Oberlin Blogs

Debating Double-Degree: First-Year Seminar and A Ramble About the Future

February 5, 2021

Ben Smith ’24

With spring semester now in session, I have found myself at an introspective juncture, simultaneously excited for the future yet hesitant about how I will navigate it--especially with a future that is in constant flux. During this time, I have questioned where I see myself heading with my studies. I applied to college knowing I wanted to pursue flute performance, so now the mere contemplation of a change to that original plan has put my indecisiveness in a real bind. It is not like I have to make this decision tomorrow, nor is it a decision that will alter the course of my life in some overblown way. At the same time, college doesn’t last forever, so taking advantage of as much as I can seems like the most rewarding way to spend my time.

As my first-year seminar--Contemporary East Asian Cinema--came to a close, I reflected on my first semester with a lot of joy. Being vulnerable yet brave here: I had no idea what to expect when registering for Contemporary East Asian Cinema. Since it was a first-year seminar course, I understood the general gist would consist of discussions and writing assignments based on the films we studied. While registering, though, my main concern was being able to contribute to these discussions--both as someone who struggles with speaking up and someone who would not have described themselves as being well versed in film at all. Nevertheless, the course sounded intriguing to me in the moment, so I decided to go for it. And now, while I have accepted that I might not ever be a film buff, I am extremely grateful I took the course and can say I appreciate a lot more about what goes into making films. Perhaps the biggest takeaway for me, however, was being able to learn from my wonderful professor: Professor Hsiu-Chuang Deppman. She was always so radiant and really made the class environment feel open and welcoming--despite the
8:00 a.m. exhaustion. At the end of the semester, I had the amazing pleasure to meet with her and discuss study abroad, grant writing, and the future, all while learning about her time being a professor here at Oberlin--more specifically, how she has made the most of her experiences and continues to find inspiration in her day to day interactions with students. In essence, we just had a conversation, but it was the sort of conversation that you don’t know you need until you’ve had it. For me, it was an opportunity to hear a perspective I didn’t know I needed, leaving me feeling rejuevenated with a newfound sense of inspiration. 

Pursuing a passion can be daunting, but there is something to be said about continuing on in spite of it. With study abroad becoming a more and more real possibility now that my first semester is behind me, I’m itching with excitement. Though, when asked the simultaneously simple yet scarily open-ended question, “So, what do you want to do in the future?” my jumbled answer, a scavenge for words to describe something I didn’t fully understand... well, it wasn’t graceful--and that much I do know. Between flute, Korean, and writing, I understood vaguely where I saw myself heading, but my response felt rather all over the place--a cluster of various possibilities void of a connective bridge that married them all together. Professor Deppman put it to me like this: “A lot of things in life happen accidentally. Once you try it, you may discover something you love. Your interests are often interdisciplinary in nature--Korean and music for example.” Nothing about my thoughts was necessarily wrong or invalid, but I was so wrapped up in trying to force some way to connect all of my interests through some broad, easily comprehensible avenue that I couldn’t nail down an answer at all. Chin up, though! I’ve accepted that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it will just take some exploration. Pursuing East Asian Studies may be a bit daunting to me right now, but I have to remind myself that “while trying new things encounters failure, the experience can be life changing." [Thanks to Professor Deppman for that one. :)]

Aside from the fun talk of the future, our discussion about applying for grants was particularly insightful and not in the way I had anticipated. While a grant proposal is the practical, mundane, and logistically stressful counterpart to a hope-filled possibility, it is equally important in making said possibility become a reality. There are many steps in taking an idea to the next level, and funding is usually one of them. Grant writing is a process I have yet to go through, so I cannot speak from personal experience, but from what I’ve learned, it is critical for fully fleshing out an idea--akin to the detail work in a big picture. Before getting into the logistics, though, there is one particular detail which ought to be considered first: your premise (i.e. what you want to study). Seemingly intuitive yet requiring a need to be oddly articulative--it’s a fundamental step. Professor Deppman said it best: “You have to convince yourself before you can convince other people.” As of right now, I am still finding just the right words to describe my specific intentions for wanting to study abroad. It’s tweaking little things here and there, but it’ll make a big difference once I hone in on a cohesive way to organize my thoughts. In order to truly convince myself of my own cause, it’s going to require some additional research, then followed by the detailed logistics and a thorough plan. So, until next time, I’ll be doing some studying.

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