When you come to a US college, you know your doom. No, you have not forgotten science. No, you have not given up English. No, you have not dropped a language.
But you must take the dreaded General Education classes. Dun, dun, DUN…
When I entered UCLA, I knew my fate. I knew that my time for science classes hadn’t finished yet. I had suffered through two years of IB Higher Level Chemistry. For those of you that aren’t IB survivors, trust me when I say that it is hell. For those of you that are, let’s be friends.
I went about choosing the FOUR science classes I had to take (honestly, come on. Four? That’s ridiculous.), I didn’t expect to wander across something I actually had an interest in. As I looked into classes for fall quarter, I happened upon “The Introduction of Oceanography and Marine Biology.”
The downsides: It was Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons for an hour in one of the farthest buildings on campus. The upsides: It didn’t actually sound like torture.
So I took the class, and shockingly, loved it. Now don’t worry—this isn’t one of those stories where you take a GE class and it changes your major and your career path and your life. Definitely not. But it did change my outlook on a lot of things.
Part of the extra credit in the class was to watch documentaries and do reflections on them every week. Shockingly, I actually loved watching them. They taught me about every species and area of the ocean, and I learned things I didn’t even know I had an interest in.
In the end I didn’t even need the extra credit—I got an A+, primarily because both the midterm and final were done IN GROUPS. It was pretty crazy. My group consisted of a Thai business student who I bonded with because we both did the IB, an ex-football player who wanted to be a rock star and a senior engineering student who hadn’t done a single GE and was cramming them all into his last quarters.
But I didn’t like the class just because it was easy. I mean, I did like that it was easy, mostly because of my incompetence with the general nature of science classes. But it was more than that.
I liked it because it taught me something. It taught me the science of global warming in a way that I finally absorbed. I learned about El Nino and La Nina events, which have been appearing in news headlines quite recently. Though we didn’t really cover the “marine biology” part of the course (which made me a little sad, but then again I didn’t want to read all seven of those chapters) because of a lack of time, we did discuss some basic anatomy of whales and whatnot, none of which I had ever gotten the chance to learn.
So it turned out that my first GE was an incredible, rewarding experience. As an epilogue to this story, the rest of my science GE classes sucked. Really bad.
Luckily, you don’t just have GE classes that are science-based. Fortunately for my strengths, I also had to do classes about history, society and visual and performance, all of which I was overjoyed with.
Sadly for me, as a student coming from a place that didn’t do American history at the level required for UCLA, I had to take an American history class.
I took the 19th century one because it was the only one offered that quarter and I wanted to get it over with. I was not happy to be taking this class. I did not like American history. I did not like how Americans are self-obsessed with their 2 ½ centuries of history, while ignoring the history of far more interesting and important nations that have over 10 times that number. I did not like how Americans spoke about their history. I was, overall, not a happy camper.
But then I got to lecture. And there in front of me was the sweetest woman in the world. Professor Ellen DuBois stood at the front, telling us how this was her last year before retirement and how sad she was to be teaching this class for the last time.
She was a joy to learn from. She gave us more than facts—she showed us pieces or art and diary extracts, and really gave us a picture of the culture of the time, rather than just Person A didn’t like Person B and that led to War C. She transported us back in time.
One of my most important memories of that class was the day of President Trump’s commencement.
On the commencement day, the professor spoke more eloquently and passionately than any other professor had that day or during the week Trump was elected. She told us her specialty was womens’ rights in the 19th century, and had hoped that the year she retired, she would get to see a woman at the helm of our country. Instead, she got a misogynist. She was so disappointed, but spoke so emotionally, that it really forced me to reflect on that day. I was already so embarrassed for our country, but she made me really think about the effect he could have on our nation. A nation that doesn’t always hold my respect, but does hold my citizenship, and some of my love.
This class educated me. I learned about American history from Americans, something I hadn’t done since I left Arizona in elementary school. It was really an important experience, and Professor DuBois challenged me on things I never thought I could rethink.
GE’s are more than just classes you take because you have to. I know so many people who take classes they already know all about, just so they don’t have to do the reading or go to lecture. Don’t do that. GE’s are for expanding your mind, for challenging you, for breaking out of your comfort zone and finding new things that fulfill your curiosity. A Classical Mythology class once had me consider adding a Classics minor.
Most universities around the world don’t have General Education requirements, but I think they should. They give you a range in what you can study, learn, explore. You meet new people in majors you don’t normally interact with. You are challenged to explore subjects you would never have looked at before. You are overall given the chance to make the college experience more than your major.
So, yes, often GE’s absolutely suck.. But they are also more important than even some major classes. They are worth it, and I promise, if you take classes outside of everything you already learn, you may have one of the most rewarding experiences of your college career.