Freshman Year

Outside the Quad: How to Get Along With Locals When You’re in College

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While living in a college town has many benefits — cultural institutions, good, cheap food — it can grate on a taxpayer when, every August or September, their quiet is interrupted by hordes of emancipated teens.

And when you behave badly, it really ticks off your neighbors. “Don’t wear your backpacks on the MBTA,” pleaded Boston Magazine at the start of the school year.

“While others pile into the packed trolley like sardines, it does not appear to enter their soon-to-be-shaped minds that 'Hey, maybe I should take off this stupid backpack and put in on the ground between my legs for the benefit of those around me,'” the magazine wrote.

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Here are 7 ways to leave your mark on your college town — in a good way.

Be careful on bikes.

Pay attention for your own sake and for the sake of the drivers who are relying on you to make good decisions. “I would urge students to wear helmets and remember that there are cars and people around,” said Elise Spang, who lives in Davis, Calif., home to the University of California, Davis.

Study at the library.

If you’re going to hit up a coffee shop, “don’t sit there for 4-6 hours using the wifi,” Spang said. Most locals don’t have access to your campus study spots. So why take up their one place to hang?

Be respectful of commuters.

“Can students stay on the green line and not take any other T lines unless it's outside of work hours?” said Scott Goldstone, who lives in Jamaica Plain, Mass., of the popular commuter rail. That may or may not be possible, but in general, try to avoid clogging mass transportation if you don’t need to. “My commutes had been so peaceful until about the beginning of September.”

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Be nice.

“The college students we appreciated the most were the ones who treated locals like they would treat their own grandmothers,” said Julian Kesner, who grew up in Middlebury, Vermont (and went on to marry a Middlebury College grad many years later). “Respect and graciousness, in other words. Those students appreciated that they were simply passing through for a few years, and that locals were here long before them and will be there long after they leave. Not all students had such perspective, being 19 years old and drunk most of the time.”

Support local businesses.

Sarah Millar, owner of The Dram Shop, a growler refill station and taproom in Missoula, Montana, home of the University of Montana, suggested, “Find breweries, coffee shops, the best pizza, clothing shops, gear shops and more.”

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Get involved.

“Find a non-profit that does meaningful work to you and volunteer,” Millar said. “Or help spread the word about their events.”

Learn how to drive before you get to town.

“The most common offense was bad parking,” Kesner said. “Whenever you saw a pricey SUV with out-of-state plates parked over a painted line or blocking another car, you just shook your head and said, ‘typical.’” And get to know the rules of the road where you are. “In Missoula, pedestrians always have right of way, Millar said, “which is hard for people to get used to sometimes.”

And finally, remember that the locals are actually grateful you’re there. You bring fresh energy, culture, and commerce to your college town.

“The fact remained that the town I grew up in was only as nice as it was because it had a college there,” Kesner said. “Locals often forgot that when they got annoyed with how an SUV was parked, but it was and still is an uneasy symbiosis. Idiot college kids are a necessary nuisance. Polite college kids affirm why you live in a college town.”