College town to capital city: what it was like to move from Ann Arbor to Washington, DC

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Graphic by Ella Pearlman-Chang

Martina Sanchez-Gonzalez

Not even the entire first day of school passed before I noticed about ten people in the Wilson hallways sporting University of Michigan gear. Coming from “The Big House” city itself, Michigan apparel made up pretty much everyone’s closet, so at first, I didn’t even notice all the maize and blue in the halls. Despite the number of Michigan fans I’ve found in DC, life here has proven to be completely different from my past in Ann Arbor.

Growing up in Ann Arbor comes with its infinite pros, as well as its numerous cons. You love your small-town vibe and go-to places, as well as the communal friendships and social life. You also feel proud to live in a college town and lucky to attend all of the Michigan football, basketball, and hockey games, cheering on your favorite team. 

On the contrary, you have to deal with unfavorable weather. Snow days are expected. As the snow in the winter comes up to your knees on the regular, you can imagine the very real exigency of snow days in Ann Arbor. Last year we had a full week off of school due to snow, during which we’d go in a friend’s hot tub and let our hair freeze upright. Even in the summer up north on the lake, you need to bring plenty of sweatshirts. The weather this past December in DC has been something people from Michigan dream of. 

Moving to the nation’s capital has exposed me to several differences between the small town that I grew up in and the busy, bustling vibe of DC. Unlike DC, there are only four public high schools in Ann Arbor. You know almost everyone in the city, regardless of school. Friday night high school football games are the hype of the weekend, followed by a Michigan football game on Saturday with tailgating at all hours. In DC, there is more to a Friday night than a football game, but school spirit—I’m sorry to say it—is lacking. 

A main contrast is the overall attitude of students. In and out of school, many at Wilson are far more welcoming and kind to students than anywhere in Ann Arbor. Having to start all over again has been challenging, but so many people at Wilson have been making the change much easier. (Shout out to the Wilson field hockey team for bringing me to where I am now!) There are fewer cliques here, bigger circles, and greater diversity. My old school was made up of about 600 mostly-white students, so Wilson’s diverse student body is another bonus. 

I’ll soon be 16, meaning that a majority of my friends have their licenses in Ann Arbor. There, you need a car to go practically anywhere in town, spending a great portion of your day behind the wheel. Although that leaves plenty of time to blast your best playlists with your friends, it gets tiring. I now walk to stores and restaurants and can proudly say I’m hardly ever in my car anymore. 

Nightlife remains the same pretty much anywhere you go for a teenager—you find a move with your friends and party until the late hours of the night. But, there are many more things to do here than in Ann Arbor. Your nights vary and all have the potential to be exciting, whereas in Ann Arbor, you get accustomed to the same repetitive routines and habits when you head out. 

No doubt about it, I miss my friends, school, teams, and neighborhood. When I go back to visit, I can’t help but want to stay there and return to my old life. Though my first month at school this year felt awful because all I could do was compare everything to how it used to be, I’ve learned to appreciate that DC is different than Ann Arbor. I accepted that things won’t be the same as they used to be, but they’ll be new, and change isn’t always bad. 

While I would not say I enjoyed the move, I’m grateful to be here now with the new friends I’ve made. I have benefitted from living here and have adapted to fun, exciting, and new experiences. As much as I hate to admit it, I wouldn’t take the move back.