Reaffirming My Passion Through CGS

Me atop the London Eye, one of the many places I visited during my CGS London trip in May!

By Gabrielle Drillis (CGS ’22, CAS’24)

College is a whirlwind of experiences, networking, chaos, and memory-making. Boston University has more than 100 majors to choose from, and while this large selection can be exciting, it can also be overwhelming at times. Though the magnitude of options can be daunting, the experience of taking College of General Studies courses, exploring electives, and working with your CGS academic advisor can help students narrow in on the pathway that is right for them. Through my experience at CGS I was able to reaffirm my passion for international affairs, discover new interests, and gain a valuable skill set – including public speaking, historical research, and professional writing – that I will carry with me throughout my academic and career journeys. 

Defining What Passion is to Me

Being faced with the question of “What do you want to do for the rest of your life?” at 18 years old is daunting, especially when starting college during a pandemic. Throughout the Spring 2021 semester, I found myself repeating this question in my head while I sat in the Warren Towers study room trying to engage with the hours of online classes I was attending. By definition, passion is a very strong, almost uncontrollable, emotion. Passion can be used to describe almost anything; how someone feels about a particular food, an artistic performance, a relationship, or a college major. 

During high school, I would often tell people that my passions were innovation and helping others, and while I was certainly not lying to them, I was not being completely truthful with myself. Part of me did not want to fully embrace my interests in foreign affairs because it might come as a disappointment to those rooting for my women-in-STEM journey. However, I did not let the opinions of others dictate my journey and made the decision to fully pursue international relations and left STEM behind. High school offers many opportunities but is still limited in the real-world experience it can provide, making it a bit difficult to define a personal passion. 

I thoroughly enjoyed my engagement in the Model United Nations club and brought that sentiment to Boston University. After taking my first-year CGS courses – Rhetoric, Humanities, and Social Sciences – I realized that those initial interests had moved past a level of general attraction to something I wanted to explore more deeply. When that new perspective continued to grow deeper, I knew I had finally found my true passion for global events, history, and policy in the midst of all my general interests. 

How the CGS Curriculum Fostered My Passion

 The College of General Studies curriculum consists of four main courses that students must complete before the end of their sophomore year: Social Sciences, Humanities, Rhetoric, and Natural Sciences. Through these classes, students are able to experience an interdisciplinary and liberal arts education that provides them with valuable skills and knowledge. The smaller classroom size allowed for more professor-to-student interaction, removing that “small fish in a big pond” feeling whenever entering my classroom. Due to the heavy emphasis placed on research, analyzing, and writing through all the CGS courses, I was pushed out of my comfort zone and forced to improve upon these skills – and I am so happy I did. 

In high school, I was indifferent toward my history and English classes; I enjoyed them, but never felt particularly excited given the subjects always seemed to come easy to me. However, these subjects now posed a different level of challenge, one that required me to put in a substantial effort in order to not only remember the content, but truly understand what was being taught. Through this, I found my excitement – my passion. Homework assignments and studying did not feel like a chore; instead, I felt like a detective slowly pulling away and discovering new layers of history and myself. 

CGS Academic Advising was critical to helping me pursue my passions at BU.

The reaffirmation process went beyond the CGS curriculum itself. Dr. Alyse Bithavas, my academic advisor Ilda Hanxhari, and the rest of the faculty and staff at CGS provided me with invaluable resources and advice. I never felt ashamed or discouraged when going into their offices with a list of questions and concerns (which happened quite often). Dr. Bithavas, especially, played a key role during the success of my Spring 2022 semester. She and I engaged in many meetings, emails, and even phone calls to ensure that I completed the semester with academic and emotional satisfaction. The academic advising team, professors, and administrators of CGS want to see their students succeed and will do everything in their power to make you feel welcomed, respected, and encouraged. 

Declaring My Major

Students in the College of General Studies declare their major in February of their sophomore year. With this in mind, I felt more pressure than ever to determine if my “new” passion was truly the one I was ready to declare, the one I could foresee myself studying for the next two years and bringing with me into my graduate studies, and eventually, my life long career. Although I enjoyed the content of my CGS courses, the fact that Boston University offers over 100 majors caused the fear of missing out on another possible passion to begin to seep in. Due to my interest in the sciences, I decided to branch out and study something I never had before through different electives. My fall 2021 semester schedule consisted of Intro to Neuroscience, Semester 1 Spanish, and General Chemistry, three courses that I never envisioned myself taking in college .

While the first seven weeks of my fall semester were chaotic, they provided me with the reassurance that STEM was certainly not for me and I truly belonged where I felt myself constantly being pulled: history and foreign affairs. If I had not been enrolled at the College of General Studies, I am not sure if I would have ever had the opportunity to take such a wide variety of classes. Would I still be questioning my passion? Would I feel as if I missed out on what BU has to offer? Where would I be now?

Come February of my sophomore year, I eagerly declared my major as International Relations with a Foriegn Policy and Security Studies in Europe track. Writing that down on the Major Declaration Google Form while sitting in Dr. Bithavas’s office was the most relieving and oddly exhausting experience I have had thus far at BU. Of course, it would have been easier to simply stick with my initial gut instinct of studying International Relations, but I chose the more challenging path, making my college journey feel much more rewarding. 

How My Journey is Going

I am now a junior and officially matriculated into the Pardee School of Global Studies, housed by the College of Arts and Sciences. My courses have already exceeded my expectations, fully engaging my mind and interests every time I step into a classroom. Further, I am on track to complete my major credits by graduation and HUB units by the beginning of my senior year, allowing for a perfectly balanced academic schedule the next three semesters. The skills I learned in my CGS classes, particularly Rhetoric, have followed me into my IR courses. My ability to investigate sources, think outside the box, and articulate my thoughts in a professional yet creative manner will allow me to produce work that fully exemplifies my potential.

My Advice

If you are ever feeling overwhelmed, confused, defeated, or frustrated with your academics, just know that Boston University is here to help you. The four years you spend here are for you. Make the most of it. Ask questions to your advisors and professors, reach out to friends and classmates, explore new opportunities that are out of your comfort zone, and know that you will never fall behind, you will only be adding to the unique experience that makes you you. Despite the chaos that surrounded my academic journey during my first two years at BU, I am grateful for every moment of it. I met wonderful people and learned invaluable lessons about how to go about making the most of my time in college. 

Along with the CGS faculty and advising team, here are some other resources that helped me immensely in my academics, personal goals, and getting to where I am today:

  • Educational Resource Center: The ERC offers a variety of free academic tools to help students succeed in areas they may be struggling in. Some of their services include Peer Tutoring, Chemistry Sunday Study, and Writing Assistance.
  • Center for Career Development: The CCD provides students with everything they need to jumpstart their search for internships and jobs. From resume workshops, the Professional Clothing Closet, and online Self Discovery tools, the Center for Career Development is a wonderful way to explore new opportunities and build professional skills. 
  • SPLASH: Although SPLASH is not an official office or organization at BU, the event (one at the beginning of the fall semester and another at the beginning of the spring semester) is an amazing opportunity to meet fellow students, explore over 450 clubs that BU has to offer, and broaden your horizons! 

If you have any questions about my academic journey or any of the resources I mentioned, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me via email, Linkedin, or connect with other students and alumni through the CGS Linkedin page!