Last month, my mom called me in a panic, wondering how I would possibly survive after college given my course of study. At first, I was annoyed. But, then it caused me to panic. I began doubting my education and my choices. What am I going to do after graduation? Why did I come to Hamilton College? Should I have majored in history? Is what I am learning valuable?
I applied to Hamilton College partly because there was not an additional writing component. I only had to submit the Common Application personal statement. In high school, I was terrified of writing. English class was difficult for me; I could not understand how to write a thesis sentence, nor did I ever participate in class. Formulating arguments and articulating them verbally or in writing was daunting. Yet, I ultimately chose to study at Hamilton College because I knew that it was the right place to cultivate my writing and communication skills.
My first history course, Europe & Its Empires, started out as a disaster. I took it because I had AP credit and wanted to transfer the credit, which required me to take a history course. The class was overwhelming and difficult. When I received a C- on my first paper, my fear of writing was reinforced. I explained to my professor that I genuinely did not know how to write. Surprisingly, he was understanding and reassured me that freshmen typically start off with unrefined writing skills. He said that it was fine that I did not know what I was doing because I was willing to do the work to improve.
I would never have realized the confidence to apply to the NY6 Think Tank had I not chosen a humanities concentration. I did not consider becoming a history major, until my professor expressed his confidence in me, which in turn, fostered a belief in myself.
During my years at the Hamilton, I have been introduced to people from different backgrounds. My humanities foundation has taught me the importance of understanding my individual experience as the child of Chinese immigrants within a larger context while the discipline of history taught me to explore events of the past in its specific context. Studying the past allows me to understand the present broader world. The development of critical thinking and writing skills is already translating to various aspects of my life, enabling me to communicate with those whose backgrounds and life experiences are different from mine.
Having no previous experience of this uniquely American model of higher education, immigrant parents, like mine, are suspicious that a liberal arts college will not provide the employment and financial security they seek for their children. Admission was not enough to persuade my parents initially. It was only after lengthy debates with them that they completed their own research about Hamilton and reluctantly allowed me to attend the college of my choosing. I can’t say that I have yet won their approval.
I propose to use my own “coming to Hamilton” story, along with those of faculty and staff at Hamilton, to enable first generation Americans and their families to understand the opportunities provided by a liberal arts education. I hope to create and provide materials for county districts with concentrated immigrant family populations throughout the East Coast. These families are generally uninformed about the American higher education landscape, especially with regards to the liberal arts and humanities.
My project will consist of bi-weekly blogs that will detail a personal story of my own or draw from experiences of interviewees and how they would make a successful argument to their communities. I hope to highlight academic choices in the humanities, related internships experiences and post-Hamilton plans. Eventually, I will publish these blog posts into a pamphlet to be distributed to various high schools. My goal is to provide more information for Hamilton’s Admission website that will demystify liberal arts and the study of the humanities to encourage more applicants from first-generation immigrant families.
Through a blog and pamphlets, I will encourage conversations between children and their parents about the possibilities of the humanities in a liberal arts education. I also intend for my materials to spark conversation among first-generation immigrant students in their high schools. By expanding the kinds of conversation about colleges that takes place in high schools among first generation Americans, I hope to alert more students like myself to consider humanities in college. Although I have not yet graduated and am still over a year away from facing the job market, I can already see changes in myself that are profound. While a liberal arts education cannot guarantee a specific job immediately after graduation (but then, no university can guarantee that either!), I want to encourage others to take advantage of this path in American higher education to develop confidence in themselves and the skills to pursue their future goals.