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Studying Abroad in the City of Lights – from The University of Chicago to Paris

January 22, 2015
Andrew Song at the Arc de Triomphe

Andrew at the Arc de Triomphe

It’s been two years since Dublin High School Class of 2012 alum Andrew Song wrote about his transition to The University of Chicago. We recently caught up with Andrew after he completed studying abroad in Paris. Before we talk about your semester abroad in Paris, how about a quick update on how things are going at the University of Chicago?

Andrew Song: “I’m in my third year right now pursuing a major in economics, but am actually graduating at the end of this year. Coming into the University of Chicago I had a lot of AP credits. At Dublin High School I took a lot of AP courses and exams which satisfied many of my general requirements. The economics major program usually takes two years to complete in addition to the general requirements, but with so many general requirements taken care of with AP credits I was able to accelerate the process and will graduate this spring.” Describe economics and how the discipline is applied in the real world.

Song: “Economics is one of the disciplines that really ties things together. Concepts like supply and demand are applicable to understanding how many things work in the world. Economics is a social science, and unlike hard sciences like physics or chemistry, it is very hard to run perfectly controlled experiments that take into account every single relevant factor. Attending the University of Chicago helped me understand that in economics nothing goes perfectly and that there are many human factors to consider.

“It’s also interesting how trends emerge from multiple different factors. You can make generalizations using economics, but it is difficult to formulate ideal answers that perfectly capture all aspects of the issue you are trying to solve.” The University of Chicago is home to Freakonomics co-author Professor Steven Levitt. Have you been fortunate to have a class taught by Prof. Levitt in your time so far?

Song: “No, I haven’t! Prof. Levitt typically teaches the upper level students so I hope to be in one of his classes before I graduate.” At what point did you decide to include studying abroad as part of your experience, and how did you manage to do so while staying on track to graduate early?

Song: “One of the main reasons I chose to study abroad is that part of the core curriculum is taking civilization courses for a full year. By studying abroad I was able to complete that sequence in a single quarter. In my case, studying abroad actually helped make graduating early possible.

“I’ve always wanted to experience Europe and because The University of Chicago has a center in Paris, staffed by UoC professors, I decided on Paris as the destination. Effectively, I was still taking University of Chicago classes in a satellite campus located in Paris, which was great.” Talk about what you expected Paris to be vs. what you actually experienced.

Eiffel Tower at nightSong: “Going into Paris I had a very romanticized view. I thought it would be very artistic, that everyone would be out in cafes, drinking coffee. While there was a lot of that when I arrived, it was more similar to large cities in the U.S. than I expected. Many of the stores are the same as what you’d find in San Francisco or Chicago. In our globalized world, large cities have similar elements with unique personalities. The differences weren’t as dramatic as what I expected.” Did you live in dorms or part of a home stay program?

Song: “The University of Chicago has an agreement with an international dormitory in Paris, the Cité Internationale Universitaire de Paris. There were different houses in the complex that are named after different countries such Fondation des États-Unis and Maison des Étudiants Canadiens. In the Fondation des États-Unis the majority of kids were Americans, but there were also students from all around the world.” Did you have a chance to travel outside of Paris when you weren’t in class?

Gondola ride in Venice

Gondola ride in Venice

Song: “During Thanksgiving break I travelled to Italy and visited Milan, Venice, Florence and Rome. Once the program was over I travelled to Vienna for a few days. The architecture was beautiful. Historically, Vienna was the center of the Habsburg Empire, which was part of the Holy Roman Empire, and you could see the grand palaces and houses as a result. Vienna was a grand experience.” What advice do you have for other students considering a semester abroad to get the most out of the experience?

Song: “Arriving in France I didn’t know any French at all, so the language barrier was a challenge. I did take a French course while I was there as part of my curriculum so as time went on the basic things like buying groceries or ordering food got easier. I assumed that more people would speak English, which wasn’t the case, and it was a reminder that I was the outsider in Paris and that I have to act in a way that is consistent with the local culture and customs. Growing up in the U.S. I never experienced that feeling even though I’m Korean and speak Korean at home. I believe that part of my Paris experience helped me grow as a person.” How does it feel to have only two quarters left before you graduate?

Song: “It feels like it’s moving really fast. Right now I’m thinking a lot about graduation plans and what I want to do next. I was thinking about grad school but I’ve decided to go straight into the workforce, which was a major decision. Graduating early was both a financial decision, and also a decision to move past university and experience the real world sooner.

“I’m excited about joining the workforce. I’ve been working at one of the graduate schools in the University of Chicago and last summer I helped develop one of the online applications for applying to the grad school, which was really exciting.

“I’m interested in finance and investment banking at this point, and am currently filling out many job applications.” What advice do you have for students who will be starting college next year that will help them get the most out of the experience?

Andrew with U of Chicago students in Paris

Andrew with U of Chicago students in Paris

Song: “One of the biggest things I’ve realized is that many people go into college pretty set on what they want to do and what they want to study, but I recommend not being afraid that all of that could change. In college, now that I’ve been there several years, I recommend taking a variety of classes. Because I focused on graduating early that wasn’t possible for me. Studying abroad was a terrific experience and did provide an opportunity to take non-economics classes such as African Civilization. So I advise taking a variety of courses and keeping your options open if possible.

“Another thing that I’ve come to appreciate about college is that all of your peers are from such diverse backgrounds, from all over the world. It’s really beneficial to branch out and spend time with people you wouldn’t meet otherwise. Don’t be limited by your major, for example by only being in business-related clubs as an economics major. You should make the most of the resources your school provides and try everything at least once.”