Sindhu Gnanasambandan talks about how the classes, student groups, activities and the ambience at University of Chicago make it a one-of-a-kind experience.
“It is a tragedy of excess opportunity.” These words were spoken to us at our convocation, describing the UChicago experience. I don’t remember the gentleman’s name but his phrase elegantly captures exactly how I feel about my first year at this university.
Considering that the school’s economics department ranks number 1 globally, it may be fitting to put it this way: “everything, everything, is a trade-off.” There are simply too many enriching classes to attend, productive student groups to join and brilliant people to meet.
The following are a few unofficial slogans that can be seen on student T-shirts:
“The level of hell Dante forgot”
“Where fun comes to die”
“If I wanted an A, I would have gone to Harvard”
Self-deprecating humour runs rampant on campus, but stems from a truly challenging academic experience. Even the aesthetic beauty of the libraries (the school looks like Hogwarts!) cannot hold your spirits up for the hundreds of hours you are bound to spend within them.
That being said, the professors are top notch and the entire campus carries an intellectual air. Going to class may not answer all the big questions in life, but it sure does get you asking them.
Socially, we are known to be a bit… off. Rather than trying to explain this (which could get messy), I will illustrate the quirky sort of fun that can be had here. “Scav” is what we call our annual four-day scavenger hunt, which holds the Guinness Record for being the largest in the world.
Each year, students are given a list of hundreds of tasks, demanding them to do just about anything including going on a 1,000-mile long road-trip, subjecting a live lobster to heartbreak, work-related stress, civil rights inequality, and creating a fully functioning hug machine.
Also, the school’s similarity to Hogwarts extends beyond just the architecture — we have our own house system. Students walk into campus pre-placed in a group of about 100.
These tight-knit communities do a range of things together, but perhaps the best part is that when you still have no friends by the end of the first week (and the second, and the third...), you always have a house dining table that will welcome you. And that is what I mean by self-deprecating humour.
There is only so much to be told in general terms. For the most part, UChicago is, like they say, exactly what you make of it. This is what I have made so far:
Academically, I am a bit all over the place, but that is 100 per cent okay and even encouraged here. There is an emphasis on taking an interdisciplinary approach in trying to understand our world — an idea that, for better or worse, I have bought into. Outside of my schoolwork, I spend the majority of my time working on journalism. I am on the news staff for the primary student-run paper and am on the editorial board for the fashion magazine.
I also hold jobs as a research assistant at a psychology lab and as an algebra teacher for local youth.
A couple of the “just for fun” (yes, fun is not actually dead) things that I did with my time last year include dancing Bhangra in the annual South Asian Student Association Show and participating in a team that gives five-minute back rubs to students during stressful times (which puts us in business about 95 per cent of the year).
This school was the best thing that ever happened to me and college has been the happiest part of my life. It would be silly not to acknowledge that some of my hardest times were had here but, in many senses, it was what had I hoped for and more.
The campus is breathtakingly beautiful. The students and the faculty are of the highest quality. I mean, come on — my biggest complaint (the one I began this article with) is that I can only reasonably experience a fraction of all that this school has to offer.
The writer is a second-year student at the University of Chicago.