The University of Chicago has long been a destination for scholars from around the world, whether they arrive as faculty members, students, visiting fellows, or conference participants. Globalization has reinforced that trend: from 2001 to 2011, international students grew from 21 to 26 percent of master’s and PhD students in the Division of the Humanities.

Four current doctoral students spoke to Tableau about where they came from, why they chose UChicago, and what they’re studying.

Beppi Chiuppani is a doctoral student in Comparative Literature who came to the University in 2008 from Bassano del Grappa, an Italian town on the ancient river route leading from Venice to the Hapsburg territories. After studying modern European literatures at the University of Padua, he spent time in the Middle East learning Arabic and later moved to Lisbon to study Portuguese. Eventually he opted to specialize in non-European literatures including Arabic, Lusophone, and Anglophone literature.

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“Pursuing this sort of research wouldn’t have been simple in Europe, partly because comparative literature programs there continue to focus mostly on European literatures, and partly because of the rarity of outstanding research libraries within the European Union outside of England,” says Chiuppani. He cites “the delights of the Reg’s collections,” as well as the flexibility of the UChicago comparative literature program as particular attractions.

Chiuppani’s PhD thesis involves contemporary Brazilian and South African literatures. “By looking at a set of selected texts, I want to propose a theory for the interpretation of the shift from an ‘engaged’ to a ‘post-engaged’ mode of literary writing.” Once anti-authoritarianism was superseded as a driving force for literature, says Chiuppani, “writers began to reformulate their role through a surprising mix of persistence and innovation.” He has also written several novels while in Chicago and plans on returning to Italy to work as a freelance author of fiction and essays.

Arum Kang received her undergraduate and master’s degrees in Seoul, South Korea, where she was born. While she was admitted to several doctoral programs, including those at Georgetown and Michigan State Universities, Kang says, “I knew that the Linguistics program at Chicago was the oldest in the United States and offered one of the best theory-oriented programs. It is also renowned for the Chicago Linguistic Society (CLS), and that was enough for me to make a decision.”

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Kang became an officer at the CLS, which is also the oldest student-run linguistics organization in the United States. The experience was “joyful,” says Kang, and helped her learn about the academic world. “It also helped me feel strongly involved in the department.”

Her years in the PhD program have been challenging. “We are expected to become active researchers as soon as we start our program,” says Kang. “We are taught in terms of interdisciplinary perspectives, not only with coursework but also through several workshops like Semantics and Philosophy. There is a colloquium held almost every week, all open to students.”

Kang presented her papers at six different conferences and won a 2012–13 Whiting Dissertation Year Fellowship in linguistics. Her dissertation concentrates on the semantic and pragmatic properties of definiteness.

“Korean is an article-less language. Although a lot of work has been done on the cross-linguistic investigation of definiteness, it basically still envisions definite articles as being a necessary vehicle of definiteness,” she explains. “The main goal of my dissertation is to provide an in-depth study of definiteness in articleless languages like Korean, Japanese, and Chinese, proposing that these languages have a manifestation of definiteness.”

Tobias Joho was born and educated in Germany. He obtained a Classics degree from Oxford University and came to UChicago to pursue a joint PhD program offered by the Department of Classics and the John U. Nef Committee on Social Thought. During his dissertation phase at UChicago, Joho spent two years in Berne, Switzerland, where he held a junior faculty position in the Classics department at the University of Berne.

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“The joint program between Classics and Social Thought seemed to me the ideal combination for me to pursue my interests at an advanced level,” says Joho, who chose Chicago over Princeton and several other Classics departments. “It allowed me to combine two educational goals: the rigorous philological expertise that one associates with the discipline of Classics, as well as getting a better grasp of a range of post-Classical writers and philosophers.”

Joho says he has found in Chicago “a place where intellectual freedom is valued and where people understand that the specific course of study that an individual pursues should be tailored to their specific intellectual profile and interests.” He says he also appreciates the support from fellow graduate students, both in practical matters (like finding his way around a foreign country), but also intellectually. “We exchange ideas, read Greek and Latin texts together, comment on each others’ papers, or help each other improve our respective [job] application materials.”

Igor de Souza came to the United States from Brazil when he was 18. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, and applied to the University of Chicago in the Committee on Jewish Studies.

“My primary interest was in coming here was to study with specialists in my subfield, medieval Jewish philosophy,” says de Souza, who also applied and was accepted to the graduate schools of the Hebrew Union College, the Jewish Theological Seminary, and Yeshiva University. Even though they offered him substantial stipends, he chose to start a PhD track at Chicago.

De Souza says he felt at home at Chicago immediately. Although the original degree-granting program he entered was small and later disbanded, he found it easy to gravitate towards other departments and divisions, such as the Divinity School and the Departments of Philosophy and Political Science. “I learned how to exchange ideas with brilliant and receptive students, although they knew very little about my area of study. I believe that the distinct cultures of different divisions and departments greatly influence one's trajectory as a graduate student at Chicago.” 

De Souza also held a Whiting Dissertation Fellowship in 2011–12. He also received funding from the Committee on Jewish Studies for language study, and the Chicago Center for Jewish Studies helped fund his archival research. His dissertation is on a set of commentaries on a twelfth-century philosophical summa (Guide of the Perplexed, one of the major works of Maimonides) and the broader issue of commentary as a phenomenon. “I’m interested in why commentaries are written on certain books but not on others. Although the Guide has received much scholarly attention, its commentaries have not fared as well, which is one of the reasons I decided to focus on them, particularly on those written in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.”

Perhaps because de Souza’s cohort was so small, he found himself mixing with a broad range of students in different disciplines. “But I believe that relating socially and academically with students in various fields brought greater breadth to my thinking,” he says. “It challenged me to approach my primary texts in a unique way.”

Photography by Jason Smith

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