Watching the kids come to NUS for Open Day was like some deja vu. I remembered the blur and overly enthusiastic (still am) me, walking into the MPSH at NUS University Town looking for answers to my future. I was confused because for me, it was like options galore and I had no idea what I wanted and what NUS Lit/History/whatever-I-wanted-to-do-then was about. Fast forward to today and it’s one year, how fast time has passed. I picked up a tag and decided to answer questions, like how seniors talked to a confused me last year and gave me some directions and a little more clarity in my thoughts. Here are some thoughts/reflections.
I got really annoyed at an individual who, with his daughter, came to ask about English Literature and European Studies. The first thing that got on my (and the professor’s) nerves was that – this was her open house (his daughter’s) NOT his. But she never at once had a chance to talk, even when Prof asked her questions directly. These questions were asked with the aim of helping to tailor the advice/comments to her specific need. Prof asked things like – what exactly are your interests. The question was posed to her 3 times and every single time, her parent would answer for her. It got to a point where it was plain frustrating. Furthermore, for that whole 10-15 minute period, we were unable to not just elicit responses from her (make that A response) but her parent said: oh she has no particular interests. At that point I got incredulously annoyed, I was so close to just asked him to let her speak but I could not. The second thing that frustrated me was how he shot down all the ideas that the prof was giving to her. The context was that the child had a certain proficiency in a foreign language and was wondering what course to take that it might be useful. He told us she wanted to take a science related subject and asked if she was then able to use whatever she had learnt in that language in any way since she was studying that subject. It took a lot of coaxing to bring him to a point to understand (I’m not sure he did) that the language is a ALSO an add on to have to one’s corpus of knowledge and that it is not just something that must be USED and must be job-related. However she said that if the parent was so hard up that those language skills be used, the prof was willing to look into a tailored special program for that child. The only problem (the greatest of all) was that she was unable to ascertain ANYTHING with regard to whether the child was keen on that or not and the longer the father dominated the conversation and subtly kept directing the child to see that she must do something with what she studied and that she had to do something to do with biomedical science etc… The prof and I shared this really pained look that totally explained how much we were sore that the kid never had to ask anything even if she wanted to, or make decisions, or even ask about options and such like.
The next thing that annoyed me was how parents kept asking me what job prospects would there be with whatever I was studying, because I was clearly wearing the tag that said: English Literature/European Studies. First things first, I have to say, it is a perfectly valid and very important question to ask in the light of one’s future and such like. I realized that the fact that this question was asked shows that we’re a very job-oriented society. It made me sad that people don’t study things simply because they love to do it, because they understand that something you study is not just for the certificate, that it is not all about the grades. But it is about the experience, the soft skills, the wonder and beauty that these arts place in your hand, the methods and frameworks to understand people, places, contexts, time, art, poetry. It saddens me that everything like these is somehow undermined at the prospects of NO JOB OFFERS. I explained to parents and kids alike that these are the gains from studying the arts, it is less the tangible gains per se (even though I am sure that there will be jobs OTHER than teaching okay STOP the stereotype for heavens sake it really makes me mad) and more the intangible gains you get.
BUT it was not all bad, as the day winded down, I met a few groups of people that really pleased me. As if to bruise my sore heart about (1), I met a mother and daughter pair that asked me about my English Lit experience and the curriculum and some normal questions. After that, she asked why did I take Lit and when I told her (the mother) she told her daughter – these are really interesting perspectives, why not go and try what she (referring to me) said, and maybe you will form your own experience. I am seriously so thankful for parents who allow instead of putting pressure and their own (more often than not), ignorant inputs into their children’s decisions. I mean honestly they aren’t the ones studying and going through the rigour of 4 years worth of hard heartache. I think the least they can do if they really want their children to do something they aren’t keen on is explain to them their rationale, and ultimately leave the decision to their children. It sucks to see some of my friends constantly in a state of frustration and angst because they are doing something that is what they call ‘practical’ or doing something because their parents asked/told them to.
There were some girls that asked me about uni life as in non academics and as I shared some of my experiences with them and others, I came to realise how much, just how much I had grown in these 2 semesters (1 and a half, technically). From that scared child that was constantly afraid of what others would say and think of my decisions and choices, I became this independent thinker that made decisions for herself based on her convictions and principles. I became more bold to try new things, to take risks, to venture forward on paths I did not know whether would lead me to what I wanted to do. I gave myself opportunities by being less afraid, trusting God, the people around me, and my instincts. It paid off handsomely and I am really thankful it worked that way. I shared with people that they must be willing to take risks and try majors/subjects/modules they have absolutely no background on if they read the synopsis and find it interesting. I told them that it never hurts to make mistakes and fail and learn from them. University is the last time you can make mistakes and have the space to learn before you go into the working world and get eaten up there by societal pressures. The learning curve is steep in uni, so, so steep for me, and I am always grateful.
There were some people with a deep passion and enthusiasm not just for the academic side of things that I was handling, but also for life, for university. In a way I sense that excitement in them because I was once like that. I still have it, but it now resides in me in a more thought out and spaced out way. I hope that the freshman that come in do have as great a Y1S1 as I had.