“Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore!”
– Dorothy, in the film The Wizard of Oz
Posted by: Elizabeth Horst, Deputy Economic Counselor
For residents of Kansas, the association with the 1939 classic film can get to be a burdensome cliché. Young farm girl Dorothy Gale gets swooped up by a tornado that carries her and her house to a colorful magical land that is meant to be the opposite of drab Kansas. But having studied at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, I can vouch that Kansas is anything but boring. Granted, it might not be populated with Munchkins and flying monkeys like the Land of Oz, but it’s a great place to live and study.
I’m not a native Kansan– but I am a “Jayhawk” to my core, and love promoting the university known as “KU.” (Not UK – that’s the University of Kentucky!) The University of Kansas mascot is the Jayhawk, named for a mythical bird — half blue jay, half sparrow hawk. Jayhawk was also the name for troublemakers and rabble-rousers in the 1850s, when Kansas was a territory struggling to decide if it would allow slavery to be legal. Those fighting to make Kansas a Free State became known as Jayhawks, and the name stuck when Kansas started one of the first collegiate cheers – “Rock Chalk Jayhawk KU!” Google it – it was a famous rallying cry 100 years ago! And no, it doesn’t really make sense. No one knows why students started to shout, “Rock Chalk!” But it stuck.
KU is a typical big American “state” university — which means it gets almost all its funding from the government of the state of Kansas, as opposed to private funding. With 30,000 undergrad and graduate students, and 2,500 faculty members, it offers a variety of degrees, ranging from journalism to business to medicine to architecture to classic liberal arts like history, literature, and languages. Its city management and urban planning program is considered one of the best in the nation. However, if you want an engineering or agricultural degree, you have to head west to Kansas State University, the rival institution 100 miles away in Manhattan, Kansas.
Set on a hill visible for miles, Lawrence is a classic “college town,” meaning a community with lots of students and professors, where the main economic activity focuses on the university. Like many other “college towns,” Lawrence has lots of cafes, bars, bookstores, lots of bands and live music, interesting films and theaters. Some restaurants have been hosting students for generations, including “Joe’s Donuts,” which serves up hot glazed donuts from 9 pm to 1 am every night (just when students should be studying.)
Sports has always been an important part of KU’s history, but it’s currently most famous for the men’s basketball team – a big deal during the tournament known as “March Madness.” The team has won five national titles, including three national (NCAA) tournament championships, most recently in 2008. The basketball program is currently the second winning-est program in college basketball history (after the University of Kentucky) with an overall record of 2,038–799 through the 2010–11 season. James Naismith, inventor of basketball, was a coach at Kansas (and rumored to be the only coach with a losing record!) In the interest of truth in journalism, many long-time Jayhawks fans will also acknowledge that the men’s basketball team also has a history of getting into the NCAA tournament, and losing in the first or second round, thus producing the cheer, “Rock CHOKE Jayhawk, KU.”
When foreign students look at studying in the United States, they often want to go to the famous and glamorous places, like California, New York, or Chicago. But I’ve told friends you can’t go wrong going to a state university — you’ll get a great education, and the opportunity to experience very typical American life. In the middle of Kansas, in the middle of the United States, KU is a great place to spend a few years. Rock Chalk!