Articles by Kate Meakem

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In response to Stephanie’s comment about her upcoming visit to Harvard, I thought I would post a list of the Top 10 Things To Do When Visiting Harvard.  As I began writing, however, my roommate reminded me that admissions letters would be coming out SOON, and that new prospective students would be looking for things to do on their visits (by the way, we’re SOOOOOOOOO excited to meet you guys)!!!!

As a result, I took it upon myself to compile TWO lists – one for anyone who just wants to take a look around and one for prospective students!  I will include the list of top To Do’s in my next post.

But for now…

THE TOP 10 THINGS TO DO AS A TOURIST AT HARVARD

1.)  DO NOT under any circumstances touch John Harvard’s foot.

As you walk into Harvard Yard, take in its classic beauty, and reflect upon the centuries of history it has witnessed, you may find yourself drawn to a rather iconic statue of John Harvard, also known as the ‘Statue of Three Lies.’  Lest you be unprepared I shall verse you in these lies: 1) John Harvard was NOT the founder of Harvard, he was merely a donor,  2) Harvard was NOT founded in 1638, it was founded in 1636,  3) the man portrayed in the statue is NOT John Harvard… its some rando.  All things considered, I personally feel that a fourth lie needs to be added to the list.  This lie would be  4) touching John Harvard’s foot is NOT a good idea.  I mean, go ahead and rub it for good luck…. Just don’t ask me to shake your hand afterward.

2.)  Go on a Crimson Key Tour

It’s easy to say, “Go to Memorial Hall!” or “Go to Widener Library!” but really, the Crimson Key tour covers it all, and they do a GREAT job!  Seriously, do yourself a favor and go on their tours.  They leave from the Information Center in the Holyoke Center (next to the Au Bon Pan in Harvard Square) at 10:00 am, 12:00 pm, and 2:00 pm Monday- Saturday.

3.)  Stand outside of the Science Center between 12:00 -12:07

It is said that no Harvard student can go all four years without taking at least one class in the Science Center.  No, this isn’t because all students are brainiacs – it’s because SO many classes are offered in that huge, ugly building (every college campus has one… even Harvard).  As a result, during class transition time – also known as ‘Harvard Time’ – a CRAZY number of students pass through the area right outside (I’ve heard stats saying up to 50% of the undergraduate student body)!  If you want a taste of student academic life, go hang out there.

4.)  Mr. Bartley’s Burgers

Have you seen The Social Network or Good Will Hunting?!?!  If so, you may have noticed a lovely place featured called Bartley’s.  This is because they have THE BEST burgers OF ALL TIME!  I’m not joking.  This dive has been around for a loooooonnnnggg time, and for good reason.  It doesn’t matter if you’re watching your cholesterol, if you’re at risk of terrible food-induced ailments, take the gross caloric hit and GO FOR IT!  You won’t regret it.

5.)  Check out the Greenhouse Cafe

After you get swept away by the wave of students outside of the Science Center, head on inside and grab a snack (or Starbucks) at the Greenhouse Café!  This is a major hang out spot for students in between classes, and it’s just a generally cool place to check out.

6.)  Stop by the COOP

Why visit Harvard if you don’t have something to show for it?  The COOP has a plethora of Harvard paraphernalia to offer, PLUS if you’re curious, you can take a trip to the top floor and look at the textbooks students buy for class!

7.)  Walk along the Charles River

If it’s a nice day, take a walk along the Charles River!  It is honestly one of the most beautiful strolls ever, and you can see the River Houses, where sophomores, juniors, and seniors live.

8.)  Watch the Crew team practice on the river

While you’re on the river, if it’s Fall or Spring, you might be fortunate enough to witness the Crew team practicing (or racing) on the river!  Crew is a BIG DEAL at Harvard, so it’s always a good thing to see.

9.)  Visit Radcliffe Quad

One of the least appreciated spots on campus, Radcliffe Quad is home to three upperclassmen houses (Currier, Cabot, and Pfoho), and is where the women of Radcliffe College used to live!  The Quad is less than a mile up Garden Street and has a unique history.

10.)  Walk along Mt. Auburn street late Saturday night

If you want a taste for what Harvard nightlife is like, I would suggest walking down Mt. Auburn street between 11:00 pm – 2:00 am on Saturday night and seeing all of the final clubs.  I’m not suggesting you try to go in, but you’ll get the sense that Harvard students play just as hard as they work.

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Hogwarts isn’t the only school that is obsessed with its houses.  Harvard also believes in sorting its students into one of several houses that become ridiculously competitive with one another.  A few differences?  Hogwarts only has four houses while Harvard has twelve.  Oh yeah, and Hogwarts is a School of Witchcraft and Wizardry while Harvard isn’t (though we like to believe otherwise 😉 )!

Like I was saying, due to the tight-knit nature of the houses, house competition can be fierce.  And no day showcases this competitive spirit than Housing Day.

Before I continue, I feel that I should probably fill you in on some Harvard vocabulary:

Houses – there are twelve large houses on Harvard’s campus that are comprised of living spaces for sophomores, juniors, and seniors.  Each house also has a dining hall, common rooms, and a bunch of other amenities that vary per house (squash courts, gyms, climbing walls, theater spaces, movie rooms, etc.).  Houses are grouped into neighborhoods of three.  The houses (grouped by their neighborhoods) are as follows: Mather, Dunster, and Leverett; Lowell, Quincy, and Adams; Winthrop, Elliot, and Kirkland; and Currier, Cabot, and Pforzeihmer.  For a better idea of where each of these houses is, visit http://map.harvard.edu.  (Can’t find the last group of houses?? Scroll to the upper left for a ways, and you’ll see them.)

Housing lottery – the mysterious system that randomly assigns freshmen blocking groups into houses.

Blocking group – a group of up to eight freshmen that are guaranteed to be in the same house.

Linking groups – two blocking groups can “link” and they are guaranteed to be in the same neighborhood.

River Houses – the older houses that run along the Charles River and are often close to Harvard Square… unless you are in Mather or Dunster.

The Quad – the houses that when looking at the map of Harvard, you had to scroll to the far upper-left.  Don’t worry, they’re not as far as they look, shuttles run every 10 minutes, and the housing is MUCH nicer.

Blocking drama – the imbalance of emotion that can result when trying to finalize your blocking group.

River Run – the night before Housing Day when freshman visit each house.  Traditionally, students used to build boats, write the names of the houses they didn’t want on the bottom, put them in the Charles River, and burn them.  This all ended when members of the Class of 2012 came up with the smart idea to build a really BIG boat and fill it with cans of Axe body spray so that it exploded in the middle of the river (Ok, I’m not gonna lie, I find this to be awesome).  Now, Harvard Police, Cambridge Police, AND Massachusetts State Troopers line the river on River Run, so sadly this tradition has come to an end.

Housing Day – the day in which freshmen find out what house they will be in for the next three years.  This is BIG for the freshman and the upper classmen who get dressed up and run from dorm to dorm to surprise us at 8:00 am.  Festivities continue throughout the day with a celebratory reception in each house that night.

Because my roommates and I are so close, the five of us decided to block together with one other good friend who lives in Matthews – a dorm in the Yard.  I unfortunately could only catch the later part of River Run as I was busy writing a grant to fund a volunteer program I run (more on that later), but from what everyone said, it was a BLAST!

The next morning, our proctor and Peer Advising Fellows (awesome upper classmen that provide advice about anything and everything) greeted our floor with Dunkin’ Doughnuts as we all sat in wait to find out what house we were assigned.  As hoards of cheering and shouting students stormed our dorm, my room anxiously waited as each group passed by… each time putting a tick mark next to each house listed on our newspaper wall.  But finally, a loud, obnoxious group in green came roaring up the stairs and barging into our room shouting, “CURRIER! CURRIER!”

That’s right.  I’m in the Quad a.k.a. the land of the better rooms (can you say singles your sophomore year?!?!), better food, awesome parties, and really close community!  If there is one thing that Pennypacker (my current dorm – see my older post) has taught me, it is that being a little bit farther away can actually be a blessing.  You develop closer friendships and a better feeling of “home,” if only because when you go back to your room, you are leaving the hustle and bustle of the school area.

So, for those of you who find yourselves here next year, look for me on the shuttle!

 

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If there is one thing I regret about my time here at Harvard, it’s that I don’t ever get out.  There is so much to do on campus and in Cambridge that when people ask me, “So, how do you like living in Boston?” I have to honestly answer, “Well… I haven’t really been to Boston.”  It’s embarrassing.

I know a lot of kids that make the effort to go out and explore, it’s just that I’ve become so busy that when I do have down time, I find myself in my dorm or Lamont library socializing or “doing work” (the quotes are there for a reason).  And hey, they don’t call it the “Harvard Bubble” for nothing.

But this was not the case two Thursdays ago when my best friend Heather, who goes to Wellesley, called me up and asked, “Do you want to go to the Boston premiere of Mary Poppins tonight?!?”

I had a million reasons not to go.  I had an Economics 10 problem set to finish, I was exhausted from a week of late nights and hard work (or procrastination…), I really, really hated the movie (Mary Poppins freaks me out – the bankers, the creepy old people, the loud cannon thing that makes dishes fall, the TALKING PARROT), but then I thought, “Why deny myself this opportunity to see a little more of the world?”  So I went!

IT. WAS. AWESOME.

The musical itself was just plain fun.  I mean, who doesn’t love upbeat cheesy show tunes in concordance with lively choreography and brightly colored costumes?  But the BEST part was taking a break from the daily routine.

Of course, because my life is a comedy errors, I was late, one of my high heels got stuck in a crack between the bricks of the sidewalk, I almost missed my stop getting off the T (Boston’s version of a subway), I tripped and fell in front of EVERYONE going down the stairs in the theater… and the fire alarm went off (for the first time ever, according to the usher – of course, it was because I was there).

This is my best friend Heather posing outside of the theater with a fire truck after the smoke alarm went off. Photo cred goes to my cellphone.

Regardless, I had a fantastic time!  Of course, I then stayed up until 5:00 a.m. finishing homework… but it was totally worth it!

Has anyone else out there seen the musical?  What are some things that you’ve done as excuses to get out and about?

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If there is one thing that I have learned since the start of this semester, it’s that the second half of the year goes by WAY faster than the first half.  Seriously, it seems like we only just got back, and we’re already in the midst of midterms!

In the frantic craze of everything going on, it was really difficult for me to choose a single topic to write on.  As a result, keep an eye out for an increasing number of posts!  I just have too much to say!

But by far one of the biggest things to happen to me this semester has been joining a sorority.  That’s right, I rushed.

Now, I don’t know what your preconceived notions of Greek life might be.  I can assure you that when I chose to come to Harvard, going Greek was the farthest thing from my mind.  I didn’t even know Harvard had Greek life.

As second semester approached, however, the idea of rushing started to grow on me.  Harvard has three sororities on campus (with rumors of a fourth coming next fall):  Kappa Alpha Theta, Kappa Kappa Gamma, and Delta Gamma.

Rush here for sororities is pretty low-key, especially compared to other schools.  If you choose to take part in the weeklong process, you are required to visit all three sororities in a series of rounds.  The first two rounds are mostly meet-and-greet, where you talk to a number of sisters and try to gauge whether or not you would fit in with their sorority.  After the second round, you rank the three sororities and hope you get invited back to one, two, or three.  The third round is a bit more formal in the sense that with fewer girls, the atmosphere becomes a bit more serious.  After this round, you rate the three sororities again, and get invited back to a maximum of two.  This final round, Preference Round, is where each sorority talks about why being in a sorority on campus is so great, and I’ll be honest, this was a big part of what convinced me to join.

While it may seem corny or trite, being in a sorority has given me an awesome network of girls who I can rely on for advice, homework help, event updates, and just a quick hello as I walk to class.

Here is a picture of our Kappa Alpha Theta pledge class this year!

On Reveal Night, when my friends and I all gathered in the Science Center waiting anxiously to open our envelopes and find out which sorority we were in, I felt like a sense of community unlike anything else I had experienced at Harvard.  And when I opened my card and heard the cheers of “I am a T, I am a T-H, I am a T-H-E-T-A” calling outside, and I got to run through the tunnel of excited Thetas, I knew that I would rank it as one of my coolest moments in college.

So that’s one of the things I’ve been up to.  What do you guys think about Greek life?  Would you ever consider going Greek in college?

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Hello everyone!  I am sorry that it has taken me so long to write, especially considering that I have been back on campus for THREE WEEKS.  Life has just been so busy! But never fear, I have finally found a moment to sit down over a Qdoba grilled veggie burrito to write to you.

First and foremost, my J-term was fantastic.  I went home to the lovely city of Pittsburgh to sit on my couch and watch my favorite team in the whole wide world, the Steelers, fight their way into Super Bowl XLV!  There is NOTHING like Pittsburgh on game day.  Ben Roethlisberger jerseys are considered acceptable church wear (I know… its ironic), and every public place without a television switched to the game is deserted (for a taste, watch Wiz Khalifa’s “Black and Yellow” music video).

Anyway, despite my obvious affection for my home city, I traveled back to Cambridge a week early in order to participate in Harvard’s brand-new Optional Winter Activities Week (OWAW… or “Oh-Wow!” if you prefer).  Before leaving for break, I got a chance to look over the extensive list of activities to do during this glorious week offered to Harvard undergrads, and one immediately jumped out at me – Food Literacy Project’s cooking courses!

The Food Literacy Project is an organization on campus devoted to teaching students about nutrition, food preparation, and making good food choices.  Since I LOOOOOVVVEEEEE food and have zero idea how to cook (let’s be real, the microwave is high class for me), I thought the program sounded great!

I started Wednesday, learning how to make split pea and wild mushroom soups, and both Irish soda and corn breads!

Thursday was my favorite day – chocolate day!  We made the most delicious chocolate mousse and truffles (so good, soooo much work).  Then we took a field trip to Taza Chocolate, where we got to learn all about how chocolate goes from a plant to a yummy candy bar.

This photo is credited to my wonderful friend Michael George.

“Coffee and Pie” was Friday’s lesson plan, and while I don’t drink coffee [insert shocked and horrified gasp here], my apple pie was incredible, if I do say so myself.

And I finished making this lovely pie just in time to see a comedy show put on by some of the other OWAW students and welcome my roommates home with fresh dessert!

This is the apple pie I made! 23 is our room number.

Home Sweet Harvard! 😀

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I love Boston.  I love Cambridge even more.  But sometimes it’s nice to take a break and do something random, do something spontaneous, do something… like go to New York!

As I mentioned in my previous post, my exam schedule for this semester is really strange.  I had a two-part Spanish exam at the beginning of last week while it was still Reading Period, and a 15-page Celtic History final paper due Friday afternoon.  Now I have an entire week of nothing before my next two exams, which will be Economics 10 on Saturday morning and Government 20 on the following Monday afternoon.  I suppose that most students, given all of this time, would either waste it or use every second to study.  I decided to give myself a break after a week of hard work before the second week of hard work by going to visit some friends in New York.

This might sound drastic and only a little crazy.  I do admit to being on the spontaneous side of normal, but really it was very easy and not at all hard to do.  Being from Pittsburgh, I’m not used to easy travel unless it’s by car to either Ohio or West Virginia or by plane to anywhere worth going.  It turns out that in New England, there is plenty of affordable public transportation that can take you almost anywhere!

After I decided I wanted to go to New York for the weekend, I looked up ways of getting there.  Amtrak has a fast-moving three-hour train ride there for about $90 one way.  While this no doubt would have been both comfortable and quick, I decided that I really wasn’t willing to hand over that kind of cash for a quick trip.  So I looked up bus routes, and lo and behold Bolt Bus has a four-hour ride from Boston to New York for only $15!

The trip itself was also easy!  I took the T (Boston’s subway system) directly from Harvard Square to South Station, where it was a two-minute walk to the bus terminal where I boarded my bus.  The Bolt Bus had Wi-fi and power outlets so I could watch endless numbers of movies on Netflix and stalk my friends on Facebook.

Before I knew it, I was there – dropped off right outside of Penn Station!  But while New York was awesome, I found that I really did miss Cambridge.  The great thing about going to school in a city like Cambridge is that it’s a lot more manageable in size but there is still always more to explore.  But, if you’re ever looking for something crazy and spontaneous to do… New York is just a $15 bus ride away!

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Finals time has arrived, and this being Harvard, EVERYONE is hitting the books.  Luckily, Harvard has anticipated our crazed desire to study 24 hrs/7days a week and has scheduled a ten day Reading Period in which classes are canceled, meals are plentiful, and the campus is abuzz with chapter reviews.

It is during this time of year that the colloquial term “Lamonster” takes on added meaning.  Lamont is the College’s 24-hour library used by undergraduates looking to overdose on work.  It provides every work environment imaginable.

On the first floor, you will find a café operational until 2 a.m. where students can purchase sandwiches, cappuccinos, pastries, and sushi, or can grab any assortment of snacks from the vending machines.  The Café is a social work area where students are welcome to talk about work, complain about work, or chit-chat about everything BUT work, while sitting in lounge chairs and throwing their feet up.

Because pictures are not allowed in Lamont during Reading Period, here is a picture I grabbed off of Google Images. This is the Lamont Cafe, but imagine it packed to the brim with students.

Need to get some real work done?  No problem, just head back a little further on the first floor to the quiet study section, where you will find an open workspace filled with more lounge chairs and cubicles.  There you can still feel part of the world as you shoot silent glances across the room to your roommate or watch your friend from Life Sci receive your Facebook chat asking about the third question on the problem set.

But find even that much interaction too distracting to be productive?  Try the second floor where there are desks set up among the stacks or the third floor where there is another quiet study room with more cubicles and fewer lounge chairs.

Ahhh!  You just got a text from your Spanish partner reminding you that you need to finish up that group project tonight, and Lamont Café is too full!  Not a problem, there is a large group-study space in the basement with plenty of large desks to spread your stuff out, and swivel chairs.

Right now, you might be thinking, “Gee… Lamont Library really has everything a person might need… food, comfortable chairs for naps, study space, books, computers, friends to talk to, and it NEVER closes.”  And you would be right.  Thus, the Lamonster.  The Lamonster is the terrifying creature within us all that lurks the bookshelves late into the night and doesn’t ever leave.  The Lamonster eats, sleeps, and works all in the same building, only glimpsing the sun through the windows and only venturing outdoors to go to class.  The Lamonster is very, very real.  And no time is more conducive to Lamonster behavior than Reading Period.

As I sit in one of Lamont’s first-floor lounge chairs, I can hear the pitter-patter of fingers on keyboards, the scratch of pages being turned, and the faint tin of various types of music blasting through earphones.  I have not become a Lamonster today.  Soon I will pack up my studying and head home to Pennypacker.  But last week was a different story.

I have a very strange exam schedule.  I had my two-part Spanish exam last week during Reading Period (I know, I thought this strange too) and my 15-page final paper in Celtic History due last Friday.  While this was a completely manageable amount of work, I spent quite a few hours in Lamont.  Because I am easily distracted and find that I cannot help but talk to every single person I recognize when work is the other option, I worked on the third floor… for a looooooonnnnngg time.  As I am not guaranteed that my teachers (or my mom) will not read this, I will not tell you just HOW late I was up the night before my Celtic paper was due, but let’s just say, that it was very, very late… or should I say early?

But even I have to admit, it’s kind of cool to have a place to go when you’re uber-stressed about a test, a paper, a presentation, and find a community of equally hard-working students!  It can be depressing to see the light of the early morn in you room by yourself after a night of work, but in Lamont, you are always guaranteed to have company.  I should also note here that not everyone at Harvard becomes a Lamonster.  If you have even half-decent time management skills and place even a little value on sleep, you will be a perfectly healthy and happy student with good study habits.  But if you happen to be like me and have no ability to manage time and a propensity to put assignments off, just know, you will never be alone in Lamont!

UPDATE:  Upon seeing this blog post, my roommate referred me to this new website called Sleeping in Lamont, which I find to be HILARIOUS and very relevant.  Enjoy!

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How many people are staying in your room?!?!?!”

This was the reaction I received from many Harvard students when they discovered how many Yalies my roommates and I would be hosting for the big Harvard-Yale Game weekend.

The answer was eleven, which meant that counting the five of us who lived in our suite, we had sixteen college freshmen in our room.

Was it a little crowded?  Yes.  Was it completely and totally worth it?  YES!!!!!

The Harvard-Yale Game is the one weekend out of the whole year when Harvard students pull out all of the stops to show school spirit.

Not that people aren’t proud they go to Harvard.  If I do say so myself (and all of the t-shirts made for this past weekend would agree with me), it is the best school.  But there’s a difference between wearing a Harvard sweatshirt on your way to class, and donning every single piece of obtainable Harvard-wear to go cheer on a the football team until you go hoarse.

And that is exactly what Harvard-Yale is all about.

We wake up at 8:00.  Grab breakfast.  Hit up the never-ending medley of tailgates by 10:00.  Enter the stadium at 12:00.  And enjoy the best two and a half hours of football one could ever experience.

The excitement stems not so much from the game itself – though it is full of unforgettable, heart-stopping plays and our guys really do give it their all – but from the infectious atmosphere created by the fans.  Students are so psyched to be there, continuing the 127-year rivalry.

Harvard-Yale game

First Yale was up 7, then Harvard came back with a touchdown, but before we knew it, Yale was up again, only to have Harvard run in a touchdown after Yale’s kick-off at the beginning of the second half.  The tension was palpable, and when Harvard’s defense stepped up in the last three minutes of the game to ensure our victory, the fans went wild.

We rushed the field, jumping over the cement walls and sprinting towards the team.  Hugs were exchanged, people were lifted onto shoulders, and the cheering, whooping, and blowing of (banned) vuvuzelas filled the air.

After so many years of hearing about the famous Harvard-Yale Game (yes, I was that girl who motivated herself by looking up Harvard trivia throughout high school), it was unreal to experience it first hand.  It was one of those moments where I think everyone felt both proud and lucky to be at Harvard.  Who says Harvard students don’t have school spirit?

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The tall, vaulted ceiling, the warm glow of the overhead chandeliers, the wood paneling, the largest secular collection of stained glass in the world, the “OMG! This looks exactly like the Great Hall at Hogwarts!!!!!!” – it was all old news.

I turned to my guest. “Welcome to Annenberg Dining Hall, where I eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner everyday.”

[This isn’t exactly true.  I never eat breakfast.  I simply cannot motivate myself out of bed in the morning to go grab the most important meal of the day when stuffing my face with a cereal bar as I run to class is an option.  I also sometimes take naps during lunch… you can see where my priorities lie.]

My guest looked impressed.  “You mean, you have white table cloths and flowers at every meal?”

“Um… no.  That’s a treat for the Freshman Faculty Dinner.

The Freshman Faculty Dinner is one of those special opportunities provided by Harvard to encourage students to really get to know their professors.  Oh sure, you can ask professors to dinner any time, you can go to their office hours, you can even approach them after class, but for we freshmen sometimes all of this can be intimidating.  So, the Freshman Dean’s Office, in an attempt to shove us out of the nest, organizes dinner for us.

Students and faculty gather in the Queen's Head Pub for a reception prior to the Freshman Faculty Dinner hosted in Annenberg Hall.

My guest, as it turns out, was Professor Simon Innes of the Celtic Languages and Literatures Department.  Why the Celtic Languages and Literatures Department, you ask?  Well, that is actually an interesting story.

So I arrived here on campus in August with zero idea of what I wanted to study.  I knew that I was interested in something to do with Government… or Economics… or Social Studies… or Sociology… or Anthropology… (need I continue, or do you get the gist?).  The sheer volume of fascinating-looking courses that Harvard had to offer overwhelmed me (there are over 3,500).  I decided on taking a few basics – I knew I was interested in Government, so why not enroll in an Intro to Comparative Politics class?  Economics 10 (the famous Greg Mankiw course) was next on my list.  Then for fear of losing all of the hard work I put into the Spanish Language during high school, I decided it would be best to take the placement exam and enroll in Spanish 40.  Great.  But I still had an extra class slot to fill… hmm…

And that’s when inspiration struck.  I thought, “Wait a minute… I love history… and I’m Irish… but I know nothing about Ireland… ” So I enrolled in Celtic 118: The Gaelic World from the 12th to the 17th Centuries.  It was the best decision of my life.

Here I am, one of the luckiest girls on the planet for having gotten into Harvard, and in my first semester I get to be in a class of two students (yes, TWO STUDENTS) sitting across from one of the most knowledgeable people in the world in the field of Celtic history!  HOW COOL IS THAT?!?!  I get to ask as many questions as I want, offer whatever opinions I may have, and engage in stimulating conversation on a topic that really interests me.

Since there are only two students in the class, my classmate Katherine and I decided to invite Professor Innes to the Freshman Faculty Dinner, as sort of a ‘thank you for being so awesome.’  And if we thought our classroom conversation was interesting, dinner did not disappoint.  We got to learn why Professor Innes decided to concentrate on Celtic studies as a profession, what life as a professor at Harvard was like, how his childhood was in Scotland, and what he was like as a person, beyond just our professor.

As I walked back to my dorm after dinner with a sea of other freshman, I couldn’t help but feel excited.  I had reached out and gotten to know one of my favorite teachers on a more personal level (plus, the food was amazing).  And I think based on the loud voices, the chorus of laughter, and fast-talking going on around me, the other freshmen felt the same way.

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I still remember getting the long-awaited letter in the mail, the letter that would seal the fate of my freshman year, the letter that contained the names of my freshmen roommates.  I had been waiting in anticipation all summer long.  What would they be like?  How many would I have?  Would the housing gods at Harvard even read the rooming application that had caused me so much angst last spring?

But when I finally got the letter, I couldn’t help but feel that the event was a tad anticlimactic.  After all, the only thing it contained were names, names of four girls from different areas of the country and the name of our dorm:  Pennypacker.

“Pennypacker?” I thought.  “What kind of name is Pennypacker?”

I immediately asked Google to give some insight into this strangely named dorm.  The results were not comforting.  Pennypacker was the farthest-reaching freshman dorm, situated three blocks from Harvard Yard, and had had a historical scabies infestation only a few years before.  Great…

Facebook, on the other hand, delivered more promising results.  My roommates all seemed very friendly.  I immediately friended all of them and initiated a “Roomie Message Thread!!!!” in which we shared novel-length biographies about ourselves and decided who would contribute what to our room.

On move-in day, I didn’t know what to expect.

Now, a month and a half into the school year, I can confidently say that I live in the best dorm on campus.  The community fostered in my dorm is unrivaled, partially due to geographic location, but mostly due to the dynamics in the dorm itself.  First, it is a widely acknowledged rumor that those On High purposefully place the most social people in Pennypacker due to its secluded nature away from the Yard.  While I am not sure this is true, as I have found many freshmen in different dorms to be social, Pennypacker is definitely packed (note the pun) with social people.  Second, the fact that Pennypacker is slightly farther away means that we avoid tourists desperate to snag photos with Harvard students (I mean, I know I’m a celebrity, but sometimes enough is enough) and the noise of the cars and buses and street performers in Cambridge, which lends itself to excellent Sunday morning sleep-ins.  But most important, every room in Pennypacker opens onto a central stairwell, and most of the students leave their suite doors open, inviting others to stop in, study, get to know each other… and, of course, procrastinate.

These are my lovely roommates and me!

While I am obviously very happy with my dorm, I think this happiness is reflective of the wide range of students that populate Harvard as a whole.  I came to Harvard buying the stereotype of introverted, socially inept students who ruthlessly compete with each other for the top spot in the class as they step on each other to further their future careers.  I have yet to find a single person to fit this model.  People here are smart, sure, but in a nonchalant way, and they are focused more on learning than on showing what they already know.  And as I am reminded every night as I sit in my common room in Pennypacker, they all come from different backgrounds, are good at different things, and have different stories to share.

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