PHOENIX -- Picture yourself as a high school senior, traveling around the country, touring college campuses to figure out which school is right for you. When you left Wisconsin for your spring break, it was snowing. Then you get to Tempe, home of Arizona State University and it's sunny and warm, and the girls are wearing bathing suits (albeit under cover) to class. You pinch yourself and come to the conclusion that you plan to spend the next four years of your life -- and maybe more -- studying in a desert oasis. You wonder why you hadn't decided this years before.
Now picture yourself as a high school student from Hawaii. You've never see a flake of snow in your life. But something draws you to the cold climate of college in Wisconsin. What's right for one student is different for another. Or maybe the grass -- or the frost -- is just greener on the other side.
"When I walked around ASU, I fell in love with it," says Swapna Kulkarni, a college senior from Brookfield. "I love the weather, and they have a really good business program."
"When it came to school, I really just wanted a total different scenery," says Kyle Porter, a 2004 graduate from Beloit who now works in commercial real estate in Phoenix. "I wanted to see a different part of the country. I wasn't getting away from anything, but I wanted something different than the schools I saw in Wisconsin."
"Plus, I love to golf," he says. "It pretty much took one visit. Between the attractive females walking around the campus, plus golfing in January ... there's so much to do in Phoenix."
What's the best part about going to college in Arizona? Of course, Kulkarni says it's the weather. But she also likes other aspects of Phoenix, too.
"There's a lot of camping and hiking, but also a lot of good live music, which is awesome," she says.
Porter agrees. "There's just so much to do. Obviously, there's Spring Training. But I don't care what kind of music you like, Phoenix is always on everyone's tour schedule."
For right or for wrong, ASU has earned a reputation a school that likes to party. Can that be distracting?
"Yeah, it is," says Kulkarni. "You have to get your priorities straight."
Still, others Kulkarni knows from back home just couldn't cut it.
"Usually, people transfer back after the first year. But if you can survive and hang tough in this different culture, you'll be fine."
Says Porter, "The first thing people would say to me would be, 'Aw, man, I would never go to class down there.' It's funny that they have that mentality, because there aren't a ton of nice days during the school season in Wisconsin. I thought it was the complete opposite -- if it was cold I wouldn't be going to class."
Porter says he knew three people from the Midwest who dropped out of ASU. For his own sophomore year, he transferred back to UW-Whitewater for a semester, "but I came right back."
"The culture is so different in the students," he says, noting all the California transplants on campus. "And it's tough when you see a million beautiful women, and you're not with any of them."
But Milwaukee, for its part, is actually quite well-represented at ASU -- which, for some reason, isn't too surprising.
"There's a lot of Wisconsin pride," says Kulkarni. "If you see people wearing Wisconsin stuff, you'll call them out for sure. There's a lot of friendliness between us, which is really good, because we can relate to home."
"There are a lot of Wisconsin people here, actually," says Porter. "I lived in the dorms, and on my floor alone, there were two people from Wisconsin. In every class, there was someone wearing a UW shirt. I've even had people stop me asking if my Beloit shirt was from Wisconsin."
But coming home for winter break is tough, says Kulkarni, and not just because of the weather.
"When you live out here, your blood thins. But when you go home, you readjust. But I miss Milwaukee -- the familiarity, the friendliness and the good beer."
Says Porter, "I just miss the people. People are so much more down to earth back home. Sometimes I want to grab people by the shoulders here and tell them to slow it down."
"It's hard to be far away from my family," says Kulkarni. "You have to start all over when you come down here for school and make a whole new group of friends and people that you can trust."
Porter, who went back to the Midwest after graduating, found himself again in Phoenix six months later to start his career in real estate.
"I love it out here, and this is the one common thing I hear -- I still love going back home. Nobody leaves Wisconsin in spite," says Porter.
"I would love it if I could take the culture of Wisconsin and put it here, that would be heaven," he says. "And I'll never miss Summerfest again."
More Than Just The Weather
It's not hard to understand why a Wisconsinite would crave the sunny Southwest, but why would someone from an island paradise like Hawaii crave a college experience in Milwaukee?
According to Celia Downes, a junior at Marquette University from Aiea, Hawaii, it was mostly about the academics.
"I heard about Marquette University's journalism program from my aunties and uncles who attended Marquette, and I also wanted to 'get off the rock,'" says Downes. "I wanted to attend a good school in a place that wasn't Hawaii, and Marquette seemed like the right place to take that risk."
Believe it or not, Downes says she was getting tired of living in Hawaii, and she knew that the colleges in her state weren't as good as what she was looking for.
"Frankly, I knew I could do better, and to a Hawaii high school student, doing better usually means going to an out-of-state university," says Downes.
For Emily Deimel, a Marquette senior from Pasadena, Calif., the decision also came down to her college's reputation.
"I knew that I wanted to go to a good journalism school, and I refused to let location deter me from applying to schools that were out of the area. The only school in the state of California that had a journalism department that met my standards was 20 minutes away, and I thought that if I did not go further from home I would not get to grow as a person," she says.
As is the case in any city, many incoming freshmen stay close to home.
"I needed to separate myself from them so I could find out who it is that I wanted to be," says Deimel.
Caitin Schaffner, a Marquette junior from outside Houston, came to Milwaukee because of the school's journalism program, but also because she had relatives here.
"I never really got into the whole University of Texas/A&M scene, and my parents are from the Midwest, so they weren't familiar with Texas schools either," says Schaffner.
She says location, sunny or snowy, didn't play a part in her decision.
"I wanted to go to the best school I could, no matter where it was," says Schaffner.
But to all these tropical imports, the "snow factor" did come as shock to the system.
Says Downes, "I had seen snow once before coming to Milwaukee, when I went to Seattle on a family vacation to visit my auntie who lives there. It wasn't as thrilling, or as nice, as I had expected it."
"I had seen snow in the mountains, but I had never seen it actually snow," says Deimel. "After I told my friends that, they took it as their personal mission to familiarize me with the snow, and I constantly became the target of numerous snowball fights. I didn't know what a parka was, and I did not own a pair of closed-toe shoes -- let alone boots.
Downes' and Schaffner's only regret is just how long winter is in Milwaukee.
"I only start wishing I had stayed home when the wind chill advisories kick in and when it's still snowing in late March."
Says Schaffner, "I wish Marquette was somewhere warm so I could have them both. I don't mind it in the winter, but it gets annoying when it's spring and it's still cold because it starts to affect your mood. But it's nice to go warm and see the sun every once in a while."
But Deimel says bring it on -- though she could live without the sub-zero temperatures.
"I love the snow, " she says. "I have so many pictures of it coming down. But I hate the slush and the cold temperatures. Really any day when the temperature drops below 40 degrees I question my sanity. Why am I freezing in Milwaukee when I could be on the beach in California?"
Heather Leszczewicz contributed to this report.
Andy is the president, publisher and founder of OnMilwaukee. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.
Before launching OnMilwaukee.com in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.
Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.