So I stumbled on an article in The New York Times dating back to November 17th, 2002 entitled “For Students Seeking Edge, One Major Just Isn’t Enough“.
And well, I thought to myself, perhaps I should pen down somewhere why I do what I am doing now, in my decision to pursue in effect, a triple major in biology, linguistics and international liberal studies. I’ve had scattered thoughts about it all around, but I’m at the stage now where I can decide to drop the idea and graduate immediately (one nice perk of overloading is that I’ve managed to meet university requirements to get a B.Sc in just two years). Or I can press on, spend the next three years in pursuit of what some might describe as paper-chasing and others as “wasting your time”.
So again, I would begin by considering what university means to me. To me, university isn’t so much about taking classes and enjoying yourself. Sure, that’s great to have, to explore the intellectual interests you want to, but I think there’s ultimately the recognition that university entails a preparation and a training. Not for the workforce, as others might argue, but to think as a person and to get ready to tackle the rest of the intellectual challenges that life might throw down your way. This then leads into my next bit: the point of majoring in something.
Lots of people have told me to just enjoy taking classes ad-hoc in whatever I’m interested in. It’s tempting, for sure. You don’t have to worry about meeting academic requirements, nor do you have to worry about weird professors that have decreed that as a biology student, this esoteric course in statistics is necessary (who needs statistics in biology anyway, eh?) But that’s not quite how I see it either. I can definitely pursue a far more exciting range of classes and interests if I just took what I wanted and cherry-picked my way around things. But the major is important to me, because it represents a course of study planned and designed by people who have far more experience in this field of study than me. I might not like all of it, but it is the best way of making sure that I get a broad view of the basics as much as I can (though admittedly, the second major in English Language at NUS is really so flexible I feel like it doesn’t matter anyway). It’s a way of studying that the university then decides: yep, I will stand by the integrity of this undergraduate’s education in this subject matter at my university.
It’s like how EL2201 (Structure of Sentences and Meanings) was a compulsory course when I was clearing my minor requirements prior to upgrading it to my second major. It’s not exactly the most “artsy” of courses, but it laid a lot of foundational work for syntax and grammar. I might have done less than I hoped for it (I did pretty well on the final, but that wasn’t enough to drag my lacklustre CA grades up enough to make an A), but I felt like it gave me a good taste of what the discipline entailed (and of course, other would-be EL majors ended up changing majors after it). So in that sense, a major represents a commitment towards a field of study: enough that it would lay the basics for future exploration in it, either formally as a graduate student, or perhaps to teach it to pre-university students. That’s why I chose biology as my first major and linguistics as my second major: I wanted to get the firm foundation in biology before heading out to teach it.
So, why international liberal studies? What’s the whole jimgang thing about Waseda about? Simply put: exposure. I wanted a double degree programme to give me more depth. So Waseda made the shortlist simply because it counted as a DDP. But as time went by, I realised it wasn’t exactly what I had in mind intellectually: it was more diffuse than I expected a second degree to be. And my understanding of liberal arts also changed: it wasn’t a field of study per se, but a style of education which mattered. But along with this, I realised that Waseda could make up for it in other ways. A chance to do things outside of my majors, for instance (with all my Year 3 modules in Waseda mapped to something that counts to my requirements in Singapore, only Year 5 really counts). I have no Unrestricted Electives in NUS, USP and then the linguistics major eating them up (or as I say sometimes, I have -15 UEs because I’m going way beyond my 200 MC requirement). But hey, Year 5 doesn’t count, by order from the Registrar’s Office. So Year 5 is when I get to explore other things: business classes, international relations, perhaps?
And there’s the last bit of why Waseda: because it’s 2 full years overseas. I’ve always been chicken about this studying abroad thing. I knew I couldn’t bear to leave Singapore for all that long as an undergraduate (3-4 years abroad felt like forever) and so I only applied to the two Singaporean schools I wanted (guess the one I didn’t want, har har). Being here in UNC Chapel Hill has confirmed that for me: 3 months and I’m missing home so much that small reminders of Singapore stab me right in the heart. But a year in Japan (hopefully) isn’t that bad. Timezone’s closer, culturally I get food I connect more with, and the idea that I’m just an 8 hour flight away that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg comforts me. I will have to spend longer than that abroad if I want to get my Masters and my PhD (if I ever stump up the courage to study even more than now), but this is probably as good a compromise as it gets.
So yes, the plan is more or less set already: National University of Singapore, University Scholars Programme Class of 2017, B.Sc (Hons) in Life Sciences (with a Specialisation in Biomedical Sciences) and a Second Major in English Language, B.A. (Waseda University, Japan).
3 more years of study, 3 more years of slogging. I hope this works out. And I hope it prepares me for to be a better teacher in the future. See you at Commencement 2017, if I make it there.