An unexpected invitation from a friend to visit his college campus brings back memories of student life.
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.
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.
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.
Thanks Paweł for the invitation and being a great guide!