Study abroad fuels passion for exploration

Transformative experiences challenge students’ intellectual curiosity

For students in the University of Chicago’s study abroad programs, the classroom becomes temples in China, archaeological sites in the Middle East and museums in Paris.

College students’ experiences challenge who they are—and how they think—in ways that are transformative. A range of faculty-led programming blends the academic rigor and intellectual curiosity that’s central to the College curriculum with the University’s commitment to international education.

“Through their experiences abroad, College students develop new lenses through which to see and reflect upon not just their academic subjects, but also themselves,” said Sarah Walter, associate dean for international education and director of study abroad. “These opportunities give students a more diverse worldview and broader perspective that help them contribute to solving local and global challenges.”

Currently 48 percent of UChicago undergraduates study abroad. In the last academic year, 637 students studied abroad through 59 programs in 32 cities across Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East, gaining cultural fluency and honing language skills while studying a civilization at its center or focusing on a particular theme.

While away from Chicago, UChicago’s Study Abroad office encourages students to capture and share their experiences and adventures as part of its annual contests. What follows are the recently announced winners of the photo and video contests:

A new understanding of tradition

“During this annual parade, which is part of the La Mercé celebrations in Barcelona every fall, participants dressed as devils run through the streets swinging fireworks and dancing,” said first-place photo contest winner Sahil Chatterji. “I joined in the parade with my camera and had my shirt singed from the sparks, but it was worth it for the chance to experience the energy of the festival.”

“Before spending a year in Barcelona, I didn’t give much thought to the concept of tradition,” added Chatterji. “Sure, I enjoyed celebrations with family and friends, but it didn’t hit me how important taking part in collective traditions were for my own sense of self and belonging until I was alone in a new continent. A memory that will always stay with me from my time abroad is during Thanksgiving in November, when I organized an impromptu thanksgiving feast for all my new friends in the city. Since I was the only American, none of my friends were familiar with the tradition of having a Thanksgiving dinner, but they came over to cook, eat, and celebrate together with me, making Barcelona seem a little more like home as we shared a tradition with new friends from around the world.”

The second-place winner was Jack Barbey for the photo “Sunrise on Charles Bridge, Prague.” The third-place winner was Jiamin Liang for the photo “Marseille is raw orange.”

Seeing history

“I have always been interested in filmmaking, so I knew I was going to be taking many videos as soon as I got to Barcelona,” said first-place video contest winner Catalina Parra. “Whenever I saw something beautiful or unique—which is easy to find in an artistic and historical city like Barcelona—I would take a short video clip of it. My idea was to compile as much footage as possible and use an upbeat song in order to cut the clips to see as much as possible in one minute. I hope my video reflects the joy I consistently felt in the vibrant city of Barcelona.”

“I took Mediterranean Civilizations at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Spanish, as well as a culture course where I learned about Catalonian history and Catalán language,” added Parra. “The courses not only helped me improve my Spanish tremendously, as I felt completely fluent by the end of the program, but also exposed me to how Spain evolved as a country. Spain, and especially Catalonia, is a region full of charged history that you are able to see as you walk along the streets. In and out of the classroom, we explored Barcelona and its impact in Spain throughout many years. It was truly special to take advantage of the city culturally and historically as we learned about civilizations and the Catalán language.”

The second-place winner was Andrew Trandai for the video “Les Villes Amoureuses.” The third-place winner was Elizabeth Myles for the video “Ah, Paris!

Study abroad offerings include courses that fulfill general education, major and minor requirements across a range of disciplines within the social sciences, humanities and natural and physical sciences. For more information, visit