Monday, May 3, 2010


As the city heats up and the sun shines daily now, we are reminded that summer is finally on its way. The city lights up and we notice that Chicago really does have inhabitants. I love watching winter fade and warmer weather take its place. However, this year I welcome in the new season with mixed feelings. It is yet another reminder that my time at Hostelling International Chicago is ending.

Tomorrow I will spend my last day as an intern here in Chicago. Looking on to graduation that is rapidly approaching, excitement fills me. I am about to embark on a new adventure that has yet to take form. Regardless, it is an exciting point. At the same time, I am forced to look back on what I have learned and done this semester. Born and raised in a small town in Iowa, Chicago is definitely different than my usual atmosphere.

Starting at the end of January, small tasks such as managing public transportation seemed nearly impossible. “Which side of the tracks do I need to be on?” “How do I know I’m on the right bus? Where do I get off?” Even crossing the street was an educational experience! In my small town, the flashing orange hand means the light is changing, so stop. For Chicago that hand means, walk faster! After standing at a few corners way too long, a couple mistakes on the CTA, and pouring over maps, I finally transitioned. It quickly became second nature.

Aside from city life, Hostelling International Chicago also provided constant learning opportunities. Like many of you who stay with us each week, I knew very little about Chicago. For the first several weeks as I sat at the information desk, it felt like a crash and burn course on the city. So many random questions were thrown my way, and I hadn’t the slightest clue on how to answer them. Google was soon my favorite form of modern technology! HI travelers were always gracious as I explained that I just moved here myself and had no idea! I grew to love sitting down with a traveler and learning vast amounts about Chicago.

In addition to sitting at the information desk, I had the opportunity to interact with travelers daily. Attending hostel outings throughout Chicago, leading a walking tour every week, conducting focus groups, and eating lunch with groups of students all offered me the opportunity to learn so much. You as travelers were constantly teaching me new things about your own cultures and lives. One of my favorite parts of the internship was conducting interviews. So many of you were gracious enough to put up with my numerous questions and curiosities. It never ceased to amaze me the adventures you were on and the things you have seen! Through these interviews you also opened my eyes to Chicago. Without you I would have missed many of its treasures and quirks!

Interacting with so many different travelers throughout the semester also provided me with great amounts of laughter. There was always a funny story to be heard or hysterical situations to observe. If there was ever a slow day, I often found comic relief simply walking through the lobby. Whether it was making crepes with travelers in the kitchen, watching someone accidentally kick their flip flop in the fridge, or watching travelers dance to blues music, each has enriched my experience beyond words.

Over the past few months I have absolutely loved getting to know the heartbeat of Hostelling International Chicago. From the moment I interviewed for the internship, I knew I would love spending time here. A unique culture prevails within the beautiful downtown building. Staff members, volunteers, and travelers all create a great sense of community. So, thank you! Every one of you I have met these past months has contributed so much to my experience in Chicago. It will always be one of my favorite cities!

Best wishes on your own new adventures!
-Erika Ter Louw, HI intern

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