Why Am I Learning This?

by Nicole Gieselman on October 26, 2017

Throughout my educational career, I’ve heard people asking the question: Why do I need to learn this? It starts in elementary school with fractions and long division, then turns into geometry proofs and Shakespeare sonnets. Even now, when we’re supposedly studying courses relevant to our careers, Arcadia still has those pesky AUC requirements. And it’s a fair question: Why study it all? It would seem more fiscally sensible and time-efficient to choose a specialty early on.

A liberal arts education is about broadening your horizons, doing things you wouldn’t have thought of or been willing to do otherwise. It’s about focusing not only on yourself, but on myriad lives and events happening around you.

- Nicole Gieselman

To be perfectly honest, I’ve done my fair share of complaining. I hated Pre-calc just as much as the next 11th-grader (and I haven’t used any of the equations I learned, either). But after two and a half years at a liberal arts university, I’ve changed my tune. Some of the most impactful classes I’ve taken in college have had nothing to do with my major, Global Media. Though it took me awhile to get here, I’m finally appreciating how much the background knowledge I’ve gained from all the subjects I’ve studied helps me excel in the courses I enjoy.

I enrolled for this semester with that truth in mind, choosing a wide array of classes to fill my major, minor, and university requirements. As an afterthought, I tacked on a new honors course called Colors of Poverty. I didn’t need to take it, but I knew the professor well and the course material sounded right up my alley. It’s centered on using art to promote social justice and culminates with the class hosting a fundraiser for Ugandan women in poverty.  Though adding the class caused me to overload on credits, I decided I’ll (hopefully) only be in college once, so I might as well explore as many topics as I can while I’m here.

It’s a decision I haven’t regretted for a second-- even during the hours I’ve spent doing course readings and other Colors of Poverty work (there’s a lot of painting and TED talks involved). Each week, I actually look forward to the three-hour class. I know it’s a time and space where I’m free to question, to explore new ideas, and to use creative means to do so.

Recently, we used one of our sessions to journey to a local homeless shelter, St. Raymond’s House.

By the time class started at 4 p.m. that day, I was already over it. I’d worked a nine-hour shift that day, had a mountain of homework to do that night, and basically wanted nothing more than to curl up in a ball and sleep for at least 48 hours. I was originally excited for the trip, but when the time actually came, I found myself feeling uncharacteristically cynical. Why should I waste three hours of my precious time learning how to roll beads-- our planned activity once we arrived-- when I was running on four hours of sleep and just as many cups of coffee? I had better things to do.

Or so I thought.

Our new friends at St.Raymond's.

When I was greeted with friendly smiles, I began to thaw. As our class was shown around the shelter, I was reminded of my many privileges, and my stresses melted away. These were people struggling to lift themselves out of homelessness every day, facing seemingly insurmountable obstacles-- and they had just as much to teach me as any of my professors. By coming to Arcadia, I signed up to learn from any experience thrown my way, not just PowerPoints in a lecture hall.

It was the reminder I needed to re-ignite my enthusiasm for the semester (and to put my first-world woes into perspective).

Sure, I would’ve had more free time in the upcoming weeks if I hadn’t taken Colors of Poverty. But a liberal arts education is about broadening your horizons, doing things you wouldn’t have thought of or been willing to do otherwise. It’s about focusing not only on yourself, but on myriad lives and events happening around you. Ultimately, by choosing to go to a liberal arts school, you choose to do more than the bare minimum.That’s what true education is all about.

The Colors of Poverty class' BeadforLife Benefit will take place from Wednesday, Nov. 29 to Friday, Dec. 1 from 1 to 3 p.m. in the Chat. The market will feature beautiful jewelry made from recycled paper by women in Uganda, and the majority of the proceeds will go back to BeadforLife, helping these women gain financial independence. Our class will also donate 20% to St. Raymond’s House, which provides long-term housing for those experiencing homelessness in the Philadelphia area.