Connor Larson is a junior-level transfer student, majoring in History and minoring in Asian Studies. He also plans on spending the coming spring semester in China through the Best Semester program. When he isn’t drowning in the sea of reading that is the study of history, he enjoys biking in our lovely Midwestern climate, making stir-fry — a basic requirement of the Asian Studies minor — and doing even more reading when time permits. Once we discovered that we had both read 1984 in high school, he mentioned that “this person is studying. He is a double-plus good citizen. Be like this person.” In addition to his healthy admiration of Big Brother, Connor recognizes Disney’s Flynn Rider as a role model. He also has a healthy dose of suspicion towards interviewers, and insisted on asking me several of his own questions to ensure that he could trust me with his answers. Behold: the hard-earned responses to my interview questions.
You began your education at a community college in Illinois. When and how did you make the decision to transfer to Bethel?
Upon graduating from high school in 2012, I moved to Colorado. After living there until May I realized that I wasn’t really doing anything, so I moved back home and began my college education by getting an Associate of Arts degree at Rock Valley Community College in my hometown of Rockford, Illinois, which is a fantastic community college. I was mostly getting general education requirements out of the way for when I did transfer to a 4-year college, but wasn’t completely sure of what I wanted to study yet. When I started looking into different universities, I started to consider Bethel after visiting my girlfriend here. However, visiting the campus, meeting some professors, and seeing how they interact with students is what really convinced me to attend Bethel. Plus, the food was much better than it was at the other schools I was considering. (Kerry: Tragically, Connor has only eaten at the Dining Center twice so far this year.)
What has been the best thing about transferring to Bethel? Conversely, what has been the most challenging?
Going to a community college was good because it was inexpensive, I got through it quickly, and I was able to work and save up money for the future. However, there wasn’t really a community aspect and I definitely missed that. The best thing about being here is that my girlfriend is here as well as my best friend from high school, who started at Bethel for nursing this year. He and I share an apartment off campus, which is fantastic. It’s just been great to have people like that to talk to again.
In the same vein, living off-campus has been one of the more challenging aspects of transitioning into Bethel. Being off-campus and a transfer student can make it difficult to meet new people and connect with the community at large, because I don’t get to spend as much time here as most students do, and Bethel can be fairly clique-y from the outside.
I was also a bit worried about the course load at Bethel because community colleges are not necessarily known for being particularly rigorous. However, I have been doing pretty well so far, so as of right now I’ve been proving myself wrong. The main difference seems to be that there is a lot more reading here than there was at Rock Valley, or I’m actually doing the readings here instead of skipping them.
You are a History major with an Asian Studies minor. When and why did you pick out that major and minor?
I would say that I picked out my history major during my first semester at Rock Valley. The history professors at Rock Valley Community College were wonderful, and I would credit them with getting me interested in history in the first place. It was the first time in quite a while that I had been interested enough in something that I felt like I wanted to pursue it. My non-Western history and humanities courses are what particularly sparked my interest in history, so keeping that in mind, the Asian Studies minor and the global history focus for the History major made the most sense.
For those of us who are less familiar with the Asian Studies minor, what can you tell us about your minor?
From what I’ve seen so far, it’s a lot of Asian history, philosophy, and religion courses, as well as courses in an Asian language. Since I am choosing Chinese for my language, going to China will help to fulfill a lot of those requirements. It’s not a particularly difficult minor, especially if you’re also a History or a Philosophy major. It’s really great- you get to learn about another culture, and it’s not a crazy amount of work, so it doesn’t detract from your major field of study.
How do History and Asian Studies complement each other? Is there anything that makes the pairing difficult?
They complement each other well if your goal is to go into the study of Asian history. It’s particularly helpful because it assists students in learning more about Asian cultures, which assists students in properly understanding Asian history within the appropriate context. Most of us already have more of a cultural knowledge of Western cultures. Even if we aren’t experts on the Italian Renaissance or the Victorian Era, we have that cultural connection since we have been learning and living in that Western culture for our entire lives. Many of us lack that cultural connection for Asian studies, so the minor helps to bridge that knowledge gap and increase the understanding and appreciation for Asian history.
I’m also hoping to integrate my knowledge from the Asian Studies minor into my Senior Seminar for History. Depending on how burnt-out I am on the study of Chinese history after my semester abroad, I may or may not choose a topic in Chinese history to focus on. If I feel as though I need a break from Chinese history, another area I’ve been interested in is Mongolian history and culture. All we really hear about Mongolian history is Genghis Khan coming in, taking over, and doing all these things, but in reality, Mongolia itself is just a fascinating place to look at. The fact that a culture sprouted up there and stayed there, in one of the most inhospitable places on earth is amazing. I’d really love to dig more into that and learn more about how and why people would choose to settle and remain in such a harsh environment.
The pairing can be difficult because the history program at Bethel doesn’t have as much of an emphasis on Asian history as it does on American and European history. The structure of the program makes going into Asian history a little bit more challenging. I don’t blame the department for that — it’s a small area of study within a small major at a small liberal arts school. It just means that most of my history electives will be taken up on Asian history courses.
You plan to study abroad in China next semester. Can you tell me more about that? What do you hope to gain from the experience?
Bethel is not an inexpensive college. The benefit of that is that when you look at the study-abroad programs, you start to realize that many of them are the same cost as or cheaper than a semester at Bethel, so I found myself asking “why not?” My reasons for choosing China include my Asian Studies minor, as well as the fact that I am particularly interested in the history of China. It logically follows that actually going to China will supplement both my major and minor. This experience could also open doors for me if I chose to pursue a job in China in the future, as there is a high market for Chinese-speaking Americans in China. That isn’t my current goal, but it’s definitely an option. Even if, for some reason, I don’t go into the history field, China is a big player in the global economy, and having this experience would be useful for working in the business world. I am also hoping to gain additional knowledge in the Chinese language, which would be useful for communication and for pursuing a graduate degree.
What do your post-graduation educational and/or vocational plans look like?
My post-graduation plans are currently a bit up in the air. Of course, I’d like to go into graduate studies, and eventually pursue a doctorate. But I would be open to other opportunities that arise from my interests in history, China, and Asian history in general. Right now, I’m not completely committing to any specific plans because things change. I don’t want to be upset because my goals don’t come together in the way I originally planned. I could find myself drawn to different locations or opportunities, so I don’t want to nail myself down to any specifics just yet.
What advice might you give to other transfer students, particularly about opportunities like pursuing minors or studying abroad?
Take as many credits as you can at the school you transfer to. If you have the credits in place to fit in a semester abroad, and it fits with what you want to study, do it. The most important piece is planning ahead. As a freshman, it’s easy to shrug things off and say “I’ll be fine,” but it is important to have a general plan.
Another thing that’s not related to history or studying abroad would be to get involved as much as you can. It can be difficult, especially if you’re living off campus, but it’s important to get involved as soon as you can. Once the Welcome Week atmosphere wears off, it can be a lot more difficult to find ways to integrate yourself into the school’s community.