Reflecting on Living in Chicago as a European

Filed in American Culture by on February 6, 2015 0 Comments

Claire P. is a J-1 Trainee at Oak Street Real Estate Capital, LLC in Chicago, Illinois.

Having an international background, I never thought integration would be an issue for me. I was born in Cape Town to Belgian parents, lived all over Europe except Belgium, and spoke perfectly fluent English. I expected my time in Chicago would fly by without a cultural hiccup.

Chicago is a beautiful city. There is so much architecture and urban energy, and the exquisite Lake Michigan makes me feel like I’m in a movie. That is how life has felt since I started my training in October 2014—like living in a movie. It looks like a movie and people behave like they are from movies. My entire frame of reference has become all that I have learned observing American pop culture.

I am surprised to see how generous and warm Americans are. They seem very content with their lives. They are happy to have a job, health insurance, just a means to pay the bills; whereas, I think these are things that I and many other Europeans might take granted. It is a very controversial feeling inside that, on the one hand, America is so soft, kind, and generous, but on the other hand, America is hard because people are expected to fend for themselves.

Although I am fluent in English and have spoken English at school my whole life, there seems to be a cultural disconnect every now and then. People will ask me something and I will have no idea what they are talking about, almost as if they are speaking a different language.

One thing is for sure—Chicagoans really know how to have the best time and eat the best food. I have been introduced to the Portillo’s Chicago Dog (a type of hotdog), quickly turning into a weekly craving.

Let’s not forget to give a shout out to the weather. The winter is absolutely brutal, a type of cold inexplicable. However, as soon as the weather warms up, everyone comes out and has a great time, making Chicago a completely different city in different seasons.

I thought it would be an absolute breeze, and although Chicago is great, I do miss home.