It seems the common impression that the students from the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures (DFLL) are generally studying Shakespeare, and spend most of their time with their noses stuck in English books. That was the way I pictured DFLL students – graceful and well-read – and, when I first entered the department myself, I wondered to myself if I could ever become as knowledgeable and cultured as my predecessors before me.
That was over two years ago, and in a blink of an eye, I have become a junior in this wonderful department. I have discovered that the DFLL was not only everything that I had imagined it to be, Shakespeare and all, but an even more fulfilling experience than I could ever have hoped, academically and activity-wise. The DFLL offers not only classes on literature, but everything that has to do with language as well, with linguistic, academic writing, translation, oral training, and drama courses. Of course, extra-curricular activities are also a must for us active DFLLers – our annual DFLL Night, drama contests, and graduation drama performances are some of the biggest events each year and are always packed with spectators. This flurry of activities and scholarly training thus makes the DFLL a worthwhile place to spend the four years of your college life – and believe me; it will fly by all too fast!
For those interested in literature, the DFLL is certainly the place to be. Students are expected to take courses such as Introduction to Western Literature in their first year, which covers everything from Homer to the Divine Comedy. Epics such as the Iliad and the Odyssey will no longer seem intimidating, complicated and untouchable literary works. Under the guidance if our teachers, they will become instead enthralling stories with action-packed plots. You will find that Achilles, the greatest warrior in Greek history, was really a very spoiled brat whose only goal was to kill. And you will also find that Odysseus was too attractive for his own good, as it kept him from getting home earlier because Calypso was too enamored by him to let him go home. Another interesting class is Approaches to Literature, where students are taught how to analyze literature and given an introduction to the different forms of literature, may it be poetry, drama, or prose. More contemporary works were introduced to us in this class, and we touched on issues relating to feminism and social problems. For example, in Ibsen’s “A Doll House,” we discussed the spiritual awakening of Nora, a naive young wife who realized that she should no longer be her husband’s sweet little squirrel. There are also classes on History of English, American, and European literature, which takes you through the more prominent works of each region throughout a historical timeline. For example, in History of English Literature, we began with Beowulf (who killed a monster by pulling out its arm! – an allegory of confronting danger and not letting go), and went on to, yes – you guessed it – the greatest of English playwrights, Shakespeare. And speaking of plays, we naturally come to drama class! All sorts of plays are covered, from the classical to the crude. You will find Renaissance morality plays, and comedies like Aphra Behn’s “The Banished Cavaliers”, set during a masquerade with characters that swear and who are continually running after women! It is all great entertainment, which is one of the reasons that the DFLL is so much fun.
Of course, there are other classes that which do not put suck emphasis on literary analysis, and focus on our other language skills, as our department name suggests equal emphasis on language and literature! Oral training classes will give students a chance to practice speaking and presentation, as well as perfect intonation and pronunciation (a tip: think of 內 when pronouncing “name.”). A variety of second foreign languages can also be chosen from, such as Latin, German, Spanish, French, and Japanese. Composition classes, apart from teaching one to write coherent and effective essays, also teaches students how to think logically, as that is the basis of a well-organized piece of writing. Unlike high school composition where teachers merely look over grammar mistakes and give you a grade, the teachers carefully analyze your compositions and teach you how to put together your thoughts in a logical method. This not only improves your writing, but is also good training for analytical skills. So, the DFLL is not for those who have their heads in the clouds!
Of course, a college student’s life should not be spent completely on scholastic learning, which is why there is an array of activities to take part in! As I have mentioned before, some of the main events in the DFLL are the DFLL Night, the annual drama contest, and the graduation performance. The DFLL night is basically a talent show during which every student from the DFLL is invited to participate, and to show their stuff onstage. Every year, you will find a huge assortment of performances, with piano solos, hilarious comedies, and hot dancing from our incredibly sexy schoolmates. It is a chance for the whole school to see how unbelievably talented the DFLL department is! In contrast to the free and easy atmosphere of the DFLL night is our annual drama competition. The competition is between the freshmen, sophomore, junior and senior students, and experts and teachers are invited to sit as judges. The plays presented here are thus much more formal and profound. Sometimes original and sometimes adaptations of other dramas or movies, the plays are always written, produced, and written by the students themselves. More serious matters such as the fallacy of humanity, deceit, sacrifice and death are portrayed. For example, in the play “Anna,” put on by the sophomore class last semester, portrayed a beautiful prostitute caught between the hope of redemption and her inevitable destiny to fail. Of course, it is a good chance for us to put what we have learned from reading scripts during literature classes to good use. Often, I am reminded of the theater of the ridiculous, and stunned by the depths portrayed by these plays. Needless to say, acting in these plays is also a challenging task, as the characters are often very deep and each play lasts more than 50 minutes. Naturally, this is a great chance to learn more about theater, and also a wonderful means of catharsis by taking on different roles – in all, a very rewarding way to put yourself into the spirit of the literary through acting. Finally, we have our graduation performance. Though it is in name for the seniors, it is open for students from other grades to join. A performance is staged and it is even more elaborate than the plays from the drama contest. Not confined to any specific genre, comedies, movie adaptations, and even musicals have been performed. Another unexpected asset of these performances, apart from them being so much fun, is that after participating in such activities, it does help one relate with the characters we find in our heavy literature anthologies. Many seem to believe that studying literature, or other liberal arts subjects for that matter, seems unpractical and even unnecessary. Perhaps people may ask, what is the importance of studying words? However, I beg to differ. Being in the DFLL has taught me that literature can be one of the most practical and necessary things in life; literature itself is the essence of humanity, and where else can one come in touch with so many characters condensed into one course? Apart from reading our texts, we are taught to analyze and to observe subtle details in the texts that we study, which can be important training for our social development, building understanding and empathy. Also, writing and presentation skills are an integral part of most people’s lives, career-wise. In the DFLL, we are taught to not only to not be afraid of speaking, but to speak well. Thus, even though there may not be seem to be a direct or standard profession for DFLL graduates, there are endless opportunities. Finally, for those who love reading literature, studying in this department will never seem like studying. So much fun can be found in interpreting our texts; sometimes reading them can be so delightful that we forget to stop. The DFLL is thus an incredible department – it is the place where fantasies and reality merge together to take on the form of profound experiences of life.