Chicago has a very convenient addressing system. The city is placed on a “grid”, with the intersection of two streets, State Street and Madison Street being the origin. State St. runs North-South, and Madison St. runs East-West. With the exception of a few streets, almost all streets run in these two directions, though there are some diagonal streets as well. For example, Clark St. is 100 West of State St., going N-S, and Oak St. is 1000 North of Madison St., going E-W. If the address you’re looking for is on 100 W. Oak Street, you will end up at the intersection of Clark St. and Oak St.
One other convenience is the concept of “blocks”. Each block is usually 100 units in width and length (there are exceptions to this, especially in the downtown area where blocks tend to be 50 units), meaning, for example, 100 units N of Oak St. is Maple St., which is 1100 N, going E-W. Roughly 8 blocks equal one mile, so walking one mile S from Oak St. takes you to Randolph St., which is 200 N, going E-W.
You can obtain maps of Chicago for free from most CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) train stations. CTA’s web site (http://www.yourcta.com/) also has a very convenient trip planner, by entering starting point and destination information, you can plan your trip using CTA services (bus or train), with an estimate of duration of your trip as well. The city of Chicago’s web site (http://www.ci.chi.il.us/) is a very convenient source for everything about Chicago from museums to festivals, contacting city departments, etc.
Chicago is a great town for entertainment and social activities. The most extensive resource for any type of entertainment can be found at http://www.metromix.com/. The web site has information on dining, movies, festivals, concerts, museums, etc., with reviews and price information in most cases. From there, you can find links to museums for example, which are plenty in Chicago. Most museums have “free days”, when admission is free, and some operate on a donation basis, meaning, you decide what to pay. If you’re not a big fan of online material, Chicago also has a free paper, Chicago Reader, published weekly on Fridays, with entertainment information. The Reader can be found at various locations all around the city (cafes, libraries, stores, etc.), as well as at UIC Main Library entrance. Chicago Reader also has a web site: http://www.chicagoreader.com/.
For grocery shopping, most students prefer large supermarkets such as Jewel (http://www.jewelosco.com/) or Dominick’s (http://www.dominicks.com/) depending on the area that they live in. Both of these stores have chains all over Chicago. One convenience about these stores is the discount cards they offer, which can be obtained for free; lots of items are on sale every week and owning a discount card helps save a lot. Other options for grocery shopping are smaller fresh food markets, which can be much cheaper depending on the area you live in. You can go to Treasure Island for more European type food, or Whole Foods Market (http://www.wholefoods.com/) for organic food, which are both chain stores and exist in several locations around Chicago.
If you need items for your apartment, such as cookware, bathroom necessities, etc., and if you’d like to buy them new, the most convenient options would be Wal-Mart (http://www.walmart.com/), Target (http://www.target.com/), or Kohls (http://www.kohls.com/). All three are chain stores and their locations around Chicago can be found on their web sites. They even have basic furniture for sale. Other options for house ware and furniture are going to used goods stores or searching for used goods online.
Reputed to be the Windy City, Chicago actually ranks 14th for wind velocity in the U.S. Chicago’s winters are mostly sunny with an average of 30 inches of snow for fine cross-country skiing from November through March. January mean temperature is 21 F (-6 C) with a low of 12 F (-11 C) and a high of 29 F (-2 C). In spring, expect an average high temperature of 55 F (13 C) and a low of 40 F (5 C) with approximately 11 rainy days in March, April, and May. Weather from June until September is near-perfect for outdoor activities, but expect a few tropically hot days with temperature hitting 100 F (38 C), and 100% relative humidity. By mid-July and continuing through late September, Lake Michigan is perfect for swimming. The Lake’s warm waters keep the city temperate throughout the fall with a high of 50 F (10 C) with some early morning lows in the upper 30’s F (3-6 C). Local weather reporters often talk of “lake effect” to indicate conditions near Lake Michigan where the water temperature and wind make summer extremes more moderate and winter conditions may be more intense. (From http://www.ci.chi.il.us/Tourism/GeneralInfo/Weather.html). The “wind-chill” effect is uncommon to many foreign students. Because of the high velocity of the wind, the actual temperature sensed is much lower in winter. For example, on a cold day with 30 F (-2 C) temperature, wind-chill may be as low as 0 F (-18 C). Daily and weekly weather for Chicago can be found at the Weather Channel’s web site (http://www.weather.com/weather/local/60610).
No matter what the weather is, indoors are maintained at a fairly steady temperature throughout the year. Air conditioning is almost everywhere, including buses and trains, though in summer, indoors may be too cool for some people. Students often feel the need to wear sweaters inside the labs in summer. Similarly in winter, indoors may tend to get too warm, often just a t-shirt is sufficient. Moreover the humidity levels drop to very low levels (~20 %), which are uncomfortable.
There are two airports around Chicago: Midway Airport (http://www.chicago-mdw.com/) and O’Hare International Airport ( http://www.ohare.com) Both are approximately the same distance from the campus and accessible by CTA or a car. International students usually arrive at O’Hare even if they get a connection from another city. The easiest and most affordable way to get to the campus from both airports is to take the CTA train, unless somebody is picking you up or you have excessive luggage. If you need to take a cab (taxi), you can find information on Chicago cab services at his link:http://www.yellowcabchicago.com. To board a CTA train, you should obtain a transfer card, which is available at machines at every station, just insert the money and your card will be dispensed. A single trip is $1.50, but if you need to make a transfer to another train or bus, you need $0.30 extra on your card. The third transfer within two hours is free. To get from O’Hare to UIC, you need to take the Blue Line train, either the Forest Park branch or the 54th/Cermak branch, whose map is available at CTA’s web site (http://www.yourcta.com/). You need to get off at the UIC/Halsted station, and the trip takes approximately 45 mins to an hour. To get from Midway to UIC, you need to take the Orange Line train, but also need to make a transfer to the Blue Line train (either the Forest Park branch or the 54th/Cermak branch) at the Clark/Lake stop downtown, and travel until UIC/Halsted station. Make sure you have your transfer card with you; otherwise you will need to deposit $1.50 again.
For general travel with CTA, simple refer to their web site and their trip planner. All students who register for 12 hours receive a U-Pass every semester. The price for the pass is $75 ($40 for the summer semester) and it is mandatory. This pass is valid on all CTA trains and buses unlimited throughout the semester between the dates printed on the pass.
If you live around campus, you probably will not need to use the CTA services that often. Instead you might want to just walk to the department, or use the services that the school offers. For example, the UIC Shuttle bus, which runs around campus between the East side and the West side. The daytime route of the shuttle bus can be found at this link: http://www.uic.edu/depts/ppad/fmhome/daybus.htm and the night and weekend route is at http://www.uic.edu/depts/ppad/fmhome/nitebus.htm, with information on its schedule and frequency. These web pages also offer information on the Red Car service. Red Car is available 11 pm until 7 am everyday, for students who need secure transportation at hours when the Shuttle is not available. To receive the service, simply call their number (312-996-6800), and they will provide a free ride to your destination around campus.
Chicago is a very bicycle-friendly city. There are many streets with bike lanes (riding on the sidewalk is often not allowed), and traveling to school by bike can be very convenient and fun as well. Simple refer to this web site for bicycling around Chicago, including maps and safety tips:http://www.chicagocarto.com/bikemap.
If you need to travel outside Chicago, to the suburbs, you may take the Metra train (http://www.metrarail.com/). This is a faster train with less frequent stops and provides transportation to the suburbs of Chicago. The trains leave either from Union Station located at Canal St., between Adams and Jackson Blvd. or Ogilvie Transportation Center located at Madison St. & Canal St., depending on the destination.
If you need to rent a car, simply visit one of several car rental agencies’ web sites. The following is a list. Just a quick note, it is much cheaper to rent a car from O’Hare or Midway than to rent from a downtown or Chicago location. Also, many agencies have deals that are valid on weekends.
Alamo: http://www.alamo.com/ Avis: http://www.avis.com/
Budget: http://www.budget.com/: http://www.dollar.com/
Enterprise: http://www.enterprise.com/: http://www.hertz.com/
National: http://www.nationalcar.com/ Thrifty: http://www.thrifty.com/
Also, you can find discount car rentals from most of the above agencies at the following web sites. Note that these services also offer discount hotel and travel rates.
If you would like to purchase a used or new car, the best advice would be to use the web for extensive search, as well as free magazines that are available in booths all around Chicago and in many stores.
For general information and reviews about restaurants all over Chicago, the best online source is http://www.metromix.com/. Around school there are several convenient places within walking distance for lunch or dinner, especially on Taylor St. and Halsted St. Some of these places offer discounts to students. Other options for food on campus are at Chicago Circle Center (CCC) located at 750 S. Halsted St., Chicago Illini Union (CIU) located at 828 S. Wolcott Ave. A complete listing of Campus Dining Services can be found at http://www.vcsa.uic.edu/MainSite/departments/dining_services/home/.
Many graduate students prefer to bring food for lunch from home since most research labs have refrigerators and microwave ovens, and this is a more affordable solution. There is a microwave oven on the second floor of building SEL (Science and Engineering Labs) adjacent to ERF (Engineering Research Facility), where the department is located. The microwave is at the entrance to SEL from ERF on the second floor, where several vending machines for snacks and drinks can also be found. A complete list of vending machines on campus is given at the Campus Dining Services web site above.
The first days will be very hectic with all the paperwork that has to be completed with the admission process. The financial aspects also have to be taken care of in these busy times. If you are going to be a University of Illinois employee, it might be good to have some reserves to get you through for a couple of weeks until the financial paperwork is completed. In the meantime, you might want to ask for a cash advance from your department. If you are an international student, this period may be longer because you also have to obtain your social security number and that process will delay your departmental processes.
If you have a banking card, you can use it on the ATM machines located around campus. On the east campus, the ATM machines are located at CCC at the Halsted St. entrance and in SES. The ATM in SES belongs to Credit Union and will not charge you extra for your transaction.
If you are an international student it is better to have an account here than using the one you have in your country. You will receive your salary as a check or it will be wire transferred to your bank account. A foreign account will cause a lot of transfer fees. It might be difficult for you to open a bank account in the beginning due to the fact that you do not have a financial history in this country. You might consider opening you account at the Credit Union on campus. Keep in mind that there may be a fee for keeping a bank account. The fee will vary from bank to bank and what kind of account you will get. Start with a basic checking account. They will give you checks and most probably an electronic banking card. You can use these almost everywhere instead of cash. Keep your bank account in good standing, pay your bills on time and this way build a good credit history. A good credit history is very important and it will come into consideration at every significant transaction you will make such as a purchase of a car or rent or purchase of a home.
When you start keeping a good credit history you can obtain debit and credit cards and borrow money from financial institutions in case of a need. Credit cards are not a must, but they are very useful especially in cases of renting a car or reserving airplane tickets or hotel rooms. It might be difficult to get a good deal on credit cards in the beginning, but try to start with a low limit student credit card and work your way up as you prove yourself as a responsible individual.
SPENDING THE FIRST FEW DAYS IN CHICAGO
An important problem for students who are coming from different states and countries is finding a place to stay. The first problem you may encounter after arriving in Chicago might be where to stay at in the next couple of days until you rent an apartment. One option might be staying at the nearby hotels or hostels.
Some of the affordable hotels close to UIC area are as follows:
(Note that the rate information given is per night and it may change depending on the time of the year. Therefore it is important that you check the rates before you arrive at Chicago through the web or by calling.)
Tel: 312-829 5000 (ask for UIC student rate)
Rate: ~ $79
Distance from department: < 1 mile
Tel: 312-427 3800
Rate: ~ $89
Distance from department: 2.27 miles
Tel: 312- 337 1000
Distance from department: 3.78 miles
Best Western Grant Park
Tel: 312- 922 2900
Distance from department: 1.81 miles
Chicago Downtown Travelodge
Tel: 312- 427 8000
Distance from department: 2.27 miles
Tel: 312- 787 4740
Distance from department: 4.47 miles
Additional information about Chicago hotels can be found in the following web pages:
Most of the time youth hostels are cheaper than hotels. The following is the list of the hostels in the Chicago area:
Tel: 312- 360 0313
Distance from department: 2.11 miles
Rate: Dorm room ~$24.00, Private room:$54-68
Distance from department: 6.4 miles
Chicago International Hostel
Rate: Dorm room ~$17.00
Distance from department: 12 miles
RENTING AN APARTMENT IN CHICAGO
The next important stage is finding a permanent place to stay. There are a lot of apartments that are rent by the students around the campus area. To find listings of available apartments/rooms around campus, check the links below:
If you would like to rent an apartment in other parts of the city, some web sites which will help you find apartments are as follows:
More resources can be found at Off-Campus Housing Resources.