Chicago from Two Perspectives: Growing Up There & Returning After College

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Last weekend, I got together with one of my best friends from college, Stacey Caplan. Stacey was one of my classmates at the Ross School of Business and one of my senior year roommates. She grew up in Northbrook, a suburb of Chicago, Illinois and then spent  four years in Ann Arbor, Michigan at the University of Michigan. Upon graduation, she moved back to Chicago, but this time, to Lincoln Park, so that she could experience the city life. She works at Nielsen, a market research firm. Reflecting on all the changes that have occurred since our graduation from the University of Michigan, I was curious to learn how her perspective of Chicago changed from growing up there to moving back after college. It seems that college graduates either do one of two things after college: move to a new city (like me) or return to their hometown (like Stacey). Stacey provides great insights about returning home, to one of my favorite cities. Read her story below!

It wasn’t until I moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan for college that I realized how blessed I was to grow up just outside of one of the largest cities in the world. Whenever I told other students where I was from, I instantly became a more exciting person. A year and a half after graduating and now living in Chicago as an adult, I must say that I have a whole new perspective on what living in Chicago is actually like.

I grew up in Northbrook, an affluent suburb about 25 miles north of Chicago. You may know Northbrook for several reasons. It’s the home of the high school where Ferris Buehler’s Day Off was filmed (my alma mater Glenbrook North High School). It’s also the unfortunate home of the infamous 2003 “Powderpuff” football hazing incident- Google it and you’ll remember it from global news stories.

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Let’s be clear, Northbrook is NOT in Chicago. Growing up, going to Chicago was more of an occasion than a regular occurrence. From Northbrook, it takes about 40 minutes to drive to downtown Chicago without traffic, which is rare. Northbrook is the stereotypical American suburb, yet people who live in Northbrook and the North Shore suburbs nearby call themselves Chicagoans. I was raised to be a fan of the Chicago Bears and Cubs, grew up going downtown to the original Marshall Fields store during the holidays to see the Christmas windows, and frequented the museums and other historical buildings on school field trips. Being “from Chicago” was a huge part of my identity growing up, even though I only visited the city about once a month with my family.

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When college friends started coming back to Chicago with me on school breaks or over the summer, I began to realize that I wasn’t even close to being a city girl. I had no idea how to get from point A to point B when I was downtown, got nervous trying to hail a cab, and didn’t know many restaurants beyond where my family had taken me for special dinners as a kid. Yet I claimed to be this “Chicago expert” because I “grew up here”.

Besides my family, who have lived in Chicago for generations, I honestly didn’t have many ties from my childhood that were leading me back to Chicago. But with each year of attending an out-of-state university and meeting people that grew up in rural areas in Michigan and all over the country (and the world!), my Chicago pride grew. I began to realize that growing up outside such a large city is special, and not something everyone experiences. Living somewhere else made it apparent to me that being from Chicago is a huge part of who I am, and is proudly ingrained in the culture of my family. I was determined to move back after graduation, and to actually live in the city of Chicago this time. 🙂

I’ve lived on the north side of Chicago for about a year and a half now in a beautiful apartment on a charming, tree-lined street. Living in the Lincoln Park neighborhood, I have learned how to use the Chicago trains and buses, I know how to confidently hail a cab, and I’ve tried restaurants all around the city that are on my “restaurant list”, not just ones my parents took me to on special occasions. I know places to show friends who visit for the weekend, yet am still overwhelmed by all of the things there are to do that I haven’t tried yet.

I’ll admit that despite being from the suburbs, my Chicago upbringing did give me an edge when I first moved here. My knowledge of the landmarks, streets, and city history was more extensive than those who had only visited Chicago for quick weekend vacations growing up. The difference was that now I actually felt like a Chicagoan. I’ll never forget the first day that I took the el (Chicago’s elevated train system) to my job in the Chicago Loop downtown. I couldn’t stop smiling because getting downtown used to be such a hassle, an event that required planning and ample time to sit in traffic. Now, I could step on a platform and be downtown within 20 minutes- despite being squished between a hundred strangers on crowded public transportation, I felt like I was living my dream.

Through the ups and downs since I graduated from Michigan and “became an adult”, the one constant in my life that has never failed me is the fact that I live here, and it would take a significant life circumstance to get me to leave. No matter where I have travelled, Chicago is always the place I want to come home to.

I hope Stacey’s story provides you helpful, inspirNational insights, as you make the decision to move to a new city or return home after college (or any stage in life)!

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