Last year, Katherine Aanensen and Chelsea Fine, then third-years in the College, decided they wanted to go on the trip of a lifetime. With a desire to explore new places and make connections with new people, they decided to enroll in a sort of Study Abroad program here at the College. Their destination? Chicago.
While their choice may sound bizarre to many, given that the University happens to be located in the city of Chicago itself, it made complete sense to them both. “I hadn’t ever really explored the city that I lived in,” said Aanensen. “There’s more to Chicago than Hyde Park or the Loop.”
Fine agreed, saying that “It’s easy to get wrapped up in the University while you’re a student here so [Study Chicago] was a good excuse to explore.”
They both make a good point. Academics at UChicago can be time consuming, so it’s difficult to frequently venture outside what many here on campus refer to as the “Hyde Park bubble.” Study Chicago, a collaborative effort between the College and University Community Service Center (UCSC), gives students the chance to academically and critically engage with the city that they live in, especially the parts that they may not have had the time to explore yet.
Dan Koehler, Assistant Dean of the College, explains: “The program is set up just like any other Study Abroad program. Students are immersed in one particular local culture for a quarter. They aren’t expected to be familiar with the environment they’re in; the faculty are there to help them critically engage with and explore their surroundings.”
That being the case, Study Chicago really does mirror other Study Abroad programs both academically and socially. Students take three classes that are only open to those enrolled in Study Chicago. This year, students will be taking a geography class, a history class, and a public policy class. All three try to show how the Chicago we know today has been shaped by its physical location in space, its history, and its residents. Every Friday, there are faculty-led excursions around the city ranging from dining in restaurants and exploring museums to visiting the Mayor’s office. Students engage with Chicago on every level possible.
Aanensen, who has taken multiple classes on Chicago before, feels as though she now has a more complete education and was actually inspired by her experience to consider remaining in Chicago after she graduates. “I wouldn’t call myself a community member [of Chicago] yet. But I am more interested in becoming a part of the community. I want to use my skills to understand the city even more.”
This is what Study Chicago is all about, according to Koehler. “Our hope is that the program will inspire [students] to create a research project about the city, or author a piece for the Chicago Studies journal, Chicago Studies Annual. But, more than anything, we want them to become more involved. All of these different efforts are working together to convince students to engage intellectually and academically as well as [to] immerse themselves in the culture of Chicago, becoming true citizens of the city they live in.”
Photos edited by Michael Zhao, class of 2015