I Double-Declared!

I’m celebrating the experience of having finally declared! One year of realizations, almost two semesters of near-certainty, and months of unnecessary delay later.

Having entered into college dreaming of majoring in Psychology, and having spent the entirety of my first year realizing that Psychology may not be for me, I was the only person surprised when I set my heart on Sociology and English. Especially English;

english house explorations | hannah chinn ’19

Sociology made sense (I loved the social elements of Psychology more, and if every Psych course was my Spring ’18 Psychology of Diversity class I probably would have never left), but I had been resisting my love of English for as long as I can remember. English has always been my best and most-loved subject. Most of my mom’s sweetest memories involve me reading or writing, and it was the thing I received most recognition for growing up. For some reason I could not have imagined majoring in English; in fact it was the last thing on earth I wanted to do, regardless of two English professors my first semester at Bryn Mawr practically begging me to major in the margins of my essays, or how many papers I wrote like English ones, or the fact that I couldn’t imagine college without English. I’m only just learning to admit that all of the signs were there, all along.

unexpected english majors run in the hell family | my hell mum, kamara dyer simms ’19

So, here I am. Laughing, now, that for reasons of ease I declared my English major first.

It was the professors in the English and Sociology departments as well as older Sociology-English double majors who eventually put an end to my stubbornness. I have so much love for English House, the professors of color I met in my time here, and those who have also chosen to make these majors their home (Hannah & Nolan, whom I mentioned in this post, are Sociology-English double majors too!) The process of declaring was pretty simple; a meeting with my dean, a tentative list of planned, intended courses, and reaching out to major advisors to finalize my choice.

I collaborated with fellow banter blogger Rachel (who is a junior and double major in English and Spanish!) to interview each other on our experiences as a double major. Here she offers more nuance to my experience of the English department, flavored with loving another language and learning abroad.

Maria: How did you choose? What did that process look like for you?

Rachel: I knew I wanted to study English since I was in high school, so it was very easy for me to declare an English major relatively early in my sophomore year. I figured that since I planned on taking at least one Spanish class per semester, in order to keep my language skills from getting too rusty, I might as well also minor in Spanish. My advisor suggested I double major, but I dismissed the idea until this year when I got back from studying abroad. At that point, I had so many Spanish credits it didn’t make sense not to major.

four english majors (anika varty ’19, hannah chinn ’19, em prozinski ’19 & little old me) | photo by dex coen gilbert ’21 at a haverford hangout!

M: How do your majors complement each other?

R: In my observation, the Bryn Mawr Spanish department focuses a lot on literature analysis. In some ways, the skills I use in my Spanish classes are similar to the skills I use for studying English literature, but having to express myself in a different language uses an entirely different part of the brain. If I didn’t study Spanish, I think it would be easy for me to get stuck in a rut, without having to stretch myself as much. In general, I see ideas from my Spanish classes pop up in English readings, and ideas from my English classes come in handy for my Spanish assignments as well. I’m sure this is the case with most humanities subjects—after a while, you start to make connections and see patterns everywhere.

M: How does your experience of both (the departments, the skills you use, etc.) contrast?

R: I wouldn’t say there’s a sharp contrast between the departments. Both have very kind and helpful professors and both tend to offer an interesting mix of classes every semester. The only real difference between them is that the English department has its own home in English House, which is definitely a big plus!

M: Nearing the end of your Bryn Mawr career, what were the most rewarding moments of your double major? What did you love most? Are there any things you would change?

R: Studying abroad allowed me to integrate my majors more fully than any other experience I’ve had. I would strongly recommend studying abroad to anyone who has the opportunity—I had a lot of trepidation, but I’m so glad I did it. Not only did my language skills improve, but I now have a personal reference point for many topics that we talk about in class that would otherwise just be theoretical.

I wish I had taken a wider variety of classes, especially my first year at Bryn Mawr. I remember I got really obsessed with studying poetry, and I was taking three poetry-themed classes one semester. It’s great to dive deeply into your passions, but there’s no harm in exploring new avenues as well.

One thing I want to point out about Spanish classes at Bryn Mawr is that the focus is generally on the academic material rather than on conversational skills. Many students feel comfortable reading a novel, or a piece of political theory, but still get flustered when someone addresses them in Spanish. I would say that Spanish classes here are a means of investigating Spanish-speaking cultures and literatures, as opposed to studying the mechanics of the Spanish language. The Spanish department at Bryn Mawr is really excellent—I’ve loved all my Spanish professors here—but the focus of the classes was surprising to me when I first arrived.

M: Any advice for undeclared students?

R: Explore as much as possible. Try not to take more than two classes per semester in one discipline (no matter how much you love it!) because you’ll get burnt out and overwhelmed from working just one part of your brain. Allow your intellect the space it needs to grow and move in new ways.

Check out my double-major insights, and be sure to give Rachel love over at her blog!