As I’m nearing my one-year anniversary of moving from Peru (my hometown) to the US (my new home) for college, I often find myself reflecting about this past year. Every year is special in its own way, but this past year was particularly so in the aspect of moving away from home for the first time and officially starting another stage of my life. Overall, I am very happy about the progress that I have made in this past year, and am feeling quite optimistic about my future.
The following are a list of things that I have learned in my 20 years of life, but more so during my first year of college:
The value of a liberal arts education.
For most of us, college is the natural step after high school. It’s where we start to focus our interests in a particular field, with the hopes of honing it into a career. For me, college is more than that. Yes, I absolutely want my college education to provide me with some career path. But beyond that of attending college for a career, I want to broaden my horizons as much as I can. I want to take classes outside my majors, explore non-professional clubs that align with the values that I want to live by, and continue developing the hobbies that express the creative side of me.
A liberal arts education allows me to do this. It has already allowed me to take classes on sociology, astronomy, history of Hollywood, Indian literature on the ancient texts of yoga, and English literature on food (yes, food). They have made up about half of the classes I’ve taken in college so far, and I am tremendously grateful to have taken them. Some of these classes have been challenging and have made me doubt about my choices – but looking back, I am certain that they were worth my time. I may never need these subjects for my career, but they have provided me with a lot of questions to ponder about.
I have also noticed that these classes have ended up relating, in some way or another, to my majors (psychology and cognitive science) – which is exciting! It allows me to step out of the bounds of my majors and see how they can be applied in the real world. Taking astronomy exposed me to the vast complexity of the universe that we live in; reading and watching films about Hollywood taught me how to interpret classic Hollywood films; and the literature class on yoga helped me to understand so much about one’s spiritual self, and to appreciate the practice even more. I love how much I have learned from these classes, and they have taught me that to get an education goes beyond being educated in your career field – it’s about learning anything and everything that you are interested in, as much as you can. This has led me to a second lesson:
A college education may last just a few years, but my education doesn’t.
By the time I graduate from college, I will hopefully be educated enough in my majors (psychology and cognitive science) and minor (Chinese). I will have taken some classes outside my major – but most likely nowhere as much as I would like. But this doesn’t meant that I will stop learning, because I can carry this onto my own life, through – wait for it – books.
Reading a book is like taking a seminar or taking one of those 1-2 unit classes that you take for fun. A book is worth a person’s decades of life experience, condensed into several hundred pages. A book is worth years of wisdom, if communicated well. My love for reading, especially during my gap year, has undoubtedly allowed me to enjoy the classes outside my major that I’ve taken so far. They have both taught me that educating myself is about gaining knowledge, asking questions, and expanding the way I think about the world I live in. They have made me interested in all sorts of topics and subjects, some of which I have never even thought of before.
Now that I know first-hand the value of my liberal arts education, I will do my best to translate it into my personal life, in my free time. I will continue learning more about the subjects that I’m passionate about, and read books that hone such passion. Learning is not something that I will ever ‘stop’ doing; rather, it’s a lifestyle that I want to continue cherishing.
Being true and compassionate to myself.
I know we all have different reasons to choose the career that we’ve chosen. Some of us may feel like we don’t have a choice but to choose the career path that seems most profitable; others may feel like we may not be good enough for that career that we are so passionate about, so we end up choosing one that we think will be best for us (but that we don’t really like). Some of us may not even know what we like, and our indecisiveness leads us to making a choice that we’re not wholeheartedly satisfied with; and a small percentage of us may actually find that one thing that we love, and be lucky enough to pursue it.
If you can, please do yourself the favor of choosing the career path that you are truly devoted to. If you don’t know what that is yet – take advantage of your resources and find it. Explore, discover, learn, and repeat. Even when you think you know what it is, never stop exploring. You owe it to yourself to study something that you can pour your mind and soul into. Don’t let other people’s perceptions of your career choice define you, because I promise you that you will regret it. It doesn’t matter if your interests change 5, 10 years from now – it will work out if you choose to live by your own decisions.
I am very lucky to be able to choose a career path that I am very happy about. My parents have always guided me in my academic career, and though I didn’t always have the freedom to choose what I wanted to do back in school, I am able to do so in college. I can choose all the classes I take and the majors/minors I want to specialize in. My parents know that the most important thing, when choosing a major, is passion. If passion is there, then everything else will work out for the best.
I would be lying if I said that I chose the career path that I am completely in love with, with complete disregard to the functions of our society. I have taken into account my long-term academic interests, my skills, career options, and several other factors to come to this conclusion. But I don’t think I could be happier now. Yes, I have discovered other promising career options since coming to college, but I have also become more certain about my majors. I can both specialize in my majors and be interested in other fields. This leads me to the following lesson:
Adhering to my values, both in and outside class.
Values. I see them as a set of rules to guide my life. I may not know what I want to do after I graduate from college, nor have the vaguest idea as to where I’ll be 5 years from now. But my values will help me guide towards a direction that I know I’ll be happy with, regardless of my circumstances.
In class, I choose the classes that spark my interests and satiate my curiosities. I take into account the difficulty of the classes, of course, but I’m more concerned about how much I will learn and enjoy the class. I owe it to myself to take classes that I like, knowing that my parents work so hard for me to attend college here.
Outside class, I involve myself in the activities that I think will enrich my life the most. One of this decisions has been to join a community service fraternity. It’s pretty much a club where you do social and community service activities with people who want to contribute to the community. Serving others and each other has allowed me to detach (if even a little) for my own egotistic interests and see the community around me with a clearer mind.
In my own time, I devote myself to enriching my soul and body as much as possible. I aim to sleep, eat and exercise well every day. It’s hard to find a balance between these factors, on top of schoolwork and other activities, but I found that it has been possible. I may not be able to adhere to all my values every single day, but so long as I am generally living by them I am a happy soul.
One of the most important values to me right now is to learn. This may not be a ‘value’ per se, but it’s definitely something that I live by. For instance, over this summer break, I want to learn to cook, skate, read, become healthier and stronger, write, among other things. They are skills and things that I’m constantly breaking down into tasks that I can accomplish right now, one step at a time.
I think one of the great things about reflecting about the past year (besides the things that you have learned) is how much you have yet to learn and discover. It allows me to become even more motivated and ambitious about the goals I have set myself, and to pursue them intentionally.