When I tell people what I majored in in college, I often get confused looks, sometimes coupled with the question, “Really?“
Yes, I really majored in German Language and Literature.
No, I wasn’t surprised when I graduated and couldn’t fine a job that would pay me to read Kafka in German.
My parents weren’t happy about it. I thought that it would be an upgrade from my original major of photography, but they didn’t see any difference.
My dad offered many practical suggestions: economics, architecture, or engineering.
My mom wanted to know why I wasn’t interested in medicine (I was never interested in medicine).
The truth is that I really had no idea what I was doing when I went to college. If I had taken the scholarship at the state school I would have studied photojournalism, but I didn’t take it because I wanted to leave the state. So I headed to the midwest to the other school that offered me money. There was no photojournalism program there, but I had been accepted into the school of fine arts to study fine arts photography. That seemed fine. I had been president of the Art Club for the last two years of high school and I had won a congressional art award, so I should fit right in, right?
No. I hated art school. I hated drawing shaded circles over and over again. I hated having to buy all the art supplies I would never use again. So I vowed to transfer out of art school into the liberal arts college where I could study something I might come to like.
I took French, Calc II, philosophy, economics, and philosophy. French felt too precious, so to replace that language, I ended up taking German. And I loved it. The language was fun to learn (so structured, like my beloved Latin), the professors were funny (hello, Herr Schindler and your incredible accent), the department itself was small so it was easy to feel seen, and I would have the opportunity to spend time abroad. I got on the German train and didn’t regret it. Even when I couldn’t find a job, I didn’t care.
But my parents cared. For years, they asked me why I did it. So I did what a lot of kids do when they don’t want to disappoint their parents. I lied.
I told them that I had every intention of becoming a translator, pursuing work at the UN or international relations, or, best yet, I could get a PhD and become a German professor. Yes, a Korean-American German Language and Literature Professor. It would be groundbreaking. I was doing important work.
None of things happened, of course. Even when I went to school for an MFA in fiction, I told them that I was studying medical writing. And yes, I told them that the German was important to know for my new degree.
I escaped this dreaded question relatively unscathed. I eventually got respectable jobs that let my parents breathe a bit.
But I know that not everyone has easily dodged this question.
What has your experience been like?
I’d love to hear all about it. Click on “work with me” to find my scheduler and let’s set up a time to talk.