Geography field trip to Chicago

Kitty Kershaw

If you are seeking a field trip that offers real-time examples of geographical concepts, the chance to experience a variety of rich cultures all within just one city, plus some fun on the side then I would highly recommend choosing the module ‘Chicago: Sites of Global Change’. It’s not just about the field trip; the lectures and seminars over the whole year cover fascinating themes and scholarly insights which will enrich your overall learning experience.

Why choose a module that has a field trip?

Geography stands out as a subject because it provides field trips where you can witness first-hand the concepts you’ve been studying all year. These trips also offer opportunities to conduct research on topics that truly interest you, thereby enhancing both your knowledge and research abilities. Yet, perhaps the most significant aspect is the chance to meet fellow students from your course whom you may not have crossed paths with otherwise. Sharing ideas and exploring a new city or location together fosters quick and meaningful connections—I’ve certainly formed lifelong friendships during my trip to Chicago!

My fieldtrip diary

Tuesday

We got to Heathrow for our 11am flight just in time and checked in with our student registers, before making our way to Wetherspoons for our last English breakfast. The flight went very smoothly (the film selection was amazing) and we touched down in Chicago’s O’Hare Airport at around 4pm! We went directly to our hotel in the city centre passing American flags, McDonalds, and Targets on our way in. For our first night we had Chicago deep dish for the first time which had mixed reviews, but everyone managed to finish their huge portions of garlic bread, pasta and meatballs and thin crust pizza! After eating ourselves into a food coma we settled in our 4 bed dorm rooms (chosen by us) to try and sleep the jet lag off.

Then it was time for our first full day in Chicago! For our weeklong trip we had 3 days of activities that had been planned by our professors and teaching staff and then 4 days for our own individual research activities.

Wednesday

We started this day by getting on the ‘L’ which is Chicago’s public transit system, famous for being above the streets around the Loop (the centre of Chicago), eventually making it to Pilsen, a neighbourhood in the Lower West Side of Chicago. We had researched this area extensively in the module beforehand due to its unique rich Latino culture and beautiful murals, so being able to see it in real life was incredible. We got a guided tour of the National Museum of Mexican art before enjoying some authentic Mexican tacos and walking around the Pilsen neighbourhood which is becoming more and more gentrified. We even managed to stumble across the TV show ‘The Bear’ being filmed which was a highlight! We ended the day in Logan Square Library where we split into our groups, decided based on our research topics, to plan our own research days and get in touch with anyone in the city that we thought may be useful to speak to.

Thursday

On Thursday, despite the rain and snow, we braved an open top boat tour which took us up and down the Chicago River with a tour guide who gave insights on the architecture and history of the most famous buildings in the city. We then got a tour (on foot), when it had stopped raining from Rachel Weber, a professor at University of Illinois Chicago (UIC) and author of the book “From Boom to Bubble: How Finance built the New Chicago”. A book which we had studied in the ‘Urban Governance and Neoliberal Chicago’ block of the module. Rachel gave us an updated version of her book with information on how the city’s downtown buildings were being utilized post-Covid. We ended the day with dinner at the famous Time Out market in Fulton Market where we got to speak to some UIC students about their own research.

Friday

On the final day of our scheduled activities, we embarked on a tour of Chinatown, situated on Chicago’s south side. Our itinerary included a visit to the Chinese American Museum, which offered insights into Chinese American identity and the historical significance of Chinatown within the broader context of the city. We paused for lunch at an authentic Chinese restaurant, followed by some bubble tea, a first for some of us! We ended our day, by venturing to the magnificent Chicago Cultural Centre in the heart of the city, renowned for its striking architecture and hosting various art exhibitions and cultural events. In the evening, a handful of us fulfilled a long-standing dream by attending a Chicago Bulls basketball game – an unforgettable experience complete with energetic cheerleaders, spirited mascots, and t-shirt cannons!

Saturday, Sunday, Monday

Over the weekend and into Monday, we carried out our own research, making each individual day unique! My group and I got involved with a litter picking initiative in Pilsen and got to speak to members of the city council and locals. These conversations led to an invitation to visit the City Council building where we conducted an interview with the Director of Housing and Real Estate, directly contributing to our research objectives. We also explored Chicago’s prominent green spaces, observed the final stages of construction of the Obama Presidential Centre and received a tour of the University of Chicago from students themselves. Each evening, we congregated at a restaurant to discuss our research findings and seek guidance from the teaching staff. Throughout our days, we diligently recorded our observations in field notebooks, providing valuable material for further reflection in following days.

Remarkably, our visit coincided with the eclipse on Monday, April 8th, allowing us to witness the remarkable celestial event with special glasses, as the moon obscured 93.9% of the sun.

Tuesday

On our last day we had sunshine so before our 7-hour flight we decided to hit the beach and have a game of volleyball, tiring ourselves out before we started the long journey home.

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Kitty Kershaw

Hi, I'm Kitty a third year Geography student from Trevelyan college. I play hockey for Trevs and did a year abroad in Hong Kong.

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