Winston-Salem, North Carolina is one of those places where everyone knows each other and their entire family lineage. You could’ve peed your pants on the playground in 3rd grade, and someone would bring it up every year until you graduated from high school.
It’s very cookie-cutter suburbia — the white picket fences; the two parents with two and a half children; the golden retriever in the front yard; the whirr of yellow school buses with Nancy Sinatra’s Sugar Town faintly playing in the distance. Everything’s separated by at least a 10-mile radius, so every child is expected to own a car at age 16. The central hub of the town is a row of small outlets malls where Trader Joe’s is treated like Marshall Field’s. You can imagine everyone’s faces when my family arrived — a single parent with an overly sarcastic daughter, a severely autistic son and his 24/7 staff, and a dog who we’d found off the streets in tow. It could’ve been a great screenplay.
I knew from 6th grade onward that Winston-Salem would never be the place for me. I could never subject my future children to a place where the guy in my high school math class was my next-door neighbor. It had its moments where I enjoyed it, but I never loved it. The thing you’ve got to understand about this particular community is that everyone wants to stay there. Everyone wants the same group of friends they had in 3rd grade all the way through to college graduation. To give you some perspective, I was only one of nine people in my 400-person class that left the state. North Carolina is a great college state, sure, but I knew I had to leave that life behind. I needed a blank slate. I didn’t want the “Alden tripped up the stairs during 9th grade graduation” story following me forever.
That being said, the best thing I’ve experienced at DePaul so far is literally “living life to the fullest”. As cliché as it sounds, it’s completely true.
I’ve never had so much freedom in my entire life. I’ve travelled alone before, but actually living in a place where you can get to places on your own without someone’s parent acting as a chaperon is such a breath of fresh air. I still find myself walking down the street and mentally noting that, even after 30 days, living here doesn’t feel real. It feels like I’m at a prolonged summer camp where I have to take classes. I’ve wanted to live in here my entire life. Chicago was like one of those far out childhood dreams where your 4th grade teacher asks where you want to live when you grow up on the first day of school and you say the first, most unrealistic thing that pops into your head.
Something struck me the other day, though. My friend had asked me for advice on shipping a winter coat to herself for the irrefutable beginnings of ‘Chiberia’ (perhaps the scariest name I’ve ever heard) and, being a suburbs kid, she was wondering whether she should ship it to her house or ship it here. I told her to ship it to the Student Center by saying flatly that, “when I ordered mine, I shipped it to my mom’s house. She’s bringing it with her when she visits”. That hit me like a ton of bricks.
Subconsciously, I was now referring to my childhood home of nine years as “my mom’s house”. Looking at it objectively, that was the first time I realized that living in Chicago was very real.
Just a month before, I was in hysterics because I was so worried that DePaul wouldn’t have that “college feel” since it was so urban. I was convinced that I’d be thrown into this city-like situation where I’d have to fend for myself. There wouldn’t be the “college-y” things I’d seen in the movies — the classic hangout that was open until 3 AM; the school wide rivalry between the neighboring universities; the ultimate betrayal when your friend went out with a guy in one of the said universities. I was so worried about it, in fact, that I literally stayed at my aunt and uncle’s house in Evanston on the first day of school and in an episode of mass hysteria, vowed that I would be a commuter student because I wasn’t going to fit in. The thing is, though, all of that exists here. There’s Devil Dawgs and Loyola, Jam n’ Honey and Columbia, and the crown jewel of it all: Insomnia Cookies. I’ve already made so many friends — more than all my friends combined in North Carolina.
This isn’t a place where the “there’s nothing to do here,” thought crosses your mind… it’s the third most populous city in the United States, for God’s sake. Everyone wants to be here. Heck, I met my celebrity crush on week 2. This isn’t Winston-Salem. I could walk out the front door and meet someone new every day or head over to the aquarium and spend a day there. I could try a food I’ve never had before or take the best selfie ever in front of the Bean. There’s still so much to explore, and I’m dying to find out what this city still has to offer.
A picture of me enjoying bubble tea from Duck Walk for the first time!