8 Key Takeaways From My Undergraduate Degree

Going off to University offers some of the best times that a young person can have. You meet new people, experience new things, and are exposed to new ideas.

Generally speaking it is a period of learning, both about yourself and about the world. I know for me personally I learned many ideas that changed the way I look at the world, as well as a bit of introspection about me personally.

I did my undergraduate studies in the social sciences, with a major in political science. I’m really glad with what I chose for my studies, even though I recognize that my schooling didn’t really make me job prepared, but it was no less important to me personally.

When you arrive at a University the first thing you learn is that there is so much to learn that there is no way you can try it all. That’s why you are allowed to pick a major and go from there.

I always liked political science and geography, so the classes I picked reflected that. Eventually, by the time I was set to graduate I was satisfied with the key takeaways from my courses that I had learned.

So for my purposes today, I’m going to go through some of my favourite classes and the things I learned that carry over, still, into my life today.

So let’s begin….. the 8 key takeaways from my undergraduate degree

Psychology Of Human Sexuality

Man, this was such a good class. And that mostly has to do with the fact that the lecturer was great. He was a practising doctor and therapist so he was very experienced and knowledgeable, plus he had been around during the days when such things like HIV/AIDS were heavily stigmatized (not saying they are not now, just back in the 80’s it was very bad), so it was a great course from the get-go.

We covered many topics in this course but the main takeaway was that most of our knowledge about sex is thanks to a sexologist named Alfred Kinsey.

He wrote what are now known as the Kinsey Reports, which included Sexual Behavior in the Human Male published in 1948, followed by Sexual Behavior in the Human Female in 1953.

Both were based on a large scale cross country study wherein people were able to identify on a scale (the Kinsey scale) of 0 to 6, where 6 is completely homosexual and 0 is completely heterosexual.

The results were that human sexuality is not as black and white as previously thought. This was quite controversial for the times since the idea of sexual behaviours outside of the confines of marriage were generally looked down upon.

But anyway, it was ground breaking for its time and it served as the basis for what we now know about sexuality in humans. Kinsey’s life was also made into a movie called, Kinsey (2004), that starred Liam Neeson.

Social Problems

I only took this class because it fit with my schedule nicely. The professor was a pompous jerk and most of the subject matter was dull as hell. After the first two months, I kind of came about the opinion that I hated this class (it was a major bummer, but what did I expect?).

But it wasn’t a total waste of time. The second half of the course was based on a book from the assigned reading that focused on problems faced by the indigenous communities in Canada.

This book was good. It was a quick read, and clearly expressed (with empirical data) the problems faced by these communities and how they have been, and remain at odds with the federal government.

Generally, the picture painted was a sad story. Roughly half of all indigenous Canadians die by suicide in Canada and it’s because they are suffering as a group. That is a huge generalization and it definitely doesn’t account for 100 percent of indigenous experience, but by and large the quality of life in northern indigenous communities is not where it should be.

For one thing, they lack access to social services that are desperately needed. Second, they are trying to revive their culture after hundreds of years worth of genocide (Residential School programs).

Life expectancy on the reservation is much lower than in the southern urban zones of Canada and the federal government is at a loss of what to do. Indigenous communities are still fighting for increased autonomy, which they are owed (big statement, I know), and having to handle a society in crisis.

It’s a very complex issue, but the main takeaway is that a significant group within Canada is suffering on a large scale.

Politics Of The Middle East

I took this class around my third year, when things get a little more specialized in your major. I was excited to take this class because from what I initially knew about the region, it is a god damn mess.

I wanted to understand why Israel had no friends amongst it’s neighbours, did the war on terrorism actually accomplish anything, and was Osama Bin Laden really the worst of the worst that the world had to offer?

The issues at hand are very contentious so I’m going to tread lightly.

Generally speaking the region is a mess because of the influence of Western colonial powers (such as the UK, US, and even Canada).

Currently there exists powerful terrorist organizations who call the Middle East home (I took this class before ISIS showed up on the scene). The two most well known are Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

The major takeaway from this course is that all terrorism in this region is linked somehow. The division between Al-Qaeda and the Taliban is very slight. They often share resources and are basically working to the same end. Additionally, Osama Bin Laden was just the symbolic leader of his movement, there remains much worse dudes out there.

As far as Israel is concerned, it remains the only true democracy in the region, but is not totally innocent either.

Latin American Politics

I took this course specifically because of the teacher who was teaching it. He was very knowledgeable and had huge amounts of experience in his field, on top of all that he was a funny guy who was a good lecturer.

I don’t know if you know this, but the Americans have fucked around quite a lot in Latin America. Essentially trying to colonize the region by and large. They have screwed up a lot by trying to impose American friendly dictators as an alternative to social democracy. The result has been human rights abuses, civil wars, and even genocides. So thanks for that…

I know that sounds like a huge inditement, but it is true, and they even made it official hundreds of years ago.

The Monroe Doctrine, was a proclamation to European powers in 1823, that they should stay away from Latin America and any attempts to redirect the politics of the region would be deemed an attack on the United States.

To summarize, they were saying Latin America was their backyard and to stay out. The thing is the region became a hotbed for socialism during the cold war and the Americans were just not going to tolerate that. Fearing Soviet incursion into their hemisphere of influence the Americans toppled (with the help of the CIA) many governments to the detriment of the region.

Because most socialist governments in Latin America were actually elected, the Americans had to favour their dictatorial counterparts, and thus created many problems for citizens (lack of individual liberties, free speech etc).

Don’t believe me, just look at this list of places where the Americans have admitted to helping change the government.

There are only a few Latin American countries that aren’t on it, one of them being Cuba. The Americans were unable to successfully influence the course of their government (I’m not saying Castro’s government was good for the people).

Earth Science

I was pretty nervous to take this class. In high school I had to drop out of chemistry to avoid a bad mark so I was left with the impression I was bad at science.

But unfortunately for me, to graduate you have to take at least one science credit. I had only taken one half of one previously so I had to bite the bullet and get my hands dirty in some Earth.

The course involved buying a big box of rocks to do the labs. So I had to carry that around with me if I wanted to work on the labs while at the library (kind of embarrassing).

I was so afraid I would fail this class that I studied my ass off for it.

When all was said and done, I got an A and the professor even emailed me telling me I did very well compared to everyone else (who had been asking for a bell curve).

I’m not bringing this up to brag, but rather that the key takeaway from taking this course is that it’s important to step outside of your comfort zone and try new things.

I didn’t go further with my studies in Earth science but I learned that I certainly could have.

I learned that perhaps it’s a good thing to be afraid, and especially a fear of failure. Because simply put, fear is a good motivator.

Geography Of The Solar System

This class was for nerds, and since I am one, I had a really good time. Additionally, the professor was a goof ball so it made things that much more enjoyable.

We learned about the difference between asteroids, comets, and meteorites, and covered the specifics related to each of the celestial bodies that orbit our Sun.

I said celestial bodies, because aside from the planets that we already know about there are hundreds of things that occupy our solar system.

There was no final exam but there was a huge project that was a large undertaking.

And it went like this…

Define what a world is, then make a detailed list of all the worlds in our solar system.

Sounds easy enough. But the thing is the definition of what a world is, is up to interpretation and is subject to ambiguous language.

I won’t go into my exact version of what a world is, but I basically said it is anywhere where an astronaut could theoretically stand under the influence of a given body’s gravity.

So I had to find all the celestial bodies that were 1) not gaseous 2) were large enough to basically be spherical.

In the end the list was huge.

Professor goof ball told us at the onset of this project that there was no right answer and that scientists were always tweaking and altering their own lists of worlds in the solar system.

I learned about many moons, asteroids, and satellites that could be said to be worlds and so I got a really interesting tour of the solar system we call home.

The key takeaway however is that nobody knows how many worlds exactly are in our solar system.

You may also like: Aliens: They Are Real, And They Want Your Butt

African Geography (Sub-Saharan)

I’ve always been interest in Africa. Both for its wildlife and for its geography. So when I was offered this class by my University I jumped at the opportunity.

The professor had spent a lot of time in Sub Saharan Africa and was very passionate about her subject. There was one problem though.

A lot of people thought it would be a bird course so the class was filled with jerks who did not appreciate the subject matter. Anyway, I did not let that detract from my experience.

I’ll jump ahead to the end of the course and the key takeaways that I learned.

First off, Sub-Saharan Africa is an incredibly diverse and multicultural place. There are so many languages and different ethnicities that span the continent that it’s nearly impossible to enumerate them all. Additionally, Africa has some of the world’s oldest civilizations, Universities, and cultures.

Second, colonial powers are largely to blame for everything that has ever gone awry in the continent for the past 300 years. That is partially because when they were dividing up the continent they disregarded ancient tribal differences that existed between various groups. Also, they used a divide and conquer technique which pitted those groups against each other to then slide into the power vacuum.

Third, structural adjustment programs (economy) instilled by the IMF and the World Bank have caused more head aches than they are worth for African countries, often leading to severe hyper inflation and the total devaluation of all currency.

Forth, HIV has had a widespread and devastating impact on many, many communities. The life expectancy is low because of this, and anti-retrovirals are often out of reach of the locals who desperately need them.

It’s hard to summarize a course about such a large and diverse region as Africa so you’ll have to forgive me for any glossing over I did to get my points across. There are definitely exceptions to every situation.

History Of Totalitarianism

This course focused on the history of both Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia. It was a very dense course, with lots of dates to remember so I’ll summarize as succinctly as possible.

And that goes like this…It was incredibly shitty to live under both regimes (if you managed to survive).

There was a good chance that you would be rolled up into some cleansing efforts if you spoke out or acted in any way that was not consistent with the party line.

While it could be said that the quality of life under both improved for a period of time, the atrocities committed by the Nazis and the Soviets are inexcusable.

If you consider that Hitler came to power after Germany’s decimation in WWI and was a wrecked nation, it was only up from there….and then very clearly down again.

Same thing with Russia.

Russia had suffered greatly during the war and the peasants were the ones left holding the bag. So the bar was low as far as standards of living are concerned. When standards went up, some politicians and generals got very powerful and their scene became very dangerous for the lay-person.

Any way you cut it, both of these regimes controlled every facet of daily life for its citizens. Not good.

They also killed millions of people to make it happen….also not good.

A Final Note

Depending on what you choose to study at school, your experience will be different and you’ll learn different things.

There’s a lot to learn in life and you could study until you are dead, but there comes a time when enough is enough and it’s time to get on with your career.

That being said, I think I’ll go back to school when I’m retired and do a masters in something I find interesting, just because it’s there.

I really enjoyed my days in University. What’s not to like!

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