By Austin Bernales

When Japanese music composer, Kojiro Umezaki came to UC Santa Barbara to perform the ‘shakuhachi,’ a traditional Japanese wind instrument, I experienced insights that stayed with me through the following days. He told us the story of the instrument, which has been used by Zen Buddhists since the 15th century to enhance their practice of emptying the mind and focusing on one sound as opposed to many.

The shakuhachi is made of bamboo and sounds similar to the flute. Listening to it play that day reminded me of what I truly enjoyed: being able to capture the human essence in the stories of others.  I had switched majors several times and often felt that I was drowning out my own voice by listening to the opinions of so many others.  But when I heard Umezaki play his shakuhachi and heard how the music was used in Zen Buddhism,  I finally felt at peace with my choice of  Film and Media Studies after having travelled a long path to arrive at that point.

Finding belonging can prove difficult at a large university campus such as UC Santa Barbara, which offers so many choices. Still, being here is a great chance to learn more about yourself and focus in on what you love. I had switched majors from Computer Science to Communications, and from that to Film and Media Studies. I also had a few different jobs until I finally understood what I enjoyed.

While juggling graphics design, coding websites, and freelance videography and photography, it dawned on me that capturing stories with my camera has always been a fulfilling experience. To be able to engage visually, and learn about different cultures and traditions through my camera, adds to my vista on the world and has sparked my curiosity and creativity.

This realization may have taken me a bit longer than it did for some students. But after spending a few years drifting from major to major, I asked myself these questions:

Why are you doing what you want to do? Do you enjoy doing it? Is this choice potentially motivated by anyone besides yourself?

Computer Science and Communications were comforting to me because those fields adhered to the ideas of my parents and I was also conforming with the decisions of friends. Both majors were influenced by the apparent growth of startup jobs and I figured ‘What better way is there for me to make money after college?’

But quick money wasn’t that important to me, and after awhile the path I was on in higher education became demoralizing and increasingly difficult. Then, listening to the shakuhachi that day in an interdisciplinary course called “Memory,” I understood  that I had been moving my focus among many different things because I was still far from listening to myself.

Now, as I near graduation, I know my major in the Humanities and Fine Arts has presented me with a learning experience that engages my creativity and curiosity about crafting stories and exploring different cultural traditions.

Austin Bernales is a fourth year Film and Media Studies major at UC Santa Barbara.