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The Curse of Humanities Graduates

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What would you like to be when you grow up?” – remember how adults were asking you all the time? Seems like the question which career to pursue bothers human beings from the moment they come into the world. And the younger you were the more precise your reply was. Later, in your school years, this question was substituted by “Which college are you going to?”, accompanied by parents warnings to give your best at school, because otherwise “you won’t make it to college”. And you made it to college, which seemed to be this universal key to your success, and there were years of hard exams and hard parties, discoveries and disappointments, first professional experience and recurring thought “Am I on a right way?”.

Mom’s way of making choices

How one becomes careerless? Well, different people – different stories, I’m responsible only for mine, although I believe there’re many similar.

Back then, when I was a child, the world was less complicated; I knew there’re such professions as doctor, teacher, policeman, driver, construction worker, salesman – those which I faced in daily life, in the books and on TV. The 1990s were hard and unpleasant time in a former Soviet country – people hoped for the best, gave their best, lived in constant uncertainty and were afraid that things can get worse anytime. Seriously, I prefer not to look back at those times. But it was exactly then when my Mom came up with a brilliant idea that her daughter i.e. me would be an interpreter. According to her, being an interpreter was accompanying delegations and looking fabulous – perfect girls’ job. Apart from that in Soviet times interpreters belonged to those lucky few who had an opportunity to see the outer world – and of course had access to foreign goods.

There was a set of reasons that drove her to this conclusion: I read a lot, was good at school, showed interest and talent in foreign languages (back then English and French) and had no interest in this part of the world girls’ activities like dancing or singing. This last point deserves a whole article, but at least for now I make it clear: Eastern European girls (especially from former USSR) must dance. It’s a cultural stigma, which is determined by the male-dominated society, a sort of essential part of the femininity. Have you ever wondered why there’re so many strippers from Eastern Europe all around the world? But back to record and to the girls who don’t dance.


Education doesn’t make you smarter – sometimes just the opposite

I never really doubted this interpreter thing much, mostly because there was an unwritten rule in my society “do what you are able do to”. And I was able to succeed in foreign languages, so no wonder that at 17 I found myself at a Foreign Languages Department. Then 5 years (yes, there’s different educational system) of major disappointment followed. First, my classmates made me wondering all the time “And these people are going to graduate in foreign languages?! Damn, they can’t put 3 words together!”. Probably arrogance is my middle name, but I’m a realist, and believe me, that was a very accurate estimation. Then the teachers – and sorry if I can’t call them professors because of difference in the educational systems, and because they’re really not ones – were less than inspiring, often making the frustration with their own life situation a way too obvious for us, students. I heard enough of “None of you is special here”, “Get down to Earth”, “You shall not pass (the exam)”. Anyway, it was already clear for me that I don’t belong to this place and this society, and started to search for another place under the sun; that’s how I made it to Germany and live here pretty happy against all odds.

If I say that my Master studies were major disappointment #2, you’ll think there’s something wrong with me. That’s possible, but on the other hand no one can only blame me for taking a secure way by applying for Cultural Studies. From my perspective the risk of being rejected at other places was too high, and the description of the program seemed quite promising.

After the 1st semester I was thinking that there’s something not OK, but I was not sure whether with me or with those studies. I decided that I just needed a bit more time to get used to the new system. After the 2nd semester I was like “Damn! It’s a trap! What should I do with this “education”?!”. The thing was that this study program was absolutely pointless and didn’t open any career perspectives for its graduates. Nonetheless, the habit of getting stuffs done and the life situation that was not really favourable for quitting this, earned me the Master of Arts title.

After that I was working as a content editor for a local magazine, and joined a European online project OneEurope. I mastered my skills in writing, editing, Social Media, communications, discovered an interest in social entrepreneurship and non-formal education, visited many countries for workshops and partnership activities (I love travelling with purpose!), met lots of exciting, inspiring, motivating, accomplished and simply fantastic people. Now I am also on the Director’s board in OneEurope and participating in different other projects, one of which is MissCareerLess.

Humanities major meme
Humanities major meme

How humanities produce careerless

At the same time I got into the situation, which I call ‘the Curse of Humanities Graduates’. If you studied Humanities as well, it should be familiar to you how professors and supervisors insist that this degree will open endless opportunities for you, that your ability to think critically, your gained soft skills and broad general knowledge will secure you outstanding career chances.

And what about actual skills? Because, this is what your potential employer is seeking. Do you believe that engineers, economists, IT graduates lack critical thinking, soft skills and all round knowledge? They don’t, and apart from that also obtain high foreign language proficiency.

Graduating in Humanities is like being rich in Monopoly – you have an illusion that you have to offer so much but in reality your chances in the labour market are nothing to be excited of.

Thus, if you take your situation seriously in time, you have to develop skills through numerous extra activities. I met many people who still didn’t – and have absolutely no clue why no one hires them despite their degree in literature, culture, philosophy and similar fields.

Therefore, one of the most common ways to become careerless is going to Humanities. No doubt, there’re young people who enter this field having in focus a research work, or a particular interest they see as a potential employment. You can often hear “I studied what I liked” from Humanities students/graduates which sounds as an excuse actually. Because those poor creatures who were forced to go for medicine, finance, engineering, machine building and other fields which include calculations and a bit more than reading and writing, are doomed for high salaries, career and their “uncreative” daily routine. Somehow people never admit that they have just taken the easiest path because they didn’t know what to do or because they “can’t math”. I don’t mean that a success is impossible after studying humanities, it is indeed possible, but in this case your way to it is sufficiently more complex and longer. I bet you also stumbled upon such lines as “…despite graduating in Humanities s/he became a CEO…”. Humanities graduates are not being taken seriously, it is as simple as that.

C’mon, that’s for girls!

One more reason why I’m addressing particularly this issue is because Humanities are often considered to be “girls’ stuff”. Humanities are for girls, technical and mathematical studies are for boys. It’s astonishing how this stereotype hasn’t ceased to exist yet, instead it seems to be flourishing even in the ‘feministically’ advanced Europe: in November, 2014, a German tabloid, Die Welt, published the results of the study held among German high-school students – the percent of girls interested in IT profession was under 0.5%. Why so few girls are interested in technical professions? Why should they if there is a chance of “accompanying delegations and looking fabulous”? Why should they strive for more if they can get a degree solely with reading and writing skills? Why should they strive for more if there is a prospect of “getting married successfully”? I honestly hate that we still have to ask all these questions.

There are many reasons for being careerless, but what is more important is that there is no one to blame for it. Probably if parents motivated their children with “give your best at school so that you can make your dreams come true” instead of mythic college perspective, the kids would have fewer problems in finding their path. If the adults were wondering what children enjoy doing instead which college they chose to attend, there would be less stress and pressure. And that would make many choices more profound and self-conscious rather than driven by archaic society beliefs.

And by the way: you can look fabulous in any profession, but most fabulous in one you feel fabulous.

2 thoughts on “The Curse of Humanities Graduates

  1. Great article Hanna!
    I am also a Humanities graduate and wasn’t able to find a job with my education.
    In terms of my family, I actually have the opposite situation. My father studied economics, because his parents told him to do that, as he could more easily get a job afterwards. Now he works in banks all over the world, but he doesn’t believe he contributes anything to the world… and he is very unhappy.
    As a result he encouraged me to study whatever I like and ideally something creative, which uses my talents and passions.
    I listened to him and studied Film Directing. I knew it would be much more difficult and take much more time to find a good job (in fact in film there are no full-time jobs, but occasional projects) and so I did not have the expectation, and therefore disappointment that I will find a job soon after university in my chosen field.
    Film Directors usually become successful in their 30s for a number of different reasons.
    I guess this is part of a big debate on whether we should choose a more practical degree – as you say “finance, engineering, machine building”, or a more idealistic one “literature, culture, philosophy and similar fields”.
    This is a personal choice, but ultimately the world needs a lot of both. If we didn’t have philosophers and writers, but instead all of us were bankers and machine builders, the world would be a sad place.
    Our governments (and the EU) need to do more to encourage culture. On the one hand we do need bankers and engineers, but there must also be a large percentage of people studying humanities. If it is a doomed career, no one will study it any more, and we’ll have a world full of bankers. Without artists, philosophers and cultural professionals, society would not have a soul, and our world would not have a meaning. As Barroso recently said: “Culture is the glue that binds Europe together”
    I believe your choice is the brave one Hanna, and the noble one. You can, and I am sure you will, contribute more to the world than any banker.

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