(2008, 2009, 2010)
Perhaps one of the most important decisions of my life is the one I made to attend Northern Illinois University for my undergraduate studies. Sitting here, thinking about the four years I lived in DeKalb, called myself a Huskie, called that tiny metropolis among the corn fields home, I am just filled with the most immense feelings of nostalgia and happiness and love. (I've actually already written an 8 Minute Memoir about NIU, too, heh.) Man, what an experience I had there. I am so fortunate.
This, of course, was not a decision I came to on my own. I applied to four schools--NIU, ISU, UIC, and Augustana. I wanted to go to UIC, but at the time, it wasn't a good option for me. ISU was more of a safety school than anything. Augustana was offering money, and I loved the campus, having visited it before, but it was really still going to be pretty expensive even with scholarships. The thing about NIU was that I'd visited the campus before, too (I stayed there for a week in 2005 for speech camp), and I liked it. DeKalb was also close enough to home that I could get back there within 45 minutes, but just far enough away that I felt like I was out on my own.
And though I didn't know it at the time, the distance between Rogers Park and DeKalb isn't too bad, really, when you're so excited for the weekend--music playing loud, sitting in traffic on 290, getting to the city soon enough, receiving the best greetings always--but the way back, after saying goodbye, felt like forever. I could never have comprehended when I toured campus with my mom and dad on a brisk and sunny day (everything was covered in frost and dew; Altgeld Hall looked like something out of a dream) just how much I would adore every square inch of it. How much I would love the dorms I lived in, the buildings on campus I inhabited and studied in most often, the forest preserves nearby where Tom and I would go explore on our weekends together (and later, whenever we wanted, during my senior year, when we lived in the sunny one bedroom).
I ended up getting a BA in English with a minor in Southeast Asian Studies. At the time that I graduated, I was pretty good at both conversational and written Thai; this is something I've been thinking lately that I should get back in to, as I have lost a lot of that fluency. I got a world class education at NIU and I have never regretted the choices that I made in terms of my learning. I had great professors and took classes on interesting subjects. I was challenged in many ways over the course of my undergrad career, failing my first and only class ever (that I retook and passed with a C--it was passing!), writing term papers on John Milton and Southeast Asian Art and Olde English, going out of my comfort zone on a pretty regular basis.
I'm already out of time. 8 minutes goes by fast. While my education and experience was incredible, and amazing, and I learned so much and grew so much as an individual, it was also pretty damn hard sometimes. I was pretty homesick and had a bit of a hard time adjusting during the fall semester of my freshman year. Though Tom and I did a pretty good job of maintaining our relationship, there were times where it was hard to deal with the distance. And of course, there were the events of February 14, 2008. Here's what I'm really getting to. In those times, in those darkest moments, I was already becoming the woman I am now, a decade later. These are the experiences I am most grateful for, the ones that knock you down and build you back up. The ones that make you appreciate the good.
Because there was so much good in the 4 years I spent on campus. I made many friends and took a lot of interesting classes and probably stayed out too late one too many times and definitely didn't get enough sleep. I learned more about myself... learned how to fall even more endlessly in love with someone you're just starting to truly know... learned how to be self reliant and resilient. Believe me when I say, this place will always take residence in a special corner of my existence.
"Free, steadfast, devoted, true
We will always stand by you
Let our cheers resound for Northern