University of Notre Dame
BackgroundInterview Date:April 2019
Gender Identity: Male
Race/Ethnicity: East Asian
Sexual Orientation: Straight
Graduation Year: 2019
High School Experience: Public school in West Lafayette, Indiana with a graduating class of about 160 students. There was a culture of going to college.
First Generation College Student: No
Extracurricular Activities: I am very involved in my residence hall, I am involved in a Christian group called Iron Sharpens Iron, and I also play in the Notre Dame Tennis Club
Did any of your extracurricular activities have a particularly big impact on your experience?
My residence hall and Iron Sharpens Iron have been integral to my experience. At Notre Dame, there is a very specific residential life mission. We don’t have fraternities or sororities here but the residence halls are single-sex and they have that community vibe where you get really close with the guys in your hall and it’s a mix of freshmen through seniors. There’s a resident assistant in each section who is not only in charge of enforcing policy but also fostering a community among the guys in the section. There are a lot of bonds that form through the residence halls at Notre Dame and a lot of my closest friends come from that.
The Iron Sharpens Iron group is where I’ve developed a lot of my faith through the things that we do. A lot of my other close friends are in that group as well.
Can you describe the weekly coursework for your major?
Most of my classes have a problem set each week and then exams. It’s pretty difficult. I’ve had a pretty hard time being a Physics major, but I like it a lot so that’s why I stuck with it.
Is there anything you feel the Physics department does especially well or especially poorly?
There are not too many students per class. In my class, there are 27 Physics majors and, because of that, there is a good community among Physics majors. Everybody knows everybody in the department and they do a good job of fostering that by putting on a lot of different events. They make sure that we get to know each other and stay involved with the department. Also, there’s a very high student to faculty ratio so we get a lot of individual attention from professors which is really helpful.
How would you describe the learning environment? Do you think it is particularly competitive or collaborative?
Most people are very collaborative just because the material is so difficult that we have to work together to understand it. There will always be people who are going to be a little bit more competitive. The campus at large is pretty supportive academically. We are not cutthroat.
How accessible are your professors?
In the Physics department, they are very accessible. I can’t speak for other departments, although most of my professors in the general education courses were pretty open to office hours and different things.
What has been your favorite class in your major?
We take a lot of introductory courses during the first two years and then starting junior year we get into the harder courses, which were definitely hard but I also felt that I was learning a lot of interesting material. So, I would say just the upper-level courses, in general, have been my favorite.
Why did you choose your major? Are you happy with your choice?
I want to do research in Physics. I want to be an actual research scientist, so that’s why I chose it. It was the most interesting topic to me because you’re learning about the universe at a very fundamental level, so I’ve been happy with my choice. I’m actually going to graduate school next year to pursue a Ph.D. in Physics so I can do more research. I’m happy with my choice.
On and Around Campus
Where have you lived on campus?
Freshman: Knott Hall with one roommate
Sophomore: Knott Hall with one roommate.
Junior: Knott Hall in a quad. We had four people living in three rooms.
Senior: Knott Hall in a single.
How do you like the residence hall system?
I’ve loved it. I feel like it’s been one of the most integral parts of my experience here and I’ve really enjoyed it a lot.
How was transitioning from West Lafayette to South Bend, Indiana?
It’s only a two-hour drive so it’s not too far. Notre Dame’s campus is pretty much separated from all of South Bend and we call it the Notre Dame Bubble. We’re not integrated at all. It was hard getting adjusted to the Notre Dame culture just because this college campus has a very specific culture so my first semester was a bit difficult, but overall, I’ve been pretty happy.
Can you describe the level of safety you’ve experienced on and around campus?
On campus, I feel very safe. I also think that being a male helps with that. Off campus, there are some sketchy parts of South Bend, but I have not experienced any danger personally.
Pros and cons of being in South Bend, Indiana?
Pros: (1) It’s close to Chicago. [South Bend to Chicago is about a 2-hour drive.]
(2) It’s close to Lake Michigan.
(3) We have a really cool mayor, Pete Buttigieg.
(4) There is enough in South Bend that you have pretty much everything you need off-campus.
Cons: (1) It’s not that big of a city so people can feel a bit suffocated.
What kind of weekend activities or nightlife do you participate in at Notre Dame?
There are always a bunch of events on campus every weekend. There are plenty of bars around, but I personally don’t go to them a whole lot. There are good bars so it’s not like we’re stuck on campus. There are also a few parties in the residence halls, but I don’t like going to them because they’re often just crammed, and there are also off-campus houses and apartments that will host stuff. The bars are my favorite place to go out if I’m going out. I just go out on Fridays and Saturdays. Some people will go out on Thursdays, but I don’t think I’ve ever done that.
What’s an alternative to going to a party or a bar that you like for a night out?
We have a performing arts center that has a lot of good shows. There are also a lot of different shows put on by the cultural clubs that I like to go to. I’m Korean, so it’s always nice to go to the Korean Students Association’s events, especially if they’re putting on some kind of show with songs, dances, and Korean food. Out in South Bend, I haven’t spent too many non-bar nights but I know there are things to do.
How happy are you with the weekend options? Is there anything you would change?
I’m pretty happy with them. I’ve never felt a shortage of things to do on the weekends.
How did you meet your closest friends?
My roommate freshman year plus a lot of other friends were living close to us in the residence hall are some of my closest friends. I’ve met a lot of my closest friends through Iron Sharpens Iron. Also, even some other Physics majors I’ve gotten pretty close to.
How would you describe the social scene?
The vast majority of Notre Dame students find close friendships in their residence halls because they’re the people you’re living with and there are a lot of community building things that happen within the halls. Outside of that, freshman year you meet a lot of people at parties and, as you grow older, you meet people through clubs and classes.
To what extent do people of different races and sexual orientations mix socially?
That’s a little bit of a problem. We are not as diverse as some other schools and a little bit more conservative because of the Catholic culture. Racially, a lot of students tend to click with people who have similar racial ties. I personally have Asian friends but I have a lot of White friends as well. The sexual orientation part is hard here because there is a lot of pushback from the Catholic culture. I have friends who are gay and I know that it’s not very easy for them to openly come out and intermingle a lot because of that culture. [See Huffington Post article, “The University of Notre Dame is Failing Its LGBTQ Students,” The Observer article, “Letter from the LGBT Law Forum,” and New Ways Ministry article, “Who Should Be Allowed to Speak on LGBTQ Issues at Notre Dame?”]
How would you describe the East Asian community on campus? How strong is it?
It’s strong but very cliquey so it’s a group I didn’t decide to fully invest in because sometimes they can spend too much time among themselves. I have friends in the clubs too, I just don’t spend too much time in it because it’s easy to get caught up spending all of your time with those people.
What is the social impact of Notre Dame being a Catholic school? How strong is the Catholic presence on campus?
It’s not forced on you, so it’s okay to be Catholic and you don’t have to go to mass or anything. But, 80% of students are Catholic so you’re always surrounded by the Catholic ideology. If you purposely choose to not be around that, but, on a whole, it’s present.
How do you like the size of Notre Dame in terms of undergraduate enrollment? How has that impacted your experience? [There are about 8,500 undergraduates.]
I think it’s a pretty good size. I would have liked it if it were slightly bigger because with about 2,000 people in each class you don’t know everybody but you know a large chunk of your class.
Do you think people are generally happy with their choice of Notre Dame by senior year? Do you think people leave loving Notre Dame?
I think a lot of people are happy. Personally, I have been happy. But, I know not everybody is. I think a larger percentage of people are happy with it than not.
Has the alumni network helped you find internships or jobs?
At the school I’m doing my Ph.D. there are two Notre Dame alumni and knew our professors very well. I got connected with them early and I feel like that helped my chances of getting in. It definitely helped.
What have you used the career office for?
I went in for resume help once. I knew for a while that I wanted to do graduate school so I was doing research of the summer instead of internships and instead of looking for a job I was looking at graduate school, so I have not used them a lot.
Have you learned any computer programs or languages that will be helpful professionally?
They don’t teach you much programming in classes, but to do research in Physics you have to know a lot. I’ve done research throughout my undergraduate experience on top of doing classes and I’ve learned Python, C++, and ROOT, which is a more physics specific language.
Have you used financial aid? If so, how easy is the office to work with?
I had a little bit of a tricky situation where there were a lot of more complicated circumstances that the financial aid office had to look into, so it was a little bit more difficult for me and I was not very happy with it at first. Since then, they’ve been alright. People get frustrated with financial aid pretty easily because it’s a lot of money they’re dealing with. On a whole, think they still do an okay job.
Advice for Prospective Freshmen
What is something you wish you knew about Notre Dame before entering as a freshman?
Because of the lack of diversity both racially, religiously, and other ways, there is a very homogenous student body. I’ve been able to navigate that well enough, but I think somebody who doesn’t identify with the White, Catholic, upper-middle class person can have a hard time here. It would have been good for me to know that before coming in. [Socioeconomically, 44% of students come from the top 5%. About 67% of students are White.]
What is something a prospective student may miss on a visit that’s worth checking out?
If possible, stay with a current student because it would give you a sense of how students live and go about their business. Students are required to live on campus for three years, so you’ll get the experience of what it means to live in a residence hall and the community students from there.
Reasons to attend Notre Dame:
1) You get a very good education and the professors are very good.
2) The alumni network is really strong.
3) Although the student body is homogenous, it is very cohesive. People will meet some of their closest friends here.
4) I’m a big fan of the residence hall mission here. I think it’s very beneficial to live in the hall for three years and get really close with the guys with you because they push for that.
5) If you’re Catholic or Christian, there are so many formative faith opportunities here
Reasons to not attend Notre Dame:
1) The closest big city is Chicago and South Bend is definitely not a big city so people struggle with that.
2) The student body can be very homogenous and White, Catholic, and upper-middle class. If you need people with more diverse backgrounds and ideologies, then it might not be for you.