Last Saturday, as I sat on a bus en route to a track meet at the University of Chicago, I took in the beauty of the Chicago skyline which resulted in pangs of nostalgia. In Fall 2011, I participated in the Associated Colleges of the Midwest’s Chicago Program: Arts, Entrepreneurship, and Urban Studies. The program, hands down, was the best experience I have had in my life.
Students choose a seminar class focused on three content areas (arts, entrepreneurship, or urban studies), participate in an internship, complete an independent study project and take the interdisciplinary Core Course, which aims to examine issues affecting Chicago.
I lived in an apartment with four other program participants in the Logan Square neighborhood. I was able to do things that scare me–such as using the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) and answering the phone at my internship—because I felt supported by the people around me. After a while, they were not so scary any more.
Last semester, I found who I am and who I want to be. I discovered that I am interesting and eccentric and fun. I felt comfortable around people and said things that were considered funny. But at Beloit, I clam up: I feel like an outsider (even though I am weird and awkward, which is the Beloit way).
Despite growing up in a suburb of Chicago, I knew very little about the city before my program. Now, I have this general map of Chicago in my head. Also, I developed more awareness about issues affecting Chicago: neighborhood change, education, and race. It certainly is not all-encompassing, but the program provided an excellent foundation for future learning.
The program focuses on experiential learning—the majority of classes include panel discussions and field visits. Highlights included attending a short press conference by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, sampling delectable sweets at various bakeries in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood, seeing a taping of Judge Mathis (the episodes are supposedly airing in March!), and hearing my favorite panelist, Mick Dumke, a writer for the Chicago Reader (so so attractive).
When the bus was returning from UChicago, we rode on Lake Shore Drive for a bit, and I saw a #6 bus. Memories of waiting for this bus with my roommate Laura came flooding back; a woman came off of the bus with one of a lens of her sunglasses popped out; she sang and danced for us using provocative gestures and words.
Yet, I’m realizing that being nostalgic about last semester does not serve me. I have to make the best of my final one and a half years at Beloit, using the growth and experience I gained from living in Chicago. And, if I’m being hesitant, I would appreciate it if my peers would pull me out of my shell—I know I have a lot to offer; I just need help figuring out how.