And the Major Is...
I don't particularly like asking people for help. Whether it's due to my independent streak or my stubbornness, I'd much rather puzzle a problem out by myself. However, when I'm really in a bind or trying to make a hard decision, I might ask someone for advice. Even so, when I ask someone for advice, I tend to ignore it, no matter how good or bad it is, and then stew. As one might imagine, that isn't a great decision-making strategy, and yet I've finally (as of about two weeks ago) managed to make the biggest decision I've been faced with this past year. That's right, I've declared a major.
It's not as if I had no idea about what I wanted to major in at the beginning of the semester. I had already narrowed my choices down to English (likely with at least one minor in a foreign language) and comparative literature, but beyond that, I was crippled by indecision. In an attempt to remedy that, I attended the Majors Fair, where I was surprised to have several helpful conversations, the most relevant of which was with Jed Deppman, the chair of the comp lit program1, my Intro to Comp Lit professor, and an all-around brilliant man.
I told him that I was considering a comp lit major and he responded by asking me what I wanted to be able to do by the time I graduated from Oberlin. The first thing I told him was that I want to be fluent in two foreign languages, at which point he cut in and said that alone made me a classic comparative literature major. We continued talking for a while, I told him about my other interests, he told me about the comp lit major, but the most important thing I got out of our conversation was that question, what do you want to be able to do?
Now I don't want to give Professor Deppman too much credit, I've been told to ask myself this question many times. My dad, my former advisor, and Barbara have all told me to ask myself this question on several occasions (seriously the three of you should be friends) but for whatever reason, I actually followed the advice this time! That same night, I went back to my room and made a list. I determined that in addition to being able to communicate comfortably in two foreign languages, I want to be able to read literature critically and for pleasure, to write more clearly and eloquently, and to possess a broad base of knowledge rather than a very specific one by the time I graduate Oberlin. Perhaps more importantly than any of that, I realized that on graduation day I want to feel like I have the skills to do meaningful, creative, and original work after I leave Oberlin and to feel like I have already done some work that could reasonably have one of those adjectives in front of it.
The more I thought about it, the clearer it became that studying comparative literature (which the program website defines as "the study of literature, theory, and criticism across the boundaries of language, nation, culture, artistic medium, genre, and historical period") would give me the best chance of accomplishing at least some of those things. After that realization, all I had to do was choose an advisor (Shout-out to Ida and Professor Boos for the advice on this), get him and Professor Deppman to sign my declaration of major form, and turn it in to the registrar's office.
I know that declaring a major really isn't a big deal. I can change my mind about it a dozen times if I want to, but I think I've made the right decision, and that, my friends, is a beautiful thing. When I tell people about my newly-declared major, my enthusiasm is incredibly obvious. For the past two years, I've honestly dreaded telling people about my evolving academic plans (it turns out that people are really judgmental, who knew?), but now I relish the opportunity to tell anyone about my new course of study. Even now as I type this post more than two weeks after submitting my form, a huge, goofy grin is spreading across my face because even though I hardly know this discipline or even this particular program, both already feel like home.
I suppose that what comes next is the hard part. Figuring out the classes I need to take, deciding where to study abroad, actually completing my coursework and eventually my capstone project - all of that should probably stress me out more than getting a piece of paper signed did. It's going to be a lot of work, no doubt about it, but now that I know how many people are willing to help me out if I ask, I think it might not be so stressful after all.
Just remind me of that in a month or two when I'm freaking out again.
1Comparative literature isn't technically a department at Oberlin since the discipline is by nature interdisciplinary.