FSaaM would like to welcome our newest writer, Yan An. Here is are some of her first thoughts on being a Singaporean who’s studying German.
My second year at a tiny American liberal arts college, I decided I would major in German Studies. Pretty much everyone I knew in Singapore told me it was going to be completely useless. Well, they’re half-wrong…
“Why don’t you take on another major?” My parents asked when I broke the news to them over Skype. “Why not economics?”
Then the questions began. Every friend and new acquaintance I met here had the same questions. Why German? What are you going to do with it? What kind of jobs can you get? My answer that I love the language and culture just didn’t seem to cut it.
I’d made my choice inspired by a school trip to Vienna and the infectious “you can do anything” culture in my school. In my college, it wasn’t unusual to major in French, Japanese, Women’s and Gender Studies, Classics or Africana Studies. To every first- and second-year student in my school, the old refrain was that you should major in wherever your passion lay – no matter how obscure or unconventional it was.
So who was right? Three years later, I’m just beginning to find out where the answer lies. While Americans told me not to worry about what I majored in, I know of enough Singaporeans who forsook less conventional interests for a more pragmatic degree. Perhaps I wouldn’t have had to worry in America, but in Singapore, where job ads specify “must have degree in journalism” (or mass comm or marketing), my pickings as a German major are slim. Where I used to wonder why on earth my friends would choose to study something as boring as Accountancy, I now see its merits.
Translation: “Would you like fries with that?”
It’s not that Singaporeans don’t have dreams or aspirations. Many simply don’t have the luxury of choice. As Miya Tokumitsu argues, the ability to “do what you love” is a massive class privilege in itself. I was lucky enough that my parents could afford to send me to a liberal arts college overseas that offered German literature in the first place. Even then, would I have chosen it as my major if I had had to help fund the studies of my siblings? Some of my friends have had to put their dream careers on hold to pursue more lucrative paths to ease the financial burden on their families. Not everyone can afford to put their own dreams first.
Well, I had that privilege and I made my choice, and now I’m navigating between interest and stability. I’m doing freelance work, translating a German medieval adventure novel into English, and writing on the side. I enjoy what I do, and for all the uncertainty shrouding the future now, I’m grateful to have had the chance to study exactly what I wanted. Sometimes, though, when I look at my friends with their specialised degrees and clear career trajectories, I do feel a tinge of envy. Can a German major make it in Singapore? I’ll just have to try and find out.
Yan An is a 23 year old Singaporean fresh grad with a bachelor in German Studies. She currently works on German-English translations, and spends the rest of her time thinking about culture, identity, and what her next meal will be. Through this article, she hopes more Singaporeans will take on a 3rd language and stop asking her how being fluent in German has helped enrich her life.