Appreciating the University from an outsider’s perspective


By Brandon Zegiel, Columnist

Change happens constantly. It can be something simple, such as a new menu item at our favorite restaurant. Or, it can send rippling effects through our entire lives, such as changing schools.

Throughout my life, I’ve become accustomed to that particular change because I’ve had many doses of different schooling.

Most of the time, I attended whichever school my family thought was best both financially and for me. But last year, when I transferred out of the University of Illinois at Chicago and came to this honorable institution, it was me doing the decision making.

Initially, I was unsure of my choice. I made friends in the city, and the atmosphere there wasn’t bad at all. My friends had many different cultural backgrounds and I learned much about the world outside the United States.

I would meet up with them in classes, where many people would socialize just as they do here on campus, but there was a monumental difference in what happened afterward.

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    Students of UIC simply didn’t live on campus. When classes ended, most people would go home, sharing the rest of their nights with their households. There was little socialization at the conclusion of the day like we know here.

    I would go out onto the quad late on warm summer nights, and there was no person within miles of me. It was almost as if the big city had been gutted of all its people, where no person existed other than me.

    Sometimes, I would look up, trying to place stars in the sky to utilize that Boy Scout knowledge of the constellations I had once learned about, but I would be greeted only by planes and helicopters instead.

    I was still unsure of my choice when I got to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and moved into Newman Hall right in the middle of campus.

    I had seen online how competitive this school was across the board and what kinds of futures it opened up to students. I also knew about the social opportunities the campus offered, which were seemingly diverse and important to the campus as a whole.

    I simply didn’t know if the campus would fit me.

    It took time, and many Netflix nights where my mind cross-examined my decision to transfer on a daily basis. And it probably wasn’t until my first encounter with the Main Quad on a warm September night, when I sat down under a tree, using my phone as a flashlight to write. I looked up for the first time, remembering my experience at UIC, and it wasn’t planes I saw anymore, but rather stars.

    It was then I took my headphones out, looking around me. I remember seeing to my left a movie playing while people congregated by a building I would quickly learn was the Illini Union. It was then I noticed that the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign was more than a series of buildings recognized as a top-50 school in the nation.

    The school has that X-factor — perhaps it’s the social twist that many other prestigious universities cannot even touch.

    This social factor I refer to doesn’t just make appearances late at night. It is during the day, when I make a run over for a coffee break between studying for fi nals, or when I go out to Green Street to make edits for my column the next week and see all the students, typically with their headphones out, interacting with one another.

    People do not commute as much here at the University, which allows for so much more social interaction and academic collaboration between students. It works, and it seems natural.

    Today, I am searching with my buddies for the best local places to eat late at night and during the day. We can do this together because we don’t go back home on our off days.

    The campus fits me, and I will never regret for a moment in my life the decision I made in coming here. If I could personally thank the University of Illinois as a whole I would, because the atmosphere that I found on that one September night cannot be found on any other campus.

    Brandon is a sophomore in LAS.

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