We all feel the need to reinvent ourselves sometimes. Or to at least finish the sentence, put the final dot and turn the page. There’s nothing better than a new, crisp, white sheet of paper, is there? Better yet, it usually comes with the anticipation of taking out your colouring pens and decorating the white canvas with new, exciting illustrations.
Well then, metaphors aside, this post – the first post on my new website – is all about these illusive new beginnings.
I have been blogging for some years now. I might earn the badge of laziest blogger ever though, since I only ever managed to upload a few times a year. The reason behind this was not because I simply did not feel like writing a blog post, but rather that I was preoccupied doing other things – being a student, mainly. However, the time has now come – and in all honesty, part of me never thought this day would arrive – that I am not a student anymore. Oh yes, my student days are finally over.
Although many people would rejoice even thinking about being done with it all and settling down to a job, I actually never looked forward to this moment. I have always thoroughly enjoyed going to uni. Through the essays, weeks on end of doing homework and studying, and the mental breakdowns that came with it, I still managed to love being a student.
Of course we all know that being a student is much more than just being crushed under the weight of a 1000 books. There’s parties. There’s nights out with friends. There’s coffee dates. Library dates. Gym dates. All the dates imaginable to man (even dissertation dates, the worst kind in existence). Moreover, there is that feeling I used to have of being part of something great, a sense of community of being all in the same boat (roughly).
Ever since I stopped having classes this spring, that sense of community has gradually disappeared. I finished up my dissertation during the summer, and officially graduated two weeks ago. Four years, two degrees, and I feel fulfilled. I get to call myself a Master of Arts, and that is pretty damn cool.
The first aim of this post is to pay attention to my graduation day, which was probably one of the most memorable days of my life. As a graduate from the University of Kent, my ceremony was held at the Canterbury Cathedral (only one of the most beautiful cathedrals I have ever visited). Clearly, this was a treat in itself. Furthermore, I am just not used to the way graduation ceremonies are done in the UK. In the Netherlands, it is all rather standard. You sit in a room, get your paper, you get out. The ceremonies in the UK are of a much larger scale, with more attention to detail and a tremendous effort to stay close to traditions. As a result, you are made to feel very special.
Getting to wear that cap and gown felt like an accomplishment in itself. It’s not every day that you get to dress like a character from Harry Potter, strutting through the gate of Canterbury Cathedral.
The best aspect of the day however was getting to share the experience with friends and family.
Although the ceremony was great and I could probably go on and on about it, I want this post to be more than a reflection on just one day. Instead, I want to take this opportunity to reflect on the four years I spent as a student at several faculties of arts/humanities, and what those years have taught me. As a student of English and film I am not unknown to the comments and questions from people who are (often silently – which I do appreciate) wondering why on earth I chose to study those subjects, and what career path this will take me on. There is this idea among some people that having an arts degree will “get you nowhere” – insert joke about working at McDonalds for the rest of your life.
When it comes to these questions which are usually formulated along the lines of: “but what job can you do with your degree?”, the truth is that there is no straightforward answer. Personally, I think this is both the glory and the difficulty of graduating in the arts. On the one hand, there is opportunity. You have a wide variety of career paths to choose from – which, I admit, is not something that is solely linked to arts degrees. However, I do feel like graduating in economics or politics gives you a straighter idea of which field you are going to end up in. The arts is more like a wildcard. For example, with my two degrees I could go work for a publisher, train to become an English teacher, work as a translator, or find a job in the arts and culture sector that has a link – any link – to literature or film. As such, I could end up working for a film festival, but just as well land a job at an advertisement agency.
However, as I said, there is also difficulty. What’s even more tricky is that this difficulty is directly linked to the widespread variety of things I could end up doing. The thing is, I believe I have acquired a lot of useful skills over the years, but you have to be able to market them in an attractive way, as again, they might not be very straightforward. Say for example that you are great at interpreting texts, which is an asset if you want to want to enter the world of writing or publishing. However, it is all about proving yourself, and actively pursuing those goals you want to reach. Sadly, jobs are not simply handed to you, and you will have to actually put in the effort to get where you want to be. Granted, that is not the easiest thing.
Returning to my personal experience of studying in the Humanities/Arts departments, I want to highlight some of the most important things that I have learned along the way. Going to university made me look more critically at things that I thought I knew and understood, and helped me to form a new, and I’d say better, opinion about a great variety of things. As such, I did not just benefit from the experience academically, but also on a personal level.
For those of you under the impression that studying English means reading dusty, 1000-year old books I must disappoint you greatly. Of course, we do read the books – although the cheaper, 5 pound editions – but it does not just end there. Looking at stories within their context in history, I have gotten a much better understanding of the processes and events which have structured the world as we live in it today. I never understood people who looked at old stories as irrelevant old rubbish. We can learn so much from the past, which is something I think we would be very wise to not forget in this day and age (2016- I am looking at you, what have you done.)
In many ways my arts degrees challenged me to look beyond what seems to be there at first glances, and get to the meaning behind it. Whether this came from studying old Romantic poems or reading wacky Gothic stories like the Castle of Otranto, these skills are so easily transferred to other aspects of life. It was a valuable tool for me to start forming clearer perceptions and ideas about many aspects of my own life. Ultimately I believe it helped me to form opinions that are entirely my own, for which I am very grateful.
If I were to put what I have learned in a more concise list of skills, there are a number of things worth mentioning. Firstly, and to sum up some of the things I mentioned previously, you are taught how to think critically. Also, you learn to do some damn good research, as well as gaining a lot of general knowledge, and learning a great deal about people. You are taught how to see things from a wide variety of perspectives – thank you literary theory – and become a pretty skillful writer (as well as inventor of catchy subheadings, just saying).
Personally, all these things brought me something else, which is very valuable in itself, and that is a huge boost of confidence. That newly found confidence helped me a lot during my initial move to England, which was very very exciting, but also rather scary. However, it turned out to be the start of even better things to come. I got the opportunity to really dig around and find out what my interests are, and meet like minded people along the way.
Now, to conclude this lengthy ramble: here’s to you, my four years happily spent studying arts and culture. I will consider this post to serve as a nice ending to a big and important chapter. Time for other stuff now.