A home away from home


A home away from home

By James Firkins

When I first arrived in America, I was speechless. While that was in part an effect of the tall buildings, it was due largely to the fact I had lost my voice from singing at the going-away party I had a couple days before. Needless to say, my worries about being on the other side of the planet from my U.K. home, by myself, were exacerbated. The problems didn’t end there, either.

Alongside my homesickness, constant sideway glances at my dwindling bank balance—Chicago is expensive—and the need to explore and “own” my environment, I had to manage four classes, find some friends and deal with a slew of administrative issues. Instead of the “amazing experience” my friends promised me it would be, I found myself faced with some of the hardest challenges of my life so far. In short, it wasn’t a holiday.

After weeks of stubborn battling, I found some successes: I made progress with my problems, I began to make friends, and I landed a job as a copy editor at The Chronicle. I immediately contacted my family and friends at home, telling them proudly that about one month into my “American adventure,” I had gained relevant employment and my name could be found in print across the city of Chicago. That’s about the time it all got too much, and I blacked out and collapsed, waking up in the hospital to an expensive bill, split head and black eye. 

I fought on until my problems finally became insurmountable. I sat at my desk, having exhausted all possibilities but a last-ditch effort, and approached my manager to ask for the afternoon off, explaining the situation. I didn’t get the afternoon off in the end but instead found myself offered an invaluable and unwavering support that continues unquestioningly.

Throughout my two-semester stay in Chicago, I have found The Chronicle to be a great source of significance and security. I have made amazing friends here, finding my time in this unusual culture comforting and filled with laughter, from jokingly mocking one another for how things are pronounced, to offers of various American foods—Shamrock Shakes, anyone?—to insightful conversations and a job that I’m incredibly proud to own, creating the No. 1 non-daily college newspaper in Illinois.

My time in Chicago has been of incredible value, and in ways that I’m sure I will realize better in the future, from covering the Cubs’ first World Series win in 108 years, to the most shocking presidential election of recent years; from a Christmas in New York, to a Thanksgiving in the suburbs; from an insane weekend trip driving to Toronto and back, to exploring Chicago’s many neighborhoods; from all the once-in-a-lifetime concerts to simple, sunny days at the zoo—every moment has been enhanced by America’s most amazing people, and the knowledge that my work at The Chronicle makes a difference. 

The problems I faced when I arrived seem insignificant now. I’ve grown exponentially, and I’m excited to learn what is next because I’m certain I can meet it head on. Although I might not have said so on the busiest production day, I will miss working at The Chronicle.