Following graduation, International School of Lausanne alumni Marc-Antoine Manzoni attended the prestigious University of Chicago, where he thrived on the opportunity to work with “some of the finest minds and greatest scholars” of the university. Image Credit: Adam Jones

Ahead of our Alumni & Friends Apero event this Thursday evening, we are delighted to be sharing a conversation with Marc-Antoine Manzoni (Class of 2018), who successfully undertook his International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme studies at the International School of Lausanne, before moving to the US to study at the prestigious University of Chicago.

Here, Marc-Antoine thrived on the opportunity to learn and live in one of the US’s most dynamic cities: as a talented jazz musician, he spent his weekends in iconic jazz and blues venues; and, within the hallowed halls of learning, Marc-Antoine particularly relished that the university’s democratic ethos meant that, while still an undergraduate, he nevertheless had the opportunity to learn from some of the finest minds and greatest scholars studying at the university. (It is worth noting that Barack Obama himself lectured at the school during his career in academia, and still visits the campus on occasion.)

We were delighted when Marc-Antoine got in touch with us, and to learn of his success in his studies, with his Honors Thesis in economic history praised by Dr. Kenneth Pomeranz (former president of the American Historical Association) for “advancing knowledge in the field”. Keep reading to enjoy our conversation with Marc-Antoine, and for some words of wisdom which will be of particular value for Diploma Programme students who are starting to reflect on what matters most when choosing a university…

A Conversation with an ISL Alumni

Thank you so much for getting in touch with us, Marc-Antoine; it is always such a pleasure to hear from our International School of Lausanne alumni! When exactly did you attend ISL? 

I attended ISL from 2016 to 2018, so, only for the two years of the IB.

And which Diploma Programme subjects did you take?

After some soul-searching that led me to realize that I did not, in fact, want to study medicine (my original intention), I ended up restructuring my subject choices. I took HL (Higher Level) English Literature, History and Biology, and SL (Standard Level) Chinese Language B, Chemistry, and Mathematics, receiving a mix of grade 6s and 7s. I got both bonus points for Theory of Knowledge and my Extended Essay, for a grand total of 42 points. (Note: the maximum points available at IB DP level is 45.) My subject choices were relatively eclectic, and I suppose one might say they didn’t exactly point towards any particular program of undergraduate study – this is an important point that I’ll talk more about later.

The University of Chicago’s Harper Memorial Library. Image Credit: Rick Seidel (Appendix 1)

What led you to apply to the University of Chicago?

There were a number of reasons. First the University of Chicago is an excellent university. Then again, there are lots of excellent universities in the US. So, the deciding factors were the following…

First, the University of Chicago is famous for its Core Education program. What that means, essentially, is that every student is required to spend their first year-and-a-half taking a range of classes in fields other than the one they plan to major (or specialize) in. That was particularly attractive to me, given that I got to the University of Chicago without a clear plan for what I wanted to study. As part of the Core, I took classes in economics, philosophy, political science, mathematics, physics, neurobiology, history, music, Chinese…Halfway through my second year, and in part as a result of the Core, I decided I wanted to pursue two programs of study – economic history, and East Asian Languages and Civilizations (which, for me, given that I fluently speak, read and write Mandarin Chinese, meant Sinology).

Second, every faculty member at the University of Chicago, from the younger professors to the Nobel prize winners, is required to teach undergraduates. What that means, essentially, is that unlike several other top-tier US universities (here, I’m thinking particularly of the school-that-shall-not-be-named in Cambridge, Massachusetts), undergraduate students get to study with the finest minds and the best scholars at the University. At several other top-tier universities, undergraduates are taught by graduate students, and can only look forward to being taught by the top-tier scholars if they decide to pursue a Master’s degree or Doctorate. At the University of Chicago, we believe that class sizes should be small, and that every student should be able to interact with, and study under, the greatest scholars at the University.

Third, the city of Chicago is one of the centers of the world in the same way that New York, London, Paris or Singapore are. I’m a jazz musician, and Chicago is one of the historical birthplaces of blues and jazz, which meant that I spent my weekends in establishments in which this kind of music is played – places in which the history, culture and musicality of blues and jazz music still live.

As a talented jazz musician, Marc-Antoine embraced the culture of Chicago’s music scene, spending his weekends in venues that first saw the birth of blues and jazz. Image Credit: Elvert Barnes (Appendix 2)

What were some of the most memorable moments of your student life in Chicago?

I was fortunate to meet some wonderful people – ‘my people’ – during my time in Chicago. Here, I include a picture of some friends and I (centre) posing in our graduation gowns. These people, I know, will be friends of mine for life, even if life has, so far, chosen to take me back to Europe.

Academically, I had many memorable moments – the most striking of which being the submission and defence of my Honors Thesis in economic history. I was lucky enough to be supervised in my research by Dr. Kenneth Pomeranz, an incredible scholar and professor, and the former President of the American Historical Association. Having submitted and defended my thesis, hearing Dr. Pomeranz declare that I’d done strong work that advanced knowledge in our field was a moment of great pride.

Marc-Antoine (centre) and a group of close friends celebrate their Graduation Day.

There is also a mural inside one of the University of Chicago buildings that I spent many hours looking at and thinking about. This mural, which celebrates the University of Chicago’s history and mission, contains the following words, which were drawn from a poem by Sir Henry Wotton. The mural reads ‘How happy is he born and taught that serveth not another’s will, whose armour is his honest thought, and simple truth his utmost skill’. That, I think, will stay with me for life, as will the friendships and discoveries I made at the University of Chicago.

What are you up to now?

I now live in Geneva, and work in private banking. I work hard, and I’m learning quickly. Banking in Switzerland is, I think, a kind of education that goes beyond the technical and mathematical aspects of investment banking. There’s a culture, a mindset and a set of traditions that transcends the everyday specifics of the industry. 

Marc-Antoine is now living and working in the beautiful city of Geneva, reflecting that, “Banking in Switzerland is, I think, a kind of education that goes beyond the technical and mathematical aspects of investment banking.” Image credit: Jean-Marc Ferré. (Appendix 3)

What would you say to a student of the International School of Lausanne who dreams of one day attending a top-ranked US university?

Do not underestimate the importance of the ‘fit’ between you and the Universities you’re applying to. There’s no doubt you could go to any one of the top-tier schools, and that you’d receive a fine education, but your approach to applications should be to think “which of these Universities will I find ‘my tribe’ at?”. To answer this question, you have to do your research. There’s no substitute for a visit to the Universities in question – I took a two-week long trip to the US during the summer of Year 11, and visited Universities. This was immensely helpful, and it was as a result of that trip that I made up my mind about the University of Chicago.

Is there anything else that you would like to say to our ISL community?

Feel free to reach out to me with questions about applications, universities and student life. I’ve obviously only attended the University of Chicago, but have friends that came out of (almost) every top-tier University. I guarantee that together, we can have a productive conversation that’ll help you find your school, as I found mine. To illustrate what I mean by finding one’s people at university, here is a picture of me and some friends from The University of Chicago Men’s Acapella – which I sung for four years – on tour in San Francisco.

“There’s no doubt you could go to any one of the top-tier schools, and that you’d receive a fine education, but your approach to applications should be to think: which of these Universities will I find ‘my tribe’ at?” – Marc-Antoine on tour with the University of Chicago Men’s Acapella group.

Thank you for reaching out to us, Marc-Antoine, and for your time and consideration in answering these questions in such depth, and with such thoughtfulness towards current ISL students who are starting to think about their university choices – we are sure that they will appreciate it!

Appendix 1: Copyright Rick Seidel
Appendix 2: Copyright Elvert Barnes
Appendix 3: Copyright Marc Ferré