Yesterday I saw Marjorie*, a former SUST student arrived last Thursday in Chicago to begin her Masters program in Finance at DePaul. I met her yesterday. My head still spins.
I’m quite upset with her living conditions. Marjorie didn’t want to pay for the student housing as she wants to economize. Given the ease, social opportunities and safety, I tried and failed to convince her to start in student housing.
Instead she’s living off the beaten track in a modern day tenement. It took me quite a while to find the apartment. When I buzzed for her, she soon came down and to meet me in the lobby. She’d forgotten the key but said we could go in the side entrance which “is always open.” Wide open and visible from the street is more like it.
To get the key, Marjorie had to go up to the 17th floor to a different apartment where the key for her 9th floor apartment is kept. There’s one key though eventually at least 4 people will stay in apt. 901 with Marjorie. Believe it or not she paid $1500 for this hovel.
Marjorie found this place on the internet. It’s a temporary housing solution. She’s sleeping on the floor in the living room with two other Chinese new arrivals. A couple people will soon arrive and sleep in the bedroom. There are no beds, just blankets on the floor and two chairs. The apartment smelled awful.
We spent some time on the DePaul website looking for a better apartment and sent some email queries about a couple. Marjorie met a woman at orientation Monday and agreed to room with her though “she seems rather domineering.” The domineering woman is Chinese and insists on living in Chinatown so they could buy food.
I asked what happened to Marjorie’s plan to live with non-Chinese roommates to improve her English? That is harder to line up she said. And it is, I agree, but worth it. I pointed out that there’s little point in coming to America if you’re just going to live in Chinatown and that the subway from Chinatown to the loop where she’ll take classes is going to be closed for maintenance for several months and the news has reported that the buses that are to run that route are thought to be insufficient. I don’t think I swayed her.
Marjorie was a good student, but her English has degraded since she couldn’t take English her last two years of college. When she and her future roommate went to see an apartment, the landlord, whom Marjorie said was friendly and talkative told them they should get another roommate who spoke English better since they both have poor English. I’m glad she got that feedback from an impartial source. If short conversations with a landlord are tough, imagine what lies ahead in her course work. My guess has always been that the agent who helped her get into grad school, helped her get a better TOEFL score than she should.
We went to lunch at a Panera Cares and she said this was the first American meal she’s had. There’s a Chinese restaurant called Hunan Cafe (owned not by people from Hunan, but from Guangzhou) near her apartment. Marjorie was quite surprised by the wide range of folks dining here. So many tattoos and characters. One person who stood out was a woman with heavy make up dressed in lace and glitter claiming to be part of the singing group Peaches and Herb.
Later we went downtown to see some of the landmarks in the loop and Millennium Park. Marjorie was most impressed with American drivers and how obedient to the laws they were. She now understood why we teachers can be intimidated by crossing the streets of China. She also noticed how candid people are with their opinions. She couldn’t believe how the landlord responded when she mentioned she was studying finance. (Something along the lines of “Why would you want to join the ranks of those folks?”)
I am beating the bushes trying to find a better place for Marjorie to live. I think the bargain apartment she dreams of will in the end cost more than the student housing that comes with furniture and roommates who’ll require that she use English.
*Not her real name