British Consulate Blog 4
Happy Labor Day!!
Today (Monday) is a bank holiday in the US, they call it ‘Labor Day’. My day has been spent brunching in Ravenswood, riding the El around Chicago and swimming in the lake! It was supposed to rain this weekend but, luckily, we managed to avoid it! I have very much enjoyed my first long weekend in Chicago, complete with an early finish at work on Friday and a holiday weekend BBQ with my colleagues. I am totally refreshed and happy to get back to work tomorrow!
Picking up from my last blog, after flying back from Kentucky we took trip to Indiana.
The exciting part about Indiana was that I had written the speech for the Deputy- Consul General’s presentation. Indiana was lovely and reminded me very much of Kansas in the Wizard of Oz film. Wooden houses painted all different colours, farms and barns… all I needed was to see Toto and I might have burst into a rendition of Somewhere Over The Rainbow. The speech was very well received and the luncheon was really enjoyable, with a diverse audience made up of business people, industrialists, educators and students.
Work-wise this past week has been spent mainly in Chicago, with one visit to a town called Champagne. I went to the University of Illinois campus there with our Vice Consul of Innovation and Economics and we had a full programme of extremely interesting meetings with various departments. I had a tour of the super computer ‘Bluewater’, watched a 3D simulation of hurricane Katrina, visited the Veterinary School, Research Park and had lunch with various lecturers in the ‘ballroom’. Our role when on visits such as this is to represent British interest in these various sectors and discuss how we can facilitate links with UK companies and universities based on the research going on at the time. We left with lots of links to chase up and some great new contacts.
I also visited Cook County jail last week with the Deputy Consul-General. Cook County is the biggest jail in the US and houses around 10,000 prisoners. It once housed Al-Capone! Now, I have seen prisons on TV and I knew pretty much what to expect, but nothing can really prepare you for stepping foot in one for the first time. We were given a tour of the different departments and talked through the processes that take place when prisoners arrive. We met with sheriffs and guards and spoke a little about the demographics of the prison and the protocols in place should foreign nationals be arrested. We saw real life prisoners, both male and female, and really got a feel for the crazy living conditions in US jails. Some prisoners are in their cells 23 hours a day. Even just spending a couple of hours there, it is amazing how quickly you become desensitised to the conditions. When I first arrived, I was pretty shocked, but you quickly adjust and accept that this is how the US justice system works. I am not convinced of its effectiveness, but the whole experience was still incredibly eye opening and to see it first hand was an amazing opportunity. Perhaps the first experience I have had in Chicago that I wouldn’t jump at the chance to do again, but I am so glad I did it all the same!
I spent the rest of the week finishing off some reports, doing research ahead of a couple of visits, responding to emails and making calls. Even quieter weeks are still so insightful and interesting for me, as these are tasks and skills I can really take back to university with me and transfer to future roles. On Thursday we finished work at lunch time to celebrate UKTI surpassing their targets. We had a picnic and then spent the afternoon at the beach- it was awesome and so good to hang out with everyone from the office outside of work.
I have spent my evenings hanging out at roof bars with my colleagues, catching up with Alumni Buddies and generally having A LOT of fun. The night life here is actually pretty great and I am enjoying having the time to experience it properly!
Chicago has officially become my favourite city in the world and I will be incredibly sad to leave. For now, I will enjoy every last second of my last week and update you once more to round out this incredible experience!