Travel experience: Visiting a college campus

//Travel experience: Visiting a college campus

Travel experience: Visiting a college campus

An unexpected invitation from a friend to visit his college campus brings back memories of student life.

Fall in the Midwest

When I moved to Chicago one October a few years ago, I noticed that foliage and warm temperatures here lasted longer than in my native Poland. Since then, I have taken advantage of Midwestern fall every year – by going to parks, taking road trips, and even… participating in car scavenger hunts. Anything to be outdoors.

This year, when a friend studying in central Illinois invited me to visit his campus, I jumped at the opportunity. I bought a train ticket and off I went on my first college trip since graduation.

I had never been to the Champaign-Urbana campus of the University of Illinois, but was familiar with it through articles and conversations with friends. I knew the school was a high-ranking public institution with strong research traditions. I also remembered the men’s basketball team competing in NCAA tournament finals a few years back – at that time many fans in Chicago could be seen wearing signature Illini orange sweatshirts.

Now I was curious to see the campus. I expected it to look just like in movies featuring North American universities – brick buildings with white shutters, tree-lined alleys, a big central lawn.

As I was sitting on the train surrounded by students, catching glimpses of small towns through the window, I was reminded of my own college years. I studied in both Krakow and Chicago, but it was the former that required a commute. Instead of a train, though, I often traveled by bus. It always seemed as though all passengers were students – you could tell by their conversations, and chances were you’d trip on their backpacks while trying to get to your seat.

No obstacle course this time, only a half-hour delay as we approached the destination. I texted my friend to no longer wait for me. I’d grab coffee downtown Champaign and meet him after his class was over.

I have known Paweł for several years – we are both soccer fans and met at a Chicago Fire event. We also share an interest in photography and travel (Paweł runs the blog Travel in Pixels). As a history student, he was eager to tell me a lot about U of I and show me as much of the campus as possible.

Main Quad of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

We started at the Engineering Campus and the Boneyard Creek, passed by the Romanesque Altgeld Hall, then walked the length of the Main Quad (“the big lawn,” as I referred to it), and stepped inside Lincoln Hall, dating back to 1911. Looking at the elaborate wall décor in the renovated space, I thought of historic campuses in Europe and, again, my student years in Krakow. From there we headed to Foellinger Auditorium, a 1,563-seat venue built in 1907, functioning as both a lecture hall and performance space. Then came my favorite part of the tour – going inside the Main Library.

With over 24 million items, the library is among the biggest public university libraries in the world. Paweł was able to bring me into several rooms housing some of the collections. Walking among aisles after aisles of books on every imaginable subject and in many languages was a great treat. As it happened, I came across volumes in Polish by familiar authors. Another reminder of home.

Around the campus: Altgeld Hall (left), Lincoln Hall (top right), Boneyard Creek (bottom right)

The rest of our trip involved a visit to the Foreign Language Building (“It’s right up your alley,” said Paweł) and the Japan House – a serene park with alleys, tea houses, and a large pond. The last stop on the campus tour was Caffe Paradiso, a locally-owned coffee shop, filled with students doing homework.

Going to Champaign-Urbana hadn’t been on my travel list at all. College years behind me, I didn’t have a reason to tour a campus. Yet, I’m really glad I did!

Visiting my friend’s school gave me the same energy that I felt as a student. I came back home inspired to dust off a few history and language books. And check what events are being planned by my alumni association.

Enjoying an afternoon at Japan House (photo: P. Skrabacz)

Thanks Paweł for the invitation and being a great guide!

By | 2014-02-06T00:36:13+00:00 November 3rd, 2012|STORIES|21 Comments

About the Author:

Pola Henderson is a travel writer, city explorer, expat, and event host. Traveling has been a part of her life since she was three. Pola grew up in Krakow, lived in Chicago for many years and is currently based in Paris, where she teaches Business English.


  1. avatar

    […] is noted for its scientific research and Nobel- and Pulitzer Prize-winning alumni. During a visit to the campus, I was given a tour by a friend who is a U of I […]

  2. avatar
    Cathy Sweeney November 4, 2012 at 1:36 pm

    I enjoy visiting universities when I travel. I spent a weekend with a friend at U of I Champaign-Urbana many years ago. Beautiful campus, especially in the fall.
    Cathy Sweeney recently posted..Barcelona’s Block of DiscordMy Profile

    • avatar
      Jetting Around November 4, 2012 at 1:45 pm

      Hi Cathy. The campus really is beautiful! I’m glad I got to visit it in the fall, on a sunny day.

  3. avatar
    Traveling Ted November 4, 2012 at 3:37 pm

    I have never been to U of I, but it looks gorgeous. I remember when they were in the finals in the basketball as I was traveling to the Philippines at the time. Too bad they did not win. Did you discover what happened to their football team? They are horrible.
    Traveling Ted recently posted..Porcupine Mountains Wilderness backcountry camping and cabinsMy Profile

    • avatar
      Jetting Around November 4, 2012 at 5:08 pm

      Haha, no word on their football team, but the stadium looked impressive from the outside.

  4. avatar
    Miret November 4, 2012 at 4:43 pm

    Cool. I love university buildings & campuses. And not only because I work with academics, but also and especially because it reminds of the great time I had at university :-)
    Miret recently posted..Lunch at… MuscadeMy Profile

    • avatar
      Jetting Around November 4, 2012 at 5:17 pm

      Oh yes, student years were great times! :) A while ago I was back in Krakow and got to see some of my former professors.

  5. avatar
    Craig Zabransky November 4, 2012 at 10:42 pm

    nothing better than a university with fall foliage. it is just the ideal setting for higher learning…nice images.
    stay adventurous, Craig
    Craig Zabransky recently posted..Sunset Sunday – The Road Back to (for) New YorkMy Profile

    • avatar
      Jetting Around November 10, 2012 at 4:25 pm

      I could totally see myself going to lectures at Lincoln Hall. Must be pretty inspiring to be there and sense the history of the place.

  6. avatar
    Leah Travels November 4, 2012 at 11:01 pm

    I really love visiting college campuses. In fact, whenever I visit a place that has a well-known college, it always makes my itinerary. I love looking at the architecture. The foliage in your photos is spectacular.
    Leah Travels recently posted..Cramming an Inordinate Amount of Stuff into a BagMy Profile

    • avatar
      Jetting Around November 10, 2012 at 4:24 pm

      Thanks, Leah! I have a feeling I’ll be visiting more campuses, this was fun.

  7. avatar
    lauren dimarco November 5, 2012 at 5:34 am

    such gorgeous photos, as always. love the one of the quad – so quintessential US college…at least as one would think!
    lauren dimarco recently romantic European destinationsMy Profile

    • avatar
      Jetting Around November 10, 2012 at 4:23 pm

      Thanks so much, Lola! I had a lot of fun taking pictures around there and we had beautiful weather for that. :)

  8. avatar
    The World Wanderer November 5, 2012 at 10:09 pm

    Wow! This is beautiful! I have been to MANY a college campus in the Northeast, but never in the Midwest. I love college campuses and think I may have to make a few trips to see the many I’ve missed over the years. Love the fall foliage as well.
    The World Wanderer recently posted..Felucca on the Nile and Banana Island.My Profile

    • avatar
      Jetting Around November 10, 2012 at 4:21 pm

      Erin, if you come to Chicago, we could show you Northwestern just north of the city. It’s by Lake Michigan too. :)

  9. avatar
    Raul (@ilivetotravel) November 6, 2012 at 2:01 pm

    What a beautiful and seemingly serene campus. Nice pix. We must be on a campus visiting kick with me going to UVA’s two weekends ago!
    Raul (@ilivetotravel) recently posted..Virginia is for lovers. Wine lovers.My Profile

    • avatar
      Jetting Around November 10, 2012 at 4:20 pm

      “Seemingly serene” haha, good point. ;) I hope you enjoyed your campus visit too, Raul!

  10. avatar
    Francesca November 7, 2012 at 10:02 am

    You make the U of I campus look and sound more attractive than I remember it :-) I didn’t go to school there but have dozens of friends that did, as well as my sister, so I’ve visited many times. Never was all that crazy about it, but your photos and descriptions are working to change my opinions.
    Francesca recently posted..Longing for IstanbulMy Profile

    • avatar
      Jetting Around November 10, 2012 at 4:19 pm

      My friend was a great guide and he seems to really like the campus, so he must have shown me the best parts. :)

  11. avatar
    Dominique November 7, 2012 at 1:40 pm

    College campuses are among our favorite places to visit when we travel. They’re often great places to find beautiful architecture and art, as well as markers or museums that tell about an area’s history. A college campus is usually a great place to walk, so you can get a little exercise, and there are usually some decent places to stop nearby for a coffee or inexpensive meal. It’s also among our favorite places to shop for souvenirs when we travel…I can’t tell you how many t-shirts or sweatshirts I’ve brought home from college campuses after a trip!
    Dominique recently posted..Remembering military veterans in Holly, MichiganMy Profile

    • avatar
      Jetting Around November 10, 2012 at 4:18 pm

      Hi Dominique. You make great points about architecture, food, and walkability! :) I was only surprised that coffee wasn’t a little cheaper at this particular campus, go figure.

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