Students in Duke Kunshan’s undergraduate degree program declare a major toward the end of their second year, providing them the time to explore a diverse range of interests. Bei Chen ’22 from Chengdu, China, explains his reasons for choosing media and arts (creative practice track).
Bei Chen (right) with Class of 2022 classmate Jicheng You
What major did you have in mind when you enrolled at DKU?
When I first enrolled, I was interested in environmental science (chemistry track), as chemistry was a subject that I liked a lot at high school.
What DKU courses do you feel have had the largest impact on you?
I would say a history course called Shanghai Nightscape and Introduction to Computer Science have had the biggest impact on my overall learning experience at DKU so far.
Shanghai Nightscape was a course I took in session one of my freshman year, the very beginning of my college life. This course just blew my mind. I never thought a history course could be from a perspective of studying nightlife in Shanghai. From this angle, I got the chance to know better about the specific historical and social context combined with a relatively daily and imaginable topic, rather than just reading stories that were far away from us. But this didn’t mean the course was easy. Instead, as this topic was not something that had been researched by many scholars, we needed to read a lot of materials to get the information ourselves, which was quite a challenge. At that time, I realized that maybe this was what college study was all about, to gain the knowledge actively.
The most unforgettable part of the course was the field trip. Can you believe that a group of students intentionally left for Shanghai in the late afternoon so that they can experience the nightlife scene themselves? That was something I’d never thought of before I took this course. We really got the chance to see the nightlife in person, not in a museum but really stepping into the different bars and hotels we’d learned about. That was amazing.
Introduction to Computer Science in my sophomore year reinforced the importance of thinking and exploring on our own, because coding is all about using what you’ve learned as different tools and combining different parts together to solve a problem. You can have several ways to deal with the same problem, and that’s fascinating. During this course, I got a lot of alone time to think about and practice using the knowledge. In addition, by having different quizzes each day, I could always check whether I’d successfully mastered one part of the knowledge. I think the learning mode of computer science has been helpful to my other courses.
I also took some courses purely out of interest, such as economics, American literature, and film editing. They actually helped me to explore different areas. So, when I’m chatting with people that have different backgrounds, I’m able to find a topic that we are both interested in. Sometimes, there even exists some connection between our courses in different disciplines. For example, with some knowledge about American literature during a certain period, we can gain a more detailed understanding about some economic event that happened at the same time. Also, by understanding some terms in philosophy, it can be much easier to get across what a certain film means. I guess that’s one pretty surprising thing – there’s always a connection.
When did you start considering alternative majors?
Chen receives a prize for a documentary project
from Tourgeé D. Simpson, Jr., associate dean
for academic advising
When I was taking Integrated Science, I was thinking about maybe choosing another major, as I don’t really feel passionate about science. At that time, I was also doing a vlog project on campus, and it was the first time I’d gotten to know about making video. I instantly became interested, and I started to learn about photography, editing, color grading, and so on, by myself. I thought this could be my interest but not my career, as jobs related to this area are not very promising. I was still planning to choose a major that could provide me with a stable income while doing something related to video.
One day, I met with Tourgeé D. Simpson, Jr., associate dean for academic advising, and we started talking about my plan for the future. After listening, he asked me, “Why would you spend time learning something you like and something you don’t like? You could have just used the same amount of time, or even less time, learning the one you like and even become a specialist in it.” That was like something piercing through my heart. Starting from then, I felt like maybe I needed to explore the media and arts field a bit more to see what it really looked like, instead of having an assumption in my mind. My academic advisor Terry Yang also helped go through this exploration process and gave me useful advice. He encouraged me to explore different fields rather than stay in the same spot, as it could help with my final decision.
Later, I took courses related to environmental science and media and arts, and I gradually discovered that environmental science might not be the perfect fit for me, as I didn’t feel the same passion that I was putting into media and arts. It could still be my interest, though, as I know more about the world thanks to my knowledge on environmental science.
What were the main reasons behind your decision to major in media and arts?
I would say the decision-making process was a gradual one. Now I think, “After all, if you’re doing a job, why not do something that you love?” Even though that may mean it could be hard from the start, I still want to take that risk. If there were no risk, things would be too boring. (That is also maybe the reason why I chose DKU, ha.)
So, I declared media and arts (creative practice track) as my major. My reason, simply put, was love. I chose the major because I love it. It’s a field I can devote all my time learning. I love the feeling of doing projects with my classmates and learning different things from them. This learning process is awesome. I believe as time passes, I’ll become more and more professional.
Do you have any plans for after graduation?
I’m still deciding, but one thing for sure is that I’m going to prepare to apply for graduate school, where I hope I can improve my professional skills and be inspired with more interesting thoughts. I’m also planning to find an internship to see how things really work in this field, to get some experience that can better my future graduate studies.
What do you feel are the benefits of a liberal arts education?
So far, I think a liberal arts education really gives me the chance to explore different fields before I finally make a decision about my future career. You can choose whatever you like in the first two years. A liberal arts education also offers a chance to see how different disciplines work together, and it’s always surprising to see the interconnection between different areas. You need to understand different knowledge when you are carrying out a project. For example, when I was doing a media art project related to computer science and psychology, I needed to understand basic computer science and psychology so that I could better edit the content and present a more professional video. This is something that just learning knowledge about media and art cannot provide.
Find out more about Duke Kunshan’s undergraduate degree program.