URBANA – Neither Jacob Dibble nor Kristen Elmer wanted to go to college at the University of Illinois.
Too many of their friends were going here. It would be too much like high school, seeing the same people from home everywhere, they thought.
Both enrolled at Tulane University, preferring a smaller school and falling in love with New Orleans. But now they are at the UI after all, after Hurricane Katrina forced Tulane to shut down for a semester. They have found that already knowing many students on a campus the size of the UI has turned out to be a blessing.
"I'm still sad. I'm getting over it, dealing with it better," Elmer said of not being able to be at Tulane this fall. She has family in New Orleans and calls the city a second home.
"I was so excited to go down there and a week later I'm here," she said. "I'm not going to get to see any of my friends. It's hard, but I think it would have been harder if I didn't have any friends (at) a different university."
"I want to be back, but it could be worse," she added. "I don't feel I have the right to complain or be sad because so many people have so much less than me. I didn't lose anything."
Elmer, a sophomore studying business and history, is from Chicago, and Dibble, a freshman majoring in math and Spanish, is from the northwest suburb of Long Grove.
Dibble spent only about three hours at Tulane – long enough to move in, find he would have to evacuate, move his belongings to a friend's room on the dorm's third floor, and leave again with his parents.
Dibble said his first few weeks at the UI were frustrating, with trying to meet people, find his way around campus and catch up on schoolwork.
"It was not a fun time at all," he said. "I did not want to come here. I had a preconceived notion what it would be because it was so close. I was really excited about going to Tulane."
But he's settling in, making new friends in his dorm and playing on the UI's rugby club. Dibble said he was surprised at how easy it was to register for classes, get a computer account set up and move into a dorm room. His biggest problems have been navigating the dorms and cafeterias known as "the six-pack" and figuring out the cafeteria schedule.
"It's just little things, but that's very important when I'm three weeks behind," he said. "I have pretty good friends here from high school. They gave me the most help out of everyone."
He admits he was a little closed-minded about the UI.
"Now that I'm here, it's not that god-awful," Dibble said.
Elmer has joined a business fraternity here. She is spending time with her friends from home, and her sister recently came to visit from Purdue University. She said the UI is able to offer more than Tulane because of its size, such as networking and more recruiters visiting campus.
"I do like (the UI). It's not as bad as I thought it would be," Elmer said. "I think college is really what you make of it.
"Everyone's been really, really nice. Everyone's been so accommodating," she said. "The business school advisers e-mailed me on things – 'there's a job fair going on; you need to work on your resume.' All my teachers have been so understanding."
Elmer will have to get used to winter again. She bought a new coat after a recent cold snap. She left her winter clothing in storage at her aunt's house in New Orleans.
"This is really cold for me. I'm not used to this – 45 degrees feels really, really cold," she said.
Dibble and Elmer plan to be back at Tulane in the spring.
"It will be like the freshman experience all over again," Dibble said. "We'll always have something to talk about with those people – 'Where were you last semester?'"
He's excited to go back to New Orleans despite the devastation there.
"It's going to be rebuilt and rejuvenated when I get back there. I think people are going to be excited," he said. "I'll have the opportunity to help out and do some community service."