If you’re reading this and you’re a fellow University student, I’m willing to bet a decent amount of money you’re from NOVA. If you’re reading this and you don’t know what “NOVA” is, you probably don’t even go here — you guys can take solace in knowing that most people who don’t live in Virginia have no idea “NOVA” is supposed to stand for the northern Virginia area. As a disclaimer, I have a lot of friends from NOVA who are incredible and super intelligent, and I’m sure it’s a lot of fun up there with all the shopping and food and “things-to-do.” At some point in my high school years, there was nothing I wanted more than to escape my small town and move somewhere bigger, where I could finally buy some cute clothes and stop eating at the same three restaurants. More than anything, I was utterly disillusioned with all the small-town gossip that circulated around the halls of my school. By the time graduation came, I was more than ready to get to Charlottesville and away from southwest Virginia. As time flies by, however, and each break at home feels shorter and shorter, I’ve decided my small town is absolutely my favorite place in the entire world. The closest shopping mall might be a town over — and subpar at best — and I may rotate between three local restaurants every time I go out to eat, but there is much more to Blacksburg than this. Things that once bothered me and suffocated me about this place I now appreciate the most. For example, at any given time in the day when you go to Kroger, there is a 98 percent chance you will see at least one person you know and stop to have a conversation. When I used to scope out my teachers from across the aisle, I’d usually run towards the other side of the store until the coast was clear. Now, I love stopping to talk to old teachers about school and my newfound appreciation for their teaching. There is something nice about seeing old friends, or even acquaintances, from high school every once in a while too. The once annoying tight network here is now, I realized, the very strand that holds our community together. Yes, at times, it is frustrating everyone knows everything about everyone, but it also makes us all look out for each other. On a few occasions, during my middle school baking stage, I literally borrowed sugar from my next-door neighbors. I find a lot of comfort in knowing I could walk across the street and get help from anybody in my neighborhood. Among other things I love about my hometown are the friends I’ve grown up with, gone through drama with, and who still are the most loyal, kind and funny people I know to date. It’s pretty nice to have a breathtaking hike is only 30 minutes away, and that it only ever takes 10 minutes to get from my house to the other side of town. Finally, the silence of the area is something you cannot find just anywhere. If you were to take a walk along my neighborhood paths, there is a point, on the top of the hill, where you can look out down the hill and see the entire neighborhood. At the bottom of the hill is a small pond where my brother and I made a secret path and geese flock to. Behind you is empty land scattered with trees and in front you can see the sunset over the mountains. This scene I just described to you is my definition of a happy place. I’ve realized I don’t need a big shopping mall or a lot of restaurants to have a great time or a fulfilling experience at home. If you know me, you know that I proudly tell everyone I know that I’m from southwest Virginia and, “I promise it’s better than NOVA.” There’s so much more I could go on about in regards to this place and how I think small towns are the best place to live and raise kids, but I genuinely think it’s something you would have to experience on your own. Don’t get me wrong, I am sure city life is fun and entertaining and the perfect place for some people. For me, it took a few years to realize the small town I desperately wanted to get away from was, in fact, the only place I really ever want to be.