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Debating Double-Degree: Minoring–A Major Decision

October 7, 2021

Ben Smith ’24

With summer now behind me, I’ve had some time to reflect on my first year and visualize what direction I'll head with the rest of my pursuits at Oberlin–particularly with East Asian Studies. In my first year, I learned not only about the Double Degree Program but, arguably more important, about myself. If you’ve read the previous bits of this series, you may harken back to what I described as glorious days of grandeur, discovering the beautiful landscape of opportunities Oberlin has to offer. Everything was so green, so new. Alas, this is still true; there are a lot of opportunities here. But I had no real gauge for what to expect with navigating studies outside of music. During this long (and, I do mean five whole months long) summer, I realized a few things–some fluffily abstract, some plainly logical–all centered around where I currently stand with the double-degree program. 

Now, I love categorizing. It is just a lot of fun. Finding some way to compartmentalize different parts of my life–ooh. That’s some good stuff. It just gives a particular peace of mind unlike anything else. For example, one facet of student life I’ve renovated into a nice, neat mental storage unit is none other than... academic subjects! The reason being is that I’m learning there can be a difference between the types of  “loves” (or passions) you have in your life. And it is precisely this categorical way of thinking that has helped facilitate where my favorite academic subjects fit within my degree plan. 

The first category of love can be used to describe a subject or interest in which you want to learn everything about it–all the ins and outs. The discovery of whatever it is that makes that subject tick: that’s the ultimate goal. For me, music falls into this category. The second type of love is more akin to an appreciation for a subject. Achieving an expert level of understanding–while wonderful–may not be appealing or realistic in feasibility. Nothing wrong with this category. Others might apt to use this label for the things we refer to as “hobbies.” In any case, they are equally important in making each of us who we are. I was in limbo with this idea for a while, but I think East Asian Studies may fall into this category for me. This type of organization is rather superficial, but it helped me leverage my ambitions of pursuing a double-degree option with EAS. Not to worry, though! Pursuing a minor and finding ways to integrate EAS into my musical studies is now a goal of mine and, for this new undertaking, I’m extremely excited!

Now, what was just described depicted the warm n’ fuzzy emotions that coalesced together into a wonderful little package of reasoning for my decision. If this decision was a pie chart, though, this piece of the pie would only total about 40%. The foundation of the decision came in the form of some cold hard truths. That’s right: logic. Honestly, I had doubts about whether spending an additional year to complete all of the necessary course requirements as a double-degree student would be most advantageous for me. I love what I am learning in my courses, but I’ve found ways to incorporate a more interdisciplinary approach to how I engage with music which, to me, is what I find to be most fulfilling and aligned with where I want to take my career. This, coupled with the fact that I can study abroad regardless of whether I am an EAS major or minor, solidified my decision in moving away from becoming a double-degree student. 

Then, with the compartmentalizing complete, what next? I decided to keep myself busy with a few projects over the summer. Primarily, this took the form of learning Korean at a glacial pace. I’ve found some books, made a binder, and collected a few of my favorite flashcard apps to help advance my studying. It’s challenging, but I love it. And let me tell you, it was oh-so-rewarding when I found out I could read and navigate through a solid portion of the Delta TV screen in Korean on my flight back to Oberlin this semester. It’s the little things. Speaking of flying, fleshing out my study away plans was another undertaking… and I am just so excited to say it is seeming like a more and more realistic opportunity! I’ve had a Study Away Advising session and am planning on applying to an exchange program with Seoul National University's College of Music. The application opens in January, and I cannot wait to begin. It’s thrilling just thinking (and writing) about it. I’ve also enjoyed learning lyrics to some of my favorite K-pop songs, texting my friends in Korean, and translating bits and pieces of my phone applications into Korean. 나는 매일 한국어를 공부하려고 노력한다 (I try to study Korean every day)... and every day looks a little different!

So, that is all for now. As a music student, navigating liberal arts courses with what felt like the biggest question mark above my head was daunting. But exploring the unknown is a lot of fun and I wouldn’t have done it any other way. And, besides, the journey is far from over. Until next time~

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