It was December, nearing the end of our first quarter at UChicago, when two of my best friends and I decided to go downtown on a Friday evening. I have to admit, though, I was taken aback when I realized one of my friends—a native of southern California—had never experienced one particular aspect of winter before we were standing on the Metra platform, waiting for the train to take us to the Loop.
“Why is there so much broken glass all over the place?” she wondered incredulously. Just in case not everyone is aware, I’ll digress for a moment: those small, blue, translucent chunks on the platform were in fact not broken glass, but rather rock salt. It’s what you sprinkle on the ice on the sidewalks to lower the melting point of the liquid water in the ice and restore the ice paths to their previous condition.
This is what I communicated to my dear friend, who is very intelligent in all senses of the word, but someone who had just never experienced the season. I realized that there were a lot of experiences I, as a native Chicagoan, didn’t share with my new friends. But experiencing the city—my home for the past 18 years—through their eyes was incredibly special. It made my first year at UChicago unique, or at least unique from the new Chicagoans in the class of 2017.
The legendary 59th street Metra stop, with I-House in the background.
Beyond the depths that the thermometer reached that winter, I learned so much more about the city in my one year (so far) at UChicago than I had in all previous cycles of the seasons. While some native Chicagoans I know at UChicago have crisscrossed the metropolitan area as many times as a UChicago student typically walks from the Regenstein library to the Bartlett dining hall, I hadn’t ventured out of my neighborhood on the southwest side of the city that much. I helped with the downtown scavenger hunt my House organized for us first-years during O-Week by identifying landmarks like the ABC7 television studios or the Tribune Tower, but when my friends and I decided to visit Wicker Park (a trendy community on the North Side), it was my first time there, too.
There are a lot of reasons why people from Chicago stay in Chicago for college, and a lot of reasons why people leave. When I was looking at colleges, the distance between home and school wasn’t a factor for me. I was looking for the best school I could afford, and with this world-renowned institution and the fantastic financial aid options it offers for Chicago residents, it was a perfect fit. The UChicago Promise program, a guarantee from the university that (if you’re admitted) your financial aid package from the University won’t include any loans, but rather grants which don’t have to be repaid (woo hoo!) is a great resource, as is the full-tuition scholarship for selected sons and daughters of Chicago Police Department and Fire Department members.
Besides the money, there are so many other benefits to going to UChicago as a native. Hyde Park is like a new city itself, with museums galore within walking distance and the beach a ten-minute walk away (eight minutes if it’s really cold and you want to see how the waves have transformed into ice sheets at Promontory Point). If you accidentally left something at home in your mid-September flurry of packing, don’t fret—just have your mom drop it off on her way to work in the South Loop. Same goes for when you’re packing up at the end of the year. On the last day of finals week, I had been up all night after procrastinating getting boxes to load my stuff up.
Around 10 a.m. I called my mom in a panic, sitting in the middle of my room and surrounded by gobs of things I somehow accumulated during the year. “Mom….” I said piteously. “This is not all going to fit in Dad’s car…it’s just not going to fit...can you stop on your way home and pick some stuff up?” Because I have an awesome mom, she did. She also makes loaves of banana bread to bring back to my House lounge for those rare weekends I come home, which my housemates deeply appreciate. Thanks to our academic calendar that starts in late September and ends in mid-June, that meant my best friends from high school (who went to colleges with a traditional calendar, leaving in mid-August and returning in mid-May) could easily visit me for my birthday in May and meet my new friends. And one of the best parts—I never have to worry about catching a flight to go home.
Living and learning in Chicago have taught me a new meaning of home. It’s more than just a house with a pillow where I do chores, live with my family and dog, and relax on the couch to watch the shows I’ve recorded on the DVR. And it’s not the dorm where I made my best friends, enjoy snacks prepared by our RA and RHs, and sleep every night. Now, the whole city of Chicago is my home.