I loved having Rigel Nadaf as a student this past winter semester. Unfortunately (for me) it was her last year–but I was lucky to meet her at all as she started out in another discipline, and almost didn’t end up in English. Read on to find out how she shifted programs, what her favorite English classes were, and where she is going next (congratulations!). –JLH
JLH: How did you decide on English at UWaterloo?
RN: I didn’t! I initially began my academic career at UW in Environment & Business. It was a decision I made out of pressure from my parents (although they would call it encouragement) because English didn’t seem like a practical option at the time, despite the fact that I have always fostered a life-long passion for all things pertaining to reading, literature, and the imagination. In fact, my parents banned me from reading at one point because that’s all I would do, be it on family vacations, at the dining table, or waking up bleary-eyed in the morning from a lack of sleep. The decision to switch to English came to fruition right after my first year, when I quickly realized that the program was not right for me as I was becoming increasingly jaded with university and the entire institution of higher education. Luckily, I can confidently say that switching to English, and specifically the program at Waterloo, was the best decision I have made thus far, and I am happy to share that I found a real home in the English department here. Now, I can not only say that it was the best practical decision I have ever made, but one that also fulfills my passions!
JLH: When it comes to course selection, what kinds of things do you consider?
RN: I certainly find myself leaning towards courses where I can study global literatures, or some of the more unconventional courses that are offered here at UW. My best experiences thus far have been at the upper-year levels in Special Topics and Seminar courses. African American Literatures of Resistance is where I discovered my passion for writing and speaking about socio-political issues at both a systemic and personal level. It forced me to think sharply, critically, and coherently in a way that I never had before, and the intellectual environment allowed me to see things from multiple critical perspectives. It was where I realized, from listening to other people speak and voice their ideas, that our societal reactions to both historical and contemporary issues speaks volumes of our larger relationship to sex, class, and race. This is what I also hope to continue my research in past the undergraduate level. Another course worth mentioning is Jay Dolmage’s Stereotypology. It was by far one of the most unique and unusual courses I have ever had the pleasure to take. We studied, as the name suggests, stereotypes prevalent in popular media and had the opportunity to take mixed media approaches to our assignments and not only get creative, but attempt to make our own waves in the world of social media and the Internet. The ability to bridge the gap between a self-contained space such as academia and the supposedly ‘real’ world of the Internet brought to my attention the importance of using language that can liberate all people rather than a chosen few. It was also a course where our Professor took a very nitty-gritty approach to essay writing and encouraged us to write original work that could be used at a graduate level. He forced us to break down our essays and trained us in many rules of the trade that I was not aware of when I was writing papers at the lower levels. It was where I truly changed the way I write essays, and I know without a doubt that the formulaic approaches we learned are something I will continue to put to continued use throughout my academic career.
JLH: In what ways have you become involved at UW?
RN: I recently became a VP on the English Student Society. We are currently in the works of implementing a July book club, so that is something I’m eagerly looking forward to. As I approach the end of my final term and look back at my time here, one regret that remains persistent is wishing that I had been more involved throughout my four years at UW. It’s true what they say – being involved surely does enhance one’s university experience, and the memories I have made joining clubs and forging new friendships in my final year are the ones that unequivocally stand apart from the rest.
JLH: What advice do you have for new students?
RN: My very best advice that I feel I can offer to anyone is to learn the art of avoiding instant gratification and to focus on long-term goals and planning. It was something that I wish I had learned earlier, even as far as back as High School. Whatever ways you’re choosing to distract yourself from pressing assignments, I can assure you, it’s not worth it, as you will rapidly see your future decaying before your eyes. I have made some regrettable decisions when it comes to gratifying my short-term self, and it was only when I began to think in the long-term that I began to experience an increased amount of success in the day-to-day that I can confidently say is far more satisfying than doing otherwise. It’s not easy by any means, but it’s a skill I believe that is necessary not only in academia but throughout life itself. More specifically, my second piece of advice I can offer is to not be afraid of being an English major. English at Waterloo transformed my consciousness, my world-view, as well as my approach to people and situations in a way that is indispensable. It fostered in me a sense of responsibility and awareness that has led me to where I am today, and helped to craft a vision of my life, and where I want it to move going forward. If I had the chance, I would do it all over again.
JLH: Have you started making plans for after graduation?
RN: I am excited to have recently been accepted into a fully-funded MA in American Studies at Western University. Taking an interdisciplinary approach, the 12-month program focuses on the literature, history, popular culture, and politics of the United States. There is also a Graduate Teaching position that is offered with the program that I’m looking forward to. It will surely be a challenging year ahead, but I am excited to dwell forth, push my limits, and continue to unveil unknown parts of myself. What motivates me is the need to contribute something truly original to ongoing conversations, and I often find that many people do not share this same sense of anxiety. Fortunately, I hope that a program such as this will allow me to hone in on the issues that I’m interested in and discover a way in which to transform this anxiety into a mechanism that drives me towards continuing to expand my consciousness, as well as to remain on the pursuit of bettering myself intellectually and spiritually. I intend to remain in academia for a while yet, as I feel simultaneously comfortable and challenged in this field, and I hope to acquire a PhD in American Studies and perhaps even attend Law School in the near future. Regardless of what I choose to do, I know that one precept that does remain consistent is my desire to contribute something that is truly original to the conversation as I navigate my way through academia and beyond.