When my sister and I were young we would repeatedly get asked a question: what do you want to be when you grow up? “An archaeologist” she would consistently reply. “I want to be a doctor, and a teacher, and a zoologist, and a poet” I would answer enthusiastically. In the eyes of all adults that was, of course, not possible. We are taught from an early age that we must find our destiny, our one true calling, our single real passion, and then commit to it for the rest of our lives.
All through our school years my sister dedicated her evenings to ballet, while I jumped from one after-school activity to the next. I tried Irish dancing, failed miserably at basketball, won a chess school tournament, lost all softball games, took up photography and won a poetry award. My eclectic mix of activities allowed me to develop different abilities, adapt to all sorts of environments, and accept that I would never make it to the Olympics. However, as I got older I realized that I was expected to make a choice. I was presumed to choose one career path and stick to it until my retirement.
Not surprisingly, I ended up changing career majors not once, but three times. From English Literature to Veterinary Medicine to Writing and Spanish Literature, I did it all. I spent years in therapy trying to figure out what was wrong with me, why I couldn’t be like lawyers who work at the same firm for forty years. If I chose literature did that mean that I could no longer be interested in science? Does operating on sick dogs exclude the possibility of reading Shakespeare?
Fortunately it isn’t this simple. I’d like to think that some of us are what is called a “Renaissance Man”, or “a person who has wide interests and is expert in several areas”. Think of Leonardo Da Vinci. Among other things he explored painting, architecture, music, mathematics, engineering, literature, anatomy and astronomy. For Renaissance Men (or Women), Finnish universities are like the Garden of Eden. An academic paradise that every year opens its doors to students who will be able to pursue an assortment of interests.
While it is very respectable (and perhaps even admirable) that some people do follow a straight career path, it is only natural to expect that not everyone will. Much to my parents’ relief, I did end up making a single, somewhat acceptable, choice. However, if I were to be asked again what I want to be when I grow up, I would answer exactly as I did fifteen years ago. I’d like to be everything. After all, we have only one lifetime to understand why some animals thrive in the arid African desserts, how snowflakes form, or the contributions of Homer to Western literature.
The writer is currently studying a Master’s Program in Linguistic Sciences at the Joensuu campus. She is originally from Mexico.