Do you want fries with that?

August 27, 2012 § 2 Comments

What does a literature graduate with a job say to a literature graduate without a job? – Dou you want fries with that?

Pretty damn funny, isn’t it? Well, I don’t think so. I’m currently in college, studying French and German literature and linguistics, and I get those jokes a lot. Most people don’t know that they have tickled a very sensitive nerve of mine there. I’ve wanted to study literature ever since 8th grade, but now that I am a year away from my bachelor’s degree, I’m facing a reality that is frighteningly close to these jokes.

Those who know me will agree that I’m not very talented at small talk. But there is one question that I fear more than all the others: “What are you studying?” I want to sound confident and bold when I tell people that I’m majoring in French and German, but I usually just mutter those two words and hope that we move on to the next subject. I can’t stand the jokes and comments, the disapproving and condescending looks of people who study “something real”. Why am I so ashamed of my studies? Literature is my passion and, in theory, I should be proud that I followed my heart.

Unfortunately, the whole “follow your heart” thing turned out to be bullshit. At the beginning, it seemed like a good idea to study the thing that I like most and that I’m good at, but I was so in love with the mere idea that I ignored all warnings from the people around me. By warnings I mean both the old jokes mentioned above and long, serious lectures about the bad job market for literature graduates. After high school, I had some hesitations whether to enrol in French and German literature or in something else, something that is more promising career-wise, but my emotions won against rationality.

I’m seriously not happy in college. Not because I don’t like the classes I’m taking (on the contrary – most of them are quite interesting and rewarding) but because I constantly worry about my future and wonder if it would have been better to have gone for med school, engineering or even a teaching degree. I’ve had long conversations with various people, some of whom encourage my decision and tell me that I will eventually find a job, but just like me, they can’t really picture what job this will be. Other people say that I’m irrational and irresponsible and that another degree would suit me better.

I seriously don’t know whom to believe. I know that the job market is everything but promising for me, and I’m constantly thinking of taking up something entirely different or switching to a teaching degree. But then I imagine myself in med school, learning by heart all parts of the human body, and I wonder if this Lena is more satisfied with her choices than I am. I doubt it.

Literature, unlike medicine or engineering, is a field of study that makes a very good hobby. If you’re an avid and attentive reader, you can analyse and discuss books with a cup of tea on your living room sofa and not in a dusty classroom with squeaky chairs. Maybe – for people like me who care a lot about what others think of them – it’s even better to solely read in your living room, in your own private bubble. And I know that no matter where my studies will lead me in the end, I’ll never turn my back to literature, no matter if it’s what earns me a living or what I waste my earned money on.

In the ideal case, it’s both at the same time.


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§ 2 Responses to Do you want fries with that?

  • Lena says:

    I’m in the exact opposite situation: engineering and computer science and the company that I’m interning with at the moment would love to chain me to my desk, contract me for the rest of my life, and keep me from going for a PhD – and I’m one of those persons joking about students of the liberal arts (sorry!). But, actually, I admire those people who decided to study what they love and didn’t follow the call of money and jobs. I, myself, would like to study theology, history or English literature (but I also love maths and solving problems – happy coincidence!) – but it isn’t as (financially) rewarding as engineering.

    I know that your passion for your studies won’t pay your bills but it sounds like you have got this special spark when talking about what you love, so go for it! People funding research projects (and employers) will notice that. Or, what about teaching adults (if you don’t like children) German/French? What about a Master’s in journalism? My cousin is in a similar situation (she studied philosophy and literature) and she applied at the German Foreign Office. There are certainly jobs out there.
    I’m sure you’ll make your way (:

    P.S.: Yes, I’d like fries with that 😉

  • I will try my rusty english here for a small ( I hope ) comment :
    I understand your fears … But don’t let them freak you out of your studies. I did both : I started with med school, failed miserably though I thought it was a good way to get a good and interesting job. But it was too hard and not at all what I liked ( reading books all the time ). So I failed and finally followed my heart : anthropology and arabic studies … It doesn’t seem to lead anywhere other than the fastfood, but I keep believing it can, since it does happen sometimes for some people. Now I wish I had started with following my heart, because my two years of med school have been only a waste of time and money, and I didn’t gain anything from it other than a conviction, that the best decision I ever made was going to the arts faculty …
    So you should consider yourself lucky to have made the best choice from the start !

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