Smile Politely

Welcome, students, we’re glad you’re here

Students, many with backpacks, fill a sidewalk on the quad. The sidewalk is lined with trees.
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign on Facebook

Students, welcome! While sometimes we may casually lament about the difficulty in getting around campus when you’re here, or do a little celebrating about the summer pace when you’re not, ultimately, your presence is very much wanted. This community becomes a vibrant place when the academic year kicks off, and we are all better for it. We hope that you will find your way to Smile Politely at some point (maybe by seeing this article!) as we consider ourselves a pretty solid resource for all things Champaign-Urbana, including the University of Illinois.

Whether you are new or returning to campus, we hope that as we community members enjoy the benefits of the university, you too will find your way into the community at large. With so much happening on campus, it’s easy to forget that the world exists outside of the University-Lincoln-Kirby/Florida-First confines. But it does! And we’d like to humbly offer some of our suggestions for getting involved in the greater C-U area. This is certainly not an exhaustive list, but it will get you started.


You may or may not have a car on campus, and if you do, it’s probably in a parking lot in some far away land. Thankfully, we have an efficient and comprehensive bus system through Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District (MTD). You will likely become quite familiar with the campus-focused 22 Illini route, but a quick glance at the full route list shows that many other routes also come through campus, and they can take you from one end of town to the other and everywhere in between. MTD has a handy resource page specifically aimed at U of I students, where you can find everything you need to know about how to get where you need to go.

Did you bring your bike to school? We don’t have a perfect biking situation in C-U, but it keeps improving. Find a bike route map at the Bike at Illinois website. Experience Champaign-Urbana, our local visitor’s bureau and another great resource for all the things, has a list of some more scenic places to do some riding, including Kickapoo Rail Trail, which can take you all the way from East Urbana to Kickapoo State Park. You may also want to check out the C-U Bike Month Facebook page for community events to meet other bicycle enthusiasts.

The outdoors

While we’re talking scenic, we must mention all of the ways you can enjoy the outdoors. Japan House gardens and the Arboretum are one of our favorite campus gems, but there is so much more to explore. We have two robust park districts, each with a diverse array of parks to choose from. For a good overview, check out our Year of the Park series from a couple of years ago. Last spring, we let our readers decide their favorites, and Meadowbrook Park in Urbana took the top spot. If you have the means to get a bit further out of town, don’t sleep on our forest preserves. There are seven preserves that make up the Champaign County Forest Preserve District. You’ll find lakes, trails, prairie, woods, and even a dark sky park. Allerton Park just outside of Monticello is another must visit spot for beautiful hikes and a whole host of fun programming.

Festivals and more festivals

Fall is the time for festivals, and it’s that way for a reason: You are all here to enjoy them! Pride Fest, put on by Uniting Pride of Champaign County, is set at the end of September each year so that students will be around to experience it. It’s grown from a one day event to a weeklong extravaganza — this year it’s September 23rd to October 1st, and there is truly a little something for everyone. PYGMALION, happening September 21st through 23rd, is a music/arts/culture festival with events across multiple venues in Downtown Urbana and on campus. Oktoberfest is a fundraiser for the Developmental Services Center that takes over a portion of Downtown Champaign on September 30th with German beer, food, and music. 

Contributing to the community

You are likely passionate about something (right?), and wanting to make a difference in some sort of way. While we are not a large city,  we have numerous organizations that are always in need of volunteers, and would likely love to have some energetic students joining their work. That kind of stuff is great to add to your resumé and to just generally give you some good life experience and an opportunity to step outside your lived reality for a moment. Obviously, it’s first and foremost about helping others, but it’s okay to admit that there are benefits to you as well. Work with kids at DREAAM or Don Moyer Boys and Girls Club, or by coaching youth sports with the Champaign or Urbana Park Districts. Help those facing food insecurity with Jubilee Cafe, Feeding Our Kids, or Sola Gratia Farm. Build homes for people in our community with Habitat for Humanity. There’s even a UIUC chapter! Make sure incarcerated people in Illinois have access to reading material with Books to Prisoners. We’re just scratching the surface here.

You will be here during more than one election season, and you can vote here in Champaign County. That is a contentious issue sometimes, whether students should be voting here or at home, but you live and study and shop and eat and work here for at least four years, and the decisions that are made at the local, state, and national level on behalf of this area affect you, too. We talk a lot about local politics at Smile Politely, especially as election season gets hot. Stay informed about what is going on so that you know what’s what when the next election comes around.

Write for us

This might be a bit of a shameless plug, but we really do value your voices here at Smile Politely. You bring a unique perspective on what’s happening both on campus and in the broader community. Anyone can write for us. It’s a great way to get out and experience C-U, get a little bit of money, and have your work published and read by our readership (again, great for that resumé). Email us at [email protected] if you’re interested.

More than anything, we hope that you make the most out of your time here. We think C-U is a pretty great place to live — it’s why we do the work that we do — and we hope you come to love it too. You might even be tempted to stay past graduation…it’s been known to happen.

The Editorial Board is Jessica Hammie, Julie McClure, Patrick Singer, and Mara Thacker.

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