Out-of-state college is a unique experience


It’s less than 35 miles from most Valencia County homes to the University of New Mexico’s main campus. Many Class of 2013 county high school seniors will be enrolled there next fall.

However, some student-athletes will have a chance to join a college athletics program out of state. There are a lot of pros and cons to going far from home, and finances and degree programs are two of a million deciding factors.

I hope that if being homesick or being hundreds or even thousands of miles from Valencia County is a factor, the athletes still decide to take the chance.

There are certainly a lot of spectacular things about our in-state universities. Most of us know at least one person who went to a New Mexico school and learned a valuable trade. But there is something unique and special in going far away to college, and I would hope athletes wouldn’t write off such an opportunity simply because of the distance.

Homesickness is natural, and no one blames an athlete for wanting to stay within an hour or two (or three) of an entire support network, or wanting to be in a familiar New Mexico city, such as Albuquerque or Las Cruces. But there are 49 other states that would benefit from the exchange of culture, ideas and experiences that each New Mexican can bring with them.

College is one of the first critical, useful set of choices many young adults make, and while there isn’t a “wrong” choice for college, I wish I had made a bolder move after high school. I ended up living with my mom for the two years it took me to get an associates degree at the community college down the street, and my plans and goals afterward were self-designed and misguided.

I ended up moving to Albuquerque in my late 20s and finishing my degree at UNM. There are many fascinating people there, and I will always be proud to call myself a Lobo, but I know UNM was an enriching experience for me partly because it was a new and different place.

Judging by the amount of former Valencia County students and athletes in the student sections at UNM and NMSU sporting events, there are definitely fun times to be had with old friends and familiar digs. I just hope there is just as much enthusiasm and anticipation for an out-of-state college opportunity, because it could be a chance of a lifetime.

It makes sense folks return to their roots, especially if most of their family and friends are in one county — even if that leads to squabbling over the few government jobs in the area. Many New Mexicans have an admirable sense of state pride that I haven’t run into anywhere else, and natives of the Land of Enchantment sometimes refer to their hometowns as “mi tierra y mi gente.”

But there are more experiences to be had. Just as our ancestors took pride in starting a family at a young age and creating a strong, disciplined tradition in one home, so can talented leaders of tomorrow take pride in closely examining an opportunity.

If the tuition and travel back home can be worked out initially, a student-athlete can make more friends from tons of places, and can return to Belen, Los Lunas or Bosque Farms with a broadened perspective of how people live in other places.

Kyle Perea, a 2010 Los Lunas High graduate who played football and was a state-placer wrestler, has done wrestling and track and field at the Milwaukee School of Engineering in Wisconsin. He not only stays in touch with his LLHS classmates and returns to Valencia County when he can, but he has made friends with tons of talented college classmates, who will likely remain a part of his life in many positive ways.

Not all offers will be the right ones, of course. Playing time and being close to a sick or aging relative are examples of extreme circumstances that keep kids closer to home. But if a chance to play college athletics in another state looks like a viable and fun experience, I hope the miles won’t get in the way.

-- Email the author at jbrooks@news-bulletin.com.