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Chicago: Summer work and festival fun

The capital city of Illinois state….You see it in movies, you hear of the landmarks but how well really do you know Chicago?

I have always stuck to the rule, no matter how much I love a place I wouldn’t ever go back. There are plenty more places to see and I won’t waste my money once I’ve experienced it, but I’ll tell you this. Chicago felt like home to me. I met the most amazing people and had the craziest experiences I will treasure for a lifetime.

I worked on a government run programme where you work at a summer camp as a councillor. That’s the official role name except it is far from that. Working at a special needs camp for 3 months was a whirlwind of emotions and definitely a lot of hard work. If anyone is thinking about doing it the two main agencies’ you can go through are Camp America or CCUSA. I was sceptical at first of the upfront costs you have to pay and I won’t lie there are hidden costs so make sure you have enough before you pay any deposit.

Altogether it’s £550 for the payment to CCUSA this is the cost for all the application help, on-going support and they will also arrange a return flight with this option. You may choose a cheaper option for the application only then book your own flights, but I think in the long run it works out better value getting it altogether. Now on top of that they will offer an upgrade for insurance, which was around £70.

Then £25 to be ACRO checked by the police (they will not allow a normal DBS). Don’t even get me started on the visas. That’s an extra £100 and another £30 to get your passport just sent back to your house! But I’m going to do a separate post about visas as I’m telling you they are the Bain on my life and you will need as much help as you can get.

So all in all DONT EXPECT TO MAKE ANY MONEY ON THIS TRIP! This kind of summer is for the experience only and although you will get a measly $800 for the whole summer you have spent more on living costs and getting there in the first place. I must say though please do not let this put you off; it is a type of investment. It will look great on your CV; you would’ve gained valuable life and social skills.

When you get the placement offer from a camp show up on your account, make sure you read it thoroughly. There were a lot of things at my camp that weren’t even mentioned. Such as the 14 hour long days sometimes with only a one hour break. Most camps will do a Facetime interview before they hire you to make sure you are a correct match, mine did not. I called CCUSA to ask if I could swap camps as I wasn’t too sure if I wanted to work at a special needs camp. They said once you have been offered one, if you decline it they can not guarantee you another one so you are at risk of loosing the money. Unfortunately I made the mistake of not reading though my application properly and ticked the option ‘I’m willing to work at a special needs camp’ and ‘I am willing to work at a religious camp’. I don’t think this is fair the way they run it. Personally I think if you do want to do it apply directly to a camp, this gives you way more choice and saves you money- Just make sure you apply for a J1 visa and attend the interview at the consulate in London.

Most camps will have a full board menu included in the working agreement. I am not going to slate this whatsoever because we had such great food and a variety of options. Maybe even too much and not great for the waistline- we all know how America is for their food!

But Chicago city itself offers so much food wise from the famous deep-dish pizza to the best smoothie bars going. Although the deep dish is a tad pricey approximately $20 they are very VERY filling and can feed a good 4 people for one large and it’s definitely worth trying the cheesy mess. If you happen to have any dietary requirements DO let the camp know before you arrive as we ran into a few issues at our camp with last minute swaps for vegan/gluten free etc.

The city really is a vibe in the peak summer season. There are tons of green spaces to chill out and locals take to the vibrant streets and have a lot of fun. This is a guide of what to do in Chicago in June, July, and August.

If like us you are staying on the suburbs, a good idea is to rent an Airbnb for the best nightlife experience (obviously if you are over the age of 21) and even if not, you can rent one to have a few drinks with a great view. With some friends I would hire an apartment once every couple of weeks, we would always stay in the same block but in different apartments. They are run by hosts called Vacasa Illinois. Christ we did spend a lot of money on this, up to $900 a night but when you divide it between you all it doesn’t break the bank too badly and it’s nice to have a bit of a lavish life, even if it’s just for the day. In this building it had a large shared pool on ground floor accompanied by a gym.

Just as we played it out, a hangover calls for a bit of sun and exercise. Playing Volleyball on North Avenue Beach is a great option, however Oak Street Beach is a high contender. With on-going miles of man made beach leading up to Lake Michigan the sun beams down extremely hot and there is so much going on. You can pay a small fee to rent the volleyball block and ball if in a group or hey make some new friends and join in a game.

Navy Pier is a go to tourist spot. While the schedule changes constantly the fireworks are unmissable. You can check the seasonal one-off events on the official website to avoid disappointment.

A cool and instagramable place is The 606 Trail is Chicago’s New York City High Line. If you aren’t familiar with this imagine an outdoor alternative art gallery. Most are 3D/murals and really encourage thought. The city board redone the abandoned rail track and turned it into a park with recreational trails. Perfect for a walk, rollerblade or ride your bike.

No matter your budget, there’s always a fantastic rooftop bar/ patio restaurant to suit your needs. And here are some of my personal recommendations I’d like to tell you about:

$$$$- Alinea since renovation has amazed many locals by moving into an open aired plan. Unfortunately the menu will set you back a whopping $205 to $395 a person but at least you get to experience the fun finish of Achatz’s signature helium taffy balloons. A real unique thing to tick off your dining bucket list.

$$$- Oriole is a fine dining restaurant which is pricey but great for date night or a special occasion, it’s a very lavish style and serves new American tasting dishes.

$$- Italian village, like a mini movie set! The entire decor is cleverly created with each table so you are entwined into windows and under the stars to give off the perfect Italian atmosphere. With a wide variety and foods to chose from you can dine out with a night to remember.

$- Flacos tacos. If you’re looking for cheap casual dining Flaco’s Tacos in Streeterville is great to stop by for a quick snack. With a full kitchen view you can see your custom order be made before your eyes from start to finish. Flavours brought directly from Mexico to the heart of Chicago.

Millennium Park is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Chicago’s downtown Loop neighbourhood. Not many tourists realize that Millennium Park offers a wide assortment of free public events. From gardening classes to poetry workshops, house and jazz music festivals… Millennium Park has something for everyone.

Lollapalooza, have you heard of it? Undoubtedly one of the biggest festivals in the USA, highly recommend. Due to my work schedule I was only able to attend one day. We picked it well! On our day Ariana Grande, Flume and JID headlined the show. In Grant park is where you will find this Array of summer vibes, good times and so many amazing pop ups such as roller blading/makeup stands and even some C-lister celebs lurking amongst the crowds. Now if you are from the UK you will find that the vibe is extremely different from the ones we experience, it’s much more chilled out. You definitely feel weirdly safer and with such a large open spaced venue, you don’t feel crowded. When you get your tickets you will get a timetable or download the lollapalooza app to make sure you don’t miss your favourite artists. You can leave the venue to come back but I don’t advise it and this is a mistake I made. You will be faced with a line five times as long as it was when you came in.

Boystown is where Chicago’s very own gay pride festival is hosted-otherwise known as PRIDE. One of the biggest in the US next to New York. It will bring an instant smile to your face meeting some of the outgoing characters there and with some of the most well known drags performing throughout the day and a complete non judgmental policy you can strut your stuff in whatever you wish to wear and let your hair down without reason. It is completely free however they do ask at the door for an optional donation of $10. No matter what your sexuality is this is one for all to celebrate in these flamboyant streets. There are freebies to pick up from all different stands. Every year the sponsors change but you can guarantee a brilliant day here and as day turns to night the mood goes wild...

I’m not going to lie Chicago has so much to offer, more than any other states I’ve been to so far. The people, weather and persistent adventure around every corner is the recipe for a perfect summer. I want to say a huge thank you to everyone I met at camp and all that made my summer so special. Undoubtedly one of the most unforgettable summers of my life.

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