Cristin Kelly: Chicagoan of the Week

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Cristin Kelly is a Chicagoan hell-bent on doing good. She doesn’t kill bugs, always leaves a penny without taking one, and—maybe most importantly—signed up and shipped out for a two-year stint in Teach For America. The Peterson Woods native relocated to the Mississippi Delta in August 2009 to begin her new life as a teacher. UPchicago had the opportunity to sit down with Cristin to hear why (no matter what time zone she’s in) Chicago will always be number one to her.

UPchicago (UP): It’s summer break so you’re home for a while. What is your absolute favorite thing to do when you’re here?
Cristin Kelly (CK): Free movies in the park with friends, lounging at one of the city beaches, just relaxing outside.

UP: OK, let’s get down to the nitty gritty. Cubs. Sox.
CK: I just like Chicago. Really. And black and blue are both flattering colors on me.

UP: After growing up around here you have to know some best-kept restaurant secrets.
CK: There is this great Vietnamese place on Lincoln and McCormick called Hoanh Long. When I’m home for winter and summer break I make a point to go there.

UP: What made you decide on Teach For America?
CK: TFA had everything I was looking for in a job after college. I’m living in a completely different environment, working in a job that is relentlessly challenging, but every day I am trying to make a difference. The mission of TFA is so simple—that one day all children will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education. I like that I have that goal to work towards everyday.

UP: You live and teach in the Mississippi Delta. What’s that like?
CK: How do I explain the Delta? It is humid even in the winter, and the cockroaches are something serious. I’ve been crop-dusted while out on a run, and I sleep under a mosquito net. I’ve seen a live chicken running around a Wal-Mart, and gotten dinner at the gas station. People only hear about the extreme poverty and racial division, but I’ve found life in the Delta unexpectedly beautiful. The people are unfailingly kind. People drink beer in cornfields around bonfires, or spend nights in a lawn chair on the porch talking with friends. Life is simple and slow and relaxed, and I’ve come to love the Delta.

UP: Woah, as much as you love Chicago?
CK: No, not as much as I love Chicago, but I do like Mississippi.

UP: Fair enough. During the past year did you come across anything especially unexpected?
CK: My Delta students speak very differently, and it took a long time to get used to their dialect. I teach seventh grade English, and we were doing a unit on fused sentences (commonly known as “run-ons”) and sentence fragments. I had a Power Point with slides of SFs or FSs, and the kids would just yell out which type of sentence it was. The problem is, all my students add an “r” sound after “u” sounds when they speak. As in the word “computer” is pronounced “compurter” in Delta talk. So every time my kids saw a fused sentence, they would yell out in a chorus “furrrsed sentence.” Eventually I decided to take it upon myself to try and correct them. So I would say, “no, no, guys, the word is fused, now you try it.” “Furrrrrrrsed!” “No, fuuuused.” “Furrrrrrrrrsed!” It just wasn’t going to happen so I learned to appreciate the Delta accent.

UP: Any advice for people looking into TFA?
CK: Do it! It has absolutely been the best experience of my life. Speak to a recruiter; they are very available on most any college campus and are so helpful. And once you get in, be flexible and ready for the craziest ride of your life.

UP: So, be honest, how excited are you to come home?
CK: I miss Chicago every day! I am a very adaptable person, and seeing new places is great, but I think it’s because I’ve always known that I have Chicago to come home to afterwards. It’s the best.

UP: Let’s end on a serious note. Who would you rather be marooned on an island with—Rod Blagojevich or Al Capone?
CK: Al. People would search for Al Capone.

Jamie Hansen

About Jamie Hansen

I like piña coladas and getting caught in the rain. And I still love reading newspapers. After growing up in the suburbs I took a four-year Chicago hiatus to the University of Iowa where I majored in journalism and English. Now I’m back and ready to help you make the most of the Windy City. As Kanye says, I’m a Chicagoan until Chicago ends… but I wouldn’t mind a vacation home in Florida.

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