There are quite a few places in Chicago that were essential to my education. But the process and feat of getting to know the city shaped my Northwestern experience almost as much as the city itself.

It’s extremely convenient to get into Chicago from campus, but what isn’t always easy is finding the time to do so, especially freshman year when you’re still trying to learn Evanston. So sophomore year, after having been downtown only a handful of times, my roommates and I decided to carve out an hour or two every Sunday morning to have brunch somewhere in Chicago. Our weekly meetings mandated researching different restaurants (I say research because brunch is a serious matter) and neighborhoods in the city, as well as a lot of time spent on the ‘L.’

Wandering through different neighborhoods on Sunday mornings helped us learn the layout of the city, and more importantly, gave us a sense of Chicago’s different flavors. Different reporting classes throughout my sophomore year also took me into the city, and weekday-afternoon assignments in Chicago supplemented our Sunday morning excursions as well. I spent a lot of sophomore year getting lost, but a lot of time talking to Chicagoans and learning about their home.

That I had become fairly familiar with the city didn’t really register until friends came to visit and I could tour them around both Evanston and Chicago. My roommates felt the same wonderful familiarity when they took history classes on Chicago and were able to picture neighborhoods and streets referenced during lecture. We all concluded that to feel as if you know another city even a little bit, particularly one as complex as Chicago, is empowering. Spending time in the city was so important to my education: As a native of the East Coast, I learned about the central hub of a different region in the country. As a student, I set aside time to explore (and eat. There was so much eating.) without worrying about homework. And as a sophomore in college, I became more confident as I became comfortable in a once-alien city.

Now, as a senior, I’m grateful to feel like I have a second home in Chicago.  It’s common knowledge that a college experience is made of more than just class time, and learning an entirely new city, its food, its people and its history was such an integral part of my Northwestern education.  Also, the brunch places are phenomenal.

–Ava Wallace

Photo: Choose Chicago.

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