I was a loud and proud Texan when I decided to uproot myself to pursue graduate school in Chicago. I never could have anticipated how drastic of a move it was. I had never even visited this “Windy City” that movies and books boasted about, but when my feet touched the Midwest concrete of the city, I realized I was in for a rude awakening.
This big, beautiful, metropolis was not only a different temperament for me to adjust to, but city life required a different type of adjustment I had never experienced. Now almost two years later, I don't call myself a Chicagoan, but can say I have learned enough to impart wisdom on how to survive and thrive here in the city.
First off: Public Transportation is not optional.
If you're like me and grew up your entire life behind the wheel, taking public transportation could be jarring because of the many options Chicago gives you.
Whether it's the bus, the infamous 'L' train or using your two feet, driving is a luxury here, not a necessity. With limited parking garages, depending what neighborhood you reside in, being a master at parallel parking is a MUST or you will flounder.
While it can be scary at times, Chicago is so big that sometimes the fastest route lies in the underground tunnels of the train, a few stops on the CTA bus, perhaps a trip out the infamous Union Station Metra or just walking. If I had grown up in Dallas or Houston I'd probably be more comfortable with the idea of driving in this environment, but being that I didn't, even bringing my car was a no-no.
Second: Winter is coming…and it will kick your ass.
Now, I'll give it to the Midwest because you have given me two versions of winter so far, ranging from the mild one of 2015 and the brutal freeze my first year in 2014.
The cold here is as fickle as ever, and will hit anyone with enough force to make you burrow inside for the entire winter season. You MUST prepare and buy winter clothes, boots, jackets, socks in advance so you're not scrambling or surprised when it comes as early as mid-October.
Chicago's cold is face slapping, teeth chattering and can make you question when you will ever see the sun again, but it is beautiful. Once you become acclimated, you learn the difference between the good, bad and ugly chill-ridden days. You adapt to living your life in this winter wonderland.
One thing I will say that the movies lies about is the illusion of looking cute and trendy in winter wear. When you're fighting to just make it through the wind across the street, you won't care how pretty you look doing it.
Third: You can never be bored in Chicago.
You can never say you have nothing to do living in Chicago. If you are staying inside, it's because you choose to, not because you have to. This city is massively full of entertainment that can stimulate everyone whether it's the movies, music, comedy, theater, you name it, we got it.
Maybe entertainment isn't your venue? That's OK, we have museums, festivals, architecture, art galleries to stimulate your mind and your eyes. Not really the “artsy” type? OK, we have culture that extends to several of Chicago's infamous neighborhoods, like Greektown, the South Loop, Wicker Park, Old Town, Pilsen, the Magnificent Mile and the list goes on and on.
Whether it be food, fun or just a breakaway from the city these neighborhoods can offer a different experience and perspective that's more residential and intimate than the city itself can offer.
Chicago is wildly beautiful, and while overwhelming at times, has been a great experience and I'm happy that I chose to make this life change in this city.
I've learned to be more open-minded, adapt and allow myself to grow and change. Chicago is an investment that I think everyone should make, whether to live or visit, because it will expose you to a different atmosphere that challenges you.
Come, learn, explore, grow, it won't disappoint; just make sure you do your research expense wise because it's not cheap, but if a graduate student hailing from Texas and working 2 jobs can do it, well, anyone can.