The Sectored Comfort Zone

I never expected to take an English class after high school. By graduation, I was convinced that my passions lie in the sciences, and I planned to fill my years at Penn with Biology, Chemistry, and Neuroscience. However, as I realized several months into freshman year, the Sectors of Knowledge would push me to take several classes outside of my quantitative comfort zone.

Putting my shaky literature background on the back burner, I figured I would try a comparative literature class to fulfill the Arts & Letters sector. I combed through the list of classes and found one that seemed promising: Modern Middle East Literatures in Translation.

While I initially struggled with the volume of readings, I found myself progressively intrigued with the class each week. One week, we focussed on Turkish short stories. The next, Hebrew poetry. The next, we read a modern Iranian novel. Each week we exploring a different literary tradition through a different genre. With only 20 students in the class, we were also able to discuss how the literature spoke to the historical and cultural context of the writers. Our conversations evolved from close readings of the texts to discussions about politics, gender, identity, etc. through the lens of the Middle East.

Within a few weeks, MMELT was my favorite class. It not only taught me how to read and analyze literature in a more profound way, but it became a space for me to explore my cultural heritage vis-a-vis the works that we read. Most of all, this class taught me that my passions are constantly evolving. While I still love the sciences, I hope to take more classes in Middle Easter Studies.

Not every Sector or Foundation class is a resounding success. There were sectors that I fulfilled with classes that I ended up disliking, or new subjects that I later learned I did not enjoy. By choosing to take MMELT, I learned that somewhere among the two thousand plus classes offered by the College, there are subjects that I never knew I would enjoy so much. And while the Sectors may seem like a burden to fulfill, they are a rare opportunity to dive into the unknown and learn for the sake of learning.

-Nitay Caspi '18