Discover your why

by Brooke Engel

We’ve all experienced the moments in education that make us feel, well, hopelessly uninterested. Often, assignments such as writing lengthy papers, studying huge chunks of textbooks, and even compiling annotated bibliographies can feel like a waste of time.

Last spring I had the opportunity to be a part of the Slovenia Abroad. My classmates and I took on the task of learning the history of a country few of us had even heard of. We were assigned to read multiple novels and dense analytic passages, and to watch documentaries, all in the hopes of gaining enough context that we might sound semi-knowledgeable once in-country.

If I had been assigned these tasks for any other class, I might not have taken them seriously. I might have skimmed well enough to complete the homework, yet brain-dumped the information as soon as the test had come and gone. But something about this experience was different. The test was real life. I remember sitting in class watching an old documentary about Yugoslavia and thinking to myself that this was the first time I’d ever wanted to rewind a documentary, purely because the information mattered. I had a similar feeling as we read each book, taking extensive notes so that I could share what I had learned with anyone who would listen. This eagerness was akin to what I felt when I discovered facts about my favorite band—a feeling I’d never felt in school. I wasn’t satisfied with half-hearted learning. I really wanted to get all that I could out of the content, just in case that one sentence could be of use in-country.

It was through this process that I discovered that I needed to develop my own why when learning. Why does this artistic theory matter? Why am I writing a six-page research paper? Why do I need to learn about Yugoslavia? Knowing my why while studying the country of Slovenia enabled me to attack learning with a sense of earnest joyfulness, rather than resentment or boredom. Since then I have started assessing my why in my other classes and have found my assignments far more enjoyable.

Most professors aren’t going to give you a meaningless assignment. There is a reason for everything, and if you’re willing to find your why, you will also find much more satisfaction in learning! I know I did.


Brooke is a sophomore double major in studio art and creative writing who was part of the Slovenia Abroad this past summer.

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