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Samantha Savello: Something new

A magazine cover inspired me to change my concentration from the sciences to the humanities. Had someone told me then, as a freshman, I would never have believed it. But here I am, more satisfied than ever with my decision. 

I started Brown set on concentrating in health and human biology. As soon as I came to campus, I began the race toward medical school. Though I had never gotten lower than an A- in high school, I quickly found myself struggling to keep up with Brown’s rigorous math and science courses.       

At the end of the year, after hardly passing my classes, I went to University Chaplain Janet Cooper Nelson, my academic advisor, desperate for help. I frantically asked her about pre-med courses, retaking classes and switching majors. Instead of giving me answers, she presented me with two questions: “What are your academic interests? What do you like to do?” 

Her questions caught me off guard. That was the first time I had actually thought about what I wanted. The whole time, I had been trying to do what I thought would impress my parents and my friends back home. I never had concrete reasons for pursuing pre-med; it just seemed like the reputable thing to do. 

“Do you want to do science for another seven years?” Janet asked me. I froze up as I thought back to all the courses I had taken so far. Math, biology, chemistry — I hated all of them. I distinctly remember sitting in Calculus, drawing pictures of the student in front of me because I was so bored by the content. I would rush  through my dreaded three-hour long chemistry labs and leave without collecting the proper data. The thought of dragging myself through even more science and math classes for another seven years seemed absolutely unbearable to me. I shook my head.

“Okay, so were there any classes you took that were not in science that you enjoyed?” she pressed further. I racked my brain for what felt like hours, but I couldn’t think of anything.

Then, as I looked over at the table next to me, I saw a magazine with Juanes, one of my favorite Latinx singers, on the cover. That’s when it hit me: Spanish. 

Spanish had fascinated me since high school. I enjoyed learning a new language and culture. Though my maternal grandfather is from Puerto Rico, my mother has lost touch with her Spanish, as well as her father, so studying Spanish also felt like a way to recover the language and my Latinx heritage. Talking to Janet, I realized that more than anything else, I wanted to continue this immersion.  

 My sophomore fall, I started fresh. I enrolled in an upper level Spanish literature course and began to tentatively pursue Hispanic studies. I also enrolled in a studio art course, a Latin American studies seminar and a psychology course. 

Throughout the semester, I grappled with conflicting feelings of contentment and anxiety surrounding my identity. For once, I actually enjoyed my schoolwork. I found overlaps between my courses and got to know my professors — a nearly impossible task in STEM lectures. But the constant disapproving emails from my parents begging me to reconsider STEM, frequent judgement from my peers and the ambiguity surrounding the career applications of my new major made me want to rethink my choices. Was I making progress or moving backwards?

By the end of the semester, with the support of my friends and a lot of soul-searching, I was beginning to make up my mind. I knew I wasn’t a science kid, but I wasn’t a humanities kid either. In fact, it was those very labels that were making my journey so difficult in the first place, labels that Brown encourages students to break down.

In retrospect, my approach had been all wrong. For so long, I had been looking to fit in by doing pre-med, when I really should have been looking to stand out by doing what I truly enjoyed. By the end of my second year, I realized I was my own breed of student, with a mixture of interests and hobbies, ranging from mental health activism to salsa music to weight lifting. I liked singing in the shower and writing essays for fun. My future held grad school or law school or study abroad. Or maybe something completely different. I didn’t necessarily fit in a specific niche or have a concrete plan — and that was okay. 

Today, four years after walking through the Van Wickle gates the first time, I will not graduate with a science degree as I intended. Instead, I will emerge from Brown as a student proud to have studied abroad in Spain, written for The Herald, tutored and completed a thesis about my family heritage. My journey through Brown may have started off shaky and taken me in a completely unexpected direction, but I wouldn’t change it if I had the chance.


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