My CGS Experience: Developing a Love for the Humanities

By Sana Iqbal

Sana Iqbal (bottom right) with a group of classmates before a performance of Hamlet at the Shakepeare’s Globe in London. Photo courtesy Sana Iqbal

We all come into this world as a blank canvas, waiting for people and experiences to leave a mark on us. Among all my learning experiences, the influence of the College of General Studies has left the most influential mark on me. The day I received my acceptance letter to CGS was so exciting to me. The thought of studying abroad in London alone pushed me to embrace this opportunity without hesitation. Little did I know my CGS journey would reshape my very being, molding me into a person far beyond my previous self, and instilling in me the profound values of curiosity, gratitude, and reflection at my core.

I’m originally from the Northern suburbs of Chicago, where the Six Flags serves as my local landmark. Boston’s fast-paced lifestyle initially overwhelmed me. The bustling streets and constant motion seemed like an unending whirlwind, leaving me uncertain if I would ever find my footing. The transition to living alone in a new part of the United States with a different culture was equally daunting. The pressure to join academic clubs and venture into various career paths seemed to suffocate me, leaving no room for creative passions and interests. To make matters worse, some of my CGS classes didn’t initially capture my enthusiasm. 

However, I stumbled upon a hidden love for the humanities. The readings exposing me to different philosophies of life felt right. I found myself lost in the profound wisdom these old readings had that still apply today. Topics such as existentialism and transcendentalism that I had wished to explore for days turned into months, until the moment arrived when I stepped into my first humanities class: HU 103, where the literature and art of ancient times to the Enlightenment unfolded before my eyes. While not explicitly a philosophy class, the readings and art presented diverse perspectives on life’s philosophies within specific eras spanning the Renaissance, Enlightenment, and Romanticism, with one of the perspectives being transcendentalism. CGS proved to be a transformative platform, liberating me from the rat race and fueling my suppressed passions. 

In the halls of CGS, I have been the canvas upon which knowledge and wisdom have been expertly brushed. The transformative curriculum, the nurturing guidance of my professors, and the immersive experiential learning have served as the vibrant palette, blending colors and shades of understanding onto the canvas of my being. 

The CGS curriculum, designed to foster analytical and communication skills, ignite creativity and curiosity, and nurture ethical and civic engagement, holds its students in a unique team-based structure. Divided into four divisions—rhetoric, humanities, social science, and natural science—we formed tightly-knit teams led by dedicated professors. These teams not only shaped our learning experiences but also forged a sense of community and familiarity among peers. It was intriguing to witness how the same curriculum and core values were approached differently by each team, employing diverse readings to provoke similar conclusions. This dynamic allowed for a richer tapestry of knowledge and a more personalized education. The two-year program emphasizes interdisciplinary and experiential learning, which allows for a more immersive educational experience, making the learning process more authentic and genuine.

This program has breathed new life into my curiosity and innovation, urging me to think beyond the confines of convention and relentlessly question the world around me. The curriculum has elevated my consciousness. Now, I explore any topic through the multidimensional lenses of humanities, history, and our interconnected global perspective. 

Sana Iqbal and a classmate on a class excursion to Walden Pond. Photo courtesy Sana Iqbal

Additionally, engaging in experiential learning within the CGS framework proved to be a game-changer, transforming the way I absorbed information. One particular field trip to Walden Pond, following an exploration of Henry David Thoreau’s works, served as a pivotal moment for me. There, amidst nature’s embrace, I witnessed the spiritual connection Thoreau had eloquently described between humans and the natural world in his book Walden. 

My study abroad experience amplified the emphasis on experiential learning. Every week, we embarked on a minimum of two field trips, immersing ourselves in the essence of what we had learned. For instance, when studying naturalism in literature and art, we first read the play The Seagull and then watched it come to life on stage at the Harold Pinter Theatre. By the time I concluded my study abroad program, I felt a profound sense of confidence in my deep understanding of London’s culture, history, and way of life.

The bonds I formed with my CGS professors and advisors go beyond the confines of campus. These incredible individuals have become more than just educators; they are lifelong mentors and have inspired me to look at things with a multi-perspective lens. The guidance and wisdom they imparted to me have left an indelible mark on my journey. They foster an environment where a liberal arts mindset thrives, encouraging an open mind and rejecting the notion of a one-size-fits-all approach. In CGS, students are encouraged to forge their own paths, each of us walking to the beat of our own timelines. This aspect of CGS always reminded me of the exceptional academic advisors I encountered. Their dedication creates an advising committee that is nothing short of remarkable.

Sana Iqbal (bottom left) with her Capstone team. Photo courtesy Sana Iqbal

My experience within CGS has been extraordinary. In this grand masterpiece that is my life, CGS has played a pivotal role as the artist who has breathed life into my canvas. It has shaped me, molded me, and illuminated my path towards personal and intellectual growth. It stands as a testament to the power of experiential learning and the profound benefits of an open-minded and interdisciplinary education. 

This program has empowered me to develop my own beliefs, fostering independence and critical thinking. It has provided me with a holistic education that transcends the confines of textbooks and lectures, immersing me in a hands-on journey of discovery. And as I move forward, carrying the essence of CGS within me, I am grateful for the profound impact it has had on my journey, transforming me into a living, breathing work of art, ever evolving and ever inspired. I am filled with immense pride as an alum of CGS.