September 22, 2019

The Neverending Quarter System Summer

Anticipating the next academic year at UChicago may lead to various expectations, and even anxiety about a new year.

Having sent two kids to UChicago, my parents often joke that we’ve had endless summers. With high school friends returning to school in August, my brother and I often lurked at home in a strange limbo state between high school, summer, and college. While friends posted photos at their first tailgates and made several new friends, we were at home playing Monopoly and visiting high school teachers. Having grown up with many of the people I went to high school with, all of our major life events happened simultaneously. However, perusing social media last September, I felt, for the first time in my life, that I was stuck behind a giant wall of quarter system blues. 

 The first summer is the hardest. By mid-August, the afterglow of graduation wore off and I was starting to become too good at goodbyes. One by one, my friends and classmates trickled out of our small town, ready to take on all that college entailed. As someone who delights in getting ahead on academics, I felt trapped in my boredom, and anxious than ever about college. While many of my former high school classmates took summer courses at the local college to get ahead academically, I spent my summer working and traveling, unable to do so. As course selection rolled around in the middle of the summer, I suddenly regretted this decision, feeling unprepared for UChicago essay and examination expectations. 

Coming to college, it’s natural to want to adapt as easily as possible. Whether that’s by taking summer classes, making friends in advance, or obsessing over dorm decor, many people try to find something to occupy their time. But I soon learned that no matter how I chose to distract myself, UChicago was not going to be the college experience my friends described on the phone, nor the one I envisioned endlessly on long summer days. 

For me, the UChicago course load was a sneaker wave; I watched it build throughout the summer, thinking that I knew what I was getting myself into. Listening to stories about my brother’s first year, I thought I was prepared for whatever amount of rigor was to hit me. But as soon as the first day of classes, I found myself engulfed in something much bigger and more ominous than I could have imagined. 

As a self-declared humanities student, I thought I would thrive in the required Hum and Sosc courses. I enrolled in SSI: Spatial Analysis, assuming that it would be like any standard Sosc class with dense philosophical readings that I was equipped for. The first class, I was thrown into the deep end with my first-ever coding lab. I sat there baffled by the instructor and the R code before me. As soon as class ended, my instinct was to drop the course and find one better suited toward my literary inclinations. But after starting the homework assignment, a basic coding snippet, I found myself challenged in a way I’d never been before. 

By choosing to stick to the uncomfortable path that UChicago presented me with, I found myself growing to enjoy the overwhelming demands of UChicago. I spent hours working on assignments and perfecting code, while many of my STEM-inclined classmates would finish the work in less than an hour. For class, I read social science research articles with formulas so complex that I enlisted the help of friendly math majors. Everything about SSI: Spatial Analysis was brand-new and unknown. And while the Core means I also experienced the comforting atmosphere of a poetry class, the unpredictable, daily promise of Spatial Analysis proved to be a difficult yet rewarding balance. 

While this past summer has been nothing short of endless, I haven’t felt anxiety toward all the unfamiliar and uncomfortable promises of a UChicago education which I undoubtedly experienced last year. If taking Spatial Analysis has taught me anything (besides a lot of useful coding knowledge), it’s that any given academic year at UChicago is unpredictable in its own, refreshing right. And while I don’t know exactly what it may look like, it’ll be an enlightening experience because of this fact.