I genuinely thought I had my class schedule worked out this year, I really did.
Unfortunately for me (okay, okay, fortunately for me) NYU professor Jay Rosen — who you may have heard of as a well-known media critic and writer in his own right — is teaching a class in the Journalism department this year called “The Future of the New York Times.” It’s hard to explain how ridiculously, ridiculously cool this is. Professor Rosen is incredibly well-respected in his field — he was one of the first people to understand and support the wave of citizen journalism that’s taken off over the past decade, and he’s an advisor at First Look Media.
What’s more, it looks like the class will be more than your usual college seminar: students only get in after sending the professor an email explaining their background in the field and why they would be a good contributor to the group, the class itself will have a “public-facing component” so that people not in it can follow along, and the final class will be at the Times itself — and the NYT’s publisher and CEO have expressed an interest in attending. Immediately after Professor Rosen tweeted an announcement of the class, an NYT editor replied, “Can I audit?”, and an NYT columnist said he wished he could take the class.
I mean, who am I not to grab opportunities from under the noses of New York Times staffers.
Except, uh, requirements for graduation. Those are a thing, apparently.
The fact is that my schedule is pretty full. I’ve got Media and Analysis, an intro class for my major that I need in order to properly transfer into my major and out of the English department; How Things Work, a physics-for-humanities-majors class that fulfills a science gen-ed requirement; Creative Nonfiction, a class for my creative writing minor that I could technically take later, but that I’m taking now with a good friend who will graduate at the end of the semester; and Elementary Russian II.
Steinhardt, the school that I’m transferring into, only requires two semesters of a foreign language. I’m planning to study abroad next year; at almost all of NYU’s study abroad sites, you’re required to take a foreign language. I’ve already taken Elementary Russian I. When I study abroad, I’ll fulfill the foreign language requirement in full. The choice seems obvious: drop Elementary Russian II, study a different foreign language when I study abroad (or try to remember the Russian I learned a few semesters ago), and take the hell out of Jay Rosen’s class.
But it isn’t as obvious as it might seem.
I inherited from my parents a firm liberal-arts mindset: the idea that education isn’t just about preparing you for your future career, but about making you a well-rounded person. Additionally, as an American, I’m well aware of the stereotype that we’re ignorant about the world outside America — particularly the complaint that, unlike most Europeans, we can’t speak more than one language.
I know that most Americans have a very good reason for not being as multilingual as Europeans might be: Europe simply has more languages packed into less geographical space. I picked up a good amount of Spanish just from living in California, since it borders Mexico. If Oregon and Nevada both spoke different languages, chances are I’d understand Oregonian and Nevadan pretty well, too. America certainly was linguistically diverse, before European colonization; if history had gone differently, who knows? I might speak Miwok. But the fact is that linguistic diversity in America hasn’t existed on the same level as Europe since the Old West, and it’s downright difficult to learn languages that aren’t English.
Still, though, it’s important to me to defy the stereotype of the ignorant American. I took three and a half years of Spanish in high school, and though I understand Spanish a lot better than I speak it, I do have a good grasp on the language. But I also wanted to learn a third language — after all, the more multiculturalism, the better. I learned Russian because it seemed unusual and fun, because understanding it would help me understand a lot of Eastern European languages better, and because it was the closest I could get to actually learning the language that my ancestors spoke (NYU doesn’t offer Yiddish). The College of Arts and Sciences, where the English department is located, requires that students take a language up to the Intermediate II level; this would have meant four semesters of Russian, and a fairly good understanding of the language.
Then I transferred to the Media, Culture, and Communications department, which only requires 2 semesters. I felt guilty, but reassured myself with the idea that I could always take more Russian if I wanted to and had space in my schedule.
But then came an opportunity like the Future of the New York Times class.
These classes are both practical, career-wise: understanding Russian is certainly a good thing to have on a resume (especially if I want a government job), and the NYT class will absolutely provide really cool opportunities to meet people and do and publish things. Though “fun” doesn’t seem like a big enough word to describe the NYT class, I’ve also had fun in Russian, and genuinely like the professor (who taught us last semester) and my fellow students. In terms of academic planning, they’re both as functionally useless as each other: both classes, while not hurting my graduation requirements, are extraneous to my schedule.
So the choice is between something that, while not flashy, is certainly in keeping with the traditions of a liberal arts education — and an opportunity that, while definitely catering to my already existing interests, is incredibly cool.
Ultimately: I applied to enter the NYT class and was accepted. And I think I will take it. I feel incredibly, incredibly guilty about not continuing with Russian, but in our modern world, there are going to be several opportunities to continue on with the language: online classes, classes for adults, apps like Duolingo. The New York Times class is an opportunity that I’ll never get again.
And while becoming a balanced person is a major goal for me during my time at college, I don’t think it’s my only goal. Now that I’m an adult, my life can’t just be about preparing for the future — it’s also about enjoying the present while it’s here. I’m not just trying to accumulate qualities and traits that will make me a good citizen and a worthwhile member of society. I’m also trying to accumulate experiences that I can look back on and be glad that I had.
And make New York Times journalists jealous. I’m definitely trying to do that, too.