Luna and her father toured the cliff dwellings on a visit to Mesa Verde National Park. Photo courtesy of Faith Luna.

This year, junior Faith Luna will be attending Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colo. as a part of the National Student Exchange Program. She will be writing to us in this column about her experiences.

I’ve been in Durango, Colo. for approximately a month now, and it has been an adventure to say the least.

The adjustment is interesting. I pride myself in being a traveler and journeying all over the U.S. with a serious case of wanderlust. But visiting somewhere and living somewhere are very different. I’ve really only lived in the South my whole life. The states are a huge country, and sometimes when I’m out west it feels so foreign.

My first weekend in Colorado my father and I traveled about 40 minutes west of Fort Lewis to Mesa Verde National Park. When you first enter the park, you see the visitor’s center where you buy tickets to go down into the guided tours of the cliff dwellings. What we didn’t realize was that it was an additional hour drive out to the actual dwellings. We begrudgingly drove the varying speeds of 15 to 35 miles per hour out to the site. Sure, it was annoying but I’m glad we did. We saw Cliff Palace, the largest cliff dwelling in North America. It gives you a new perspective on life, both for those that came before you and for those that will come after you.

The way of life is different here in Colorado. You could say I’m in a form of culture shock. In the South, many topics are taboo, and even in a liberal arts community there still seems to be some unspoken rules. I had a professor here in Durango tell our class how she and her husband were looking for a second wife, because their other one moved away. I was startled, but no one else seemed to bat an eye. It’s interesting how different culture is, and how the unsaid rules shift. People here are so environmentally conscious, and if you’re not you’re almost looked down upon in a way.

Even as different as my two worlds are, some things still stay the same. College students perceive the townsfolk as invading their area, while really we, as college students, are only temporary residents of their home. In the Vallo they are called “townies,” and here they are called “durangatangs” (dur-ang-ah-tangs). It almost seems derogatory to me, maybe categorizing them as less because they aren’t in school.

Perceptions are an interesting concept. The first person I met here was a fellow Resident Assistant. He said something along the lines of ‘oh, so you’re the new girl.’ And then, in his best country twang, he asked if I was from Greenbow, Alabama, alluding to the movie “Forrest Gump.” I thought it was ridiculous! I didn’t even know how to spell Greenbow—I had to google it, for heaven’s sake. But I was a good sport and went along with it. I soon learned that that was one of the few things people out here connected to Alabama. Since then, it’s happened a couple of times.

Many things have proven difficult to adjust to, but the hardest is being in a long-distance relationship. You don’t even know you’re in love, beguiled by the other person. When I realized my feelings, I was terrified. I was in a terrible relationship for four years prior to my new partner and I was scared of being stuck in something miserable again. He knew I was leaving and I knew I was leaving, but still we pursued the relationship. Many times I contemplated staying just to be with him, but I couldn’t. Someone I greatly admire once posed this question to me: is he the best, or just the best where you’re at has to offer? And with that, I resolved to leave. Now that I’m away, I’ve found he is the best and I can confidently continue looking to our future.

I challenge anyone who is struggling to take a step of faith and pursue their desires. Is it really the best for you, be it a relationship, job or overall happiness? Never stay complacent, you may miss the happiness that’s waiting for you—even if it is a little extra work.