A sense of place: Lauren Otto’s reflection

We asked each of our 2016 summer interns to respond to their time in Three Rivers. Below is Lauren Otto’s reflection:


How can I possibly explain how my internship changed my sense of what “place” means to me? Place used to be simply a collection of geographic data. My home town of Newberg, Oregon is not so different from Three Rivers, Michigan if you describe it geographically. Both towns are distinct for being centered around waterways and railroads; both have a manufacturing history and are surrounded by farmland; both have historic theaters, local watering holes, and a handful of residents usually described as “characters” (although that is often not a fair description).

Three Rivers had so many geographical similarities to Newberg; the only difference was that it was a new place. Despite this sameness, uprooting myself and moving to a new place made me reevaluate. And yet, in Three Rivers I felt a connection to its landscape, places, and characters. This was novel, since I regarded my own town with affectionate apathy. Three Rivers was not my town, but it was a town that embraced me with such kindness that I wanted to move there immediately and settle there forever.

This left me wondering what on earth my town was doing wrong to make me feel so ambivalent towards it. But as summer went on and I kept spending my days working in Three Rivers, growing food, playing with kids, and interacting with the local communities, I realized that the problem was not my town: it was me. My town has good communities, it has gardens, it has characters, but none that I invested in. My internship has prepared me to connect with a community and build relationships. At home, I had to work at it, and I had failed to invest in my own community and as a result had not reaped the benefits of a connection. I resolved to go home at the end of the summer and approach my town with new eyes. I would not look at my place with apathy, but would resolve to work in it and for it, for its good and my own.

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