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Anyone got any advice on possible move to Chicago?

(27 Posts)
Lymond Wed 03-Feb-10 13:17:56

DH has been offered an exciting opportunity in Chicago. We're trying to work out if it could work for our family, without me having been there! All I know about Chicago is what I've seen on ER blush

We've got 4 DC age between baby and nearly 8. Fairly academic kids, and as any move is likely to be for 3-5 years, we'd need them to be able to slot back in to UK prep schools on return.

Its not all snow and drive-by shootings is it? DH visited there a few years ago in summer and liked it. He's lived in NY and Boston before, and is completely unphased. The company want to fly us all out there to have a look, but if his current company find out, he'll be fired, and he is happy in current job, just thinks Chicago might be fun adventure and definitely lower taxes for a while.

Any international/british curriculum schools? How easy will it be for a friendly but slightly reserved English girl like me to make friends, find toddler groups, etc..? What's the Chicago vibe like?

TuppyGlossop Wed 03-Feb-10 15:17:23

Hello Lymond. I live outside of Chicago and have for longer than I care to remember. Go for it. Enjoy the experience for what it is and do not stress too much over the education. Choose the right place to live and it is fantastic. There are some really excellent private schools. There is also a British School in Chicago. Are you planning to live in the city itself? No it is definitely not all drive-by shootings ! I happily leave my doors unlocked all day and walk my dog in the dark. Now, is it all snow? Today it feels like it! I have to go now but will return. Where in Chicago will your DH be working? Ask me some specific questions and I will do my best to answer them. Good Luck.

Lymond Wed 03-Feb-10 21:35:22

Thanks TG... are you American or ex-pat (not that it matters)?

His job is in the financial district. That's all I know. He doesn't want to fly out to meet them unless I think there's a good chance he'll take it. I'd get to go with him and be shown around by a relocation agent. But it just seems a crazy time to uproot ourselves from a place we like. Then again, I traveled a lot before kids and enjoyed it, and think it could be good for them.

Specific questions..

- Where are the right places to live? With such a large family (and hopefully plenty of guests from UK) we'll need a large house and garden, so I presume in a suburb or smaller town outside of Chicago, but within commute for schools, ideally British school. We could rent our house in UK out for about £2,500 per month; so rent of under $4000 monthly would be ideal... unrealistic?

_ I've found the website for the British school. Thanks for that. Does it have a good reputation?

- Is public transport possible for families? I've only ever driven a car on the "wrong" side of the road once, and hated it... not spacially aware at the best of times!

- What is there to do as a family near by, and how long does the snow last? Can everyone ski because I can't?!

-Is there an international enough feel for people to be friendly to newcomers?

Thanks so much... thought I'd have to bump for days before getting a reply!

TuppyGlossop Wed 03-Feb-10 23:50:01

Hi Lymond - I will write a fully thought out response in the morning as it is early evening here so busy! Many people with a family who work in the financial district live on the North Shore - this is the area that stretches up the lake front from Chicago to Lake Bluff - check out Wilmette, Winnetka, Glencoe, Highland Park, Lake Forest and Lake Bluff. Dig out a map - or google one - and take a look. All of these towns are on the Metra rail line which goes to the heart of the financial district. If you are not used to city living and would prefer something more like an English town (post office, library, coffee shop etc) then this may be a better bet too. The British School has an OK reputation. It may be unsettling for your children as there are not that many Brits there and they are often transient. It is in a very strange location - but then I am really not a city person! Google North Shore Country Day and Lake Forest Country Day School. This may be closer to what you are looking for giving the ages of your children. Schools in the city check out Chicago Lab School and the Latin School. St. Barack's girls were there when they lived in Chicago.
There is another poster - SuperBunny - who actually lived in Chicago City so hopefully she will spot your message.
More in the morning!

Lymond Thu 04-Feb-10 10:08:39

Thanks so much, am going to get busy googling!

Wasn't very impressed by British school website. Barely any mention of sports or being caring and nurturing. Claim to have very experienced staff, but on their profiles they all look very young. hmmm.

Lymond Thu 04-Feb-10 10:17:55

I like the look of North Shore Country Day school, as the head of lower school is an Oxford graduate!

TuppyGlossop Thu 04-Feb-10 15:23:28

Yes, the British School staff are also transient, young people looking for an adventure overseas. I am obviously generalizing and there are some wonderful ones but I do know many people whose children have gone there and they have regretted it. The problem is that in Chicago city itself private schools are often the only good option. If you choose to live out of the city do not discount the local state funded schools (known as public schools). Private schools are far less common here than in the uk and sometimes it is difficult to see what you are paying for. In Winnetka for example the high school (and I know you are not at that stage) is known as one of the top ten in the USA. Make sure you look at all your options you may be pleasantly suprised. You are also guaranteed a place at the school for your catchment. All of the schools on the "North Shore" are very good and you will find an international mix of expats. Totally random thoughts here but because your children are young most of their sports will be done outside of school. This being America, and an affluent area of America, there is something for everyone and it will be of an extremely high standard. Don't sweat the differences in academics too much. Yes, it is a different curriculum and it is taught in a very different way but last year when we thought we were going back to the UK my eldest who has had her entire education here sat two entrance exams for selective private schools in the UK. She was offered places at both. Make sure you keep up with British/European history at home though!
On a more practical point is your DH receiving a relocation package? Despite popular belief I think the US can be expensive - fresh food is more costly for example. Try and get his company to pay for as much as possible to ensure that you can relax and enjoy your time here. For example they should cover school fees and give you a rental allowance. I do not know anyone who has had a great experience with a relocation agent - they are usually someone who has watched The Queen and so think they know exactly what you need. Try to find someone without a financial incentive to help you. I am happy to show you the North Shore if you like.
Just spotted your specific questions!
You need to drive - unless you live in the city! It is very, very easy - cars are all automatic and it is far gentler and more forgiving than the UK. The speed limits are adhered to and the police are everywhere ticketing speeders. It is SLOW! You will not need to drive on the interstate but it would really help you to be able to drive particularly with four children. The train systems are good and buses are ok but to be honest I think you will be frustrated without a car!
The snow arrives around late November and leaves around March/April. One day there will be 6 inches the next it will melt into an ugly slush. The cold is worse than the snow to be honest! There can be a biting brutal wind that freezes your eyeballs! Life continues here whatever the weather. People really do not treat it as a big deal!
Illinois is as flat as a pancake so very little skiing. There is some in Northern Illinois and Wisconsin but it is very gentle.
There are lots of international groups. Many of the towns have a newcomers association where you will easily make friends. Being shy is tricky as it is not a common American trait, however you will make friends through your children. There are also lots of British groups, book clubs and the like.
Obviously all the information I have given you is from my very limited perspective but I really do think you should look at the North Shore (unless your heart is set on the city) as it is a great place with a family. But then I have a bias - I wish SuperBunny would come on and give you her city specific thoughts.
I will think on your other questions and be back.

Lymond Thu 04-Feb-10 19:14:49

Thanks so much for all this TG.

We're certainly not set on city living - we live rurally at the moment, and DH has a long commute into London because of it. Been googling North Shore towns all day which look lovely, and I could imagine us enjoying.

We wouldn't move without the right package, but given that the company have come calling, DH wasn't actively looking, he thinks that he'll be able to negotiate something pretty good.

We've spent a couple of summers in the states on long holidays, and yes I noticed food prices then. Eating out was always much cheaper than home, but shopping in Whole Foods cost more than Waitrose; also more fun though!

DD1 (7) heard us talking about the possibility of it, and says she would be very sad to leave her school, but that if there is an American Girl Place in Chicago then she'll consider it! I've just googled and there is! Its her I'd worry about the most, as she'd be senior age when we come back... hearing about your daughters offers at schools in the UK gives me confidence that it is possible to slot back in, so thanks for that.

DH (who is Irish) went to a US college so he says we'll be able to attend alumni's social stuff to help me get to know people. I've lived in our current location since getting prgenant with DD1, so the thought of starting again with friendships is a bit intimidating.

Is there a US version of NCT where I can meet other breastfeeding mothers? LLL is int'l actually, I think. (Another note to self to google).

You've been fab. Tahnks so much. I'll look out for superbunny too. We're going to discuss it all this w/e and I'll update you when we decide whether or not to pursue it... (I know DH really wants to, but he wants a big green light from me. Looking at the websites of the north shore towns has made me feed more positive actually, totally put the ER thoughts out of my head!)

mathanxiety Thu 04-Feb-10 21:05:10

Wanted to chip in with a few comments. The close-in suburbs on the west side are also very nice -- thinking of Oak Park and River Forest here. Both have excellent public schools and a good few private elementary schools (RC, Lutheran, Montessori and Jewish preschools to mention just a few). River Forest is Illinois School District District 90; Oak Park is Illinois School District 97. The religious private schools go to age 14, followed by high school. The public elementary schools generally feed middle schools at age 11 or so, to 14, then HS. The more affluent suburban schools are excellent and I would have no worries about falling behind in any way except British and European history. Chicago public schools I would avoid like a plague, however.

Amenities in the Oak Park and River Forest area include Trader Joes and Whole Foods smile, nice public pools and great libraries (Oak Park especially), parks and playgrounds everywhere, with tennis courts, etc., proximity to the city without any of the drawbacks of city life (even though it's not all drive-bys in the city by any means, the suburbs are a bit nicer for children, a bit more child-scale).

The school day generally starts at 8, so a local school means you can sleep in a bit longer wink -- better not to choose a school too far away that requires a long commute for this reason, and also because you will meet people in your own neighbourhood if your children go to the neighbourhood school. Private school children in Chicago (city proper) come from all over the place and you don't get the chance to develop friendships with either parents or children when everyone is heading off in hundreds of different directions at the end of the day.

There are excellent opportunities for making friends with other young parents through school, preschool or sports. I really recommend you enroll your DCs in T-ball, soccer, park district sports and fun programmes, YMCA activities, swim team, etc., these are the best ways to meet people outside of the school community. In the more affluent suburbs, children do a huge amount of sports and other activities outside of school. If you choose a Catholic school your life will revolve around basketball, and homework.

Driving really is a must, even though there are trains and busses (trains and busses are really only in the close-in suburbs however). You really will need a car for shopping and getting around. The L goes out to both Oak Park and River Forest (a bit like the Tube but overground for the most part) -- Blue Line to Oak Park and the Green Line terminus is a hop and a step from River Forest, a matter of about 100 metres. The Metra (Geneva line) goes through both.

Chicago people can be a lot more reserved and 'cool' than New Yorkers or Bostonians -- hard to put a finger on it. If your DH is Irish, you'll have no problems being accepted and welcomed -- it's a little like Ireland West, and also very Poland West. Alumni clubs are very active and the people can be very, very helpful in getting you settled socially.

It's a sports-mad city, but there are lots of cultural attractions too, like the Symphony, Lyric Opera, theatre (a must), museums, and good shopping and nice restaurants. It really has something for everyone. The weather -- you just have to deal with it. Winter is long and snowy, and cold; summer makes up for it. There are nice vacation spots not too far away -- lots of people go to Wisconsin (Door County especially) or to Michigan for nice, simple lakeside relaxation. You can spend as much or as little as you want and have a good time.

catinthehat2 Thu 04-Feb-10 21:25:13

Lymond - I really think they want you to come to Chicago....

Lymond Fri 05-Feb-10 17:21:08

With so much going on in Chicago, CITH2, I'm just surprised that anyone from there has had any time to mumsnet <grin>

Thank you very much mathanxiety. Hearing that people from Chicago are even cooler than New Yorkers and Bostonians is intimidating though, DH's friends/ex colleagues in those cities are fun but much cooler than me already!

Dh is pissing me off a bit, rather than engaging with me over the DC's education and reading the research I'm emailing him, he's just saing things like
"It's a great time to be earning dollars rather than pounds" which makes him sound like he's driven by oney, which he isn't. I think he's just being very male, and i'm all new-baby hormones and not being rational enough.

I'm constantly trying to balance clubs vs time at home to be kids and play, sounds like that balancing act will continue wherever we live. DD1 does ballet, Irish dancing (+ choir, netball & cross country at school lunchtim clubs) DS1 does Judo, Irish dancing (+ tennis, football & rugby at school lunchtime clubs). Sure they can continue those anywhere, apart form the netball and rugby perhaps.

Dh is Catholic-raised but we attend C of E. Hopefully we'd be able to find a church not too liturgical but also not happy clappy somewhere like Chicago. Don't really want to go for Catholic schools unless its our only option.

more later...

luckywinner Fri 05-Feb-10 17:25:36

Chicago is a fab city. And the people in Chicago are vv friendly. My dad lives in Old Town and works in the financial district. Have no idea about schools but it is a really nice area, full of a lot of families. I am v envy. I would love dh to get offered a transfer to Chicago.

mathanxiety Fri 05-Feb-10 18:21:14

Hey, men have hormones too! And imo they cause a lot more trouble for everyone including them. Don't write yourself off as irrational because of hormones, Lymond smile.

There's lots of Irish dancing in Chicago; the Trinity school of Irish dance is probably the best known, and they take it seriously; there are many others, and lots of local and regional feiseanna. Netball is called volleyball in the US -- sure you could find something for your DD, possibly for an older age group, though. It's very popular in high schools, and kids usually start playing in leagues through schools around 5th grade (age 10 or so). Rugby, you might have a harder time with, but there's football (American), and lots and lots of soccer (football....). I recommend baseball and softball if you feel like branching out into something different and quintessentially American, and they're summer sports, which is nice for everyone. T-ball is a lot of fun for the under 8s and their parents.

The Episcopal Church would be the equivalent of C of E in the US, but there are lots and lots of Protestant denominations. Catholic church services tend to be similar in style and length and the element of decorum to the C of E or C of I -- high church more than low.

Didn't mean to scare you off by saying 'cool' smile. Meant it in the sense of being a bit more reserved and not so inclined to ask really personal questions and tell you all about their ingrown toenails as New Yorkers are... The weather can be rough, but no need to worry about skiing. Skating is something a lot of people enjoy -- there are municipal indoor rinks and a few outdoor ones too. Municipalities clear snow off the streets in double quick time, and spread salt everywhere, so getting around is not much of a problem, even if there's a heavy snowfall.

Wrt breastfeeding and NCT, you're sort of expected to just get on with it here. There are no HVs, but ime, your pediatrician would be happy to help with any problems you might have. LLL was actually started in Chicago back in the 50s or so, and you can phone for support, etc. Everyone I ever knew bfed their babies though, sitting in church, waiting in line at the checkout, at the poolside in summer -- forcing mums to take their boobs and babies elsewhere is illegal in Illinois (yay). But I know of no bfeeding cafes, etc. Just lots of cafes where mums gather and bf and yak, with no disapproving looks, IYKWIM.

Chicago definitely has an international feel. You wouldn't stick out like a sore thumb. You might end up with your DCs calling you Mom by the end of your stay, though.

$4000 for rent would get you very nice accommodation -- the trick might be to find somewhere for the entire duration of your stay and avoid having to move every 12 months, especially if your DCs attend public schools. Residency requirements are very strictly enforced in public school districts (catchment areas) in the US, especially in municipalities that have well-regarded public schools, and if you move out of district, you have to change schools. Going to a Catholic school obviates this problem, but still, moving every 12 months would be a PITA

TuppyGlossop Fri 05-Feb-10 22:56:27

Definitely Catinthehat! But only if she wants too .
I totally agree with all of the advice that mathanxiety gave you - apart from the netball is volleyball thing. Sadly not - the only similarity is both involve a ball. We tried to get a netball team going but couldn't find anyone else to play.
There are boys Rugby teams. The police force in Lake Forest runs a very active one.
I always found NCT way, way more social than LLL - but that may just have been my branch. A good way to meet people and find stuff for your children are through the park districts. Each town has one. Just google one of the towns you like the look of and add the word "park district" on the end. This should give you a website with a down loadable brochure crammed full of fabulous classes for every age. The ones I attended were of an exceptional standard.
Two real estate agents (realtors) you may want to google are Coldwell Banker and Baird and Warner. I am not sure if they list rentals but it will give you an idea of what houses in the areas you like look like.
Finally, if your husband is planning to earn big time dollars and take it all home, think again! George Bush brought in an act (can't remember what it is called but will think on) that means that non-US citizens may only earn a certain amount before they are ensnared forever in the US tax system. Obviously this is a simplification and I am being facetious (for good reasons) but make sure you get really good financial advice.
Oh yes, given your description of your lifestyle I cannot believe you were planning on not driving!
Good luck.

mathanxiety Sat 06-Feb-10 18:33:27

Thought of a few other suburbs that are nice and have train service: Riverside (designed as an 'English' suburb by Frederick Law Olmsted, of Central Park fame) is quite a jewel, with a wide range of housing options; Clarendon Hills, a bit further west, is more single-family residential.

The Park Districts really are a great part of life with children in the US. YMCAs are another attraction.

Do get legal/financial/tax advice from a specialist before you make the decision. The IRS is not a nice organisation to fall afoul of.

catinthehat2 Sat 06-Feb-10 18:56:45


Lymond Sun 07-Feb-10 16:49:34

Thank you everyone, loads more food for thought.

We've talked allllll weekend about this. He's going to fly out to meet the people on the Chicago end during half term. It means canceling a family trip to Ireland, but it'll hopefully stop his current work becoming suspicious, since he has annual leave booked for then anyway. At the moment he's only met the London office of the potential new company, but they want him for Chicago and he wants to make sure he gets on well with the Chicago boss (and that the boss likes him of course!)

I'll then fly out with him a few weeks after, if it gets that far (with DC4 as breastfeeding). As TG said, the relocation agent they give me might be rubbish but at least I've now (thanks to mumsnet!) got a list of towns I'm interested in.

I know the not driving thing is unrealistic. I manage to get away with not driving on the motorway at all here, and not driving much at all. I did this by choosing the school first, and then finding a house right near it. But it sounds like it works the opposite way around in the US, so I'll just have to take some lessons when I arrive.

Thanks for the heads up on tax situation etc... DH is going to look into all that while he's out next week. His current company has lost 50% of their senior staff over past 4 months, because of the tax changes about to happen here, so I don't think he's alone in thinking the grass is greener on the other side of the Atlantic right now, but whether they're all right we will have to wait and see. I feel a bit guilty towards the UK, where I've been born and brought up, but as he isn't British he doesn't feel the same loyalty, which is fair enough I think. But he is adamant, this weekend, that the role on offer is the main draw, and that as long as we don't have to take a dip in income for him to take it, then he'd love the opportunity, plus he thinks (like all of you!) that Chicago would be a great family lifestyle.

I'm going to continue googling all the above suggestions once the DC are in school tomorrow... and doubtless will be back with some more questions. (I'll also be cheeky and post the dates I'll be over, once I know them, in case any of you are up for face-to-face filling me in on Chicago...)

mathanxiety Sun 07-Feb-10 21:37:27

You need to choose the school first in the US, unless it's a private school.

Your DH should sit down with the Chicago company's payroll department, or even HR, or a legal department specialist if they have a legal department, and talk with them about taxes, and also get a tax specialist in Britain to see if everything corresponds with whatever he learns.

It's also important to find out what sort of visa he will get -- I remember a flap a few years ago when spouses of people who were in the US on employer-sponsored visas were denied drivers' licences by the State of Illinois because of their status as dependents of the visa holders, something like that.. can't remember the exact details, but there were women whose husbands were working in high-tech industries, who were basically marooned in their homes in far-flung suburbs. I don't know if the loophole in the regulations was closed. Your DH should ask very detailed questions about the visa and what you will be entitled to do.

mrsasp Sun 07-Feb-10 22:38:50

Message withdrawn

TuppyGlossop Mon 08-Feb-10 03:16:17

The driving license thing has been sorted out and it really shouldn't be too much of a problem. The actual test is laughably easy and takes about ten minutes - so put this low on your list of things to worry about smile.
We selected a school after visiting many and then we found a house. Definitely do it that way around even if you go private.
Forgot to tell you that Montessori may be an option for you too - some of these go up to grade eight (year nine) or higher. Most of them are very faithful to the principals of Maria Montessori. Wasn't for us but thought I would mention it.
The American Girl store has recently moved to Water Tower Place and is a fabulous, girl's dream. Brilliant marketing and I often think that if I had the energy I should do a United Kingdom Girl or even European Girl - anyone want to join me?
The best places for BFing for me were always the big department stores - Macys, Bloomies etc. The restrooms have a lovely comfy section with sofas and soft lighting for this very purpose.

Lymond Mon 08-Feb-10 11:35:49

TG - that is my dream business to run! British version of American Girl!

tedlass Fri 15-Apr-16 10:31:14

I need help!! Moving to Chicago with my husband this summer with an 8year old daughter. We will be living in the city as I do not drive. I need some help and feedback with schools. Can anyone give me the lowdown on The British school? If there are any other good options please advise me as I'm getting stressed. Keep hearing very conflicting reviews. She is currently at a lovely school with great friends and she is happy so need to try and find a good option state side. Thank you !!

appleandplum Sat 16-Apr-16 22:27:07

Hi, just read the opening thread and could have written it myself but noticed the date! We too are hoping to move to Chicago in the summer (dh just accepted a job so very early stages of planning), he will be working in Oak Brook so not sure on an area yet. We have 4 children ds 8 , twin girls 6, ds 4 so will be looking at public schools, at the moment they go to a very small, friendly village school. Feel free to PM me tedlass, it's good to know someone's in the same situation.

HethJ1 Mon 30-May-16 15:29:03

We also have a possible move to Chicago in the pipeline. I have two boys, 6 and 5. It looks like a wonderful place for children with lots of outdoor activities. I have two real questions which I'm hoping someone can help with if they have a mo?
We currently live in a small village, surrounded by fields for dog walking and paths for cycling around. In Chicago we would ideally be within a 40 min commute of Oak Park (for DH work). Where can people recommend that is green and leafy with plenty of outdoors stuff for kids, dog & us? Also, on return (3-5 years), my eldest will be doing entrance exams for private secondary school. Should we be looking at local elementary schools or are there equivalent of prep schools in Chicago? The boys are currently happy in our local primary but we were going to move to a prep school to help with school work (they are both normal academically, not super gifted nor struggling). I like the sound of elementary schools as seem friendly and like we'd get into a community which would be nice. But I'm worried that we might not get prepared enough for exams at 11 or 13.
Any advice would be most welcome as I don't really know where to start!

annabell99 Thu 04-Aug-16 23:23:56


We are in a similar position - opportunity now available in Chicago for DH, it's an internal transfer so everything could move very quickly confused

We have a 5 year old DD and worried about where to live & schools.

Any advice appreciated


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