On Being a Geography Major

This blog is written by National Geographic Education Social Media & Promotion Intern, Amelia Tidona, as a part of the Geography Awareness blog-a-thon. For more information about Geography Awareness Week visit, http://ow.ly/qRPvt.

Hey! It’s Amelia again, current Social Media & Promotion Intern for National Geographic Education.  As a recent college graduate coming from a small liberal arts school in rural upstate New York, I’ll admit the last few weeks as a new resident of Washington DC have been a little overwhelming. I’ve been meeting a lot of new people – at National Geographic and all over this new city I’m learning to call my home. Of course when meeting new people, the topic of where and what I studied in college is a pretty common conversation starter. So I’m quickly learning that when I proudly state, “I was a geography major!” there are two possible responses I can expect to receive.

At work most everyone beams back at me appreciatively, confirming that, yes indeed I did major in the most useful and interesting academic subject out there! But I’ll have you know, out there on the streets of DC, this type of response is not the norm. Everything changes when the clock strikes 5 and I head to the bustling metro station or a crowded happy hour. Instead of the understanding and appreciative responses I receive from fellow Nat Geo employees, the rest of the world seems to stare at me blankly, or at most offer up a slew of snide comments like “What are you gonna do with that major?” Or “Oh yeah? What’s the capital of Mongolia?” to which I usually just smile and reply, “Ulaanbaatar.” On the inside though, I’m kind of dying.

To so many people, trivia questions about capitals and maps define the word “geography.” And yet, as a devoted geographer, I find these questions to really miss the mark – only hitting the tip of the iceberg that is geography, if you will. So I want to talk about the other 90% of this “geography iceberg” – the part that goes far beyond trivia questions and actually connects people, place, & space. The part that explains the why of where. The part that, in the simplest of terms, and in the spirit of fall, explains my desire to go pumpkin picking this weekend.

Photograph by Amelia Tidona
Photograph by Amelia Tidona

How could pumpkin picking possibly be related to geography you ask? Well, pumpkins, a native American plant, flourished as a species for hundreds of years in the United States.  Therefore, they became integrated into many different American recipes, one of which, of course, is pumpkin pie – a dessert that has grown close to the hearts (and stomachs) of Americans from California to Maine. So beloved is this dessert that, for most Americans, it has become a defining characteristic of autumn as well as a Thanksgiving holiday tradition! And through tradition, this funny looking orange gourd has become a part of American culture. But Americans are not the only ones enjoying this delicious squash. You will find that the pumpkin manifests itself in many other cultures, European to Middle Eastern, but in different ways! So you may not find the pumpkin pie recipe in India, but instead, a pumpkin curry.

And this is geography, at least to me. It is the fact that something as simple as a pumpkin can elicit feelings and emotions in one place, but also in another place, for different reasons. We are capable of deriving associations and developing attachments to objects and space such that space becomes place. Geography helps us learn how and why things like food, tradition, and culture have different meanings for different people and in this age of widespread change and global disruption, I can think of few endeavors more important than better understanding and appreciating each other.

So, to all my new friends, acquaintances, and colleagues who ask me “If you could do college all over, would you still major in geography?” I hope you have your answer!

Happy Geography Awareness Week 2013!

Photograph by Amelia Tidona
Photograph by Amelia Tidona

Written by Amelia Tidona, National Geographic Education

3 thoughts on “On Being a Geography Major

  1. Amazing! I am currently a music major and am deciding to switch it up. Awesome blog post, especially about the pumpkins since Thanksgiving passed by. Happy holidays!

  2. It is a learning that pumpkin is a native american plant, as it is used so widely in India too. It was interesting to read your article, and as you have rightly mentioned, Geography to most people only means maps and cities and their capitals.

  3. Amelia, it was wonderful reading your Blog. Good that Pumpkin could bring the connection with Geography. You have made it so simple that anybody reading the blog can make the connection.

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