I grew up in a fairly large city in Iowa and constantly dreamed of heading off to Chicago or New York after graduation. I never really connected with my Midwestern roots, and I didn’t know much about my surroundings beyond my own neighborhood. Typical teenager–I didn’t know because I didn’t care to know. I had my head in the clouds and was fully convinced that the Midwest had nothing to offer.
And then came college, and I wound up in Nebraska.
It wasn’t my original plan to stick so close to home, and it certainly wasn’t my plan to go to Nebraska of all places. But I did, and here I (still) am. And though I still have dreams of spending some time living in another state, a bigger city, a different community, Nebraska has grown on me. There are things about this place that have surprised me and made me believe it’s a great place to call home.
I live in the state capital, Lincoln. It’s a city of roughly 268,700 people, and the second-largest city in Nebraska (after Omaha). Most of the state is made up of tiny towns and villages and lots and lots of farmland. But here in Lincoln, we have a different experience. And, to be totally honest, it’s nothing like I thought living in Nebraska would be. Lincoln, Omaha, and Nebraska in general has surprised me in several ways.
1. Being a Husker fan isn’t just a Nebraska thing.
If you grew up a Husker fan, maybe this wouldn’t surprise you. But I’m a native Hawkeye, so I had to learn about Husker-dom from the ground up. And wouldn’t you know it, Husker fans are everywhere. I’ve run into them on mountains in Colorado and airports in Las Vegas. They’re in Seattle, Texas, and Chicago. I once watched a game in a bar in New Orleans with members of a southern chapter of my sorority. It seems that once you’re a Husker, you’re never alone.
2. Everyone is up on ag.
When I first came here, I described a pivot as being a giant sprinkler. (Little tip: don’t do that.) Around here, even the city folk know how a pivot works, and the average Lincolnite knows more about Nebraska agriculture than I ever would have guessed. Almost anyone could carry on an intelligent conversation about how to grow things, what the farmers are up to, or how the extra-wet spring will effect the economy. It’s really pretty impressive.
3. There are a lot of opportunities.
There are all kinds of programs that are designed to keep young people in the state and attract young professionals and businesses to Nebraska. That makes for awesome opportunities you might not find elsewhere. Get a scholarship, land an internship, start a business, travel the world. Nebraska’s a good home base for any and all of those things, and they’ve put a lot of things in place to help you out.
4. There’s a real effort being made to build up the creative community.
I really enjoy the creative vibes coming out of places like Portland, Austin, and San Francisco. But Nebraska has its own ways of fostering creatives. Places like Bench in Omaha give people a place to work and even teach ’em a thing or two. Organizations like The Pilgrimer tell the stories of local successes. There are craft fairs like crazy, and the area has produced some really amazing artists and small businesses. Here’s a sampling of my favorites:
And that’s just a drop in the bucket when it comes to the full scope of the creative scene in Nebraska!
5. Recruiters look here first.
The Midwest work ethic is no joke, and companies across the country know it. They come to Nebraska looking for employees, and applicants from here are very often at the top of the list of candidates. I’ve heard from several people that companies prioritize Nebraska’s students/job seekers. So, it seems that if you’re looking to get ahead, Nebraska’s a good place to start.
6. There’s more political division than you’d expect.
In general, Nebraska’s pretty conservative. But when you get into Lincoln and Omaha, opinions are much more divided. Omaha especially is (again, generalizing here) pretty liberal. It’s just not something I expected in light of all the associations between the Midwest and old-fashioned values and whatnot. Especially when you consider number seven.
7. The Catholic community is huge.
The Lincoln diocese is actually known around the world as one of the most conservative Catholic dioceses in existence (obviously places like Rome are going to land the very top spots on that list). People are also extremely active in the church, especially college students. The church is alive and thriving around here in a way it just wasn’t back home.
8. UNL has a huge Greek system.
Every couple of years or so things happen and the total number of houses shifts up or down by one or two. But it’s consistently in the double digits. From my conversations with other Greeks around the country, that’s unusually high. So guess what, Nebraska guys and gals: you’ve got options. Lots and lots of options.
9. There’s a lot of ethnic diversity.
Lincoln especially has a ton of other cultures represented in the city. The university plays a big role in this, but it’s also a destination for many immigrants and refugees coming to the U.S. Mary Pipher’s book, The Middle of Everywhere, tells the story really well–I’m extremely glad that it was assigned reading in one of my college classes back in the day. You can see the diversity everywhere you look, not only in the people but also in the businesses. For example, tiny grocery stores sell the ingredients to cook dishes from Africa, India, Sudan, Vietnam, and a dozen other countries. It’s amazing to see how many different cultures you can encounter in Nebraska.
10. There’s also a lot of culinary diversity.
Finally, let’s talk about the restaurants. There are restaurants and food trucks serving French, Indian, Greek, Vietnamese, Mexican, Ethiopian, Sudanese, Thai, Czech, German, and Moroccan food (among others). There’s also a huge variety of locally grown and made foods. Basically, you’ll probably be able to find something to suit you no matter how adventurous (or not) you are with your food–it’s not all meat and potatoes!
So there you have it–Nebraska is full of surprises. In fact, it can be just as much an adventure living here as living anywhere else. But we have better beef and less traffic, so I think we win!
What has surprised you about where you live?