A crowd of more than 8,000 swarm up and down Block Street in Fayetteville, Ark. at the Block Street Block Festival. Several University of Arkansas college students volunteered at the festival held on May 20.
When Albert Djoclinton moved from Indonesia to the college town of Fayetteville, Ark. eight months ago, he came with little knowledge of American culture or the English language.
“It was a terrifying transition,” said Djoclinton, now a freshman at the University of Arkansas. “At first I wasn’t sure where to start, but a teacher encouraged me to go outside of the university and start volunteering in the community.”
Djoclinton was one of several UA volunteers at the Block Street Block Party festival held May 20. More than 8,000 people swarmed to Block Street in downtown Fayetteville to visit booths sponsored by local businesses and hear live music.
“Now, just listen to me,” Djoclinton said as he motioned to the crowd. “It’s festivals like this one that helped me learn the language and the local culture. I don’t know what my college experience would have been like if I had never stepped off campus.”
Yet failing to explore the off-campus community is a trap that new college students can easily fall into, said Arthur Leal, UA graduate assistant for the student ambassador program.
“A college campus can be its own city where everything you can need is provided for you,” Leal said. “But the university only goes so far, and you can’t stay on campus and experience Fayetteville. You’ll be missing out on a unique culture of people.”
To UA sophomore Jordan Miller, the Block Street festival offered a perfect example of the cultural wealth college towns like Fayetteville have to offer.
“It is little things like the Block Street Block Party that make me love Fayetteville so much,” said Miller, who also volunteered at the event. “It’s cool to see college kids and families alike come celebrate the town’s local businesses.”
Held for the first time last year, the event grew by more than 2,000 people in its second year, said Hannah Withers, owner of a bakery on Block Street and one of the festival’s founders. Block Street is home to 30 businesses ranging from boutiques to bars, all of which are locally owned.
“(Block Street) is a short bike ride or walk from campus, and it makes me so sad that some students never make it to us,” Withers said. “There are students who have eaten hundreds of meals in our home and have become friends for life. Exploring the town you’re living in for four years enriches the experience and is a different way of educating yourself.”
While venturing off campus is an obvious first step in taking full advantage of college towns, students can also use websites such as College Town Network to discover what makes their area unique.
Greg Woodman, College Town Network’s creator, said he saw an obvious gap in online content about college towns.
“There’s always information out there on the universities,” Woodman said. “But I wanted a site that provides information to students, alums and parents of why college towns themselves are such a great and vibrant place to live.”
The website contains profiles for 60 college towns — including Fayetteville — that Woodman deemed the 60 best in America.
“Our site is designed to get people out of the dorm, fraternity or flat-screen in your room,” Woodman said. “Students can browse our site to find locally owned restaurants and attractions, such as festivals and concerts, in the local community.”
Woodman said he encourages students to become a part of the local environment through pursuing their passions.
“Whether it be non-profit work, nature, sports or food, find what you love and form those connections within your community, not just your university,” Woodman said. “Plus, when you get to the job-interviewing stage, it shows you did more than just download Netflix in between classes.”
Two UA graduates’ passion for Fayetteville’s nature led them to create their own clothing line, dubbed Fayettechill, which has since become a catchphrase for the town’s unique, laid-back culture. Mo Elliott started the company in 2009 as a junior at the university.
“We fell in love with the outdoors and wanted to represent the passion we have for the Ozark Mountains and beauty surrounding our college,” said Grant Holden, who joined Elliott last year and is now president of the clothing company. “Elliott wanted to showcase our area through a clothing line. We started with 50 shirts and now have a full spring and winter line.”
Originally from Dallas, Holden graduated last year with a degree in journalism. He encouraged students not to wait to explore what surrounds their campuses, but to start on day one.
“The main mission of Fayettechill is to convey the passion we have for the nature in our area,” Holden said. “I never would have discovered my love for this region had I stuck to campus. So, get out and start exploring right now. You never know what will change your life.”
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