Ruining your academic love, one essay at a time

When I tell people I’m studying a triple honours degree, their reactions fall into one of two camps: team “I didn’t even know that was possible,” and team “Are you crazy, do you want to die from overwork?”
My degree is is English literature with German and French, and the reason I chose to study all three is simply because I thoroughly enjoy all of them. However, it must be said that I have a love/hate relationship with my degree modules, and my enjoyment of them does have the tendency to wax and wane which raises the question: if something you enjoy becomes a chore, can you still enjoy it?
Despite it being one of my favourite pastimes throughout my childhood, I began to fall out of love with reading for pleasure at the end of my A-Levels. I would rather devote the little spare time in-between revising I had to pursuing activities other than reading, as I had to study so many novels and poems for my English literature class. After analysing Wuthering Heights to within an inch of its life, I was ready to throw it (along with The Great Gatsby) out of the window. To my dismay, I found the same to apply when I started the English literature course here. As interesting as the module was, we were hurried through the novels and poems at an extraordinary pace, with a ‘wheel them in, wheel them out’ mentality. Although that was what the course required, I found that reading and analysing so many texts in such a short space of time led to me barely having time to appreciate each one, and as a result, an activity I once loved became a chore, and the original enthusiasm and drive that I had for the subject began to fade.
Fortunately, the same is only true in part for French. My fondness of the language has increased dramatically since I started studying it at the age of 11. I initially detested the irregular verb endings and confusing tenses and I guessed my way through most of the vocabulary, mainly through trying to say English words with a French accent (Le cow, anyone?).
By the time I begun university, however, I could hold near fluent conversations with native speakers in French and most of my reading for pleasure (before bed, and whenever I got a spare five minutes) consisted of French novels. Now, however, after a baptism with fire in seventeenth and nineteenth century French literature, even reading as something as well known and classic as Harry Potter in French to try and wind down in the evening has had all the pleasure taken out of it.
Luckily the one aspect of the course where my enthusiasm hasn’t been dampened is the oral aspect. I still love speaking the language. I feel as though studying a subject you like in a controlled and clinical classroom setting can lead to increasing tedium, so it is important to have “out of classroom” experiences such as speaking the language with friends who speak it, or with native speakers. Doing this gives the course a bit more colour and enthusiasm, and whenever I hear someone with the distinctive accent around St Andrews I will start speaking to them in French, for enjoyment as well as for practice.
I started German as a complete beginner in first year and immediately felt as though I had been thrown in at the deep end, giving far more blank looks than correct answers for the first half of the semester at least. As the year progressed, although I found it the toughest of all my three modules, it quickly became the one I enjoyed the most. It was a breath of fresh air from English and French, both of which I was already familiar with. There would be, quite literally, something new to learn every lesson and I loved the challenge of a completely new and unfamiliar subject.
As such, studying German and going from novice to intermediate hasn’t made me enjoy it less at all; on the contrary, the more in depth my studies go, the more complex and intriguing the grammar and vocabulary is, the more I want to keep learning.
The one thing I love about all my three disciplines however, is the greater depth I can study them here at St Andrews as opposed to at school. Although I find the pace at which I must read the texts and learn facts for my modules discerning, and the sheer volume of work can sometimes be overwhelming, I enjoy exploring areas of study that might not otherwise be open up to me. Although the increased workload sometimes makes the degrees seem dull, leaving little room for enjoyment, my knowledge of each subject has increased massively.

However, as tiresome as it may occasionally seem, I would not have recently converted to a triple honours degree unless I genuinely was enthusiastic about all my subjects and wanted to continue with them. Although I can connect with the saying ‘too much of a good thing can be bad’, the best advice I could give to students in a slump would to be not to see your degree as a task. Instead, view it as you would a relationship that you have invested a lot of time into. Try and see the potential and revive that sense of excitement and passion that was there at the beginning. If you are able to do so, you have made the right choice in your degree- do not give up on it!


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