The summer before I started my first year at Northwestern my parents were excited, yet anxious about their youngest child going to school out of state. I’m the youngest of four children so I’ve always been viewed as the “baby” of the family. I think my parents were extra nervous because of this title I was forcibly given by being born last. Due to their worries, they were adamant about me participating in a pre-orientation program, or POP, so I would have extra time to adjust to Northwestern and maybe make some friends along the way. At the time, I was reluctant to go due to my pride and not wanting to listen to my parents (like most teenagers). However, they convinced me and I couldn’t thank them more.

I ended up going on the POP trip the Freshman Urban Program (FUP), which has now been renamed as the Chicago Urban Program (CUP). When I signed up for the program I assumed it would be a weekend filled of exploring Chicago and sightseeing, but it was so much more. With this program I ended up learning a lot about a topics I had never been taught before in high school, like housing inequality and gentrification. I was able to discuss and learn about these prevalent issues that Chicago faces by seeing them first hand. For a week every day we would visit a different part of Chicago. We visited the North, South, West, and East sides of Chicago, and on the last day we took a trip to Evanston to see how these same issues affect a different city.

One of my favorite parts of the program was when we watched the documentary “70 Acres in Chicago: Cabrini Green”. The documentary showed me how people’s lives are affected by these issues, and we were actually able to meet some of the people featured in the documentary, thanks to the program bringing them in as guest speakers. We were able to ask them questions and meet them personally which made everything feel that much more important to me.

Not only did I learn a lot on CUP, but I also made great friendships. Every student on CUP was assigned a small group and a counselor. Every night we would break up with our small groups to do a debriefing of the day. My group bonded quickly as each night we got to learn more about each other. It was hard for me being far away from my family for college, but my small group made me feel like I had a Northwestern family of my own. Everyone on the trip was so nice and it was just such a relief going into Wildcat Welcome already having a small support system.

I encourage every incoming student to do this program because it was such an eye opening and fun experience for me. It’s important that incoming students truly understand Chicago and Evanston since it will be their home for the next four years. And a word of advice for incoming students: listen to your parents. They may not always tell you what you want to hear or they make you do things you don’t necessarily want to do, but in the end they definitely know what it is that you need.

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