When I first came to the US, to join grad school, I HATED this city..or rather town. I remember calling up my friends back home in Bombay and crying "main gaav mein rehti hoon!!". Coming from Bombay, where everyone was all always on the go, and having to run behind buses all my life, to a place where the buses actually wait for you, was a big change for me. It took me a while to get used to the concept of "university town". Where the university, and perhaps a popular college sport, is what the town is all about. But soon enough, it grew on me. One of the things I loved was the amount of greenery. Having lived in a concrete jungle all my life, this was a complete treat for me. The music scene was another big plus- "Downtown" may consist of all of 3 streets, but is very vibrant and there's all kinds of live music to suit everyone's taste. This was another thing I began enjoying. I realised that a "small-town" was the perfect place to spend 5 - 6 years working on a Ph.D. Easy-going, peaceful, and minimum hassles such as traffic jams, pollution, and other things that can be a pain in big cities. If you stick around in such a place long enough, you become familiar with several people. And that's a nice feeling- to frequent your favourite cafe or bar and build up a rapport with the guy at the counter. Or have the waiter at your favourite restaurant recognize you and always remember to bring you a tall glass of water, no ice, with a slice of lemon. Or to just walk about downtown and run into at least 2 or 3 people you know.. Or the fact that there's just one fedex guy who does the package deliveries for the entire town...(and he's cute too) AND he knows me by my first name- so if there are deliveries that are sent to my home address, he automatically brings them to the lab! I can't tell you how kicked I am by that! :-). Then there's Bob, the handy-man I run into every now and then and chat him up. So if I've a leaking faucet or something to fix, it is not too hard to catch hold of him and he does it for me in a jiffy.
I can enjoy living in a one-bedroom apartment by myself and not pay an arm and a leg for it. I can even own a garden plot if I want. I can avoid driving to some extent, and bike or walk around. I need not be afraid of losing my way (yes, even if it's a small town, i'm often losing my way while driving in new localities :) ) because wherever you are, one can never be too far from the main beltway that loops around town. People are nice- the town has a nice cosy feel to it, as against the impersonal vibes that one gets living in a sprawl of suburbs. Being in a university town also means that at the same time, people are quite liberal and forward, and it's not hard to find a bunch of people with a common cause or interest as yours and get involved with them.
Sure enough, after 5 years, a "small-town" can get to you. But that's when you are also preparing for your exit, and if anything, it only motivates you to hurry up and finish. It also makes me realise that I remain a big-city girl at heart, and yearn to live next in a place where I can witness the daily hustle-bustle, chase buses and trains, see tall buildings around me...and then crib about traffic jams, pollution, astronomical costs, etc. :)