Engagement at UChicago: At the University and In the City

University Life

Engagement at UChicago: At the University and In the City

The City of Chicago is comprised of 70 communities and more than 200 neighborhoods. Every block offers local flavors, colorful characters and vibrant culture. When I applied to college, I was looking for a rigorous academic institution in an urban environment – exactly what I found at the University of Chicago. Known affectionately as “The place where fun goes to die,” it is easy to imagine droves of students holed up in the library for days and days, leaving just long enough to buy more ramen and red bull. Those students certainly exist, don’t get me wrong, but the majority of my community at UChicago was comprised of students who did, in fact, leave the library.


Activities I did for personal enrichment (ie fun!) during my four years at UChicago include: culture shows, art exhibits, block parties, parades, concerts, sports games, amusement parks, pub-crawls, brewery tours, restaurant week, the opera, the theater, the symphony, comedy shows, cooking classes, bartending class, social entrepreneurship conferences, architectural tours, camping trips, sailing trips, canoe trips, river boat cruises, Critical Mass (a monthly event when cyclists take over Chicago) the taping of a live talk show, and more. You could easily fill all of your waking hours in class and doing work for class; you could also easily spend all of your time attending lectures, symposiums, and other events where free food and great ideas are discussed on campus; you could also spend all of your time exploring the City of Chicago. The key is finding a balance that suits you by taking into account your happiness and wellbeing as well as your academic potential.


UChicago offers students a plethora of ways to engage with the communities near campus and farther afield. Close to campus, there are opportunities to volunteer in community gardens, arts festivals, and music festivals: You can tutor local Chicago Public School (CPS) students in a variety of subjects. Farther afield, the UChicago ArtsPass gives you free or reduced admission to more than 60 Chicagoland theater, music, dance, visual and cultural institutions.


The UChicago Office of Career Advancement will keep you updated about local conferences and professional events that might be relevant to your life after UChicago. You can also visit the University Community Service Center (UCSC) to see about Chicago-based internships and programs that will teach you valuable professional skills while enabling you to serve your communities. You can volunteer or get an internship in social just, community building and learn a lot about this city in the process. If you have the opportunity to spend at least one summer in Chicago, I highly recommend you do it. Your relationship to the city is quite different when you are a student with your nose to the grind as opposed to an intern in a downtown office. The Metcalf Internship Program offers paid, substantive internships to UChicago undergraduates and becoming a Metcalf Fellow is a great honor. Although one can accept a Metcalf opportunity in cities around the globe, it is great to know that there are more than 450 Metcalf Fellowships in Chicago alone!


The City of Chicago has literally hundreds of annual festivals and public events that showcase ethnic food, music, customs and more. This city is famous for it’s neighborhoods, many of which showcase the diverse roots of their residents. Interested in celebrating Polish culture? Join the Polish Constitution Day Parade, the largest Polish parade outside of Poland. Ever wondered what the Day of the Dead really means, outside of our modern mangling of this ancient cultural tradition? Venture off to Pilsen for Dia des Los Muertos, a 3-day celebration honoring deceased loved ones including the traditional procession through the neighborhood, face painting, and events at the National Museum of Mexican Art. Chicago’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade is a great way to celebrate the Irish holiday tradition – the City even dyes the Chicago River a special shade of Irish Green! Chicago’s Chinatown is epic and I definitely recommend making a visit around Chinese New Year to soak up the sights, sounds and smells of the Orient.


As a resident of Chicago’s South Side, you will be expected to become a White Sox fan. The games are cheap and the stadium is close to home, but if you’d like a real adventure I recommend heading to Wrigleyville, the neighborhood that includes the 97-year old clubhouse known as Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago’s Cubs. The stadium is small and smack-dab in the middle of the city – a great atmosphere for your first live baseball game.


Chicago offers more than 26 miles of waterfront, upwards of 550 public parks, ample bike and running paths, and 15 miles of public beaches. But don’t think that the famed frigid temperatures and high winds of winter keep people inside. Chicagoans can be found outside year-round whether they’re ice-skating, riding bicycles and playing beach volleyball or running the Chicago marathon, Chicago’s public spaces offer ample opportunities for exploration no matter what season it is.


Several Registered Student Organizations (RSOs) help students engage with the community, broadly defined. You can work with the Peer Health Exchange to teach sex education to CPS students. If you are interested in teaching and community engagement, you may be interested in Moneythink, a national non-profit founded at UChicago by UChciago students to teach financial literacy and entrepreneurship to inner-city youth. If you join the student organization known as FOTA (Festival of the Arts), you will be able to work with artists on-campus and in the city at large. You can volunteer with Doc Films, the oldest student-run film society in the country. All of Doc’s programming is open to the public and both students and Chicagoans who are film lovers attend the weekly programming meetings as well as the nightly screenings. If you’re interested in the great outdoors, you can join the Outdoor Adventure Club (OAC). You’ll join a listhost too, so you can learn when someone is planning a cycling trip from Hyde Park to the Loop or a camping trip to the Boundary Waters up near Canada. Once, I went ‘urban foraging’ with a specialist the OAC brought to campus; we walked through Washington Park and found dozens of edible plants such as mushrooms and grasses I had seen a million times but had no idea one could eat! It was quite an enriching experience.


The reality is that as a student, you won’t have nearly enough time to do everything you’ll want to do. Making those choices is hard: should I see that avant garde film I read about a few months ago at Doc Films or go to ballroom dance class or watch my roommate’s swim meet or stop by my econ TA’s office hours or go to Pilsen for the monthly art gallery tours or watch the sports game with housemates in our house lounge or… the list literally goes on forever. But that’s the beauty of college at a place like UChicago. Step onto our campus and into a whole new world just waiting to be explored by you!