Life In Champaign-Urbana
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The towns of Champaign and Urbana have a combined population of over 100,000 and are located in east central Illinois, 140 miles directly south of Chicago, 120 miles west of Indianapolis, and 170 miles northeast of St. Louis. the two towns are totally separate entities and each has its own government, fire and police departments, and school system. the surrounding area is a flat, fertile prairie farming region. The black loam soil produces bountiful harvests of corn and soy beans. The sky is usually clear and there is no pollution.
The University of Illinois (U of I) enrolls more than 36,000 students in a wide variety of academic fields. The University campus occupies over 700 acres of land between the towns of Champaign and Urbana, and the College of Agriculture has several thousand acres of farmland south of the main campus. The U of I was founded in 1867 as a Land Grant university for the state of Illinois and is one of the most prestigious universities in the country. The U of I library, with over 9 million books, is the third largest university library in the United States.
Visit the University of Illinois visitor's website at
Information about Champaign-Urbana is located at:
Champaign-Urbana has four distinct seasons:
- Fall (mid-September to mid-December) is cool, perhaps rainy, and famous for the changing colors of tree leaves.
- Winter (mid-December to mid-March) is cold, windy, and often includes much snow and ice.
- Spring (late March to late May) can be very rainy and stormy, but also has many sunny days with a mix of cool, warm and hot temperatures.
Summer (June to mid-September) is usually pleasant, but can be very hot and humid with many thunderstorms.
Heating in homes is usually required from mid-October to early April. Some homes have air conditioning for the summer, but many people just use fans.
COLD temperatures here can reach -22 F., which is -30 C. If you are not used to weather this cold, it is important that you remember to dress properly. Several layers of clothes are better than one heavy coat.
It is important to cover your ears and fingers as they can freeze easily. Small children chill easily, so they should be dressed warmly. In addition to a coat, wear boots, a hat, gloves or mittens, and a scarf that you can wrap around your face. if you are traveling in a car and have mechanical problems or suddenly cannot see to drive, stay inside your car to remain protected from the cold.
ICE is dangerous to walk on and even more dangerous to drive on. Stay off it if possible. If you must walk, wear shoes or boots that have rubber grids, not smooth leather-soled shoes.
SNOW should be shoveled away from your porch and sidewalks where you and others walk, because it can become compressed and slippery.
BLIZZARDS include snow, high winds, and cold. You often cannot see to drive in such conditions even if you can see out the window of your home. During blizzard conditions, do not travel by any means (you can be fined for traveling at these times). If you must travel for an emergency, call the police department for direction and assistance.
TORNADOES can occur here. A tornado is a storm with very high winds that form a funnel cloud. These clouds can form very rapidly and do great damage in a very short time. These conditions develop most often during the spring and summer.
A "tornado watch" means weather conditions are right for tornadoes to develop. A "tornado warning" means that a tornado funnel cloud has been seen. Champaign-Urbana has a disaster warning system which is used when a tornado threatens the area. A series of yellow sirens mounted on several buildings throughout the cities will sound continuously while a storm is threatening.
If you hear the sirens during threatening weather, take cover in a basement or under a table away from windows. If outside, take cover face down in a ditch. The warning sirens are tested the first Tuesday of every month at 10 a.m.; be sure to familiarize yourself with their sound.
In April of 1996 a tornado struck southeast Urbana, destroying homes and damaging a great deal of property. Residents of Champaign-Urbana pay close attention when severe weather threatens.
Weather information is available on all radio and television stations. If you have cable television, tune to the Weather Channel for detailed weather information at all times. The Department of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Illinois maintains a website with current local weather conditions and live radar.
For a complete weather forecast, call 351-2900.
During severe weather, local radio stations carry frequent weather reports; and, during the winter, information about schools which might be closed temporarily due to bad weather.
In the Summer, storm and tornado warnings are not uncommon. Local television stations will show a symbol on the screen such as a "W" (for "Watch" or "Warning") to indicate the threat of severe weather in the area. Regular television and radio programs will frequently be interrupted with weather information during these times.
In the Winter, local schools, businesses, and activities are occasionally closed because of heavy snow and ice.
If you are planning a trip out of town by car, you can get road condition reports from mid-November through March by calling 352-6705, or by checking the website.
Most international visitor come here via Chicago. The website for the Champaign-Urbana Transportation provides local information and useful links for airline, train, and bus service to Champaign-Urbana.
If you will be driving a car in the United States, you should be aware that the rules for driving in the U.S. may be very different from the rules in your home country. A publication called Rules of the Road explains all of the driving laws and requirements for the state of Illinois. You can obtain a copy of Rules of the Road from the ISSS office. Access the Rules of the Road publication. Knowing these rules is truly a matter of life or death. Even if you are experienced driver, you need to make yourself aware of the differences between American driving rules and those of your home country. Please do not drive until you understand the rules thoroughly. The Illinois Department of Transportation website is also informative.
You must have a valid license to drive in the U.S. A license from another state or country may, in some cases, be valid for only 90 days in Illinois. Visit the Drivers License Examination Station at 2401 W. Bradley, Champaign (278-3344) to find out of your license is acceptable. Getting an Illinois license will make it easier to obtain the required car insurance. An Illinois drivers license can be obtained at the Drivers License Examination Station. They are located at 2010 Round Barn Road (west of Mattis Avenue and south of Springfield Avenue) in Champaign. They are closed on Mondays.
To apply for an Illinois drivers license you must be at least 18 years old, have a U.S. Social Security number and two other forms of identification, one of which must show your birthdate. If you are under 18 years of age, you must have written consent from a parent or guardian to apply for a license.
Illinois drivers must have liability insurance for their automobiles. Contact an insurance agent to purchase the required insurance.
Seat Belts and Car Seats
All babies and children under the age of 4 years must ride in an approved safety seat (also called a car seat). Children who are 4 or 5 years old must either use a safety seat or a seat belt. All drivers and anyone 6 years old or older who is riding in the front seat must wear a seat belt. NOTE: Children under 12 should not sit in the front seat if your car contains a passenger-side air bag.
These rules are federal law. Please use safety seats and seat belts as required for your children at all times. Never hold a child on your lap in the car. Do not take a baby out of a car seat while the car is in motion, even if he is crying. An unprotected child can be seriously injured in an accident, even if you are driving very slowly. Safety seats may be purchased at many places in Champaign-Urbana such as Sears, Service Merchandise, K's Merchandise, and K-Mart. See Child Safety for more information.
Buying a Car
You may buy a new car from an automobile dealer and a used car from a dealer or private individual. Financing may be obtained from the dealer or a bank. You must obtain a Certificate of Ownership from a car dealer or a Certificate of Title from an individual. The car must be registered immediately in the new owner's name. A Certificate of Title must be registered with the Illinois Secretary of State and transferred to the new name of the owner when the car is paid for. Illinois law requires you to purchase car insurance.
If you will be parking on campus you must register your car with the Division of Parking and Transportation in the Public Safety Building, 1110 W. Springfield, Urbana (333-1216). This will allow you to use University parking facilities. Your car must also must also be registered if you park in the Family Housing parking lots.
Local Public Transportation
Champaign-Urbana has an excellent bus system called MTD. Routes are identified by color and number. The regular one-way fare is $1 and transfers are free. There is no fare for UI students with a valid iCard; students may ride any route at any time and pay no fare. MTD schedules are available from the IFSA office. The schedule book contains information about bus passes which may save you money if you are a frequent rider. Call MTD at 217.384.8188.
There are several "cab" companies in the area. They are listed in the Yellow Pages under "Taxicabs". Taxi service is, of course, much more expensive than taking the bus. It is also customary to pay the driver 15% of the fare as a "tip".
Bicycles are not as common in the U.S. as they are in many countries, but there are many of them on campus. On campus there are bicycle lanes for you to ride in. It is important not to ride on the Quad or on sidewalks. When riding in the streets you are expected to obey the same road rules as automobiles. If you own and ride a bicycle on campus, you must register it with the Division of Campus Parking and Transportation at 1110 W. Springfield, Urbana. Registration is free.
Information regarding all aspects of Family Housing -- leases, maintenances, community services -- is available at the website given above or in the Family Housing Office, 1841 Orchard Place, Urbana, Illinois, 61801, telephone 217-333-5656. Applications for Family Housing are included with the DS-2019 form for J-1 visitors, or you may apply online. If you think you would like to live in Family Housing, send your application as soon as possible.
Various apartments and houses are available to rent in the Champaign-Urbana area if you are not interested in or cannot find space in university-owned housing. The cost of this type of housing varies. If you wish to live in this type of housing, your sponsoring department may be able to help you arrange it before you arrive, or you might stay in a motel after you arrive and then make your housing arrangements after you've had an opportunity to see what is available. See the website given above for online information about non-university housing.
If you cannot make housing arrangements before you arrive or if you want to have an opportunity to see what is available before you choose a place to live, you may choose to stay at a hotel or motel. Some have special weekly and monthly rates.
Champaign School District
Urbana School District
Illinois law requires all children between the ages of 6 and 16 to attend school. Public school is free; private school is not. Your child will need a physical and dental examination before entering school. Bring your child's immunization record, birth certificate, and some indication of the level of school he/she has already completed with you to the United States.
Schools are divided into three levels: elementary (Kindergarten through fifth grade); middle school (sixth through eighth grade) and high school (ninth through twelfth grade.
Elementary school-age children living in Orchard Downs (Family Housing) are assigned to the Martin Luther King School in Urbana. Transportation is provided. King School provides a multi-cultural, multi-lingual program. More information about Champaign and Urbana schools is available at the website given above.