by Anthony Parenti

For what kind career, if any, are students with liberal arts degrees prepared?

As a young college graduate with no real work experience and a degree in a subject that seems arcane to many, I was thrilled to find a job as a Latin teacher in Philadelphia. It was certainly the most challenging work I’ve ever done. My passion for Latin was not enough for my success as a teacher. I had to develop a new set of skills. At times I felt like I had failed my students because of my inability to manage my classroom effectively. Instead of giving up, my dissatisfaction with my own performance drove me to grow as an educator. I made a lot of improvements because I recognized my failures and never stopped trying to find a practical solution for them. In the course of my brief teaching career, I often felt discouraged and alone. Every other teacher seemed to be excelling while I struggled every day. My knowledge of the content matter had almost no bearing on my ability to teach effectively. Unsure of what to do and facing seemingly insurmountable difficulty, I sought help from my professional network. Had I not learned the value of networking at Temple University, I doubt I would have even known that the global Classics community would be one of my most valuable resources. I consistently participated in Classics conventions to try to conquer my feelings of doubt and despair. Latin teachers from around the world gave me ideas for how to improve my classroom and made me feel part of a supportive community. I left each convention feeling revitalized, driven to create the best Latin class.

Studying the humanities has not trained me to follow a path set out for me by others but to forge my own path.

Although I made huge strides as a Latin teacher, I don’t see myself pursuing a career in education. Studying the humanities has not trained me to follow a path set out for me by others but to forge my own path. In the course of my career search, I worked a lot of jobs not pertaining to Latin or Ancient Greek. I worked at a pet store, at a Victorian house museum, and in a restaurant. The analytical thinking skills I learned by studying Classics helped me to succeed, whether I was trying to organize time-sensitive shipments of pet food or making cheesesteaks for hungry tourists. Studying Classical languages taught me to organize complex information in a logical way, be it dog treats or classes of verbs. In the restaurant, the tickets that indicate what meals to prepare are organized in the order they are to be served, not in the order they are to be prepared. Trying to decipher the meaning of a language whose word order seemed almost arbitrary when compared with English taught me to read and process a lot of detailed information so that I am able not only to translate Euripides, but also to know how to complete many time-sensitive tasks efficiently. I don’t need to belabor my point by mentioning how my intense study of language helped me to communicate effectively with museumgoers. Indeed communication was the key to building a rapport with visitors that made gift shop sales a pleasure rather than a burden. Although none of my sundry work experiences involved reading ancient literature, all were informed by my Classical education.

Only now as a graduate student do I realize that my mentors at Temple were teaching me responsibility, leadership, and sodality.

My experience at Temple University’s Department of Greek & Roman Classics taught me the skills to succeed both in and out of the classroom. As a Classics student at Temple I was always pushed to do more than I thought I could handle. My professors constantly urged me to develop my language skills, not only in English, Latin, and Ancient Greek, but also in French and Italian. In classes made up of students with widely varying levels of language proficiency, I learned to challenge myself and to take responsibility for my own education. Beyond just academics though, they encouraged me to cultivate professional and life skills. For example, I was recruited to join Eta Sigma Phi, the national honor society for Classics, when one of my professors nominated me to be an officer for our local Zeta Beta chapter. Suddenly I was responsible for organizing and participating in fundraisers in order to take our members to the national convention. At first I didn't see the value in doing all of this extra work. Why did I have to go to the national convention? Why did I have to make cookies for a bake sale? What was the point of networking? Only now as a graduate student do I realize that my mentors at Temple were teaching me responsibility, leadership, and sodality.

One of the most valuable skills I learned at Temple is to find creative solutions for life’s obstacles. For example, I wanted more than anything to study at Temple’s campus in Rome for my entire junior year. Because such a long trip seemed out of the realm of financial possibility, I worked three jobs in addition to my full semester course load in order to achieve my goal. My professors from the close-knit Classics Department helped me find two of the three jobs: a research fellowship and a student teaching position. It was only through their help that I was able to study in Rome. Because of my idyllic time in Italy, I craved to travel in Europe again after finishing my B.A. Like most unemployed twenty-two year olds, I found myself completely without the means for such a trip. Instead of giving up, I sought out opportunities following the example of my Temple professors. Through an English Language Teaching Assistantship, I lived in Southwest France for a year. The initial hurdle of paying for an expensive Euro-trip quickly transformed into a solution: the French government actually paid me to teach English in the Midi-Pyrnénées! This trip, however, only exacerbated my travel bug and led me to apply for a scholarship from Eta Sigma Phi and a generous grant from the Classical Association of the Atlantic States (CAAS), which funded my tour of the Bay of Naples with the Vergilian Society this past summer. Without the perseverance and creative problem solving I had learned by studying Classics at Temple, I would not have known how to turn this fanciful idea of traveling abroad into a reality. In my experience, my B.A. in Classics has proved a reliable tool not only for the purpose of traveling the world but also for understanding the languages and history of the places I’ve visited.

My degree in Classics hasn’t provided me with specialized training that directly translates to any profession in particular. Much more valuable to me are the skills that are universally applicable. I have learned how to process complex information, how to communicate effectively in several languages, and how to fund my passions for travel and study. I know to take responsibility for my personal and professional goals and to rely on my professional network for support. I’m still planning my career path but my desire to learn has not been quenched. I’m not sure it ever can be. So I’m currently studying for my M.A. in Classics at the University of Kentucky’s Department of Modern & Classical Languages, Literatures, and Cultures. I know that after graduation my liberal arts education will be a benefit rather than a hindrance in making my own career path, even if none seem apparent to the untrained eye.

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