How UGE helped me connect with my surroundings

by Shiven Garg

It isn’t by getting out of the world that we become enlightened, but by getting into the world…by getting so tuned in that we can ride the waves of our existence and never get tossed because we become the waves.” ― Ken Kesey.


I used to question everything I did not understand. I was impatient and eccentric. When I reflect, I think it was because I was blind from perception and detuned from nature, like a fish out of water. However, we are not here to discuss that. This is my story, in a non-linear structure, about how I reconnected with the world and discovered that knowledge is the kindling of a flame, a flame that is self. 

Last term, I took my first university general education courses, namely UGFH1000 and UGFN1000. My initial reason for taking these courses was to complete the general education requirement but little did I know that this would be my gateway to interesting new spaces, my dialogue with my surroundings, and the change in my understanding of the world. 

My favorite studies from UGFH1000 were of Adam Smith, Confucius, and Zhuangzi. Adam Smith’s manuscript touched me as it gave me insight into how the real-world economy operates and what it signifies. I always knew the things that I read in Smith’s work, but not on such a deep level. This made me realize how naïve I was and improved my thought process as well as my observations of real-world problems. Confucius and Zhuangzi readings were a different story. They gave me a new insight into life itself and the values which I stand by now. I can say that I have become more aloof as well as vigilant in my ventures. Moreover, I see life more spiritually and with a new meaning, something which I cannot put into words. Imagine being blindfolded and asked to shoot an arrow at a target. At that point, just the accuracy of your bow does not matter. The arrow needs to find its target which can only happen when one is focused and completely in sync with their surroundings. 

Studying for UGFN1000 in one word would be nostalgic. As an engineering student, I must have read Newton’s equations of motion hundreds of times. However, reading the story of their origin and about the origin of science from philosophy aided me to comprehend the true beauty of physics and what it is all about. It was not about solving assignments and projects but about theoretical induction and the creation of ideas and experimental deduction and the fabrication of their forms. 

My most exciting experience in UGFN1000 was with the study of Darwin and evolution. After reading the text, I found the most stimulating question which gave me a zeal that no other course could give. Darwin talked about evolution through natural selection which means that only the fittest will survive. And, this “fitness” is based on many values chosen by nature, but it seems that virtues such as cooperation and empathy were not accounted for as compassion and cooperation between species doesn’t seem like characteristics that can give a survival advantage to an organism. However, if we look at real-world scenarios, we can find improved survivability because of such virtues. Then how do such virtues interact with the theory of natural selection? I don’t know the answer, but I want everyone to know that it was because of this GE course that I could think so deeply into the subject and relate it with something I see around me every day: compassion, survival, and human values. 

As the courses came to an end, my journey just begins to start. These GE courses inspired me to read more books. I continued to grow and trace through the shape of life which I created from my imagination which I developed through my readings. I started to feel much more confident when I talked to my colleagues about fascinating topics as the knowledge I gained from reading improved my logical and analytical reasoning. Moreover, the chapters on Buddhism and Confucianism in the GE courses drove me to start meditating every day. This has helped me achieve a clearer vision both mentally and spiritually. I think the two GE courses have had a profound effect on me subconsciously. Sometimes when I meditate, I feel so connected to my surroundings that I feel the vibrations in my body interacting with the things around me. Now, I have developed my understanding of the world and I continue to build upon it as I experience new things. Zhuangzi’s reading also helped me with my self-realization and becoming in a deeper relationship with all my self-images and facets of life. To think that all of this begun from two GE courses is astonishing.

In the end, I would say that my experience at UGE has been illuminating. You may believe that the knowledge you gain from these general education courses won’t help you in your future life. However, I think that you cannot be further from the truth. I think these courses hold a value that is greater than most items on your education curriculum. They directly contribute towards personal development, both consciously and subconsciously. For my fellow students who have taken the above-mentioned courses, in your busy life, slow down, and maybe then you will be able to see how these GE courses helped you develop a better thought process, keen urge to learn new things, patience to listen to others, sight to see mundane things with an exciting new perspective and feeling of being more connected with your surroundings. It is not enlightenment but is something amazing, and I love it.