On the Benefits of a Liberal Arts Education: Why College Is Better in the U.S.

For me, the opportunity of experiencing a liberal arts education was initially frustrating. But it also meant being allowed -- even encouraged -- to change my major.
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Going to college is hard enough, but going to college in a different country where you suddenly have to speak in a different language and get used to doing things differently than you normally would -- well, I wouldn't say it's impossible, but it is very hard.

When I decided to leave Mexico City for the better and brighter prospect of attending Brandeis University I told myself it was all for a better education, a better future. I wanted to be a writer but creative writing, as a major, is not offered in Mexico. So I packed my bags and came to the United States, sure that this was the right decision, that this would be the place with the better education.

However, things now seem more gray than black or white. Yes, the United States does offer a better education than Mexico, but it does so for reasons other than I had originally realized.

What I mean by this is the existence here of a "liberal arts education," a concept that, at least for now, doesn't exist in Mexico.

Brandeis University, for example, is a liberal arts college that describes itself as "a rare combination of a liberal arts college and a global research university." This means that students are exposed to a wide range of academic subjects and that in order to graduate, they often have to take classes in everything from the sciences to the humanities.

In Mexico, on the other hand, students start taking classes for their designated major from day one. In fact, they can't change majors without having to start from the very beginning. And thus being discouraged, only a select few, and only those who are very sure of themselves, bravely venture into an unknown subject. But for many, the lack of opportunity to try other classes and subjects means not knowing what they're missing, it means choosing a major and sticking with it, even if you're unsure or undecided.

However, I never imagined that that would be one of my problems. Even though I knew I wouldn't stay in Mexico, I never thought that deciding on a major would be an issue. I was sure that I wanted to be a writer and in fact felt that having to take classes in so many subjects was a waste of time. Why couldn't I just get straight to the fun part, straight to the writing?

For me, the opportunity of experiencing a liberal arts education was initially frustrating. It meant having to take quantitative reasoning classes when I already knew I wasn't good at math. It meant changing my major many, many times. It meant going from a hopeful writer to a hopeful journalist, then lawyer, then psychologist, then interested in art and then just plainly confused. But it also meant being allowed -- even encouraged -- to change my major. It meant exploring topics I had never even heard of before, it meant reading books that changed my perspective, that changed my ideas, that changed my future.

Now, as a senior, when I think of all the times I changed my major, of all the times I was surprised by the things I found interesting, by the topics I wanted so badly to learn more about, I'm thankful I chose a liberal arts education. That, even though it was harder and more challenging than I ever imagined it could be, I was brave enough to venture into the unknown. I'm glad I realized I didn't want to be a writer and will soon be able to proudly call myself a psychology major and English, journalism and art history triple minor -- hey, at least I got to use all those classes I took while trying to discover my passion!

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