by: Corey Kaminsky
I expected to miss a lot of people and things at Cornell when I left for my year abroad.
I have a great group of friends on campus that I do not talk to nearly enough while I am away. There are the people who share my interests in the organizations and clubs on campus that I’m part of. Then there are the lab groups, both current and past, where I have friends and mentors whom I joke with as I learn from them. There is the campus, itself an ode to the natural beauty of upstate New York with the gorges which flank central campus and the hues of yellow and red during Fall which give way to the crisp snow in the Winter before at last yielding to the blossoms of Spring.
Saying goodbye as I left for my year abroad was hard, but rewarding nonetheless. The academic system where I am is rigid, with little choice as to which courses I take. The system provides extreme rigor in a single chosen field but ignores the breadth that would be offered at university in the U.S. I have always been a fan of the U.S. system of liberal arts and I enjoy debating its pros and cons. I voluntarily chose to undertake my year abroad in the United Kingdom—where the university system permits a student only to study their selected degree subject—because I wanted a year of intensive study in biochemistry. I got exactly what I wanted and have had a great time.
Yet, I miss having breadth and variety in my courses. I miss taking courses in medieval studies, my minor. I miss my distribution requirements which directed me to some of the most challenging but rewarding courses I had the fortune to take. Simply, I miss the curriculum and course selection offered at Cornell that reflect my broad range of interests.
As I write this piece, I am trying to select my courses for when I return as enrollment is mere days away. The process is not easy. I have a few classes I must take for my major but otherwise I have a wide selection of courses, somewhere upwards of 2,000 different classes, to choose from. As I sat perusing my options (Philosophy of Science? Jews and the Classical Era of Islam? Intro to Chemical and Environmental Toxicology?) I realized just how much I miss the Cornell attitude of any person, any study. I admit it’s not as though I sat at my computer and had an epiphany as I browsed courses.cornell.edu, to be honest, I spend a lot of time on that website lazily perusing the wide selection. I think a lot about the differences in the system here and at Cornell, even if these ponderings are vague. Yet, actually having to condense my list of interesting courses from approximately thirty into a final set of five courses focused my meandering thoughts on the different academic systems. In having to select a small number of classes that would maximize the breadth of my courses, I recalled how much I enjoyed my distributions at Cornell and just how important and challenging the selection of them is.
I am pleased with the courses I’ve selected for next Fall. I have two advanced courses in my major along with a related graduate class to provide depth of knowledge in my chosen major. My two chosen distribution courses are each cross-registered across a few departments. Those two classes are affiliated with four different departments, yielding a broad range of perspectives. Such a selection of courses is hardly unique. I’ve compared with friends and all of us have wonderfully varied schedules, all providing the depth and breadth that characterizes the academics of Cornell’s College of Arts & Sciences. When I catch up with buddies when I get back to Cornell next August, our conversations will be punctuated with factoids from economics, art history, anthropology, math, and philosophy amongst other topics—all this from a group of chemistry majors. I love being abroad but I can’t wait to return to Cornell, to those people, to that variety of subjects.