For those of you not in the know, “Chi-town” does not refer to Chinatown, but to Chicago. (Although Chicago does have a Chinatown district, but that’s not the point.) I had the opportunity to live in Chicago for two years while pursuing my Master’s degree in History. Now that I haven’t been in school for about a year (and am no longer in Chicago), I feel like I’ve finally reached a point where I can start reflecting on my time in that city and what I experienced as a graduate student.
Living in Chicago opened my eyes to areas of social justice that I didn’t realize were there. Anyone who knows me knows that I love justice; being fair is a big part of who I am and my expectations of those around me. (For example, it has only been in the last half decade that I’ve been comfortable with the phrase “best friend,” because I didn’t want to place one friend above the others in value.) You can only imagine, then, how the different political movements and social differences highlighted in the Windy City could have impacted me.
Homeless are everywhere. Talk of revolution and retribution are regular conversations on the streets. Neighborhoods are divided by gentility and money. The color of people’s skin simultaneously doesn’t matter at all and makes the greatest distinction between people in a way that is terrifying to comprehend.
I grew a lot, just by watching and listening. And I think I came out the better for it, even as my heart broke for my fellow man.
Of course, city life itself changed me. I was a confirmed country girl when I graduated high school. After I graduated college, I was borderline wanting to live in a small town. Now, I don’t think I could do it. I need more people, more activities available.
Although, now that I’ve said that, I want to add a caveat: I don’t want to live in a city anytime soon. Chicago was wonderful, but it was stifling, claustrophobic. It drew me in and seemed to threaten to never let me go (and not in a good way). There was no quiet, no peace. Nothing but the noise and bustle of the city. I might need more people and activities now, but I think I’ll stick to suburbs.
I’m really glad I spent the time in Chicago that I did, and I’m additionally glad for the experience of graduate school and the lifelong friends and connections I made there. However, I want to admit that I’m still getting over the mental and emotional roadblocks that I built while I was there to survive the experiences that I did. Not that I experienced anything life-harrowing or traumatic, you understand, but sometimes things happen and they leave a sour taste in your mouth, a knot in your stomach, and bitterness in your heart.
For as much as I’m grateful for my growth and experiences, I’m a harder person than I was when I went to Chicago, and not completely in a good way. And that’s something that I’m still reflecting on. Maybe in another year I’ll have better perspective.