Friday, February 26, 2010

Volunteer Spotlight: Emily Johns

World-traveler and world-class travel educator!

Tell us about the types of volunteering positions you've had at the hostel.
I've done a number of things at the hostel since I started volunteering two years ago. I started off as a Chicago guide, which I still do sometimes. I especially like going to concerts in Millennium Park. It's nice to go to something I was planning to see anyway, but taking along a bunch of interesting people and showing them the city. I've also done a few lectures about how to travel and places I've been. The most fun was the Taste and Travel last week--after talking about Brazil for half an hour I got to go and talk with other travellers and volunteers while the chef at Whole Foods made one of my favorite Brazilian meals! My favorite volunteer activity is Cultural Kitchens, though. I love cooking and I love interacting with the funny, bright teenagers who always seem to be in the kitchen!

Do you stay involved in the international community in any other way?
I have a lot of friends in different countries all over the world, so that's my main outlet to international affairs other than the news. I haven't been able to travel as much lately as I'd like, but I have a trip to Uruguay coming up in March!

What is your most memorable traveling experience?
There have been a lot of great travelling experiences, but one of my favorites was in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia. After trudging around the beautiful old city all day I went back to the hostel, only to find that I was the only woman staying there that night. No big deal. But I was quite surprised an hour later to find myself sitting on a couch, surrounded by boys, eating warm homemade linzertorte and watching the latest Reese Witherspoon hit (not my selection).

What's your favorite place in Chicago?
My favorite place in Chicago is the Cultural Center. I've always loved it--when I was a kid I would walk through the rooms and plan where my furniture would go when it was my private home. I think it's the most beautiful building in the city (and one of the best I've ever seen in the world) and I love that it's open (and free!) to the public, full of great lectures, concerts, and art galleries, and right across the street from one of my other favorite places in the city!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Come party with us, for a great cause!

HI-Chicago has been bringing the world to Chicago since 2000. In that time, we've hosted 100's of thousands of travelers and served over 4,500 youth with our strong educational programs. In addition,a million travelers voted, and HI-Chicago won "World's Best Large Hostel" for 2009 by

Please come party with us in recognition of our achievements and help us raise money to reach more youth in Chicago with our programs! Funds raised will support the hostel's meaningful cultural awareness-building programs, including Cultural Kitchen, Exchange Neighborhoods, and Community Walls. Through these programs, students become more open-minded, caring world citizens.

Who: Friends of hostelling!
What: $30 for all you want of domestic beer, cocktails, wine, sangria
Where: Waterhouse Tavern and Grill (at Paulina Brown Line stop)
When: Friday, Feb. 26th 8pm-Midnight
Why: To have a great time and support education at the hostel

Please invite your friends! Respond to:

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Amy's Downtown Nightlife Ideas

Looking for a couple of cheap drinks downtown Chicago on a Saturday Night? Here are a couple of good places to try out, all within walking distance of HI-Chicago.

Franklin Tap
325 S. Franklin St. (300S, 300W) (Franklin – Between VanBuren and Jackson)
Chicago, IL 60606
(312) 212-3262
Saturday Night Specials
½ off appetizers after 5 pm with a drink
$3 call drinks
$3 all bottled beer
$5 Patron Silver Shots
$5 Jameson shots
Free WII – get your golf on!
Run-of-the-mill bar with some video games, great, high windows made for people-watching, and good service. Honestly though, it’s the $3 Bacardi drinks and half-priced pretzels appetizers that draw me in. For $3.50, you get 2 generously-sized warm pretzels.

Stocks & Blondes
36 N. Wells St. (50N, 200W) (Between Madison and Washington)
Chicago IL 60606
(312) 372-3725
Everyday Specials
$10 High Life pitchers
$4 Miller light and Coors Light stadium drafts & $3 refills
This place is a classic dive bar and kind of random for downtown. Perfect to just get some cheap beer, served in 85 Bear themed pints, and enjoy some greasy fries.

Exchequer Restaurant & Pub
226 S. Wabash Ave. (200S, 100E)
Chicago, IL 60604
(312) 939-9128
Everyday Specials
$3.75 Monthly Beer Special
This is not my favorite of the four, but their good drink specials and delicious pizza are worth noting. Also, the hostel offers coupons for 10% off. Girl loves a deal!

Brando's Speakeasy
343 S. Dearborn St. (350S, 50W) (VanBuren & Dearborn)
Chicago, IL 60604
(773) 216-3213
Best Special
$2.00 PPR
The bar is more of a lounge with super friendly service (we got a free round of drinks after chatting with the bartender - score!). A mixed group of patrons, so the people-watching is great. On Saturday nights expect some karaoke in the early evening.

-Amy Weber, hostel volunteer

Monday, February 22, 2010

Why February is a great time to be in Chicago

As I shoveled out about 14 inches of snow from my back porch, I thought, “At least it’s not raining." February can be a truly awful month in Chicago, liable to snow, rain, and freeze, perhaps all in one day. It’s winter’s last hurrah, but the gray days can make spring feel like a long way off. To be fair, today and yesterday were gorgeous blue-sky days, with crisp clear views of the skyline and the sun sparkling on the snow. It was also cold enough to look for a place to spend the day inside.

My favorite winter respite in the city is the Lincoln Park Conservatory. Located in Lincoln Park, the conservatory is a breath of warm air. The beautiful antique-glass greenhouse is free year round, and its four houses showcase abundant ferns, palms, orchids, and other tropical plants. It’s a local treasure, just slightly off the beaten tourist track.

Another gem of a building, the Chicago Cultural Center, is in the heart of downtown, yet often overlooked. The Cultural Center is worth visiting any time of year for its stunning Tiffany glass dome and tile mosaics, but this month you can also catch the Peace on Earth Film Festival. The weekend of Feb 26-28, ten films covering peace towards humans and the earth will screen at the Center. All films are free and open to the public. Did I mention that this was in addition to their usual offerings of free music concerts and art exhibits?

The city’s greatest cultural landmark is also vying for your winter hours. The Art Institute of Chicago, one of the great art museums of the world, is free in February. Every day. The gallery of the Impressionists, the early Christian masterpieces, the new Renzo Piano-designed Modern Wing— all free, all month.

Finally, don’t let the late winter weather keep you indoors the whole time. The hostel offers its usual free Saturday walking tour of downtown, as well as the lakefront, Grant Park, and Millennium Park being free year round. Millennium Park offers free ice-skating (skate rental is $10), as do other public parks around the city. Up near the Lincoln Park Conservatory, you’ll also find the Lincoln Park Zoo. You guessed it— also free. The Zoo is large enough to occupy you for an afternoon of investigating the lives of giraffes, reptiles, birds, tigers, and polar bears. One other great way to visit a different ecosystem is through the world-class Shedd Aquarium. The Shedd offers stunning views of the lake, and thankfully from an indoor vantage point.

-Hostel Volunteer Rachel Miller

Staff Spotlight

We stopped staff member Rhonda during her busy day to ask her a few questions:

HI: What do you do here at the hostel?
Rhonda: Housekeeping, basically everything though. Linens, rooms, and public areas. Where ever they need me!!

HI: How long have you been here?
Rhonda: March 2002

HI: What do you like about the hostel/your job?
Rhonda: I love my co-workers and meeting new people. I just really like the job!

HI: What is one interesting story that has happened to you on the job?
Rhonda: One man came down to the basement and stole an employee's clothes. He was looking for his clothes and about thirty minutes later he walks out with the employee's clothes on!

HI: Did the employee get his clothes back?
Rhonda: (laughing) Nope, he just let him keep them!

HI: What is something about the hostel that not most people would know?
Rhonda: Its just a cool place to come and hang out!!

HI: What would you recommend travelers do while they stay in Chicago?
Rhonda: Shopping! On Michigan Avenue or anywhere. All of them with sales (laughs)

HI: Well, great! Thanks and have a great day Rhonda!
Rhonda: Thank you, you too.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Community Walls 2010

In two weeks, the hostel will launch the 5th year of the Community Walls project in partnership with Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana. The program asks young people what it's like to live in their community. With the help of volunteers, the girls learn about culture and investigate that of their own and their neighborhood in order to create an original mural that shares their experiences. The murals are displayed at the hostel to give our guests a glimpse into life in Chicago and its suburbs.

Community Walls is just one of several educational programs the hostel brings to the local community. From basic travel preparedness to intercultural understand, hostel volunteers and staff help 1500 travelers and students get ready to explore their world each year.

This year we are celebrating HI-Chicago's 10th Anniversary - and ten years of educational programs! Come join us on February 26, 8pm - 12am, at Waterhouse Tavern and Grill (3407 N Paulina) to raise a glass. The $30 cover includes all you want of domestic beer, wine, cocktails, sangria - and a donation to support the hostel's educational programs! Email with any questions.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Legends of Chicago

Buddy Guy’s Legend is home to some of Chicago’s best blues. Named after the 73-year-old Louisiana native, Buddy Guy, the restaurant boasts great food and incredible atmosphere. Guy himself returns to Chicago every January to perform at his original spot. Locals flock to see him flawlessly play his guitar and sing a variety of songs from ballads to funk and blues. Guy’s down-to-earth demeanor makes every customer feel welcome and relaxed.

Buddy Guy is not the only musician to claim the stage at the local restaurant. Buddy Guy’s Legend hosts numerous aspiring and well-known artists in the area. In the upcoming week they will be hosting the Union League Civic & Arts Foundation Jazz Improv Competition on February 17. Friday the 19th and Saturday the 20th are also packed with music from Guy King and His Little Big Band and Lil Ed and the Blues Imperials, among others. To find out what bands are playing each night, go to Buddy Guy’s Legend website: On Sundays through Thursday the music starts at 9:30 pm. However, on Fridays music lovers can arrive early at 5:30 pm and Saturdays at 6 pm to hear an acoustic set. But you might want to get there early, because seats fill up fast! This popular location also boasts a wide menu. Serving anything from burgers to Jambalaya (named Top Ten at Taste of Chicago), Buddy Guy’s Legend has a varied cuisine to offer dinners. They are also open for lunch Monday through Friday, with acoustic performances playing from noon to 2 pm. HI Chicago loves Buddy Guy’s Legends so much we wanted to offer travelers a discount! So stop by the 2nd floor information desk to get a coupon and receive ½ off admission Sunday through Thursday! We are sure you will leave with a satisfied stomach and ear!

-Erika Ter Louw, HI Chicago Intern

Friday, February 12, 2010

Rachel Miller: Adventures in Education

Each week we highlight one of the hostel's fantastic volunteers. This week it's Rachel Miller, who has been working at the information desk since September 2009 and has also a hand in Cultural Kitchen.

Q. What sort of volunteer work do you do at the hostel, and what's your motivation for doing it?
A. Once a month, I volunteer with the Cultural Kitchens program. I got interested in the Cultural Kitchens program because it combines two of my favorite things: experiential learning and cooking! After signing up for CK, I also started working at the Information Desk once a week. I grew up in Chicago, but have just moved back after being away for six years. The Info Desk was a good way for me to get reacquainted with the city, while also helping other people get to know my hometown.

Q. Can you elaborate on some of your previous international experience - traveling, studying, or working abroad?
A. My first international experience was a family trip to Ontario when I was ten years old. I immediately decided that Canada was fascinating. In high school, I took a trip with my sister around Europe, which was our own "Grand Tour". It really confirmed in me a sense of adventure, and I knew that I would somehow get myself out into other new countries. In college, I studied abroad for six months in London as I worked on my Anthropology degree. After college, I decided that I wanted to live abroad again, but in a more challenging environment. Through a series of fortunate events, I ended up teaching English in southern China for two years. It was an incredible immersive experience in a very complicated culture, and I doubt I could begin to understand contemporary Chinese events without it. During that time I was also able to travel to many different parts of China, as well as various countries in SE Asia. Finally, my girlfriend and I extended our return trip home to America and traveled for six weeks through northwest China, Turkey, and Bulgaria. Currently, I'm mostly interested in traveling to the western and northwestern U.S., although I have been invited to a wedding in Rio de Janeiro in 2010.

Q. How has your time spent in China shaped how you view travel?
A. I think my time spent in China confirmed for me what I already suspected about travel, which is that slower is usually better. The first thing I want to do in a new place is to see the sights. This can be done fairly quickly. But "seeing the sights" is only the tip of the iceberg, and as incredible as it is, it still leaves you with just the same photos as anyone else. Travelling slowly allows you time to help carry someone's kids up a hiking trail, hear what the your hostel owner thinks of the other guests, and find out what it is you've been doing the past few days that locals find terribly rude. Travelling slowly isn't always feasible, but it allows more time for you to develop respect for the area, and importantly, for the local area to develop a little respect for you (hence the importance of embarrassing lessons on social faux pas.)

Q. What's been your most memorable experience at the hostel so far?
A. I think my favorite moment happened at a Cultural Kitchen dinner table one night. Students from Curie High School had cooked us up some stellar Romanian food a few days before Thanksgiving. At my table, a student from Chicago and a student from rural Poland shared stories of their families' holiday traditions with two visitors from Chile and Spain. The group compared their respective local holiday costumes, dances, foods, and traditions. It was a really crazy, serendipitous moment in cross-cultural connection. That Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, I went into the hostel to work at the Info Desk and brought a few pies to share. I ran into Marta (the visitor from Spain) in the dining room, and she greeted me like an old friend. "Oh, hello! How was your holiday? How was your grandmama's Thanksgiving dinner?" "It was wonderful," I replied, "It was nice to be home this year. Would you like some pumpkin pie?"

Monday, February 8, 2010

Chicago Beginnings

The Windy City, the City of Big Shoulders, the Second City, and The City That Works are some of Chicago’s nicknames according to their official tourism website, Chicago’s multiple titles match its well-known diversity. With over 200 theatres and art galleries, more than 7,300 restaurants, the lakefront, and 77 community areas with even more neighborhoods, it is impossible to be bored in this beautiful city.

As a new comer myself, the endless possibilities can be slightly overwhelming. Beginning my semester as an intern downtown I had several expectations of Chicago and what I would learn in my first few days. Already Chicago has exceeded these expectations. Public transportation makes it very easy to get around the city and to visit so many different locations. In addition to this, there are numerous incredible resources to narrow down what you would like to experience.

Walking up to Hostelling International’s second floor information booth, I immediately began searching through the brochures. With the help of the volunteer, I walked away with quite the stack; I find myself very eager to experience all that Chicago has to offer; my fridge already has a long list of “to do’s”!

Even though I have only been in Chicago for two weeks, some things on that list have already been crossed off. Within the first week I had already been to several local restaurants and seen a show at the iO Improv Theatre in Wrigleyville. The Improvised Shakespeare comedy was hysterical and provided a great Friday night activity! Next on my list was the Museum of Contemporary Art (admission is free on Tuesdays). Despite the fact that I know very little about art, the museum was fascinating and there was such a variety. Don’t miss the Hide and Seek Exhibition! Lastly, I spent a day at the Lincoln Park Zoo. Even though it is cold, there were still plenty of exhibits and animals inside. My personal favorites were the penguin and monkey houses. I spent a considerable amount of time simply watching in amusement!

So, if you are a newcomer as well and are at a loss for where to start, here are a few other places that I am also very excited to visit: the Museum of Science and Industry, the Field Museum, Chinatown, the Hancock Observatory, the Adler Planetarium and Museum, and the Art Institute of Chicago. And there are so many more to discover! So grab your coat and gloves, and hit the streets of Chicago! Happy Exploring!
-Erika Ter Louw, intern

Monday, February 1, 2010

Mural Competition Celebrates Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Hostelling International Chicago and The School of the Art Institute of Chicago recently announced the opening of the "Until Justice Rolls Down Like Waters" exhibition as part of the Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Mural Competition. The opening reception at which awards were announced took place on January 18, 2010 from 5 – 7pm at the hostel.

As participants in the Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Mural Competition, twelve student artists were challenged to create temporary works of art on the second floor windows of the hostel that not only commemorate the life and work of Dr. King, but also explore the continuing struggle for social justice today.

The exhibition was a juried competition, with judges from Hostelling International Chicago, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and previous Competition winners conferring awards. The 1st Place Prize was three-nights’ accommodation courtesy of Hostelling International – San Francisco, Downtown with an airfare voucher. 2nd Place Prize was two nights’ accommodation courtesy of Hostelling International – Madison with inter-city transportation. 3rd Place Prize was a $50 gift card courtesy of Utrecht Art Supplies.

The exhibition also featurs the "Our World – People, Places and Culture" photography collection from Winnipeg-based photographer Keith Levit. The collection features 25 portraits and landscapes captured during Levit’s travels, from the sand dunes of Namibia to the mountaintops of Peru, and speak to human connections across cultures and continents.

The twelve muralists were current students at or recent graduates from the Columbia College, Harold Washington College, Illinois Institute of Art – Chicago, Malcom X College, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and Southampton Solent University: Katie Armentrout, Zebadiah Arrington, Alex Cohen, Alyssa Doren, Jazmin Giron, Antonia Gurkovska, Alice Jingxuan Hu, Rocky Loera, Mary Catherine Quinn, Cordarice Mark Thomas, Sho Tsunoda, Daniel Williams.

1st place winner was Antonia Gurkovska (see photo). To see photos of all the reception and all the murals, check out HI-Chicago's flickr set to the right.

The exhibition will be on display from January 18 – March 31, 2010, at Hostelling International Chicago, 24 East Congress Parkway. The exhibition is free and open to the public 9:00 am to 9:00 pm, seven days a week. The artists’ reception will take place on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, January 18, 2010, from 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm. The Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Mural Competition is part of the ongoing collaboration between Hostelling International Chicago and The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.