Classic Winter Break questions: explain NU to your family and friends

Jeanne Kuang, Holiday Guide Editor

It wouldn’t be a Northwestern student’s Winter Break without concerned friends and family bringing up at least one of the following conversation topics. Here are some tips on how to answer the inevitable frequent questions.

“How close are you to the city?”

Non-Chicagoans might find the local geography hard to visualize, so you’ll have to explain that the Windy City occupies a long stretch of land on the western coast of Lake Michigan and Evanston is the first suburb north of the city (meaning we get some of that gorgeous shoreline to ourselves). NU’s campus is about 14 miles from downtown Chicago — make sure you call it the Loop to sound sophisticated, of course — but to avoid confusion, you can say the city is just a short L ride away.

“So, do you guys even have football?”

Maybe the fact that we’re a high-ranking academic institution makes people forget that a significant portion of NU students also care about sports (ah, stereotypes abound). You should remind your friends that our Division I football team won the Gator Bowl last year, and the Wildcats are getting more and more well-known. What’s that, friend who goes to Ohio State? How are we doing this season? Well… it’s complicated.

“Why did you start school so late? Why is your break so short? I don’t understand the quarter system.”

As simple as this one is to us NU students, you’ll just have to explain it all the way through, so get your semester school friends to listen up: Most universities’ academic years are split into two semesters, one in the fall and one in the spring. However, Northwestern (along with a handful of other universities across the nation — we’re not the only one) has quarters. They’re like semesters, but each one is shorter and there are three of them: one in the fall, one after Winter Break and another after Spring Break. Since Fall Quarter is shorter than a fall semester, we start school later than other schools, and we have shorter breaks to accommodate having an additional academic term in the winter and spring months. Got it?

Once you explain this, you’ll likely be asked if the short quarters explain why you’re constantly taking midterms. In lieu of a response, a simple, sad nod should suffice.

“Isn’t it really cold in Chicago?”


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Twitter: @jeannekuang