Unlikely English Major

I never thought I’d be an English major. Although I liked to write as a child, I had never enjoyed reading and as a child often had difficulty finding a book to borrow from the library.  The Short Story class I was taking was enjoyable but I didn’t see how it related to life. Who reads short stories other than academics and students? I needed to find a practical major. Two years of searching had left me disappointed and directionless. I was no longer looking for a dream job or a career. I had given up on that. I just needed a major.  And if I couldn’t find a major that provided a path to a job title, at least I needed to study something that would impact my life in the long run. And so I chose English, not because I loved literature and writing, but because I thought I would improve my writing ability, a skill I could transfer to a future career, whatever that would be. I was not particularly content with my situation.  The lack of certainty surrounding what I’d do with an English major made me uncomfortable. I was at Plan C and had to live with it.


Sophomore year summer I took an English class at UCI. Since I was late in declaring my major, I needed to make up some units in order to graduate.  The only course offered through Open University at UCI was Contemporary American Poetry, so that’s what I signed up for.


The class wasn’t what I expected. Instead of analyzing and writing papers about abstruse poetry, we attended in-class poetry readings by local poets whose poetry we had been assigned to read. Again, I was sat riveted in my seat the first week of class. I had the same feeling I had in the Short Story class but the feelings of empathy and belonging were even more intense. Flesh and blood poets poured out their souls, talking about their work and answering questions. I connected with them and felt strangely awake. The course also required that we keep a poetry journal where we were to reflect upon the poetry we were assigned to read and perhaps compose some of our own. The poets wrote about their experiences so I wrote about mine. Years of unprocessed pain–sadness, shame, disappointment, confusion, anger, frustration, loneliness, angst all began to emerge. The constraints of poetry provided aesthetic boundaries for my random, disjointed thoughts and I experienced the pleasure of creating something beautiful. I had strangely stumbled upon something meaningful and very “me”.  I had found in writing poems a voice and piece of my identity.


I showed some poems to my best friend, May. She hated them and asked why I was so bitter. Me, bitter? I was shocked at her statement. It was the first time I had realized the amount of negative emotion I harbored. I had been hurting and needed to forgive. I was broken and needed healing. I began to process my pain. That revelation would prove to be a major turning point in my young adult life.


At the end of the summer I remember receiving my grade for the course. It was an A. Although it was a relatively easy class, I noticed something odd and unfamiliar as I looked at the A. I was smiling, even laughed. I felt happy.


Questions for Discussion: What do you think about my rationale for choosing a major? Have you ever made a life-changing discovery when you weren’t even looking for it?

Shooting Arrows in the Dark

My dad didn’t want me to transfer out of Stanford and accepted my decision not to be pre-med. But my parents’ disapproval weighed heavy on my shoulders. It was the beginning of sophomore year and I needed to declare a major. Even more, I needed to prove I knew what I was doing when in fact I did not.

Lostness at the Top

Declaring my major for the newspaper is a disturbing memory. What if I had written undeclared? Would I have been better off exploring my interests in high school than stacking up achievements? If not afraid to disappoint my parents, what major would I have written down? My interests then were languages, travel, psychology, and activism. I wanted to help people. But I could not connect my interests with careers, majors, or potential “jobs out there.” What types of a careers were out there? What could I possibly be or do? I wish I had more insight back then.  Could someone have helped me? I don’t know. I didn’t have the resources within myself to figure these things out.
It is not that I hadn’t put any previous thought into it. I remember coming upon a brochure about an Asian American mental health/counseling clinic. (Rare at that time.) I could feel my heart beat faster as I picked it up. It resonated with me. I could picture myself working in that field. I showed it to my parents in a courageous moment of vulnerability. They responded  something along the lines of “you don’t want to go into psychology or you will go crazy.” After that conversation I folded up the brochure and tucked it away. Looked at it once or twice and then never again.
There was another moment in high school when I thought I had moved closer to finding direction. I had taken a personality/skills inventory which was supposed to match students’ personalities and talents with potential future careers. I remember the hopeful suspense of waiting for test results and the disappointing reveal: Iron Welder. Iron welder? A door opening to a brick wall.
So as a graduating senior I had four pieces of information when it came to deciding on a major and  a future career:
  1. My parents want me to be a doctor and I needed to be obedient.
  2. Counseling or mental health was not an option.
  3. What I am interested in does not translate into jobs.
  4. Interest and personality inventories are seriously flawed.

Questions for Parents: What information do your teens have when it comes to deciding on a major or contemplating a future career?