What I would do differently if I could start my English major again.

I tutor for sophomore world literature classes and many of the students I work with are either English majors or looking at becoming English majors. So I often get asked English major related questions like which classes they should take and which professors are easy graders. Yesterday, someone asked me what would have made me a more successful English major and I’ve been thinking about the question ever since. It’s a funny little question, isn’t it? It depends on my subjective definition of success and my feeling like I didn’t achieve enough. But I’ll take a stab at it anyway.

Here’s what I would do differently if I could start my English degree again.

1. Actually do the reading

English majors like to complain about how much reading they have to do, but the reality is most of us don’t actually get it all done. Partly because there is so much of it, partly because we actually have other classes despite what the professor seems to think and partly because English majors turn procrastination into an art form. Whatever the reason, in my early classes, I didn’t always do the reading. I regretted it later when I was thinking about going to Grad school and had to take the GRE for Literature. I regretted it in upper-level courses when the professor would take it for granted that we had read something like Othello and use it to explain a concept in literary criticism. But I also regret it in general conversation. When people argue about how epic Beowulf is or how overrated it is, I cannot join in because I never got past the first dozen pages or so.

2. Visit Professors in their Office Hours

This is especially important if you plan on going to Grad school and are going to need recommendation letters like I did. Professors will know you better if they see you one-on-one once in a while. And it turns out, most professors are fascinating people with a wealth of information to share. I got helpful information on papers, scholarships, on-campus jobs and even the coolest bands in Denton from my professors. It’s a pity I waited until Senior year to start seeking them out.

3. Talk more in class

This may surprise you, but I don’t like talking in class. At all. I spent the first 3 years of college deathly silent in class. I took a class with this one guy 3 times and he did not recognise me when I finally said hi to him in our 4th class together. I was that silent. But in my senior year, I made the resolution to say one thing every class. And once I started doing that, it got easier and easier. But I should have started sooner. What is the point of reading all that work if you’re never going to talk about it? I also learnt what my professors meant when they said my presence brought about a refreshing aspect to discussions. I come from a very different background from my classmates. The whole being the only person of colour, the only non-American, the only cricket-addicted person in the class means I tend to have a different view of things. I remember the day we did Chinua Achebe’s “Civil Peace” in a British Literature survey class. I did a lot of talking that day, but my classmates didn’t have much to say. They could not relate. But I could, and I like to think I helped them with that text.

Man! I feel a little sad writing this post. I miss English classes. I miss writing papers. I miss reading things I never would have encountered otherwise.

So, any English majors out there? What would you differently the second time round?


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