I am a sophomore from China studying Political Science in America, wandering and stuck in constant cultural and conceptual collisions.
Every time I returned home, family and friends would ask me what I’m studying in college. As I watched the livid, disturbed faces of my parents, I smiled with embarrassment, “Social sciences” or “Uhhh… I haven’t declared yet.” If I occasionally leaked my intention of studying politics, people either rapidly diverted the conversation topic or started unceasing lectures with pity on “Politics? It is too dangerous! You can do nothing with it, especially in China! You still have time to study finance…”
Back home, Dad and Mom sat on sofa, crossing their hands, and spoke with no emotion, “Come. Time for family meeting. Tell us what you want to do with a political science degree. Have you looked at the salaries report we’ve emailed to you?”
Over the past year I have been tired of facing such queries and concerns. I explain little. In America, while 90% of my Chinese acquaintance studies STEM/Econ/Business and talks in dinner conversations about the ways to receive H1B visas in America, I am left to seek frank conversations with countable close friends, senior poli sci majors, and my adviser. We talk about life, about literature and philosophy, about truth, about family, about nation-states, about killings and sorrows in the world… and of course about the constant theme of our future. It is as if in those conversations that we are enlarging our imagination of the world and ourselves, constructing possibilities of the future.
In fact, what political science teaches me is nothing more than imagination.
It provides me with perspectives, theories, explanations and imaginations of what the world is like, why and how it has become like this, and what the world could or should be like, through the angle of power and critiques of governmental structures. Yes, in this discipline we have to come across too many dead bodies, too many cries, too much silence. Yet it is also by discovering and conversing with these voices, that I am able to unveil the multiple layers covered with this world and re-imagine, reconstruct its future. Politics is the tool to dominate, but also the antidote for convalescence. As the Chinese proverb goes, “Whoever tied the knot on the bell is the one to untie it.”
In this process of discovering the world and human society, I am re-situating my relationship to societies. I realize that every person has distinct potential and narrative, that a society needs all types of people in order to function and flourish. For me, will I really feel happy and fulfilled if I follow the general trend of banking, business and finance? Is there a way to get rid of the dominant conception of the linear progress to success and the ladder of development? Can I carry on without thinking about those voices buried in politics and those hearts fluttering to approach other lives like mine?
I struggled, I racked my brain, and I admitted, “I cannot.”
I would rather be a professor seeking and knitting a better future for society through theories, be a journalist listening to and describing the life of others, be a high school teacher provoking students’ mind, be a writer contributing my thoughts. And if you ask me practically, poli sci provides enough preparation for these careers, in addition to law, government, diplomacy, entrepreneurship and media. Yet why are these options often overlooked by people when they think of a poli sci major? What inhabits our capacity for imagination?
Thinking back, I have been always impressed by a commencement address named “Why Not” given by Sen. Kristen Gillibrand at my college, Vassar, two years ago, “So I’m asking you to find it in yourselves not just to meet the demands of a new era, but to lead us there. Lead us to new discoveries and new ideas. Lead us to the dream that Vassar was founded on. And when met with a challenge of tired, outdated, status-quo thinking, it is my hope that you will not see the world as it is, but you will see it as it could, and should, be, and say, ‘Why not?’”
You can contact Shiqi Lin at firstname.lastname@example.org.