Hello from the Windy City!
A week into moving to Chicago, I was already absolutely in love with all of the experiences that Chicago has to offer. Most of the first weekend was filled with orientation sessions that help us understand how to live in the city, but I also began to explore the culture of the neighborhood. After my family and best friend helped me move in, we grabbed lunch at a restaurant, called Wow Bao. None of us ordered bao, which are steamed buns filled with pork (usually), but the rice bowls that we did order were so tasty! Instead of the traditional counter and register to buy food, customers order on a computer and the food appears in the pods with your name. It was a “Welcome to the future” for us if anything and a great first meal in the city.
That Saturday and Sunday were filled mostly with unpacking and making the apartment homey, especially since we’re living here for the next three and a half months.
Chicago Semester is very committed to ensure that its students are well-acquainted with how life in the city works; this includes learning about public transportation, safety in the city, networking, shopping, and community involvement. The program provided several sessions in which we learned about these various topics. Another important value of the program is that the students embrace the vast cultural diversity that is found throughout Chicago and its over 200 neighborhoods. The city is widely-known as a place where immigrants can find a fresh start. To get a taste of the culture, all the students went to a different part of the city for deserts for the first night of orientation. I went to the neighborhood of Pilsen to Panadaria Nuevo León. The patisserie was brimmed with various deserts whose names I had absolutely no clue but were falling apart in delicious goodness. We even got the baker (after all of us urging her to) to take a picture with us!
The following day, several different groups visited different parts of the city for lunch and a short introduction to the people that lived there. I visited Little India (which is almost all the way north edge of the city), where we had the most delicious food. I had had Indian food before, but this was the most to-die-for that I’ve ever had. Needless to say, it was worth the hour commute from our apartment complex.
After learning about the various neighborhoods, my roommates and I began mapping our semester bucket list. Our first adventure was to Millennium Park and Greek Town. Following the sage advice of the Chicago Semester faculty, we carefully mapped our route. Even though I’d been to Chicago multiple times, my family and I had only visited Chinatown together, because of my Chinese heritage. So, I resigned to do the most tourist-y thing: visit the Bean. The only thing I learned from the experience? The Bean is super dirty.Greek Town is about a 20-minute walk from our apartment in the Gold Coast neighborhood, and it is full of restaurants (because Greek food is the amazing). Molly, Shannon, and I got sandwiches and cannolis that were so tasty!
While that Thursday was the first day of internship for most of the students, Shannon and I didn’t start until that next Monday. So, we accompanied Molly to Andersonville, where she works at their chamber of commerce. We explored the Swedish neighborhood until she had to leave for work. For all the neighborhoods I’ve visited so far, it’s been fairly easy to see what the people value and the center(s) of their culture.
Less than a week in, and I only scratched a piece of the entire surface of the city, but I’m well on my way. Even though I had already gotten myself lost twice, I was becoming more comfortable with riding public transit and routing my destinations better. As my first day of internship approaches, I anticipated nestling into a routine of a set schedule mixed with bouts spontaneity.
After the third week of being in Chicago, it seems like I had been here for so much longer than that already! As a small-town girl, I imagined the transition to go much less smoothly, but public transit and getting around the city has been intuitive and fun. All the Chicago Semester students have settled into their schedules and internships, as well as I have!
I am at Mercy Hospital, which is just southeast of Chinatown (one of my favorite neighborhoods). My placement is in the operating room (OR), pre- and post-operating care units, and the recovery room. So far, I’ve only spent time in the operating room, but I am thoroughly enjoying every case in which I’ve watched and helped. A unique challenge has been that the OR’s atmosphere and nursing expectations are different to a regular hospital unit. There a technical skills and instruments I have never seen before. Now that it’s the third week in the OR, I’m finally getting used to the roles that are expected of me, multitasking well, and the unique oddities of the OR. I am learning so much and anticipate using these lessons in my future nursing career.
The fact that my internship has come into full-swing has definitely not hindered my adventurous spirit. From spontaneous taco nights to swing dancing, I have fallen in love with all the exciting events that happen daily in the city, which reflect its unique history. Even though I’ve been *social* swing dancing for almost three years now, it felt like I had been dancing for three months. The style and energy were high above my technical level, and I anticipate getting much better in my dancing skills. I mean, what was I supposed to expect of one of the cities where blues/jazz originated?
I attended a play at Court Theatre, “Photograph 51”, about Rosalind Franklin. Commonly known for their discoveries about the characteristics of DNA, Watson and Crick owe the credit to their concept of DNA’s double helix to Franklin’s x-ray images of DNA, who is far less-popularly known. The story was captivating, dynamic, and full of emotion. What’s really cool about the Chicago Semester is that they offer free art events for the students every week. From the Art Institute to operas, I plan to go to as many as I can! There are not many times in life where you get to go to free events that showcase Chicago’s diverse culture and history.
Most of my hours and days off have been spent exploring random parts of the city. Google has been a beautiful tool with which I’ve discovered interesting venues with fantastic events. From free arcade games to Lakeshore runs to the Navy Pier, I continue to settle in my internship, growing and learning and enjoying the city more than I would’ve imagined.
My favorite part of the city is how the people are all so connected. Somehow, we live separate lives that converge at random points in time. I like to think of them as magic moments in which two strangers can somehow connect at a pre-destined time. I had to leave exactly 2 minutes after my shift ended to meet Ron, the 90-year old Chinese man, on the subway. After moving here in the late 40s, he bought a house in a north Chicago neighborhood and has since lived there. This short 15-minute conversation reminded me of how small I am in the grand scheme of life (a good reminder).
Overall, the past few weeks were filled with small victories: conquering public transit, exploring a new city, and braving -50 degree weather, which made life very interesting and full of layers. Weird to think that I was in the coldest place in the world last Wednesday. Thankfully, I was bundled up inside with a cup of hot tea and fuzzy socks. Thankfully, the turn-around of 50 degree weather (yes, you read that right. We had a 100-degree difference in three day’s span) has allowed my adventurous spirit to re-emerge.
My goal for the next couple weeks were to continue learning at my internship (Gosh, it’s felt weird to be so young in my workplace). Hear more people’s stories. Find new ways to be uncomfortable (’cause that’s how humans grow to be better humans). Keep an open mind to new.
After six weeks, I found an excellent balance between work, home duties, cooking (because food is paramount), and exploring new parts of the city. There is always something new in the city every time I step foot out of my apartment. The streets are filled with evidence of rich culture and history of the city’s people. I cannot believe that Saturday marks six weeks since I moved to Chicago. I settled into my routine (and, of course, mixing it up every now and then) and continue to figure out the teeter-totter of balancing adult-like responsibilities while still adventuring in the city.
When my friend visited from home, we had planned our entire weekend to the “t”. And, how fortunate was it that she came the weekend of National Pizza Day. That Saturday, we went to a Puerto Rican restaurant called Nellie’s Restaurant and ate their breakfast special: omelet with chorizo and veggies topped with plantains, french white toast, and coconut oatmeal. All were delicious! I was initially apprehensive about the coconut oatmeal, but it ended up tasting like cinnamon rice pudding.
After we thoroughly stuffed our hungry (which quickly turned to not-so-hungry) stomachs, we scurried over to Garfield Park Conservatory. I can’t say much more about it other than it was breathtaking. I’ll just let the photos speak for themselves. Plants are pretty.
The next day was filled with Chinese New Year celebrations! After church, we decided to grab lunch in Chinatown at a Cantonese restaurant. It’s pretty typical to order several entrees and the entire party share. The custom is fairly common in Asian countries. Among the entrees we ordered, there was egg drop soup, vegetarian egg rolls, Mongolian beef, curry chicken, orange chicken, and chicken fried rice.One of my (and everyone else in China’s) favorite part about the lunar new year is the red envelopes. If you don’t know what I’m referring to, red envelopes are what kids receive for Chinese New Year and have money inside (I’m sure you can now see why it’s everyone’s most anticipated part of the holiday). There was a parade, which we ended up missing because we thought it would last at least an hour. By the time we finished eating, the parade had just finished…so sad. We at least got to see the countdown. After the countdown was finished, we went to buy rolled ice-cream and bubble tea. Weekends always fly by quickly, but I’m thankful for the fun I pack into them.
On the internship side of the last several weeks, I’ve been slowly growing comfortable in the operating room (OR) both circulating and scrubbing in on cases. There are so many nuances and multitasking skills needed in the OR that can only be gained from experience in the OR. I’m so incredibly thankful for the nurses and surgical technicians who have been patient enough to take the time to teach me how to open surgical instruments, teach me the names of instruments, and the specifics of how to scrub and circulate. I’ve learned so much about surgical services and I continue to analyze my weaknesses and grow from my mistakes. I appreciate how the nurses are able to point out my mistakes and forgive them even more easily. I’ve always been a believer that learning from your mistakes is the best way to grow.
One of the fanciest events that I’ve attended thus far is the opera, Elektra! It was so fun this past Friday to dress up in fancy attire and listen to really talented people paint a beautiful ancient story with their voices. It captured the rawness of humanity and vulnerability in its true form.
Overall, I’m still finding myself in each part of the city and simply enjoying the ride.