Photos by Grace Ren
It’s a little before 8 a.m. and I was standing in the lobby of the MacLean Center, having a conversation with Amy, a Taiwanese transfer student from Parsons, when a handful of upperclassmen wearing yellow T-shirts with people riding tandem bikes on the front appeared from behind the curtains blocking the entrance of MacLean’s center staircase. The newly-emerged faces introduced themselves as our orientation leaders and ushered us up to the gold-and-burgundy-adorned Grand Ballroom (which I later learned was featured in the 1947 film “Miracle on 34th Street”).
As I waited in line for check-in, panic started to set in and a little voice in my head angrily whispered, “What have you gotten yourself into?” This is my first year as a student at SAIC and I was about to march up to complete strangers and ask them for their life story for the school’s newsmagazine. Don’t get me wrong, I love meeting new people, but to say that I was not intimidated at all by my first reporting job would be a huge lie.
“What’s your last name?” A voice from behind the check in counter asked.
“Oh, um, it’s Ren.”
“Which one are you?” He said, pointing at two names on the sheet of paper.
And that’s when I found out that no, I’m not actually an international student but yes, I would be allowed to stay.
Slightly confused and very hungry, I wolfed down a scone and scanned the room for my victims.
Originally Indian but grew up in Oman
Languages: English, French and Hindi
Q: So why did you transfer from Otis?
A: I thought their fashion program, which is my major, was too commercial. It didn’t have as much of a conceptual and interdisciplinary focus like SAIC does. ‘Cause here I know I have the ability to minor in fabric studies and combine a lot of my interests.
Q: What are some of your biggest inspirations?
A: I really like Iris Van Herpin a lot. I think she actually came to speak at SAIC and that idea of contemporary conceptual fashion is kind of what she goes for and it’s very structural and kind of, a little avant-garde. Growing up in the Middle East I looked a lot at how people dressed… how people work around the customs of the country (Oman) and how they choose to express themselves. There are certain things that are deemed appropriate and inappropriate for sure. Especially if you’re in a conservative Muslim country – there’s a certain decorum .
Q: What’s your dream job?
A: I want to be a director of my own fashion company, (I would) probably just (name it) my last name. Keep it classy.
Q: Who is your celebrity crush?
A: Ok so if you watch “The Sons of Anarchy,” you know who Charlie Hunnam is. He’s really hot. He’s British and I think he has tattoos and a beard and really long hair. He looks super-good in the show.
Q: Is there anything you want people to know about yourself?
A: No. I like to keep it mysterious.
Languages: Chinese and English
(Note: This interview was translated from Mandarin Chinese.)
Q: So why SAIC? Why art?
A: I got lucky. My last school was a little traditional but I was exposed to art a bit in that school and felt that it’s my true love. My art history teacher, Terry Lincolns, also inspired me to pursue art.
Q: Let’s talk about your hometown. What do you like about it and what didn’t you like about it?
A: There’s nothing I don’t like, really. I left to study in the states because it’s what people do, you know? My parents and I all thought it was a good idea.
Q: When did you arrive in Chicago? How’s it different from NY?
A: Three to four days ago? It’s different for sure. New York is dirtier and more crowded. There’re too many people in New York and I’m scared of crowds. There are a lot of people here too but it’s nothing compared to NY.
Q: What do you think of the dorms?
A: Uh, kinda bad. Compared to my high school I mean. Compared to other colleges it’s good I guess. Maybe it’s because my high school dorm cost more?
Q: How do your parents feel about you pursuing art?
A: At first they thought it was a little far out but then it’s like, if I want to study it they can’t really stop me.
Q: What was the last dream you remember having?
A: Last night I dreamt that I went to someone else’s house and cooked a meal but then walked out without eating it. I have a lot of dreams.
Languages: English, German, and some Russian
Q: What made you want to pursue art?
A: When I lived in Germany, my friends and family were all like, “Oh, art is not a career. It’s a hobby.” We (my teacher and I) had a really long talk one day and that’s when I decided to do it.
Q: Why SAIC?
A: I wanted to do industrial design and designed objects but I also love painting – that’s my passion – and I want to mix those and I can’t do that anywhere else like I can here.
Q: Are you living in a dorm? How is Chicago compared to NY?
A: Yeah, I live in 162. I live in the loft bed and I fucking love it. It (Chicago) is not as as stressful (as NY), definitely. I feel like living in 162 is like living on Time Square but Time Square would be so annoying to live in, but here it’s not. It’s very comfortable.
Q: What’s your favorite food and how would you make it better?
A: Indian green curry and I’d make it even spicier.
Q: Which Hogwarts house are you in?
Irene (Kyung Yeon) Kim (above) and Eunice (Yurin) Lee
Languages: Korean and English. Some Japanese for Irene.
Q: What’s your favorite thing about Korea? Least favorite?
I: People get energetic and crazy, in a good way, if you’re friends with them but if you’re not they can be a little cold. Because everyone is so busy.
E: My favorite thing is that people work really hard on what they’re passionate about but sometimes people only focus on their studies and jobs.
Q: Speaking of, what’s your dream job?
E: Commercial Designer
I: A painter and a teacher. I really like surrealists. Like Dalí or Marguerite, and Art Nouveau, like Alphonse Mucha.
Q: What would you title this article?
I: Whoa. Um. Random Korean Interview?
Q: What are three things you can’t live without?
E: Korean food, friends and my puppy.
These are only a tiny sample of the SAIC international community, which takes up more than 30 percent of the school’s total population. From India, where students like Rudradaman (Ardy) Singh have “never worn more than one layer of clothing” to Canada, “the true north strong and free,” where the winters can be even more brutal than those in Chicago, people from all over the world are united at SAIC by their love of art. Since we’re on the topic of winters, I’d like to end with a quote from vice president Felice Dublon: “ It’s magic here in the winter. The school is magic, you’re magic. Thank you.”