The opportunity to spend a week in New York City through Magdalen College’s Career Pathways program was truly a gift. Getting to explore the city, seeing an opera at the Met, and tasting the supreme cuisine that only a city can offer was certainly wonderful, but the chance to meet with faith-filled professionals working in an urban environment was invaluable. From afar, NYC can seem vast and, dare I say it, inhumane. My week there taught me, however, that the city is human at heart. I was especially struck by the affirmative attitude of those we met at places like J. P. Morgan and IESE Business School. They showed me that business is really about people, not money. When it comes down to it, the city is not a maze of new and strange worlds; rather, it is made up of so many small communities. The transition from our mountaintop community at Magdalen College to the urban community of NYC would not be difficult.
The city has much to offer a student like me, and I discovered that I had much to offer in return. There is a need for the liberal arts in NYC. In teeming crowds of flitting faces, there is a call for those whose lives are about more than work or “success.” In the many fields we encountered — finance, teaching, journalism, media, and the arts — there is a demand not for specialized skill sets, but for persons of integrity. The ability to think, learn, adapt; the willingness to work hard; the commitment to virtue and community — these are the qualities one needs to truly succeed, and my Magdalen College education is forming me well. In discussion with professionals, I learned that at the heart of every business deal, at the source of every journal article, are relationships between people. Everywhere we went, we saw how important it is to be able to connect with others, to value other people as people. I found encouragement in NYC, and confirmation that my liberal arts education will serve me well down the road.
There is a need for faith in the city. NYC is full of churches, but not all of these churches are full of people. We visited both the El Camino after-school program and the Narnia Clubs, two organizations dedicated to bringing the faith to children in the city. The formation they provide, I believe, will have lasting influence on children who might otherwise have grown up ignorant of a Truth to Whom they can commit their lives. A talk with a Catholic screenwriter on the fine arts revealed just how much the world needs artists well-formed in their faith and willing to encounter the world, and our trip to the Brilla Charter School in the South Bronx made it clear just how necessary it is to have intelligent, Catholic teachers. The many beautiful churches we attended stuck me as havens; surrounded by skyscrapers, every church was a witness to a different type of “city.” The graduates of Magdalen College, surrounded by denizens of the workaday world, will be the witnesses to faith that NYC needs.
I am deeply grateful for my time in NYC, for it reminded me of the value of philosophy and theology for life. I loved experiencing not only the excitement of the city, but also enjoying the unexpected silence hidden throughout it. The hustle and bustle of the streets, the rush of the trains — all would fade away in beautiful, leisurely moments: adoration with the Sisters of Life, a Turkish dinner with friends from Narnia, or an impromptu tour of Little Italy (complete with gelato!), to name but a few. If life should ever guide me to the city, my education, I believe, will help both me and the communities I find there. Is there a need for philosophy in the city? Plato certainly thought so, and I agree. There is a place for me in NYC; there is a positive difference I can make there.
Although we can speak abstractly about the value of a liberal education as preparation for life in the world (as Newman says in The Idea of a University), a liberal arts student often feels a real anxiety about “going out into the world” because he is replete with wisdom but lacking in specialized, technical know-how. My experience in New York City surprised me a great deal not only because I discovered that I was more than capable of navigating life and interactions in “the city that never sleeps” but also because I found myself in intense contemplation about human nature and culture in the midst of the bustle. I had expected my sense of contemplation to be choked in the city, but I experienced the opposite: there is so much to spark contemplation in the city! While city life is not for every liberal arts student, it was very apparent to me that liberal education is not an obstacle to living in a city. In fact, it is the best education for it and, I would venture, a key insurance against losing one’s spirit in it.
Being a Catholic in the city made me think of the historical fact that the Catholic Church has always been able to enter into cultures and thereby evangelize and transform them. The conviction that Christ is the Lord of all has enabled missionaries throughout the world to adopt what is good in cultures while not succumbing to what is not conducive in it to human nature and salvation. I understood this piece of the Catholic experience first hand. I can be a force for good in a culture precisely because I am in the world and not of it. The culture of faith and human culture mutually shape each other without compromising on Christ’s salvific revelation because Christ came to save all peoples, as Ratzinger points out (cf. Truth and Tolerance).
The employees at J. P. Morgan told me that new perspectives are valued in the company because it breathes new life into team creativity and problem solving. A liberal arts education prepares one to look at every reality in light of the whole, to see the “big picture,” and this in itself is extremely useful for problem solving and work culture. Hearing this from non-liberal arts graduates assured me that liberal arts students should not be afraid to launch out into career paths for which they might feel unprepared, least of all for fear of what others might think of their liberal education and lack of know-how!
Although one’s faith should never be reduced to a mere system of ethics, the moral formation that comes with Christianity aided by liberal education equips one with strong interpersonal skills because one treats every person not only with the dignity that belongs to him or her but also loves each person with the Love of Christ Himself. While an employer may never detect the rationale behind such strong “soft skills,” the employer is certainly pleased with the result!
Spending time with fellow students and Dr. Harne in NYC significantly changed my view of the liberal arts and the potential it has for postgraduate life. I went in believing that liberal education was worth it, even if it wasn’t going to land you a job. I left the city believing that liberal education is necessary for everyone who chooses to go to school, and outside of very specific degrees for higher level jobs, it is the only education worth spending money on.
Everyone we talked to, from an executive at J.P. Morgan to a high ranking journalist from the most popular Catholic website in the world raved about the liberal education and the potential they’ve seen in liberally educated graduates. We looked at different educational and catechesis programs and were told the same thing: “We want to hire liberally educated students.” All these people told us that the difference between liberally educated students and students with very specialized degrees is that the latter are unable to understand more than their specialized field while the former are able to understand many different areas of work and quickly move up through the ranks. While other degrees are needed for specific jobs, there is generally no need to have a specific degree for an entry level job. J. P. Morgan is looking to hire our students because they want students with a liberal background. There is no question that liberal education is a great choice for the telos of the human person, but I’ve learned that it is also a great choice for one’s career.
I’ve always thought that living in an urban environment such as NYC would put a strain on one’s faith. However, after my visit, I’ve very much changed my mind. Never have I seen so much beauty, love and devotion put into the local churches! There are thriving schools trying to educate young people about God, and many groups of catholic people doing different things for their faith, and they’re all connected and know each other. It was clear that there was a strong network/community of Catholics that one could be a part of in the city.
The impression most important to my future life that I gained from this experience was that New York City is a manageable place to live. If I find a job I love in New York City, I will not turn it down solely because of its location, something I am not sure I could have said before I went on this trip. Post-graduation worries aside, New York City is definitely a great place to visit, even for someone who dislikes city life as much as I do. It is a unique experience to be in the city that serves as the headquarters for so much of our culture. The challenge of the metro maps is a fun adventure (at least by Chesterton’s definition of an adventure, that it is an inconvenience rightly considered), the food was delicious, and many of the sights of the city were thrilling, despite the wintry weather.
This trip greatly enhanced my understanding of just how good a preparation for life our liberal arts education is. Our world is increasingly focused on specializing everyone and everything, and it greatly needs people who have the ability to take a step back and remember the big picture. This is not just our view of the world from up here on our mountaintop; the people we met in New York City also showed us how they were working to incorporate the bigger picture into their work. Michele Carr and Chris White gave us some especially good insights into how a liberal arts mindset can help keep their businesses and the lives of the employees flourishing.
The highlight of my time in New York City was going to the Metropolitan Opera House and watching Rossini’s Semiramide. I have listened to the Met Live Broadcasts on the classical station back home since I was much younger, so to actually be there, a dozen rows from the stage, watching the story come alive through the music and staging, was surreal.
The trip itself was a very unique opportunity to visit New York City. The chances of my visiting the city any time soon had I not gone on this trip were exceedingly slim. Now, thanks to the Career Pathways Program, I have spent an entire week in New York City without overdrawing my student budget, met people with many different backgrounds whom I would not have been able to meet visiting on my own later, and explored career options I never would have thought of on my own. Regardless of whether I actually end up in New York City any time after I graduate, I will never regret having gone on this trip and adding this valuable experience to my liberal arts education.