakarta. Moreover, the school calendar allows me ample time to visit my family and friends in the places I left to be here. I will be sad to go back to counting vacation days when I want to visit people and places after graduation.

Most strengths have accompanying weaknesses. I can’t tell you that the rent is cheap here or that I have an endless series of neighborhoods to explore. But I can say that the school has supported me in regularly joining environments and communities I never would have imagined reaching when I moved to central New Jersey. This, in addition to giving me an intimate, enjoyable space to get to know my tremendous classmates and professors while picking up the practical skills I wanted from graduate school.

The Hoosier in me hates to say it, but I’d move to New Jersey again in a heartbeat.


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