Concordia Liberal Arts: My Experience
Faraja Kimetuu Kurubai
A liberal arts education seems to be a concept deeply rooted in the understanding of most people, at least to some extent, at Concordia. And while it may not necessarily influence most student choices at Concordia College, I am convinced it is what has given me the sense of purpose and direction that I have today. The irony of it is it seems a relatively alien concept to me after getting the unique opportunity to study in the United States. Coming from Tanzania, in east Africa, I was never exposed to the idea of a liberal arts education. In fact, it was only in 2006 that I first became acquainted with the concept.
Before I came to Concordia my understanding of what a liberal arts education entails was very limited. It took me several semesters to comprehend its purpose and fully grasp its many interpretations from a personal perspective. Discerning its meaning was very daunting because I was more familiar with structured educational systems at home that were not as varied and extensive as Concordia's. The differences between these educational systems and the whole process of trying to switch from the former to the latter were challenging. At times I was not confident of ever finding the right path. But now I have come to appreciate it and it has become an integral part of who I am.
The fundamental goal of a liberal arts education is to create an intellectual individual with knowledge in varied fields, even though one can specialize in some area. To put it bluntly, it is simply taking courses outside the scope of one's major. At least, that is how its goals are achieved. I must admit that I was really skeptical of the efficacy of such a structure in the beginning. Being in a liberal arts college I had to take diverse courses from different disciplines to fulfill the college core curriculum, but being accustomed to a more structured system I found myself putting more emphasis on my major courses. The irony if it is that I changed my major because I lost interest in it along the way. I had originally chosen that major because it was supposedly considered one that would help me to get a good job after graduation. With this in mind, I decided to pursue it because what I wanted to study was not offered. I must admit that I wasted much of my time and resources taking classes that would not count towards my major.
Along the way, I came to realize that the core courses played a big role in shaping my college life. These courses caused me to develop and grow academically. They challenged me to think critically and develop my arguments and reasoning. Gradually, I came to appreciate the totality of a liberal arts education and that one needs such courses that will equip them with skills such as writing and oral communication - in my case; I needed this since English is not my first language.
More importantly, the knowledge I gained from taking such classes helped me uncover the track I needed to follow in order to have a major that will not only get me a good job, but will better launch me into a successful career that I can later enjoy too. The beauty of a liberal arts education is that it gives room for one to explore a broad range of knowledge that is not to the exclusion of one's area of interest. This, I feel, is a major difference between liberal arts institutions and non-liberal ones.
Every time I reflect on my path, I find it is impossible to underestimate the power of the liberal arts including programs such as exploratory symposiums, different lectures from varied speakers, and forums that the college encourages students to attend. At times instructors will require one to attend and write a brief summary paper. All of these programs are geared toward helping one explore oneself and discover one's potentials and capabilities. I have found this to be very true.
The education at Concordia has helped me to explore myself and discover my calling. The diverse body of knowledge has equipped me with the skills to think for myself and develop interest in the area I consider to be my career. It was not until the spring of 2008 that I came to know and decide what I wanted to do with my life. And this was after listening to the Nobel Peace Prize holder Muhammad Yunus during the March 2008 Peace Prize Forum. His work of empowering women and fighting against poverty inspired me so much that I decided to do an independent study on two books he has written; Banker to the Poor and Creating a World without Poverty.
The independent study, which I did simultaneously with a micro-finance internship at Uchumi Commercial Bank Limited (UCB), during last summer in Tanzania, convinced me that helping people get out of poverty is something that T am very passionate about. Since then my interest in micro-finance has been growing. Now, 1 am convinced that a career in micro-finance is exactly what I want to do. My intention of helping people through the provision of micro-loans, financial education, business consulting services and intermediary service lies within the college's mission of "influencing the affairs of the world." I felt myself influencing the affairs of the world as I led a micro-finance project that I initiated among women in my home village. The idea for this business came from my concern for the numerous problems that plague the Maasai, especially the low income ones. Since we, the Maasai. started to lose our nomad lands to African safaris and game parks, and started being forced to adapt to a life that is not dependent on livestock, many families have become unstable and face an uncertain future. It is here that my organization seeks to intervene to help my people transition smoothly into a new life. By providing them with small loans, they too have the opportunity to develop small businesses and sustain their families. Without offering such assistance it is evident that many Maasai families will be left in deep poverty.
Now it has been almost four years since I came to Concordia College. Like other students I have developed an active engagement with knowledge, certainly not as a passive observer. It is this liberal arts education that permitted me to see the relationships between ideas, philosophies, subject areas, but still put each in its appropriate position.
Studying at Concordia is something that I will forever be thankful for. It is an opportunity that one should take advantage of. The experience that I have obtained is very influential and I don't think I would have gotten it anywhere else. I might have studied my supposed major and lived miserably in a "well paying" job that I wasn't passionate about. Thankfully, my education at Concordia has set up new pathways to my ultimate goal in life. The more I learn, the more I want to learn.