College students are given an unprecedented amount of free time. Classes take place in the mornings or afternoons, but the rest of the day (and weekends) are up to them to fill. Exploring Chicago is one of the most fulfilling ways I spend my free time as a Northwestern student, and learning about this city has taught me so much about myself.

Northwestern’s intercampus shuttle is free for anyone with a WildCard and runs on weekdays. Graduate students, faculty and undergraduates sit in the shuttle together, and I always appreciate the sense of community while riding Lake Shore Drive with other Wildcats.

My typical Chicago trip consists of taking the shuttle downtown, where it conveniently drops off by Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine. If I walk 10 minutes from this stop, I can appreciate the historical Water Tower Place, shop on Michigan Avenue or take the perfect Instagram photo at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.

Sometimes I make Chicago my homework. When I’m walking around for fun, I get ideas for stories I want to write for my journalism coursework. The food, festivals, politics, people and history of Chicago are ripe for investigation. My freshman year, I visited and researched non-profit organizations for refugees in the Edgewater neighborhood. The following school year I interviewed ecstatic Cubs fans in Wrigleyville as they watched the 2016 World Series victory parade. This summer, I’m learning about the River North neighborhood, where I’m currently working for a start-up.

Even if you’re not a journalist, it’s important to explore your environment. Ask yourself: Why is this place the way it is? What are this city’s strengths? It’s weaknesses? How can I engage with either of those?

From microeconomics to European art history, my Northwestern classes require that I am curious. Taking time off campus has taught me how the critical thinking skills I practice in the classroom can help me to adapt and experience my surroundings for the rest of my life.

My Ten Tips For Enjoying Chicago As An Undergrad:

  1. Engage with Chicago media (Chicago Tribune, WBEZ) to get a better idea of the city’s issues and culture
  2. Take the CTA from Evanston to Lincoln Park, which boasts beaches, a zoo and restaurants
  3. Study in a coffee shop in a new neighborhood (I recommend River North, and it’s okay if you spend the time people watching)
  4. Attend a parade in Chicago (I went to Pride!)
  5. Go to the Art Institute of Chicago, where there are many free nighttime events
  6. Pack a picnic and gather some friends for an afternoon in Millennium Park (or ice skate here in the winter)
  7. Sign up for a 5k race in Chicago and run with the locals
  8. Watch a free jazz concert
  9. Attend the German Christmas Market downtown every winter
  10. Volunteer with a Chicago-based non-profit organization

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