1,000 miles and one time zone away, Melissa relocated into the heart of Chicago's South Loop, leaving her New Hampshire roots behind in favor of chasing her dream of studying film.
Over the past four years, she fell in love, ran her first 5K, went to Lollapalooza, and even caught a glimpse of Oprah, all before graduating with her Bachelors in Cinema Arts & Science this past May.
In this personal Q&A, Melissa reveals how she adjusted to the freshman party scene, her struggles securing true friends, and the defining moment that made her realize she was becoming a Chicagoan!
Melissa: I knew I wanted to 1) be in a city, and 2) move somewhere new. I had applied all across the country (as far west as California), but Chicago stood out the most.
I had been to the city twice before when I was younger, and even then, I fell in love immediately. There's a little something for everyone here.
After a very long 17 hour drive, you made it! What was one of the bigger adjustments you had to overcome as a freshman within your first few months?
Melissa: If you've never been on your own, nothing prepares you for college, and I had absolutely no idea what to expect!
As someone who had never experienced the party scene before, I definitely drowned in it at first and experienced many low points of homesickness.
Freshman year tends to be an experimental phase for many young adults and I quickly learned it’s wise to keep those you know are true close, and to not lose yourself through that time.
For anyone considering Chicago for school, what's the college experience like?
Melissa: It definitely differs from a typical college experience - the city is your campus! And you're sharing the city with many other surrounding colleges.
One of the best choices I made was staying in the dorms vs. an off-campus apartment.
The first few weeks, people would leave their doors wide open and welcome whoever wandered in. EVERYONE was looking to make new friends and it was surprisingly easy. The fear I began with started to slip away, and I enjoyed all the new friends I started to meet.
Melissa: My film classes did me well and came with many perks. I worked on incredible film sets with other people my age writing, directing, and doing a little bit of everything.
Through connections at my college, I even got to attend free pre-screenings and live Q&A’s including one for The Social Network, where Jesse Eisenberg attended. One time, I ran into Oprah and Justin Bieber down by the Magnificent Mile.
My internship with the Chicago Film Festival was also exciting. As a Publicity Assistant, I worked all of the events, dealt with the press and assisted in interviews on the red carpet.
When did Chicago truly start to feel like home?
Melissa: I really didn't start to consider myself a Chicagoan until the day a person on the street approached me for directions. To my surprise, I knew exactly where to point to.
People always say, "it's the people that make it home." I had a lot of struggles in the first couple of years trying to find the right group of friends and finding people that were up to par with my New Hampshire friends. It wasn't until I met my boyfriend Eric during Junior year that I felt 100% myself and more grounded.
How would you describe Chicago in just 3 words?
Melissa: Welcoming, diverse, brrrrrr!
What are your go-to choices for food and fun?
Osteria via Stato: it's one of my favorite Italian restaurants ever!
The Green Mill: a jazz/speakeasy that was once Al Capone's hangout spot
Music Box Theatre: a great place to see an independent film in a classic, authentic setting
North Shore Beach: I have a lot of memories there
What does one need to "make it" in the Windy City?
Melissa: A heavy winter coat, a Ventra card, and an appetite - both for food and opportunity.