Confessions of an Ex-English Major

by Helen Armstrong on November 8, 2015

I spent my first semester of college in London, floating in a cloudy wonderland, scarfing down pasta in Italy and tapas in Spain. It was a wonderful experience. I traveled across Europe for several months and took classes in photography, journalism, and writing. It didn’t feel anything like “real college.” A few weeks before my return home, it occurred to me that I was going to crash back down to Earth, and the landing would be rough if I didn’t change something that had been gnawing at me. I needed to change my major.

It was a hasty decision, made one afternoon on the Tube as I was thinking about the fact that I was teetering on the edge of a gigantic, dark ravine that was My Future. I had considered this ravine often in my life, and in it, I always flew gracefully from high school to my end goal of being the next J.K. Rowling. As I stood there, three weeks before my return to the States, I realized that I was going to have to cross this ravine now. It was time to stop messing around in Europe; I had to get down to business. Maybe my future self was sitting on a throne on the other side, reading from my best-selling novel to my millions of adoring fans. But I was standing on this side, about to embark on my real college experience. And I had no wings.

I sent an email to my advisor requesting to change my major from English with a concentration in creative writing to print communications. I knew that when I returned to Arcadia, I needed to focus on what my career would be. I had spent enough time stalling in London, holding onto the dream of literary fame that my 8-year-old self had dreamt of. I had to figure out what it was that I wanted to do with writing in addition to be a famous novelist. Journalism had been calling me for some time, ever since I took a class in it in high school and excelled. I found it easy and fun to spin stories that felt important and informed or helped my audience on a smaller scale than a novel. While writing novels is my first love, journalism was creeping up into second place.

So I returned to America, and as Emma Thompson says to Liam Neeson in Love Actually, “It was always going to be an absolute shit time.” Readjusting to home after a fulfilling experience abroad is difficult, and even with my fresh major to get excited about, it was rough.

I remember one revelatory night shortly after starting at Arcadia’s main campus. I had a fight with my best friend over something trivial that I had dug up to start petty drama. I was in a bad mood, and as she tried to figure out why I was so upset, I remember saying to her, “I feel like I don’t fit in my life anymore.”

That phrase still echoes in my mind when I think of my post-FYSAE semester. I had to change my life to accommodate my new self. The person who flew east in August across the Atlantic was very different from the one who took the return flight west in December. I had experienced a great transformation. I became more mature, wiser, and, most importantly, more practical. The life I had envisioned—or rather, failed to envision—wasn’t going to work for me anymore.

It’s not a bad thing to loosen your grip on your old dreams just enough to allow yourself room to breathe and develop new dreams.

My new major has helped me figure out how to reshape my life to fit me. I still want to write books, because that’s been my first passion my whole life, but I’ve come to realize that there are other ways to use writing. I’ve spent last two semesters exploring the options that the print-communications field has to offer me. I’m taking classes in “Speech Communications” and “Writing & Communications,” as well as “Writing Poetry & Fiction.” I’m looking to add creative writing as a minor, because I haven’t lost sight of my dream.

It’s not a bad thing to loosen your grip on your old dreams just enough to allow yourself room to breathe and develop new dreams. I’ve accepted that I’ve changed and my focus has shifted with my experiences. I took a journalism class in London and enjoyed it just as much as I enjoyed my “Writing London” class.

One of the best things about college and especially a liberal-arts education is having the opportunity to explore what you want to do. Most people change their major at least once, and now I understand why. Everyone changes, and in these formative years, becoming who and what you want to be isn’t always so predictable. Changing my major was scary, but it is one of the best decisions I’ve made. Sometimes it’s difficult to step off the ledge and jump into the ravine, but if you start by fashioning yourself a nice, durable set of wings, you’ll make it across with maybe only a few broken bones—and be better for it.