Generally speaking, one of the first things people ask me when they find out that I go to Hopkins is, “Oh, so you want to be a doctor?” (Trust me – with my complete lack of tolerance for blood and needles and terrible hand-eye coordination, you don’t want me to be your doctor.) One of the first things people ask me when they find out I’m an English major is, “Oh, so you want to live off of Ramen and broken dreams for the rest of your life?”
Okay, so maybe that’s a gross exaggeration. It’s actually something more along the lines of, “I see…and what exactly are you going to do with that?” which is the politically correct way of expressing some combination of the following thoughts:
a) “I see…So you’re paying several grand a year to be a high school English teacher?” (Yes. You nailed it right on the head. My dream is to babysit a room full of hormonal, pimply teenagers and teach them how to cuss at each other using proper sentence structure.)
b) “I see…So you’re majoring in grammar Nazism with a minor in alcoholism?” (No, I’m double majoring in sarcastic one-liners and gold digging.)
c) “I see…So you want to write books?” (On a scale from one to the Westboro Baptist Church, this one actually isn’t as presumptuous as it could be. But in the interest of full disclosure, I don’t want to write books – I want to read them. And what better way to do that than work in the publishing industry as a senior book editor from Canada faced with deportation who gets to marry Ryan Reynolds in a comedic tale of love’s ups and downs? Oh wait.)
Needless to say, there’s definitely a certain stigma surrounding humanities majors, especially at a school as math- and science-oriented as Hopkins. But one of the main reasons why I chose Hopkins is because of its stellar humanities programs and, now, a year later, one of the main reasons why I love my classes is because the majority of them are humanities classes. And at a point where most of my friends are switching majors/going through existential crises, I’m perfectly happy with my chosen academic track. I feel challenged by professors who are not only brilliant in their own right but also more than willing to help me grow as a writer and a thinker. My writing and methods of analysis have become even more precise, my academic interests even more densely interconnected. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
At the same time, I’d like to consider myself a pragmatist. (I also kind of don’t want to live off of instant noodles seasoned with the salt from my own tears.) Realistically speaking, the career options for English majors who don’t want to pursue a Ph.D make for rather slim pickings. Granted, I have another three years to get my act together and find a job that will fund my ridiculous Starbucks addiction and general day-to-day gluttony. For a while, I considered print journalism because I had been on my high school newspaper staff. But after interning all last semester at a real newspaper, I realized that – despite my positive experience working there – it wasn’t for me.
You’d think that journalism and English would go hand in hand. And in a way, they do. If anything, my internship forced me out of the “Hopkins bubble,” if only because journalism is a field that pushes you outside of your natural borders and compels you to have your hand on the pulse of the city’s happenings as they unfold. Newspaper journalism, in particular, places a very heavy emphasis on timing and relevance – in a field intended to give a platform to the community’s stories, it also seems to trivialize them at the same time. A story is only as significant as the moment in which it happens, and thus news reporting is both a captain of and a victim to sheer timing.
I’m an English major because I love stories. How it’s told and who’s telling it says just as much, if not more, than the story itself. There’s something so fascinating to me about the timelessness of writing, the possibility that a certain line or story can transcend generations. Fiction often poses the question of what kinds of stories human beings can tell, how, and for what purpose. Journalism tends to put a very specific filter on these questions.
Like, for example, the blind Argentine man who used to get on the JHMI every week with his seeing-eye dog. One day, I overheard him telling his new assistant about how his previous assistant left him in the middle of Baltimore and how he almost got assaulted because of it (cue me looking extremely horrified while clearly eavesdropping), how he lost his eyesight over time, how beautiful Argentina is and how he would like to return someday.
In journalism, this particular story would be – for lack of a better word – useless. The subject is too old. There’s no “peg.” But in fiction, this man’s life could be the beginnings of the next great story.
So what exactly am I going to do with my English major? Who knows. Ideally, I’ll be taking over the publishing world with JHU_Tess in ten years and (hopefully) looking as good as Sandra Bullock in a pencil skirt. At the very least I hope I’m not homeless (I know, I know – WOAH DREAM BIG). In the meantime, I’ll keep reading books like it’s my job (I’m currently reading The Other Wes Moore which was written by a Hopkins grad!) and defending my major til I die (see: consoling myself over some Cup of Noodles with this article).