From the cornfields to the concrete jungle

Blonde girl takes a photo of the Chicago skyline from a boat.

Elizabeth Link takes photos of the buildings during a boat tour around Chicago. Coming from a small town in Illinois, Link said she loved the cityscape. Photo by Claire Mason

The first night of the Medill cherubs program, Professor Roger Boye introduced the students from the three smallest towns. I sat in the first row, notebook out, pencil prematurely in hand and nodded as he said, “Elizabeth Link, Washington, Illinois.”

This was no surprise.

The U.S. Census Bureau lists Washington’s population as just shy of 17,000 people, but sometimes it feels a lot tinier. Anywhere I go, I see someone I know. Friday night football games are like family reunions.

On my three-hour drive north to Evanston, we passed miles of hip-high corn, the typical central Illinois scenery. In fact, no matter where I drive, I always seem to pass a cornfield.

Evanston is different. With an estimated population of about 75,000, the endless rows of shops and homes contrast my town square — a literal square where most of the community’s small businesses are located.

Nothing could prepare me for living at Northwestern for five weeks.

Here, I lie on the beach of a Great Lake and wander the aisles of multiple local bookstores. My town got its first while I was at cherubs. Korean, Mediterranean, Indian, Spanish and even Asian-Cajun restaurants populate downtown Evanston. The only ethnic food place in Washington is Cherry Garden, owned by a Chinese family. And I have yet to walk by a cornfield.

But if I ever felt homesick, I never felt completely lost in Evanston’s concrete jungle. Getting smiles here reminded me of bumping into friends back home. And the Unicorn Cafe reminded me of a coffee shop at home I missed, where they have memorized my name and order: Elizabeth with the decaf café au lait, almond milk. But I think I’ll miss the raspberry tea at Unicorn, too.