The University of Chicago’s Independent Student Newspaper since 1892

Chicago Maroon

The University of Chicago’s Independent Student Newspaper since 1892

Chicago Maroon

The University of Chicago’s Independent Student Newspaper since 1892

Chicago Maroon

Nineteen Years Later

Class of 2008 alumna’s advice for her first-year self
Nineteen+Years+Later
Isabella Liu

Dear first-year self,

I’m coming to you from the future—nineteen years later, the oracle of 2023. Wanted to advise you so you don’t wander too far astray. Some spoilers: You’re gonna major in English, not anthro, and by the time you graduate, everyone will call it “majoring,” not “concentrating.” When you’re 37 years old, as I am now, you’ll live in a studio apartment in Brooklyn, where all your closest friends will be people you either knew in college or met through people you knew in college.

But let’s focus on my advice for the immediate future, because I’ve long thought that if I could enroll in college again in a parallel universe, I could do it better.

You need to stop worrying about whether you’ve placed into the calculus class that’s most “appropriate” for your level and start worrying about how to start a proof. This means you need to actually go to office hours rather than put off your calc homework until 11 p.m. and assume someone in your dorm will be able to help you troubleshoot.

Do work in the library rather than dorms. Harper is nice during the day. The first floor of the Reg is too chatty, but the fourth floor can be nice. The stacks can be good to study in with a friend, but it can get lonely alone there. Regardless, find a quiet corner of whatever library is nearest your dorm and work there. Kids in your dorm will be way too fun and distracting.

And it’s not like you need to carry your laptop around with you. Just use Google Docs in computer labs and free printing in the MacLab. Google Drive is good for everything except footnotes, endnotes, and other formatting-intense endeavors, but you’ll have a thumb drive as backup. And back up everything! Your internal hard drive will crash when you’re temping, babysitting, and picking up shifts at the Sem Co-Op the fall after graduation, and you will be sad to lose it. Back that shit up to both the cloud and external drives.

Take advantage of campus AC in May and June! Campus libraries are great for curling up come late spring. My friends used to bring Gilmore Girls DVDs to study spaces in the Reg to savor the AC when our dorm got too hot, and you can do the same, but today, you’ll probably stream it.

Interlibrary Loan can get you access to any media you want to read or watch provided you give them enough lead time. Librarians are incredibly helpful—in person especially, though Ask a Librarian will save your life when you’re doing research after hours.

Speaking of libraries, just get a summer job on campus shelving books or otherwise working for the University libraries. Know that there are great ways to spend a summer besides internships and that there are internships other than Metcalfs. Hyde Park is delightful in the summer, and there are terrific outdoor movie series and concerts in Grant Park and Millennium Park in the summertime.

You’ll live in a house, Tufts—in a dorm, Pierce Tower—that will be bulldozed five years after you graduate for reasons including tiny rooms and, so you hear, “exploding toilets,” to be replaced by some fancy-looking dorm I’ve never seen in person. (You’ll have a housemate in a couple years who tries to request a souvenir toilet from the demolition team, only to receive a commemorative brick instead because no one respects her inner Duchamp.) Speaking of restrooms, coed bathrooms are great! People are really friendly over toothbrushing and chatty in the shower. Everyone is shockingly respectful. But wear flipflops to the shower because you’re gonna get athlete’s foot.

Leave Hyde Park to explore other neighborhoods at least twice a month. Woodlawn has great barbecue! South Shore is beautiful to run through. Kenwood is gorgeous. You will also learn to love the photography galleries in the basement of the Art Institute, and Columbia College’s Museum of Contemporary Photography is an overlooked gem. The Hyde Park Art Center is great! Eat at the Ethiopian Diamond! Drink at the Map Room once you get an ID! You will love rice dumplings in Chinatown!

In general, Hyde Park is safe—no matter what your housemates may say—but keep your wits about you after dark. Take advantage of campus shuttles. Save those numbers and routes in your phone. Be especially aware in new neighborhoods. The fall after I graduated, I was mugged in Englewood at night on Thanksgiving weekend because I hopped on a 55 at Midway that wasn’t going all the way to Hyde Park. This was dumb of me. Don’t do your adventurous exploring alone late at night after dark when you’re tired and stuck in another time zone. But with a friend or in the daylight if you keep your eyes off your phone, you’ll be fine.

Use Midway Airport. It is so much more accessible to Hyde Park than O’Hare.

Don’t feel like you have to drink till you black out. If people offer you more to drink than you want and saying no feels hard, just keep a Solo cup or beer bottle in your hand; people will assume you’re still working on it. Apartment parties are cooler than frat parties, but it’s hard to get invited to them as a first-year, particularly during O-Week. Say no to Everclear, especially undiluted. Go to some O-Week parties even if you might not think it’s your jam. Try everything at least once.

Buy a secondhand bike! But don’t get it at Working Bikes because they’ll use tubes that are the wrong size. I recommend Blackstone Bicycle Works. Use your U-lock and have a bike shop use a chain to lock in the wheels and seat. You will cry when your wheel gets stolen, and you’ve gotta save your tears for more important things. And don’t ride your bike while wearing a long-fringed scarf; it will get caught in your spokes, and you won’t look cool.

Make friends outside of your dorm, and in general, have friends from different sources. To that end, invite the cool kids in Hum to lunch. You can go to Bartlett, or you can go to Grounds of Being, or you can go to Rajun Cajun.

Grab free leftovers from Cobb Café at 4:30. Don’t dismiss their vegan options. You might think you’re proudly omnivorous, but you need to try more cuisines.

Get student tickets to Court Theatre. They are so cheap, and the theater is so good, and Court is so close.

Volunteer for Doc Films. It’s okay to fall asleep during a movie sometimes when it’s so cheap (or free if you’re volunteering), and it’s cool to learn a bit about projection. When movies are so cheap, you’ll realize it’s kind of cool to take yourself to a movie as a solo date.

Buy cheap hockey skates; you can ice-skate on the Midway for free.

Take classes in things you genuinely want to learn how to read, navigate, and understand better.

Stay in Chicago after graduation. It will help you feel more rooted.

Buy groceries at Hyde Park Produce, Open Produce, and the 61st Street Farmers Market once you leave the dining halls, but avoid Whole Foods. Jeff Bezos is bad.

On that note, buy a membership to the Sem Co-Op. As a member, you can order books from them online at a discount even once you move away from Hyde Park.

Know that unpaid internships are rarely worth it.

Take Self for Sosc. Take gender studies and art history for electives. I don’t regret not taking econ in college, but I regret not taking these two. Take Readings in World Lit or Reading Cultures for Hum. Don’t be afraid of interviewing people for anthro classes or for The Maroon just because you think approaching people is scary. Instead, ask professors or editors for advice.

Talk to your adviser at least once a quarter.

Jimmy’s makes a good breakfast on weekends, but Valois makes a good breakfast all the time.

Go outdoors at least once a day, even in winter, and especially if your dorm is connected to a dining hall and study spaces.

Know that a walk in the snow can be pleasantly wakeful and worth ditching class for the first time it snows in November.

Call out heterosexist or racist bullshit when you see it.

Know that college degrees don’t map onto intelligence, but they do make you more employable.

Don’t shy away from interesting clubs just because it sounds tough to be somewhere regularly at 1 p.m. on Sundays.

Take classes in the creative humanities, not just the critical ones.

Lots of doors and roofs are left unlocked on campus. These are worth exploring. You should be able to get to the roof of Harper. The pool that used to be in Ida Noyes is now a Booth School study space, but you should still be able to creep behind the screen in the Max P. (Doc) Cinema. Reading in Bond Chapel can be really peaceful, but it has poor lighting.

You can do short psych studies with the Decision Research Lab for extra cash.

Buy furniture and other supplies on Facebook, the modern equivalent to Marketplace. No one ever declared their love for me there, but I did once find an anthro master’s student taking a documentary filmmaking class and looking for subjects to interview.

Wear sunscreen in winter for its optimistic smell. Spring will come, I promise. And the snow will be beautiful.

Try Scav and Kuvia, but it’s OK if they’re not your jam.

Save your books and notebooks for their annotations. Don’t let moving every year make you think you need to offload your Durkheim and Readings in Western Civilization.

Decorate your room with Doc posters. Everyone buys posters at the campus poster sale in Reynolds Club, so you should turn to Marketplace or art museum gift shops for more unique room decor. Houseplants can brighten a dorm without a view. Chicago has too many great secondhand shops (and restaurants) to shop (or dine) at chains. You don’t need Target or Trader Joe’s when you have Marketplace, Unique, and Open Produce.

Take notes by hand in class or when you can’t concentrate.

Ask your TAs for help choosing majors, deciding whether to go to grad school, and figuring out what to read over break. Grad students ranked highly among my best teachers in college. The only downside is that their letters of recommendation, for some reason, count for less than professor recommendations in grad school applications.

Know that grad school likely won’t lead you to a job in your field. But that’s far down the line.

When your parents come to visit, show them the Smart Museum! Take them to the Renaissance Society and on a carillon tour at Rockefeller and on a tour of the Robie House. They might even like a UT play.

Use Student Wellness’s counseling services. Free therapy is so helpful and should be destigmatized. I suggest checking in with Student Wellness at least once a quarter just to think through where you’re at.

Register to vote at your campus address! Bring your friends to the polls!

Think tactically about campus organizing, which can be tough because of a transient community that changes year-to-year. Ask older campus organizers for their advice to retain institutional memory.

Don’t live for social media or online games. I started college a couple months after Mark Zuckerberg first rolled out Facebook and discovered tabbed browsing during O-Week; the latter can be organizationally helpful, but both are distractions. I strongly recommend acting as a Luddite outside of scholarly research. You can go on TikTok during winter break—for now, you should make friends with the kids who live upstairs in the dining hall rather than checking your high school crush’s Insta.

It’s OK to withdraw from your racquetball class if it makes you miserable. I recommend jogging and yoga to the uncoordinated.

Know that people who drink neither coffee nor tea are staying up late by drinking Coke, not through some superpower. Drink your coffee free from the dining hall.

Listen to WHPK. Go to their parties. Go to Euphony readings and parties.

The astronomy department has a great telescope. Take advantage.

With love,

your 37-year-old self,

ever,

lizgoetz

Liz Goetz is a 2008 alumna of The College.

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About the Contributor
Isabella Liu, Illustrator
Isabella is a second-year illustrator for the Viewpoints section of The Maroon. She is from Oklahoma and enjoys tending to her chickens and crops, reading romance novels, pretending to be a finance bro, and hanging out with her dog Arnold.
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  • M

    Mark Ira Weinstein / Sep 19, 2023 at 6:50 pm

    Very sound advice. I come from and even earlier time (S.B. ’69) and I would agree with most of the suggestions. I would add two. Get a job working as an RA to a real faculty member. In my case I worked for someone in an area about which I knew nothing, but I had a useful skill, and ended up finding my concentration. Do not be afraid to change your major, in fact, do not be afraid to change it every quarter. These four years are really the last time you will to explore things for the sake of learning something new and interesting. This may not pay off in a job, but it will pay off in how you live your life. Lastly, do not be overly focused on stuff that you think will help you get a job. This is UChicago, take advantage of the broad education you can get and your life will be enriched.

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