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An ode to a summer of exploring Chicago’s neighborhoods

As a Student Admissions Volunteer, I often have conversations with prospective students. While every exchange is different, there are some questions that keep cropping up in one form or another. One of them is always a variation of “How often do Northwestern students travel to Chicago?”

I wish I could say otherwise, but my experience has been that exploring Chicago is a rarity. Between class, campus engagement, and the long commute, most students struggle to find the time. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve left Evanston during my freshman year. However, when we were sent home in March 2020, I deeply regretted not going to town more often. When I started a research position in Chicago this summer, I decided to make up for the lost time.

The Streeterville neighborhood, which houses the Feinberg School of Medicine campus, is a clear starting point for NU students. If you’re unfamiliar with the Chicago Transit Authority, the Intercampus Shuttle will drop you off right outside Feinberg’s front door. I’ve ridden the shuttle every morning this summer, and the ride down iconic Lakeshore Drive is just breathtaking on a sunny day. Across the street is the Museum of Contemporary Art, which is free for NU students and has a number of exhibitions. Strolling the Magnificent Mile is the ultimate tourist experience with beautiful skyscrapers, shopping, and Stan’s donuts by the dozen.

Streeterville, however, is only one of 77 neighborhoods in Chicago. And to get to the others, you need to learn how to take the CTA off first. I’m challenged in a directional way, so it felt intimidating at first to take public transport. However, after getting lost the first (three times?) Times, I loved looking at the CTA as a standalone experience. Your hair and clothes lash in a frenzy as a train rushes into the stop. The ding-dong, ding-dong of the doors that open and close, is imprinted on your mind every time you drive. It’s a frenzy like no other when you get on the train car and know the barrage of destinations ahead of you.

When I tell my memories of this summer, my head buzzes with the microcosms that make up every neighborhood. I think of Argyle on a scorching day, the smell of the Thai basil and jasmine plants sold on the sidewalk. The sky opened like a torrent and we took shelter in a Vietnamese bakery across the street. I remember one evening in Lincoln Park on the weekend of July 4th. The pleasant evening breeze as we strolled through the neighborhood after dinner, the atmosphere like in a coastal town with fireworks lighting the night sky. Chinatown, Edgewater, Rogers Park, River North, and more; each trip left me with a dozen more reasons to come back.

These experiences by no means sum up everything I experienced this summer, let alone the depths of the city as a whole. I know I can’t go to town that often, but I’m determined to take the time to move on at my own pace. I look forward to taking the trip to Pilsen to enjoy authentic Mexican cuisine and stroll through the pasture park Weekend farmers market. For anyone reading this, it is never too early to wander around the city. Let’s live up to our title as Chicago’s Big Ten School. Plan a trip or be spontaneous, go alone or with a group, on the weekend or during the week, whatever your heart desires. Your time at Northwestern is precious and it should be part of taking the time to get to know Chicago.

Annika Hiredesai is a Weinburg junior. She can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this comment, please send a letter to the editorial staff at [email protected]. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of all The Daily Northwestern employees.

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