Tuesday, August 1, 2017

An Indescribable Experience

The 3 weeks I spent in Chicago have helped me grow in so many more ways than I thought possible from what is supposed to be a predominantly academic experience. While I did learn and develop in the classroom, rising to the challenges set for me by my professors, I also learned an incredible amount outside of it. I learned about myself and how I relate and interact with others that I seemingly don’t have much in common with. I also learned about how to divide my time and abilities so that I perform as well as possible in all areas of my life and about how people from different parts of the world see school and studies. 
The cohort and I on one of our first days in Chicago. 
Doing my own laundry was a first.
My class took up so much of my time while I was actually at UChicago that I didn’t have the chance to step back and take a look at how rapidly I was changing as a person, but now that I’ve been back for a couple of days, I can see that what the program actually influenced me the most in was not my attitude towards academics, but my sense of self and understanding of my personality. Having to balance class, coursework, meal-times, practicing my instrument, getting exercise, doing laundry, and making sure that I was saving enough time for fun and sleep was tough, but in doing so, I was exposed to a new level of responsibility that I had to reach to succeed. I realized that I’m the type of person who needs to have something to schedule around, so I structured my life around the opening and closing times of the dining hall. I quickly learned that it was really hard for me to do work around anyone I had even a remote relationship with, so I used my resources and studied in the library or reading rooms. Not being able to walk back and forth from my room to the bathroom conveniently forced me to be more efficient with my time there, which made me plan every trip before I went anywhere. That was especially important for my laundry trips; sometimes I would forget money, other times detergent, sometimes even clothes that I meant to wash. Before I knew it, I was managing my own time more effectively than I ever have, being more disciplined than I ever had to be, and planning my days and activities beforehand. Now, I wasn’t exactly perfect, but I did everything as best as I could and I made growth that was obvious to even myself. 

I learned that I was easily distracted by people, so I spent a lot of time studying in the library.
I said that the ILC experience wasn’t entirely academics-focused, but that doesn’t mean that the class wasn’t a priority; it was, but the other aspects of the trip were just more influential than I expected. In class, I had to learn about how to stay attentive enough during lectures to be able to participate during the discussions and stay ready for the random quizzes. I also had to learn how to balance my coursework with the daily blogging; some assignments were open-ended response answers, and if I wanted to get a reasonable amount of sleep, it was required that I learned to balance the time I spent on them with the time I put into the blogs. It was my first exposure to necessary compromise; I wasn’t always maximally efficient and I also spent time on activities for leisure, so it wasn’t realistic for me to pour all of my heart and soul into both coursework and blogging. Instead, I tried as best as I could to sacrifice from both equally with losing too much quality, and it turned out well for my class grade and the amount of sleep I got. 
From the top: late night soccer; Shake Shack; and the view from a downtown rooftop. I had to manage my time so I could have fun.
One thing that was totally unexpected about the program was the amount of foreign kids there were, specifically from China. Around half of the kids living on my dorm floor were Chinese. Speaking to them exposed me to completely different perspectives. For one, anything less than perfection in academics is seen as a disappointment to most of them. My friend Lucy, who lives in Shanghai, was upset that she got a 4 on the AP Language and Composition Test as a foreign speaker. Most people at my school would be delighted with that score. Another common trait among them was their work ethic. Putting in the hours studying one topic was something that was new to me, but it was normal to them. They were used to the rigor of a more challenging school system, a system that involved a lot more stress and pressure. That being said, many of the kids from China that I met were outgoing and social; they were delighted with their newfound internet freedom, and were excited to make American friends.

In addition to international kids from the other side of the world, there were also so many American students with very different backgrounds. A lot of the people went to boarding schools and were very wealthy, while others came from inner cities and were also there on scholarship. When I was meeting someone, I had no idea what to expect, which taught me to judge people less based on their looks and my preconceptions of them. Some people were shocked when I told them that my school has almost 400 people per class; their schools had 400 people in total. Learning about their lives gave me an idea of what kind of opportunities people who may go to more privileged schools get, and it made me realize that I was going to far fall behind if I didn’t make the most of mine. 
Some of the friends I made on this trip.
My professor, Kate, and I.
My time in Chicago was like an accelerator for the development and maturation of myself and my values. From improving my responsibility and time management to hearing about the world and the rest of the country, I started to acquire skills and experiences that I wouldn’t have if I had just stayed home this summer. Being exposed to so many intelligent, privileged kids motivated me to do my best in school and make the most out of the opportunities. Most of all, in addition to all of the learning and growing I did, and this is something that I haven’t really mentioned so far, the trip was an amazingly fun experience. Even before class started, the cohort was going all over the city, doing touristy activities and having a good time. I went all over downtown with my friends. I took public transport, I explored the campus, and I captured many, many photos. I had more fun on this trip than I thought possible from a class-oriented stay at a top university, and I’m really grateful to have had this chance. 
I'm going to remember these past three weeks for a long time.

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