“Arts degree got use meh?” I’m sure as Malaysians, we’ve all heard some form of this question. It seems like Asian parents have a general consensus when it comes to their children wanting to major in something outside of STEM academic disciplines. However, if they’re choosing to delve into fields they’re truly passionate about, is that really not worth pursuing? In this interview article, fellow Charisma Movement member, Dan Qing Goh addresses this as she dives into what it means to be an Arts student.
How much has your major prepared you for what you would like to do in the future?
I think there’s a bit of a misunderstanding about History and International Affairs. Especially in Asia, it isn’t a very traditional degree. And I had many who commented that it would be a “throwaway degree” because they couldn’t envision what I would be able to do with it.
In actuality, the majors I took are widely applicable to different industries and opportunities. Unlike traditionally respected majors like accounting or engineering, the majors I took focused more on soft skills. There was more emphasis placed on writing and presentation skills, as well as research skills. I truly did love all the classes I took, which isn’t always the case when it comes to university. This is something that I would not exchange for the world.
As a copywriter now, I can’t say that my degree was a straightforward path towards it. But the persuasion skills I learned and the understanding of the human psyche really did help me excel in my field despite not having formal training or experience.
How useful is your degree? Do you think it was worth the price?
To be truthful, my degree has yet to find its foot in the door when it comes to a more traditional society like that of Malaysia. There are still expectations for me to go into law or other more profitable fields. However, I do think that it imparted skills that are not traditionally taught in the Malaysian school system - such as critical thinking and creativity. As a result, I have been able to take up roles that do need these skills as there is a massive lack in supply.
Studying in America is pricey to say the least. Studying in the education heaven that is Boston did add a premium. But it was such a microcosm of higher education that it led to a genuinely interesting environment to grow as a Bachelor's student. You were always surrounded by intelligent and passionate students - it really gave me the push to be better. I was also given so many opportunities that I would not have access to otherwise. Archives, professors, retired U.S. presidential candidates and access to all the amazing libraries in the Greater Boston Area - this is what really made the tuition worth it.
How did you know that your university was the right fit for you?
I would say it is the global focus of the university. It offered a lot of study abroad opportunities which struck my interest. The co-op program, which is something like a mandatory internship, that was expected of all graduates was also a great driver in why I chose this university. Other than that, I did some prior research into my school's faculty and was very interested in the research the professors conducted.
If you could go back in time to pick another major, would you? Why/why not?
I definitely would, but not because I didn’t enjoy my major. I have always held interest in many many many subjects - too many to count. If I had the time and funds, I would pick up degrees in so many different majors! But I wouldn’t really give up the degree that I did eventually graduate from.
What do you think more people should know about majoring in History and International Affairs?
I wish people would understand that history and international affairs are actually quite rigorous programmes. They just require different skills. You learn a lot from these two subjects as they really delve into human nature.
I always saw global politics as a group of friends. Why? It’s because all nation’s act on the basis of human instinct. It may sound strange because countries are a collective of millions of people. Yet, as you look more into decision making, you realise that nations really do represent how individuals act. We also learnt to have a more globalist mindset - looking at multilateral relations while still being able to zoom into specific countries. If you want to have fun with readings, this is definitely a good choice for classes.
Is there any advice you would like to give those who are starting out in your majors?
I would say the best advice I can give is to follow what you want to do. Many people will tear you down about your choices, but as we move forward with the fourth industrial revolution, there will be an increased demand for soft skills! Because at the end of the day, there are just some things so fundamentally human in nature that they cannot be replaced by robots.
Dan Qing Goh (@danqing.jpeg)
History and International Affairs, Northeastern University
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