Alum Interview: QingFeng Chai

by Sneha Ramshanker and Amy Oh

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On December 15th, ASW alum QingFeng Chai visited ASW to share what it is like being a student at the University of Chicago. 

Is there anything you miss about high school?

I think one of the biggest things was the familiarity because I’ve been in high school for 4 years and it stayed with me for all 4 years. It was nice going around knowing everyone. I guess in college, at least in my college, I think there’s 1600 people in my class so it’s really hard to know everyone. I liked being in ASW because of the sense of community.

And.. I think high school for me was easier than college


Was high school all good memories, or were there any bad things?

I feel like the bad things are still there in college. A lot of homework, sometimes procrastinating my essays. If there’s one thing, I guess we have more freedom in college. There isn’t a fixed schedule so you don’t have to spend time in classes if you don’t want to.

You can just miss classes?

Yeah you can miss classes. Most of them are lectures, so you can just study on your own.

How are the classes different in college?

Most of the times, we don’t do exercises in class in physics or math – it’s all on your own. I think that’s what is most different from high school because in high school you do some problems in class and you take homework to work on your own.

How is college life?

How’s college life… I think it’s really nice. In the beginning, the transition is a bit…different. In the very beginning of the quarter, it felt like a summer program when you go to university because you have a lot of work and freedom so you go downtown, explore, which is nice. I feel like the transition for me was quite smooth. You just get more work. I really like it because though I have a lot of work, I still have time to socialize. In college, you don’t live at home so you always see your friends. I like that part.

So moving to a new place was fine in general? Or did you feel homesick…

Sometimes I was kind of homesick. Once time dried out, I realized how nice it was that my mom always cooked dinner for me and things like that, how I would have my siblings around.  Someone always drove me around, but now I have to walk.

Is there something you regret not doing in high school?

I regret not learning coding actually. I knew that coding was really important. I learnt a bit. But it was just basics – I was in robotics. We did some programming and I did the coding club. But I feel like I never really mastered the language because in college a lot of job positions or research opportunities require coding knowledge because it’s useful. And I never realized how useful it would be.

What is the one advice you would give to ASW students about college life?

I think it’s always important to be open to new things. Especially when you make friends, you have to – you don’t have to – but it’s nice if you’re open. If someone talks to you, don’t be too shy because in the beginning, everybody is new so everybody is kind of trying to make friends as well. We have a core curriculum at UChicago, which pushes me already to explore new subjects, which is really nice. In high school, we don’t have a lot of classes to choose from, but there a lot of things we haven’t… we don’t have philosophy classes, we don’t have political science classes, or classics. It’s nice to have these kinds of classes on the side as well.

What advice would you give the students of ASW regarding the college application process?

Well the first one is not to procrastinate. I mean it’s really hard to follow that advice–especially because I procrastinate a lot too–but what I have learnt is that when you don’t procrastinate, you have time to look over things again from a different perspective. Also, it is nice to not have that pressure. Another thing is, and I know it sounds a bit cliche, to be yourself. I remember that I tried really hard to sound like an ideal applicant but my most successful application when I was trying to be myself. So, for the UChicago Application, I added some of my quirky humor and used my own voice.

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