The Pitfall of the In-Town Project

Will Nuelle Scenario 1: “So are you in town or out of town?” “Out of town.” “Oh my gosh! You’re going to have such a great time. Where exactly are you going?” Here’s where you hear “Paris” or “Cambodia” or “Spain” or “Ecuador” or “Tanzania” or, better yet, “Iceland.”   Scenario 2: “So are you in town or out of town?” “In town.” “Oh, that sucks.” With one simple question, one can decipher whether or not you will enjoy your project week. Or so everyone seems to think. Year after year, students on Chicago projects seem to be disappointed with their projects. But is that because the Chicago projects are actually bad? Chicago is a city with a lot to offer; there’s no way all of the students could’ve already discovered or utilized everything that’s interesting in Chicago, so that’s not it. And the teachers who stay in Chicago aren’t any different than those who go out of town, so that can’t be it. And the groups are generated from a randomized program, so what is it? Well, it might have nothing to do with the in town projects themselves. Maybe it’s our expectations. Thirty-three total projects went out during Project Week, thirteen of which were considered out of town, and furthermore nine were international projects. It’s clear that out of town projects don’t dominate Project Week, at least in terms of sheer numbers. However, those nine international projects dominate the attention of our school because they are once in a lifetime trips; trips that will be remembered forever. Those that have good fortune in the Project Week lottery might just have the trip of a lifetime, but what about the people who don’t have such luck in the project week lottery? “Belize was my first choice. I only chose [insert in-town project here] at number five because I had to put down an in-town project.” That’s just one example, but surely there are many students who have been in this boat. For these students, the project might immediately register with them as a sense of disappointment because it represents the project that they did not get. I was in that situation this year. I had resigned myself early on to the idea that I would have to stay in town to train for crew. Art of Noise was my first choice and I was put into it. The project itself was fun, let us experiment, and gave us freedom—three things that should result in a good project week experience. For me, Art of Noise was a good Project Week experience. However, I know that some of my peers weren’t as delighted with the week as I was. The kids who were most disappointed with the project were those who had an international project as their first choice. Perhaps they had expected some grand experience for their project week and were disappointed when it wasn’t quite what they had hoped. I distinctly remember one instance from my project walking down Clark to the Red Line station on my way to Chinatown to record sounds—which is pretty cool and unusual—when one student said, “Let’s take a picture and put it on Facebook with the caption ‘hashtag Belize’. I wish I was there.” This statement struck me because the student was so frank that he would rather be elsewhere. This is at the heart of why in-town projects get generally tepid responses every year: students are making their enjoyment on Project Week in Chicago relative to their friend’s experience in India. Is it time for students to take their in-town projects for what they are and not what they are not? Probably. Each student is required to stay in town at least one year. So hey, you got Crime and Criminal Justice in Chicago even though Tanzania was your first choice; don’t beat yourself up over it. Let yourself enjoy that project and let yourself learn because, yes, sitting in a court room listening to the stories of rape victims is not an African Safari, but it was never meant to be. You can’t have the trip of your lifetime every Project Week, but you surely can let yourself enjoy Project Week every single year if you choose to do so.  ]]>