Every time I tell somebody in my family that I’m working towards a double major in International Relations and African Studies, I’m met with silence, and then “Oh. (Pause). Are you sure you’ll be able to find a job with that degree? A safer option would be (insert science/business/trade education here)”
I usually mumble my answer, giving a vague response about the potential to work for ‘the government’ or a non-governmental organization somewhere, or something. In all honesty, on it’s own, my degree is probably not going to land me my dream job. As most of us know, it’s the mentorship, networks, experience, and extra- and co-curricular programs we involve ourselves in that will help us get our foot in the door. Despite what my family would have me believe about my choices, university, for me, has opened doors that I otherwise would have never known existed. So far, I love my liberal arts education, and here’s why.
Many of the themes in liberal arts courses overlap, and you can cater your learning to match your interests and goals. I’m probably not going to pursue a graduate degree in either International Relations or African Studies. That’s not to say that I don’t love both subjects – I really, really do – but I don’t feel tied down to either. I don’t know what I want to do with my life (and I’m okay with that!) but I’m still gaining a great foundation and strengthening my skill-set. What I’m learning is changing the way I think and see the world, and also the way that I live.
Every discipline looks at the world through a different lens, and my programs of study let me dabble into a really wide range of subjects. It has become second nature for me to question what I’m learning and think about different perspectives. The further into my education I get, the more I can gauge which courses will interest me and which ones will not, and the more I learn to listen to professors – and the world around me – with both a critical and an open mind.
My professors are awesome. All of them. Sometimes I literally sit and think to myself, I’m learning from professionals – people with years of research experience combined with practical experience in their fields. I have conversations with them. Pick their brains. Ask them how they got their foot in the door of their respective fields, especially if they have experience beyond academia.
University – my liberal arts education – has changed my life. It sounds drastic, but it’s true. It’s changed my understanding of myself and the world (for both the better and the worse), and is equipping me with knowledge that will not only change my future, but is changing the way I live right now.