Expand Your Horizons

Originally from Elizabeth, Colorado, Colette Fleury is currently a senior at the University of Wyoming. She is pursuing a degree in art with an emphasis in graphic design, and works for the Campus Activities Center and School of Energy Resources at UW as a graphic designer and 3D modeler. In her spare time, Colette enjoys reading, drawing, snowboarding, playing soccer, traveling, and exploring all things culture and design oriented.

If there is one aspect of college that has been valuable to my outlook on education, it has been the extracurricular courses I have been required to take through my university. I’m serious. When I first received my USP (University Studies Program) requirement list at my college orientation session, I instantly dreaded all of the courses I needed to take: public speaking, foreign language, science, writing, the works. On top of all this, my parents had insisted I sign up for the University Honors Program, tacking on an extra four courses and an independent study, to boot. I thought to myself, “how in the world am I going to get through this without dropping? It’s like high school all over again!” What I didn’t realize, though, was that this program would push me to expand my horizons in a way that fed into my own profession and interests. Granted, I am in graphic design, which as a field often inherently requires a lot of research and understanding of various topics in addition to design theory itself, yet I feel that a well-rounded education base can help most individuals succeed in their personal and professional lives.
I initially took a Cultural Anthropology course in order to get three requirements at once out of the way, which was also slightly fueled by a rather vague interest I had in foreign cultures at the time. While I can’t say I agree with everything presented in the course or ever want to be an anthropologist (which is a good thing to know if you’re not sure which major is right for you!), I can say that it helped me realize just how fascinating and inspiring the work of people in different fields from your own can be. Subsequently, every chance I got I was taking a class on some cultural matter or another, most often in relation to East Asian cultures. My interest in Asia turned into four short-term study abroad sessions to Japan, China, and Hong Kong, which were not only a lot of fun, but incredibly enlightening; what our culture thinks of as normal is most certainly not necessarily true on the other side of the world. I paid particular attention to the art and design of these cultures, coming to understand what sorts of visuals they liked, what was taboo for them, and other sorts of rather important facets of being a designer working with international audiences. Design majors aren’t the only ones who benefit from these experiences, though. A classmate of mine, who is a nursing major and wants to work as a traveling nurse, was able to gain valuable insight on TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) during a trip to Beijing. Any international travel made for study during college years looks great on a resume, particularly when one wants to apply for an international corporation.
While going abroad was incredibly valuable for my educational experience, even if a student doesn’t have the means or is worried about going abroad, there are plenty of other ways to broaden one’s insight into the workings of other professions and cultures. I took Spanish to improve my skills in the language (while I had wanted to take Japanese, it unfortunately wasn’t possible with my schedule in the art program), learned the art of communicating to a mass audience through public speaking, and explored the scientist mindset in Astronomy and Biological Anthropology. In more cultural-based courses on campus, I ventured into the Chinese business mind, studied cultural diversity through artistic expression, and contemplated the religions and philosophies of Eastern culture. In many of my creative projects in the art program, all this accumulated knowledge fed into my ability to create art and design relevant to the greater cultural conversations inherent in the field.
Being at a standard university with general requirements, rather than at an art school with few extracurricular opportunities, has truly proved to be an invaluable and enlightening experience for me. I would encourage others not to dread their required extracurricular courses, but embrace them as a potentially instrumental piece of their educational experience. Go into a class knowing that you will get something out of it, even if all that will be is to realize you don’t want to be an anthropologist. Others may value your expertise and intelligence all the more for it.

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