To be fair its only for 3 months and I’m getting my winter clothes in Columbia next week. I guess then I’ll technically have 2 bags worth of stuff. I also have some friends from college here which makes the idea a little less scary.
Cliché: I’ve always dreamt of living in Chicago. To me, it’s the perfect mix of Midwestern charm and cosmopolitan chic. I remember visiting my cousin in the city a few times when I was younger and being completely in awe of everything around me. The idea that people walked and rode trains and lived in tiny apartments in a giant city was a foreign concept for a girl from the burbs of Tulsa, not exactly a booming metropolis. I was never quite sure how to make my urban dream life a reality. It always stayed in the back of my head as some far off wish that would probably never come true.
I found a blog over a year ago on a Peace Corps forum that totally impacted my views on travel and life in general. Its written by an American couple who went from living and working in Prague to nomading around the world. They’ve backpacked through the Caucasus, South America, and Asia with enough equipment to freelance along the way and maintain Uncornered Market. I still think about one of the first posts I read, Are You a Stuff Junkie or an Experience Junkie. I’ll summarize: stuff are the tangible things in life, ‘an easy way to demonstrate accomplishment…an expression of who we are.’ Experiences are everything intangible, they leave us with ‘memories and their corresponding emotions and lessons…experience has emotional longevity.’ I appreciate shopping as much as the next 22-year-old girl (Michigan Ave does not help this addiction), but I like to think I lean toward being an experience junkie.
I’ve been fortunate to have experienced all that I already have. I’ve had amazing opportunities that I’ve tried to take full advantage of. I still hear my dad saying, ‘If you want something, make it happen for yourself because no one else will do it for you.’ I am forever grateful for the sense of adventure and ambition he instilled in us. I’m driven by that ambition and another cliché: life is too short. This has rang true a few too many times in my 22 years of existence for it not to shape my way of thinking. When all is said and done, whether tomorrow or 50 years from now, I’d rather have interesting experiences to share than a house full of fancy stuff.
I was slated to leave for the South Pacific with the Peace Corps this month. After my final phone interview at the end of August, they told me the program was canceled and they were considering me for Central or South America in January (more on this later). Three months of nothingness planned quickly got me into high gear. Where could I go and what could I do with myself and the few things I’d taken with me to Korea? I turned to Craigslist, the go-to backup plan for my life.
So here I am circa 15 years after visiting Chicago for the first time. I’m still in awe, now at the fact that its me walking and riding the train and living in a tiny apartment in a giant city. I found an affordable sublet running through the end of December, a furnished room in the city about a 15 minute ‘El’ ride from downtown. After a phone chat with one of the roommates, I booked a one-way ticket from Houston. I packed up my week’s worth of clothes, a towel, my trusty Iberia airline blanket, and a few pairs of shoes in the giant backpacking backpack that had followed me to the other side of the world and back. I KNOW I looked cool riding the ‘El’ from the airport to my apartment carrying an obnoxious bag and a pillow I’d grabbed at the last-minute. I got lost, as expected, in the 10 minutes it took to get from the train platform to my street. Eventually I found it and walked up to the door of the first-floor flat. I knocked and had a ‘well, this is it’ kinda moment, hoping a creepy 86-year-old man wasn’t about to stare me in the face. To my relief a 20-something girl opened the door. I introduced myself and acknowledged my ridiculous appearance.
It feels like my little room in Sevilla. I have a closet, bed, office chair, desk, and a broken lamp which I had to buy a new lightbulb for. I quickly realized how little I actually brought once I unpacked everything. Still, there were hangers and a few laundry baskets in the closet left by the summer subletters, free use of the kitchen ware, 2 empty drawers in the bathroom, and an empty cupboard in the kitchen for me. The roommates are great and we’ve gotten along fine the past week. I don’t think I could have gotten much luckier with the whole thing. Also, there’s a lovely cat named Ozkar who snuggled with me 2 hours after our introduction.
The apartment is on a quiet, tree-lined street in a pretty diverse neighborhood. I’m surrounded by one and two-floor flats and bungalows, old Catholic and Lutheran churches, coffee shops, and Asian groceries. Most of the signs on the businesses are in Chinese and it’s not uncommon to smell tamales cooking and overhear conversations in Mandarin or Spanish when walking around. Sometimes I think I feel more at home hearing foreign languages around me than hearing English all the time.
I’m working 2-3 days/week in Evanston and trying to piece together another part-time temp job. I am so fortunate and thankful to have a part-time gig already figured out. It takes a little over an hour one way to get to Evanston but I just bought a study book for the GRE. Hopefully I’ll get the motivation to crack it open on one of the long train rides I have ahead of me. So far on my free days I’ve been exploring new parts of the city, Andersonville, Boystown, Bucktown, Chinatown, the Loop & South Loop, Pilsen, and my hood in Bridgeport. New parts of the city are only a train ride away and I plan to explore as many of them as possible in the next 3 months. It’s all about the experience, man. Also, I hope to make friends with the old Chinese ladies across the street.
If you asked me at this point in time where I’d settle after all my nomading and wandering, I would smile and say Chicago.