5 Things that Surprised Me When I Came to Chicago for College

When I tell people that I’m from South Dakota, the most common response is, “Oh! I’ve never met someone from there before!” Which is fair. It’s a state where cows outrank people 4-to-1

Even though it’s the sixteenth largest state in the U.S., South Dakota ranks #46 in population and is home to just over 882,000 people. I come from the state’s fifth largest city, a town that I had always considered to be on the larger side, where the population is just over 22,000. I grew up in farm country: where the landscape is open and the people are friendly (and very, very white). 

Then, in August of 2016, I packed up and traded cornfields and cattle for the Cubs and the CTA. My dad and I made the eleven-hour drive to Chicago, where I would be attending Loyola University Chicago. When I agreed to become a Rambler I agreed to embrace Chicago as my city. Now, as a senior, I couldn’t imagine having called any other city my home over the past three years. 

Chicago is filled with jaw-droppingly beautiful architecture, inspiring stories, and unparalleled museums. The food is unmatched, the people are loving, and the adventures are endless. If you’re coming to Chicago, be it for the first time or for the five hundredth, there is always something new to experience around the next corner. 

Moving to a city of three million was a steep learning curve, but an unforgettable one. And while there were many new things about Chicago that delighted me, here are the top five things that surprised me:

  1. 1. The CTA is really easy to use

    No, really. Like, super easy. 

    Before I came to Chicago, I had never used any form of public transit. I was nervous about knowing where my stop was, finding routes, and feeling safe. 

    Luckily, the above-and-below ground subway system, known as the “L,” is color coded and clearly marked. It reaches almost every corner of the city, including a stop at Loyola’s campus, and is a great alternative to rush-hour traffic. There is an objectively-soothing voice that announces each stop, large signs outside of the train to remind you where you are, and (on most lines) an electronic announcement inside as well. 

    There is also an army of buses to take you wherever the “L” can’t reach. If you have to go out to the suburbs, the PACE bus and METRA train can easily bring you to wherever you need.

  2. 2. The city is split into neighborhoods

    Every city has neighborhoods, but Chicago is a city built on them. Each section of the town carries more than just a unique name – there’s some serious pride that goes into living in each area. 

    As you spend time in your own neighborhood, you’ll quickly become attached to the history, shops, and quirks that make up the fabric of your new home. 

    Even within the formally recognized neighborhoods, there are sub-groups. For example, Lake View is the official name of the area off of the Belmont Redline stop, but within it resides Wrigleyville, Boystown, and DePaul.

    And beyond that, there are a plethora of ethnic districts to be explored. From Little Vietnam and the Ethiopian Diamond in the north of the city to Pilsen, Greektown and Chinatown in the south, there’s a global array of museums, restaurants, and architecture that you can experience without ever paying for a plane ticket.

  3. 3. The beach scene is that of a coastal city

    When you think of moving to the midwest you might not picture sand and surfing, but Chicago’s got it! The city hugs the coast of Lake Michigan, creating 26 miles of shoreline. It has a plethora of beaches, lakeside bike paths, and green spaces to allow Chicagoans plenty of ways to enjoy the water. 

    Before the snow and the cold settle in, people in Chicago take full advantage of the summer season. There are 25 public beaches that stretch the length of the city and host everything from sand volleyball tournaments to music festivals. 

    Check out Oak Street Beach for stunning views of the skyline (perfect for an insta flex), or try a more laid back option like Hartigan Beach Park, located just a few blocks from Loyola’s lakeshore campus.

  4. 4. The music culture is huge

    It’s a city that welcomes and celebrates all types of instrumentation, so there is a little something for everyone.

    The rich melodic history of Chicago includes the births of several famous types of music – including house music and forms of blues – as well as a plethora of famous musicians. Big names like Chance the Rapper, Fall Out Boy, and Earth, Wind & Fire all call Chicago home.

    From large stadiums and mid-sized venues, to bars with live music, there’s always a show to be found somewhere. And during the warmer months, it’s one of the best places in the world to find music festivals. In fact, Chicago hosts the most dance music festivals in the country, as well as one of the largest (Lollapalooza) every year. Whether you’re an avid concert-goer or a more casual one, there’s no shortage of events to choose from.

  5. 5. You will see Canada Goose jackets...everywhere

    There’s almost no escape from this luxury brand. As soon as the temperature drops, the streets of Chicago are filled with those famous red, white and blue patches. Especially if you’re coming to Loyola, be prepared to encounter students in these jackets at almost every turn. It’s such an infamous fact-of-life that a popular Instagram called “luc_geese” has popped up to poke fun at all of the luxury-coat wearers. 

    We’re here to tell you that no matter how cold it gets, you don’t need to purchase one. There are plenty of other ways to spend a thousand dollars.

Is there anything you think I missed? What was your first Chicago experience like? Send us a tweet at @HerCampusLUC!