Megan Van Stensel-A Passion for Literature and Law

Faculty Shout-Out by Dr. Steve Rachman: “Megan is a subtle reader with a keen eye for interpreting texts. I always looked forward to her fresh slants on whatever we were reading on a given week. During the pandemic, I recall one week where Megan was leading discussion and there was a tricky situation with the virtual set-up. I knew I could count on Megan to basically run the class via zoom and it worked it remarkably well. She is a fine student, and I cannot wait to hear of her accomplishments.”

How would you describe your time as an English or Film Studies major at MSU?

I would describe my experience as an English major at MSU as a breath of fresh air. I am a Political Science-English double major additionally pursuing a minor in Law, Justice, and Public Policy. As interesting as I find my studies, it can get overwhelming. My English classes have become a refuge for me in the midst of the chaos. Though my life may feel like it’s on fire, I know that I’ll have a little time in the day to discuss and analyze one of my greatest loves, literature, with a community of people that share my passion.

Which classes, instructors, or experiences particularly stand out for you and why? How did they prepare you for the next phase of your life?

I don’t even know how to begin with this. I will never forget the compassion and kindness that Professor Rachman demonstrated when covid shut everything down and we were all sent home. Everything was scary and uncertain, but he still made a point to make class fun. At the end of zoom classes on Thursday, he would show us how to make different cocktails related to the books we were reading. I specifically remember a Virginia Woolf inspired cocktail when we were reading “Mrs. Dalloway.” This felt like a sliver of normalcy during a time when nothing was normal, and I’m incredibly grateful. I took Law and Literature with Professor Henry during the spring of 2021, and it very quickly became one of my favorite English classes I have taken here at MSU. The focus of the class was “American Indian Law” and “Federal Indian Law.” I was not familiar with this type of law, but Professor Henry did an amazing job of instructing us using literature as a tool. I found this class fascinating and it’s definitely a highlight of my academic experience. Saving the best for last. The most impactful experience I have had during my time as an English student at MSU is studying abroad through the College of Arts and Letters. I am currently an exchange student at Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea. Being able to take English classes on the other side of the world has been absolutely surreal and it’s such an enlightening experience. This is something I never thought I’d be able to do, and doing it was a bit of a last minute decision. I don’t speak Korean and I was not that familiar with Korean culture coming into this program. However, I would arguably say those factors have made this journey even more rewarding. Living in a culture so different from your own is difficult, but it also makes you more attuned to yourself and how you adapt to unfamiliar situations. The skills I have built as an English major–empathy, perspective, compassion– have helped me obtain a worldview that wouldn’t have even been conceivable to me in the past. I am so grateful to have had this opportunity, and I would recommend it to all students to come.

What advice would you give future English or Film Studies majors, based on your experiences in the department?

My advice is directed towards students like me, who don’t intend to pursue a career directly related to English but still want to pursue an English major. Do it. You won’t regret it. The skills you will accumulate during your time as an English student are indispensable. Your critical thinking abilities will improve, your writing will become stronger, and you will become better at analysis. Most importantly, English expands your worldview by exposing you to the diverse and innumerable perspectives of others, making you a more empathetic and compassionate human being.

What coursework-related projects were/are you working on this year, and what interests or excites you about them?

This summer I will be working to complete my capstone with Professor Ma on the topic of Korean diaspora from a global perspective. I am currently taking a class at my exchange university about the division of the Korean Peninsula and how a split culture has had to adapt and evolve through the years. I will be taking the information I learn in this class and supplementing it with a variety of readings and pieces of media to divulge how the Korean people use narratives to display their own personal feelings about the division of the Korean people and the diaspora that ensued.

What are your hopes and aspirations, post-graduation?

I plan on applying to law school during the next cycle. Between my graduation and matriculation at law school, I plan on gaining some real life work experience and hopefully will continue to see more of the world.

If you’re interested in doing so, please reflect a bit on the strange experience of being a graduating senior during the ongoing pandemic. What resources have been most useful to you in navigating this unprecedented situation?

Getting sent back to the town I swore I would never return to six months after I moved into my freshman dorm was incredibly humbling. Staying in that town for the next 18 months made me realize that I would never have the “normal” college experience, and that I didn’t necessarily have to compensate for lost time when I returned to campus. I decided I was going to have the college experience that was right for current me, not the one that I thought I was going to have pre-pandemic. I decided to graduate early, I decided to take a gap year, and I decided to study abroad. None of this would have been possible without the help of my academic advisors. I changed my mind so many times, and my advisors were with me at every twist and turn. This would not have been possible without them. To my advisors: thank you, thank you, thank you.