Hiredesai: Ode to Chicago

Annika Hiredesai, Assistant Opinion Editor

As a Student Admissions Volunteer, I often have conversations with prospective students. While each exchange varies, there are some questions that continue to come up in some form or another. One of these is always some variation of, “How often do Northwestern students travel to Chicago?” 

I wish I could say otherwise, but it has been my experience that exploring Chicago is a rarity. Between classes, campus involvements and the hour-long commute, most students struggle to find the time. I can count on one hand the number of times I left Evanston during my freshman year. When we were sent home in March 2020, however, I deeply regretted not going into the city more often. So, when I started a research position in Chicago this summer, I resolved to make up for lost time. 

The Streeterville neighborhood, which houses the Feinberg School of Medicine’s campus, is a clear starting point for NU students. If you’re unfamiliar with the Chicago Transit Authority, the Intercampus Shuttle drops you off at Feinberg’s doorstep. I took the shuttle every morning this summer, and the commute along the iconic Lakeshore Drive is nothing short of stunning on a sunny day. Just across the street is the Museum of Contemporary Art, free to NU students, where the array of exhibitions delight. Walking down the Magnificent Mile is the ultimate tourist experience with beautiful high-rises, shopping opportunities and Stan’s Donuts a dime a dozen.

Streeterville, however, is just one of the 77 neighborhoods in Chicago. And to get to the others, you first need to learn how to take the CTA. I’m directionally challenged, so taking public transit felt intimidating at first. After getting lost the first (three?) times, however, I’ve come to love taking the CTA as an experience all on its own. Your hair and clothes whip into a frenzy as a train whizzes into the stop. The ding-dong, ding-dong of the doors opening and closing ingrains in your memory with every trip. It’s a headrush like no other as you step onto the train car, knowing the deluge of destinations that lies ahead of you.

When I recount my memories of this summer, my mind swirls with snippets of the microcosms that are each neighborhood. I think of Argyle on a blistering day, the smell of the Thai basil and jasmine plants for sale on the sidewalk. The way the sky opened into a torrential downfall, and we sought shelter in a Vietnamese bakery across the street. I reminisce about an evening in Lincoln Park during the weekend of July 4. The pleasant evening breeze as we strolled through the neighborhood after the dinner, the atmosphere like that of a coastal town as fireworks lit up the night sky. Chinatown, Edgewater, Rogers Park, River North and more; each trip left me with a dozen more reasons to come again.

These experiences don’t come close to encapsulating all that I experienced this summer, much less the depths of the city at large. I know I won’t be able to go into the city as often as I did, but I am resolved to carve out the time to continue at my own pace. I look forward to making the trip to Pilsen for authentic Mexican cuisine and meandering through the Wicker Park farmer’s market on a weekend. To everyone reading this, it is never too early to start foraying into the city. Let’s live up to our title as Chicago’s Big Ten school. Plan a trip or be spontaneous, go solo or with a group, weekend or weekday, whatever your heart desires. Your time at Northwestern is precious, and taking the time to get to know Chicago should be a part of it. 

Annika Hiredesai is a Weinburg junior. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.