Debating Double-Degree: My Interest in East Asian Studies
November 16, 2020
Ben Smith ’24
When I applied to college, the one thing I was sure of was my intent to major in flute performance. In all honesty, it was the only thing I could see myself pursuing, and it had been that way since eighth grade. No other subject excited me nearly as much as music did and, as I progressed through high school and explored other subjects through various classes and clubs, this feeling didn’t change.
Of course, I tried to keep an open mind when exploring. I was part of my school’s Technology Student Association for three years (granted, I did it because my friends were in it), and I went on to take AP Computer Science Principles (which said friends also happened to be taking); however, these efforts to push myself out of my comfort zone only furthered what I thought I already knew: I’m just going to stick to music.
So … what’s all this about East Asian Studies (EAS)? Pursuing a double-degree? A minor? To which I can only say: I’m still figuring it out.
Once I decided to come to Oberlin, I knew there would be a plethora of opportunities for me to explore subjects that I did not have exposure to in high school. I have done taekwondo since I was six and had gradually found myself growing an interest in Korean culture as I got older. There is a rather large Korean population in the Metro-Atlanta area and many of my friends are Korean, so I was exposed to the language (to an extent), food, and pop culture frequently - all of which I really enjoyed, resulting in an eagerness to learn about Korea in a larger, holistic context.
Prior to this growing interest in Korea, I had a strong desire to study abroad. I distinctly remember it being on my eighth grade bucket list. At the time, I had set my sights on Japan because of their wind ensemble programs—all the way down from elementary to collegiate groups—which, at the highest level, are incredibly inspiring (if you enjoy wind ensemble and are unfamiliar with Japanese band culture, I highly recommend looking into the All Japan Band Competition . You will not be disappointed!).
Were I to have seriously pursued a study-abroad program, I knew the bulk of the research would have to be self-motivated since my high school did not have any study-abroad opportunities available. But, by the time I decided on a program that could work, I was becoming more and more serious about music and had to consider what the tradeoffs would be if I were to study abroad for a summer. What ultimately postponed my plans were two-fold:
There was no way to ensure I would be studying at a Japanese high school with a band program (though, to be fair, there was a high chance since band is a large part of Japanese culture), and
I did not have much Japanese under my belt and, other than the study-abroad program, I had no deep desire for learning the language.
Despite all this, my interest in studying abroad never went away. My plans were put on hold—not thrown out entirely. It was around this time that my interest in Korea began to take more shape. I had the opportunity to learn about military bands during my junior year of high school and how there is the ability to serve in South Korea. The idea of this was fascinating and encompassed much of what I was interested in pursuing professionally.
During my time learning about the field, I was able to shadow and play with the Georgia National Guard's 116th Army Band. This led to me being given the option of auditioning for the band, but being that I was soon to go into my senior year of high school, I decided to wait, knowing that a career in the military will remain an option even if I did not audition then.
So, back to Oberlin.
All of the talk about Oberlin being a wonderful option for double-degree students got me thinking: What if I could pursue an area of study related to Korea? What if I could study abroad there? As I looked into these possibilities the summer before my first semester here, I was excited to find these possibilities were not just mere ‘‘what ifs.’’ A quick glance on the Oberlin EAS department website gave me much of the information I needed and, coupled with a few question-filled emails to the EAS faculty, I learned it was quite feasible for me to pursue EAS with a concentration in Korean Studies while also studying music; in fact, I felt rather encouraged to do so from both departments—my flute professor and the EAS faculty.
With all this in mind, I figured, if there is a way to combine my interest in Korea with my passion for music, then I should just go for it, right?
Which is what I am doing now!
I’m taking classes that fall under the EAS degree requirements if I do decide to pursue the double-degree track, but, if not, they are still classes I enjoy and am happy to be taking. Oberlin has a really wonderful culture defined by its intellectual vitality. I was inspired before I had even gotten on campus. As someone who applied as a conservatory-only student, I was apprehensive about whether I would be able to become double-degree and what that would entail for my musical studies. But, going into my first semester here, I felt so encouraged knowing I would be supported in whatever I chose to pursue—whether I ended up on the other side with two fancy pieces of paper or just one.
It is still very early in my college career, so of course there is no rush to figure everything out now. We will see what happens!