The more days pass, the closer it gets to my move, and the more real the opportunity to move to both Los Angeles and Manila is becoming. There are a few significant movements happening around this opportunity: I am moving back to Los Angeles, I am moving back to where my family lives, I am moving overseas, I am moving to the Southeast Asia region, I am moving to Manila. The last is perhaps the most complex– I am moving back home to my birth country, which to me will seem like a foreign land, after being away for 14 years.
These are all big moves, and require all the energy I have in order to go through the numerous directions I will be pulled into, the complex environments, the range of emotions I will immerse myself in, all in the coming months. I will need to readjust to a new life in Manila. I will need to make new friends, rekindle with old ones….
But before thinking about that leg of the journey, I am trying to wrap my mind around leaving a few things behind.
Not least of which is Chicago. I will be leaving the city where I currently live, and as much as I hate its bitter winters and unrelenting frigid winds that make even the most optimistic of us miserable about everyday life, I will miss it dearly. I am now starting to see this city from a new perspective, noticing more deeply the current of its distinct energy running through its urban grid. I see typical Midwestern families walking around stores in downtown, with a comfortable but unpretentious way about them. I see local young professionals with their simple plaid shirts, jeans, and baseball caps, the typical Midwestern style.
There are also individuals who seem to adhere more to an East Coast lifestyle than a Midwestern one, living everyday as if on a New York minute. If I look intently enough and try really hard, I will chance upon a few who are seem to be connected with the pulse of a global system—whether they travel for work or are from overseas— possessing a perspective that is quite literally worlds away from the more insular mindset inherent of Chicago.
I will miss the art and the architecture, two of the major reasons why I have stayed in the city for as long as I have. I’ve been to many cities around the world, including the major ones like New York, London, Tokyo, San Francisco, Buenos Aires, and Shanghai. I can say that Chicago art and architecture are truly world class, and quite diverse, with its centuries-old landmark buildings and advanced architectural developments. It makes this city feel like home to me despite its seasons and demographic makeup that seems somewhat foreign to someone from Los Angeles.
Chicago is the city where so many things came together for me. This is the first city I moved to on a limb, without a job in hand, only the idea that having some relatives within the area could provide a softer landing than any other city in the country. This is the city where I learned how to persevere, to act more boldly, to experience life more deeply, and develop enough courage and strength that will last a lifetime. Despite the beautiful surroundings and politeness of Midwesterners, truth be told, Chicago is not perfect: there are times when I don’t feel welcomed, where I am constantly aware that I am in a foreign place and not at home, but somehow it always find a way to endear itself to me. Chicago is the place that opened up environments that didn’t seem like places where I’d belong— such as, being the only woman on a team of men in analytics, one of the few (if not the only) minority on an account team in an advertising agency, the only immigrant in the whole office, and possibly the first Asian colleague many have ever dealt with—but I fought for my place and through it defined for myself and for everyone else the sense of belonging I require. Tears were shed, energy spent on hectic nights of networking, committed countless hours of building relationships, asked blunt questions in meetings, redirected attention. Learning that I have it in myself to adapt— to dance in the rain, snow, sleet, blizzard, wind, falling leaves— and succeed have prepared me to handle what life will throw at me, in or outside Chicago. As much as I like to plan, I know there will be things I won’t be fully prepared for, but I know certainly but I will be able to figure it out. This is what Chicago has taught me, among several other things:
Four years of learning not only how to life a city lifestyle that I cannot shake off now, and also finding the self-reliance that have shaped the person I am now and is continuously developing the person I could become. There were also many tangible successes and inasmuch as I thought Chicago city living took so much out of me as I develop maturity and awareness of hard reality, it had also been very generous to me. It is here that I received job promotions, offers, mentorship, positions of leadership in the community, a graduate degree at a renowned school, opportunities to live in the best neighborhoods a city can offer. I took away a stronger faith, greater friendships, impeccable modern cuisine, and laughter in a lot of happy hours. I took away the ability to feel comfortable with groups of people who collectively come from similar backgrounds but are very different from what I grew up with, where individuals within groups are diverse and collectively are varied, and with which I feel the most at home. I took away a better understanding of a segment of the American population that I was not very familiar with, and felt myself being one of them on many occasions, if not all the time.
I will miss strolling along State Street and Michigan Avenue, accessing best in class shopping in all the months of the year that is not winter, expressing gratitude under my breath for the grand opportunity and time to live in a big city. I will miss passing by the River Walk both day and night which takes my breath away every single time, with imposing buildings that house a hundred businesses, inside which people buzz about, and where billions are made every day, all against the calm flow of the Chicago river and the serene reflection of the sky on city windows. I will miss having friends who are not more than a 15-minute walk from me, whom I can see almost every weekend for more than 12 hours and still cannot get enough of.
Life is funny because you find yourself leaving just when you are about to understand a place and its culture. The key about Chicago is not so much to try and penetrate existing groups of friendships because that is frustrating when everyone is still close friends with their classmates from elementary school. That is the Midwestern way, and to change that as an outsider is futile. What I realized is it’s easier and potentially more rewarding to become friends with a wider range of people, and establish many small communities, while accepting the fact that your new friends also have core groups of their own with whom they spend a lot of time. It’s like being in a consulting team and forming a different team for each client engagement. As someone who grew up in different places and have moved constantly, becoming a social butterfly is a means for survival and was the norm among my groups of friends over the years, that I came to expect that everyone will have the same nomad background as me. People from Chicago are different from that nomadic culture because many stay at home or close to it, and that’s the way they like it.
I will miss the neighborhoods from South Loop to Rogers Park and everything in between, even if I would still argue with anyone local that the neighborhood-driven layout is not distinct to Chicago (Greater Los Angeles is broken up into unique neighborhoods as well). There are also some things I won’t miss: I won’t miss waiting in fear that I’ll get frostbite during winter when public transportation arrives late as I commuted from work in downtown to school in Evanston to home in Lincoln Park. I won’t miss the extreme sway of weather from freezing winters to muggy summers because I know a place exists that has perfect weather. What I will miss is the self-motivation I developed to endure harsh winters and breathe through pain because I’m on a mission to propel myself to a brighter future. I will miss the willingness to make sacrifices to balance a very busy schedule and keep a semblance of a social life, the time spent building maturity to understand the prevailing weight of a longer term goal over temporary inconveniences. I will miss the libraries across Northwestern and Loyola that have taken me in year-round as I ranted about homework and basked in gaining new knowledge.
I will miss Chicago, because even if I know I won’t stay here forever, for a period of time I enjoyed living in this great American city very much.