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Love affair with my major

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AUGUST 21, 2014

During my first year of college, I dated eight different majors — history, Middle Eastern studies, sociology, history of art, anthropology, rhetoric, peace and conflict studies and philosophy — all of which gave me some great memories. There were good times with all of them, and they all had my heart at one point or another for a few days, a few weeks or even a few months.

Yet, by the end of the year, the biggest thing that each of those disciplines taught me was that I didn’t want to major in any of them. If I was to devote the rest of my undergraduate career to the pursuit of studying primarily one subject, I didn’t want it to be any of those things. I just wasn’t ready to commit.

And since everyone I’d ever talked to had told me that freshman year was a time for exploring, a time for trying new things and a time for discovering myself, I figured this was only natural.

It seemed OK to be flirting with different disciplines, letting professors and GSIs think I’d major in their discipline, when I really only wanted to find out more about it. It seemed OK that I didn’t have a steady relationship in the academic world, that I was liking the attention different areas of my brain got from studying such an array of subjects.

But for all the carefree ease I projected as I navigated the world of courting my college major, it became difficult. The more involved I became in certain subjects, the harder it was to pretend I didn’t care. I thought I could breeze through that first year, never falling hard for any one major.

Despite my best efforts, I fell in love multiple times that year. I tried hard not to care about sociology. It was just a fling — something light to fill my time, only ever crossing my mind when I was bored. By not giving the texts the close readings they deserved, I thought the message was clear. I didn’t annotate, I didn’t dote, and I thought sociology got it.

Then, one day, over a latte at Cafe Milano, I found myself thinking about it. Suddenly I was interested in the theories, looking forward to when I would see the lectures again, regretting all the attention I had failed to pay to it and all the readings I had skimmed over.

And that was just a fling.

There were nights I neglected everything else and stayed awake until the sun came up again with history. Our time together was everything I could have wanted. At times, I couldn’t think of anything else. My heart would skip a beat as I sat in Wheeler Hall, awaiting the start of the week’s lecture.

There were also the nights when I threw my reader on the ground, full of violent hatred for the subject. The thought of suffering through another lecture became almost too much to bear, and I began to harbor resentment toward the major I had once been so smitten with.

Still, I dreaded having to discuss the details of my relationship with my peers and parents. My relationship with academics was complicated and a bit embarrassing. I didn’t want my parents to think I had commitment issues or for my friends to think I doubted my self-confidence because I gave in so easily to any major that showed me the slightest bit of interest. I was just confused.

And though I often felt lost during my first year at Cal without an academic department to commit myself to, I ended my freshman year confident in my decisions, not regretting a single class and just as undecided as I had ever been.

There is no reason to limit yourself during your freshman year. Advice on finding your major is a lot like the dating advice you’ll receive throughout the year. When you come home, your parents will ask you why you don’t yet have a steady boyfriend. You’ll see pictures on Facebook of your friend at another school’s fling with the hot foreign exchange student, much like your short-lived foray into Spanish. One late night at a frat party, you’ll make out with a guy who’s totally wrong for you and spend the next few weeks trying to forget you ever wanted to study comparative literature.

You’ll go on a date with a cute guy, think it was perfect and wonder why he never called after. You’ll study hard, then fail the midterm you thought you aced. But eventually, sometime around your junior year, you’ll be ready to commit to the guy you flirted with all through that Letters and Science discovery course. You two may have gone your separate ways since, but eventually you will find your way back to each other, more knowledgeable and more mature than ever.

For better or for worse, this is likely the relationship you’ll have with your major. It might be love-hate; you might be on-again, off-again; you might switch into an entirely different college just to make your former major jealous; it might play hard to get by keeping that A elusive until the final — but you’ll still love it.

And so, as I begin my sophomore year, I’ve decided to be an English major. I still haven’t taken any English classes at UC Berkeley, because I thought I had outgrown it when I graduated high school. But I eventually came to realize that English has always been there for me, that it challenges me, that I love it and, most importantly, that it makes me happy.

What more could you want in a relationship?

Contact Rachel Feder at [email protected].

AUGUST 20, 2014

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