If one day you are overpowered by the need to fly to China and live with monks, or build houses in Kenya, or drink yourself to death in Amsterdam, by all means go—that’s one of the beautiful things about off-campus studies and the opportunities they present.

Just don’t come back in three months with a new hairdo and tell us “how since you opened your seventh chakra, you feel just so much more connected, ya’ know?”

Studying overseas can be a rewarding time, but not all off-campus experiences require a plane ticket and a completely new environment.

If you’re more like me: a somewhat grumpy, homebody, humanities nerd (and, let’s face it, you’re reading The Stentor, so you probably are) off-campus studies in a foreign country might not call you the same way that an opportunity in Chicago might.

Which led me to this experience: studying the kinds of creatures that guarded princesses in castles, which you probably read or heard about while growing up. Yes, I am talking about dragons.

How the heck did I end up spending the fall semester of my senior year at Newberry Library in downtown Chicago, in the Associated Colleges of the Midwest’s Independent Study in the Humanities, studying dragons? Well, I answered an email and if you are indeed a slightly grumpy, mole of a human being who likes books n’ shiz, you might want to answer that email, too.

The place where I’m conducting my research is a world-class research library for the humanities. In their collections, they have a first folio of Shakespeare, a map of the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan from Hernan Cortes’s 1524 voyage, and a large collection of medieval illuminated manuscripts and Renaissance maps: hence the dragons. Any of these can be at fingertips (literally) to examine as you spend a semester crafting a research project of your choosing (for full credit, by the way).

Outside the library, you get to live downtown—making your own food, trotting around Chicago, generally being an adult. I live three blocks from the library, two from Lake Michigan, one from Michigan Avenue, and have a bar in the downstairs lobby of my apartment building. What’s not to like? If you feel homesick, you can hop on a train back to campus.

Or if you hate campus and everyone there, you don’t have to live with them. In my program, there are 18 students from around the Midwest: I am the only one from Lake Forest.

But what allowed me to have the experience of living in the city and studying something as interesting and somewhat crazy as dragons was my initiative to act on an opportunity that presented itself to me. For me, it was an email. For you, it might be reading a brochure at the College or discussing options with Ashley Sinclair, director of off-campus programming. But these chances aren’t going to grab your hand and pull you in. You need to make the initiative. You need to answer those emails and run with it.

If you want to go to the far edges of the world (or Chicago), you should—and I hope you have an awesome time. But, if you want to spend a semester living in Chicago, writing an 80-page paper on dragons, you should consider answering the calls around us that could provide an opportunity to explore, like I did with that email.

Benton Ludgin can be reached at


Leave A Reply