Rural vs. Urban: seniors O’Hern and Kulkarni reflect on their unique lifestyles

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Unlike most schools, St. Paul Academy and Summit School is a school without districts. SPA students do not live within a five mile radius, nor do they occupy a specific blob of properties surrounding the school. In fact, there is no guarantee that students even live within an hour of each other.

Geographic diversity at SPA is certainly not a bad thing, but sometimes it can be hard to understand the living environments of other students. It is difficult for one student to comprehend the complexities and details of another student’s life, especially if they are accustomed to only one environment. According to a poll sent out to to 200 students with 24.5% responding, the majority of SPA students live in the Twin Cities. Still, 30.6% of respondents said they live outside of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Of these SPA students who live outside of the Twin Cities, most live in an area they consider to be a suburb, however students attend SPA from rural Minnesota as well.

Senior Colin O’Hern, a resident of Dennison Minnesota, recognizes the difficulties of living in a rural environment.

“Right now there’s not really any point to [moving into the city]. If you asked me that question five years ago I would’ve said yes. It just makes everything easier, sports games, tournaments, everything is in the cities. The commute is less, there’s more people around.”

One of the repeated themes of rural living is the challenge of distance. O’Hern is not too bothered by the daily commute.

“Right now when I go to school I just listen to country music, don’t really think about much,” O’Hern said.

One big factor in a rural student’s life that an urban student may not encounter is farm work. O’Hern began to help out on his family’s farm around the age of five and now has year-round responsibilities taking care of the animals. The O’Hern farm has chickens, sheep, two donkeys, three horses, and at least one goat. Feeding and caring for these animals is a unique challenge but one that O’Hern has been doing for a long time.

Right now when I go to school I just listen to country music, don’t really think about much.”

— Senior Colin O'Hern

“Every year, three times a year, you have to shear [the sheep]. But first you have to put them inside the barn and they do not go willingly. So you just kinda have to trick them by giving them food. But that’s usually not the hard part,” O’Hern said.

“Once you get in there you have to give them all shots and since we have about 20 sheep or so, and we don’t label them or print them or anything, so you give them a shot and then you have to tag them and put them outside without letting the other ones out. But you open the door knob and they ate all the food so they want to go out. When I was 8 the big ram, the one with the horns, just came and chucked me. I was just riding him backward around the barn.”

Though farm work is a constant, it becomes easier in some seasons, particularly spring.

“You just got off of winter so the ground’s a little soft but not too bad. It’s just cold enough so you don’t have to do much outside yet because everything’s still thawing out,” O’Hern said.

Rural students like O’Hern have more of a presence at SPA than at other metro area schools, however they are not the majority. 44.9% of poll respondents live in St. Paul and 24.5% live in Minneapolis. Senior Neeti Kulkarni lives in an apartment building in downtown Minneapolis and experiences a much different environment compared to O’Hern.

Kulkarni lived in the eastern suburb of Woodbury until she moved to the 32nd floor of a Minneapolis apartment building midway through her ninth grade year.

[Looking down on the balcony] kinda gives you perspective on what’s out there and it’s just a really surreal feeling to be able to see the entire downtown laid out straight in front of you.”

— Senior Neeti Kulkarni

“Sometimes you do have to shut the blinds because the city lights can get kinda bright at night. But it has gotten a lot easier, when I first moved here I used to wake up at 3 a.m. every night because I heard police sirens blaring. Then I got used to it and now it’s really easy to sleep, and it’s kinda nice to look at the lights when I go to sleep now,” Kulkarni said.

Kulkarni enjoys the transition from Woodbury to Minneapolis, a city she finds more exciting.

“In Woodbury when you drive at 8 p.m. at night everything is dark and it looks like it’s completely dead. When you’re [in Minneapolis] at 8 p.m. everything is just starting to open up. People are milling around, the Guthrie is playing shows, it’s like people are alive,” Kulkarni said.

Additionally Kulkarni loves spending time on her balcony which looks directly toward the Minneapolis skyline.

“There’s not a feeling like it. You go out and you feel … I wouldn’t say you feel powerful because it is really freaky to look down on how many people are there … but it kinda gives you perspective on what’s out there and it’s just a really surreal feeling to be able to see the entire downtown laid out straight in front of you,” Kulkarni said.

While generally SPA students live within a driveable distance to the school, students are spread widely across Minneapolis, St. Paul and surrounding suburbs. A student’s environment greatly impacts their day to day life but does not necessarily impact their future.

“I don’t think where I live impacts where I want my college to be. I live on a farm, I would be fine going to the city, it really just depends on the college, not where it is located. I know a bunch of city people who are going to places in the middle of nowhere. But I’m not sure if that’s because they hate the noise or the taxes or what not,” O’Hern said.

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