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HIGH LIFE A WEEKLY FORUM FOR HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS : The Big Chill : Tips for Students Straying Far Afield to College--and These Are Just the Tip of the Iceberg

March 17, 1989|MICHELE MITCHELL | Michele Mitchell is a 1988 graduate of Esperanza High School. She is a freshman at Northwestern, where she is a sports reporter for the Daily Northwestern.

Dear Class of '89:

When some of us in last year's senior class applied to out-of-state schools a couple of Decembers ago, it seemed like the start of a great adventure.

Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., for instance, sent us glossy pictures of the campus in spring. Lake Michigan was UCLA-blue and the Chicago skyline glittered in the background. The Midwest did not look so different from California.

But after we signed our letters of intent, the bomb dropped. The admissions office forewarned us by sending out piles of material, picturing snow.

When we left home in September, there were a few things no one told us. For instance, students from the West Coast make up the lowest geographic percentage of students on any campus east of the Rockies. At Northwestern, just 9.1% of the 10,000 undergraduates are from the land of surf and sand.

And we're easy enough to spot. Real Midwesterners say "Chi-CAH-go" and wear shorts in 40-degree weather. Californians waddle in coats that make them look like the Michelin Man when the temperature drops below 60. Anyone with a tan who lasts past New Student Week is subject to ridicule.

Just ask three of Those Who Dared.

Roger Chou's first choice was UC Berkeley. The 18-year-old graduate of Irvine High School likes the Bay Area and has an older sister who already attended Berkeley. But Chou wants to be a doctor, and Northwestern offers something Berkeley does not: an honors program in medical education, under which students can graduate with a medical degree in 7 years.

However, Chou had a small problem. "I'd never heard of Northwestern," he said. "I think my father knew about the honors program or something. When I told my friends I was going there, they all thought Northwestern was somewhere in Boston."

Chou's father flew back with him in September, helped him move into the dormitory and left. All of a sudden, Chou found himself climbing mountains of laundry and holding a checkbook he had no idea how to balance.

"I'm really bad with money," he said. "Originally, I put myself on a budget, but it hasn't worked out that way at all."

He had not figured on paying upwards of $200 for books or making late-night runs to Burger King, one of the few 24-hour places in Evanston. And then, there was Chicago.

"I go (to Chicago) a lot," Chou said. "We go down to eat, like to Chinatown. There's a lot of different things to do in the city. It's kind of hard to describe. And then the people here--they're really nice and everything, but they're a little more reserved."

Chou also had not counted on encountering the California Complex.

"Everyone in the Midwest jokes about the weather," he said. "They tell you how bad it's going to be. I remember my first snowfall. I thought it was kind of cool, but then the snow got really dirty really fast."

College Tip No. 1 for those attending school east of the Rockies: Get the bulkiest coat possible once you get on campus. Besides the snow, you'll have to deal with the wind - chill factor. Chicago didn't get its nickname for nothing.

Even though this winter has been mild by Midwestern standards, as Chou put it, "Everything's cold to me." To beat the freeze, he scheduled as much of his time as possible indoors, including a fencing class.

"It just seemed like a collegiate thing to do," Chou said. "It's something you can't do in high school."

Ian Johnson, on the other hand, wanted more than just something he could not do in high school. "I wanted to get out of California," the theater major said.

Johnson also knew exactly what kind of college he wanted to attend after graduating from Laguna Beach High School: a medium-size school that offered theater, radio, TV and film classes and that was near a big city outside of California.

"I'd heard of the Northwestern drama program," Johnson said. "I just didn't know how good it was supposed to be."

Northwestern's theater department is considered one of the finest in the country, but being a student of it did not prevent Johnson from getting bombarded with California cracks.

"People would say, 'Wait until it gets cold, ha-ha-ha' or 'Oh, duuuuuude--hey, California ,' " Johnson said. "Everyone asked me if I surfed. No, no, can't say that I do."

He found no sympathy among his friends from the West Coast.

"When the weather got all rainy and dreary, I'd get postcards with these voluptuous girls on the beach, and on the back my friends would have written, 'Ha-ha, wish you were here, huh?' " Johnson said.

He has managed to stay busy enough not to think about it too much. Besides classes, Johnson has worked at sound, lighting and assistant stage managing for campus productions and has tried to adjust to his new-found independence.

"My laundry," he said, "just tends to pile up."

College Tip No. 2: Don't throw dark and white clothes into the same washing load to save money, unless you want pink underwear and blue-gray socks.

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