Firstly, I would like to say that I do not regret my choice of going to ICO for optometry, but I do wish that I had considered some things before I got here. It most definitely would not have changed my choice in school (board scores, clinic, and lab equipment were my top concerns), but if I knew ahead of time, it would have at least mentally prepared me to leave my life in Toronto behind for such an extended period of time.
I could go on and on, and only focus on my positive experience here. However, let’s face it–this is a student blog, it should be real and reflect my true feelings about this school. So here is my one rant: Break week doesn’t always mean you get to go home to see your family, especially after second year.
First year, I was able to fly home fairly often. Every quarter, we get a week of break where we have no assignments, classes, or quizzes and can just relax. The courses were tough, but I always felt rejuvenated after visiting my loved ones back home in Toronto, even though time was always so short. Although holidays and breaks should not be the be-all-end-all of choosing an optometry school, it definitely should be taken into consideration if you have a significant other, kids, or other life priorities that may need your attention every once in a while, especially if you were an international student, because driving home isn’t always an option. Nine months of classes with a break every three months until summer doesn’t seem so brutal. Every time I’m mentally exhausted, I thought to myself, only three more months to go–> two more months to go–> one more month to go–> and before I know it, I’m home again, and then I’m back to Chicago, ready to work again for another three months.
Second year, if we are not assigned as student clinicians for the Patient Care Program or dispensing shifts during the break, we are free to fly home. However, like most schedules that are beyond our control, we can most definitely bet that there is a chance that it can happen, and we’ll be schedule for one or both duties during the break. This is the case for me during the February quarter break: I get to have a PCP shift on Monday, and a dispensing shift on Saturday. Shifts are short, but they’re important, and just long enough that it wouldn’t make sense for me to go home for less than a week considering the time and expense of traveling. Outside of break weeks, we might have a few days off, or a long weekend here or there, but even if we’re back home, these mini breaks are usually filled with studying for upcoming quizzes rather than enjoying quality time with family. If you’re anything like me, when a bus trip is $125 and 24-hours round-trip, three-day weekend back home hardly seems like an option.
Third years are assigned even more things, but I will leave it up to a third year, or wait until I get there to tell you exactly what happens. I’ve been told to be prepared, it doesn’t get any easier.
It seems that it only gets progressively more difficult each year at ICO to plan a trip home ahead of time. What usually ends up happening is that someone who lives in Chicago might be generous enough to switch a shift, but with a class size of 165, two shift-switches maximum per quarter limit and a majority of students from outside Chicago, you might want to make plans to get to know the city really really well during the break. The good news is that the people who live here have always been really supportive, understanding, and generally willing to help.
I returned a week and a half ago from winter break. I’m not anticipating a trip back home to see my family, friends, significant other, etc. for another year or so. At the end of the day, I know there will be more sacrifices that have to be made, and that they’ll ‘ll be worth it in the end when I finally come home with a degree in optometry, but it doesn’t make it easy to bear. I love the city of Chicago, I love my classmates, friends and professors, but it just doesn’t change that fact that I miss home sometimes, as any human being with a loving home would.
So dear future students who plan on moving far from home to pursue their dreams:
Before you come to school, I hope you hug your family/friends/husbands/wives/children/puppies/kitties extra tight and tell them you love them as you prepare yourself for this journey. I was never one to miss home, but I guess one learns to appreciate things a lot more once it’s gone.
I can tell you it’ll be worth it, it’ll be grand, it’ll be an amazing opportunity, and it’ll be an experience you won’t forget… but like most valuable treasures in life, it doesn’t come easy, it usually doesn’t come without hard work, sacrifice, and if you’re anything like me, several buckets of tears.