TCJ – 01: Getting To Know The Prairie

The Chicagoland Journals:

So I’ve been in the US for a week now! That’s four days of work down at the prairie – weeding, digging and planting – as well as two-three days exploring the city. It’s been hard graft in the field, especially after the flight; jet lag is a real pain. But really just getting back into the fieldwork mentality and adjusting to the heat is the main issue.

During my first week here at the arboretum, I’ve been shown around the research building and introduced to many new people – colleagues, you could say, because i’m actually working here! (I’m still absorbing it all.) Everyone has been very friendly and welcoming, and I’m told that’s partially a midwest thing, but also that the arboretum staff really work together, so there’s almost a familial sense about it. I’m excited to start doing work with more members of the team.

Before I arrived, I knew I was to be doing work relating to the prairie (and how phylogenetic diversity affected the restoration of it) as well as work relating to the phylogeny of oaks. Now that I’ve got here, I know the immediate plans and some of the specifics of what I’m to be doing. I know that I’m going to be focusing on the prairie up until roughly January, and that when the current project leader goes on maternity leave, I’ll be filling her shoes to keep things running. Also on my agenda is to help figure out how to measure the biomass we’re to collect from the prairie to assess the level of restoration – and from that, if there’s a way to incorporate data from drones as part of a method.

Despite only being here for a week, I’ve managed to get into the city and attend VeganFest with a colleague, as well as get the train into (and the loop around) Chicago to see a film at the Reeling Film Festival (the film was Cat Skin, which was filmed in the UK so was a nice reminder of home). More locally, I walked down into Lisle, visited a 7-11, to get a slushie (something to check off my “American Bucket List”), and the local Aldi – again, a reminder of home.

It’s been a busy week and I am thoroughly exhausted. At this rate, I should be able to give a nice update on my activities in another week! Then again, perhaps this week has been so packed because it was the first.

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Reflection/Anticipation

Almost two months have past since the end of my ERASMUS+ journey in Sweden. Umea was very kind to me, as was everyone at SLU! It was an experience that I was greatly looking forward to, and one that I will always remember. The most memorable event was probably my first night out in Umea – the night I went out to Droskan for the TQ event. That night spurred many memories as well as being the root of new friendships. The most valuable aspects of my time in Sweden were probably the trip to Gällivare and the beetles experiment – both events on either end of my journey. The hard trekking through snow with cumbersome window traps on my back showed me the physically taxing side of fieldwork, whereas the beetles experiment demanded patience and determination.

I’ve been back in the UK for less time than I was in Sweden, and already I’m off again – this time, to Chicago. I’m writing this in Rejkavik, after having flown the first leg of the journey, and will have landed once this post goes live. I’m incredibly excited to spend roughly 8 months in the US, at the Morton Arboretum as a research affiliate. I know that I’ll be involved with two main projects relating to prairie restoration and the phylogeny of Oak trees. Although less different to the UK than Sweden, I’m sure there will be some aspects I’ll have to adjust to.