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One of my favorite things about Harvard is the vast array of extracurricular to get involved in—you have a passion, there’s probably a place for it. If you haven’t noticed, food is one of mine. Not just the taste but also the ability of food to bring together community, create dialogue, and allow us to aid the world through a meal. And, indeed, at Harvard there’s a place for that passion—a group called the Food Literacy Project (FLP).

 

Created and funded by Harvard University Dining Services, this unique group hires student representatives from each undergraduate house—as well as a few additional representatives—to increase food literacy on campus.  We host study breaks in the evenings, lectures on the weekends, and community dinners whenever. Whether the subject is the question of the ethics of Genetically Modified Foods, or helping soon-to-be-leaving seniors learn how to shop & cook for themselves, students around campus help facilitation discussions on the important issues.

I’ve been so lucky to be part of this group of individuals truly excited about what they’re doing. And the energy was once again flowing this past weekend at our semester’s first FLP retreat, where we generate great ideas and made and devoured fresh vegetarian sushi (see pictures below).

 

As the Lowell House Representative, I’m currently putting together plans for a community dinner series featuring some of my favorite professors. One I’m hoping to host an event with in Professor Ted Bestor, an expert on the Japanese Tsukiji Fish Market and the Political and Economic effects of the global fish trade. Perhaps another vegetarian sushi night will be in order.

 

Speaking of passions, the beginning of the semester has been a torrent of applications and meetings and interviews, all maybe, possibly, hopefully. The Culinary Society (of which I’m the Vice President) is currently underway planning our big event for the semester—a guacamole making contest and festival (Guac’ Off), a previous smash the last few years. The whole planning experiencing has been overwhelming and emotionally rewarding at the same time as we it has become time for those of us who are seniors in the club to hand off the baton to the next officers.

 

And then there’s that pesky thesis.  When times get rough, the best thing is knowing you have a friend’s shoulder to lean on. My friend Anita has been invaluable in our mutual venting, crying, and oh-my-gosh-we-can-do-this experiences through our own push to write a thesis. Her block-mate Angelia has been great in realizing I’m not alone when it comes to uncertainty in our writing. I realize now that the greatest value of writing a thesis is in the process itself, of following through, of learning to create something full, and of how to deal.

 

Perhaps that’s one of the greatest values too of Harvard as well—I sure have learned a lot on that front. Academics aside for the moment, it’s now officially Friday evening and time for a movie with friends at our local independent theater, The Brattle Theatre. Hope you enjoy you’re weekend too!

Ps. Here’s a picture of my house cat that I just couldn’t leave out—adorable or what?

 

~Natalie

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Everybody’s been saying that this is a mild winter, and maybe they’re right.  But it still seems freezing and grey to me, and I’ve definitely had the January Blues.  Last week, I woke up early and looked outside my window, only to see a completely frozen world – there was white ice on the ground, an opaque grey sky, and leafless trees dotting the street.  Everything looked the exact same color, and I felt a sinking sadness in my heart at the bleak sight of winter.  So I did what any normal 21-year-old would do – I called my parents on the phone and cried.

But this story has a happy ending.  After my phone call, my parents were so worried about my wellbeing (SAD is a true phenomenon!) that they sent me a sun lamp, and it came in the mail only two days later.   Now I use it in the mornings when I’m checking email: a simulated sun on the desk beside me.  And it has actually helped!   My roommate and I also decorated the living room with a tropical/Bohemian flavor, so we can pretend it’s summer all year round:

Well, everyone on this blog has been raving about their courses for the spring, and since I’m also thrilled about mine, I’ll mention them briefly.  First, some backstory: My roommate and I are both in the humanities (she’s into photography and I do English), so a lot of our classes have been theory-based over the years.  But that’s not just characteristic of the humanities – my friends who are government or economics majors encounter an almost equal number of classes full of theorizin’ and philosophizin’.  The idea is that when we get into the real world, we’ll be able to practically apply these complex frameworks of meta-knowledge.  While that might be true, I’ve been increasingly attracted to classes whose content is facts-based and has a more direct, unambiguous application – classes that are oriented toward a practicum of some kind.

The first exciting one I’m taking is called The African City.  Contrary to many opinions, Africa is full of more than savannah, grasslands, deserts and jungles.  This class focuses on the urban centers of my most beloved continent.  We’re learning how to use Geographic Information Systems, which is a kind of data mapping system that employs Google Earth & other topographical maps.  Using GIS technology, you can get an immediate, visual representation of data spreads like population density across Africa, or sites of armed conflict. For this class, we each pick one city that we really care about, and we research that city for the entire semester.  Each week, we’ll be focusing on maps of different kinds – transport routes, cultural flows, ethnic & linguistic groupings, and lots more.  I’m so thrilled about this class because my city of focus is Dar es Salaam – a city that I hope to live and work in someday.

Another great class I’m taking is called Africa & Africans.  When I first came to college, I definitely didn’t expect to be studying Africa in school.  Africa was just my home, and I wasn’t even sure it should be a school subject!  But that was totally naïve, and I’m realizing how unfamiliar I am with a part of the world that I love dearly.  This semester, I’m taking a class on the history of sub-Saharan Africa over the last century.  It’s taught by Caroline Elkins who just happens to be an expert on post-colonial Kenya, so I’m in good hands.

The final class I’m super excited for is called Creative Nonfiction – it’s a writing workshop where we get to improve our journalistic writing.  I’ve already taken one writing workshop at Harvard, which was probably my favorite class of all time, so I’m looking forward to the follow-up.  And as I mentioned above, I love that the skills from the class are immediately applicable in a straightforward way.

One more little story before I sign off — last night, I went to see a band called Augustana play in the city, and they were wonderful.  I adore loud shows because the music shakes everyone in the audience in the exact same tempo; I always imagine that our hearts have been transplanted by the bassline, so we all have the same heartbeat for the length of the song. Anyway, the band has a song called Boston, which made everyone happy, and it portrayed this city in a pretty light.  And then on the T ride home, the subway was crammed with exhilarated Bruins fans, who had just won the game 4-3.  I was the only one on the subway not wearing a Bruins jersey, but in that moment, I think I felt just as happy and proud of Boston as everyone else.

 

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You know those days where sometimes things just fall apart? I was having that pretty much for a week. Sounds worse than it is… I’m really referring to my once-thought-to-be-set-in-stone class schedule, which is now completely switched around.

 

I started with my hope to cross-register and take a class at the Harvard Kennedy School, Food & Agribusiness. Note the picture above from the Kennedy School… they have an affinity for quirky floors there I suppose.

 

Turns out my class was nowhere to be found because it didn’t start until mid-march, a half-semester class. That won’t do. A so starts the long chain of moving, and shopping, and disliking, and moving, and shopping new classes.

 

Four hours to go till our Study Card detailing our course choices are do, but I think I figured it out, with classes one may more than I cared for, but another interesting food course to do research in:  American Food, A Global History.

 

My second choice that got run out was a History of Science, Machines and Human Nature course. Any class that starts out an introduction with a clip from The Matrix sounds awesome to me! Bladerunner, AI, I-Robot, all assignments for the course. Even the view (see below) from the fourth floor of the Science Center where the class is was persuasive.

 

Note the reflection on the glass window…

Alas, sometimes things just don’t work out (i.e., no history of computer course because another put a discussion section in the way). But with Friday upon us I can feel little reason to worry (except the sudden need to run out and find the cheapest books to buy….).

 

Tonight is the first in semester for senior social gatherings: a series event put on during the last semester for seniors featuring discounts of food, lots of friends, and everything from games to live music. I’m excited to see all my friends again and relax. I saw a lot of them, but not all, last weekend when we trekked by bus to Allston for Korean Food (btw. do try Bibimbap in a hot stone if you haven’t, so delicious!) for my friend’s birthday—great times! We ended the night back in Harvard square at a favorite restaurant, also the location for the first senior social.

 

But most of all, what I’m looking forward to on the next few Friday nights is some free s’mores, hot chocolate, and ice skating right inside Harvard! Above is a picture of the new erected (temporary) ice rink by the science center… can’t wait to try it out!

 

Have a great weekend!

 

~Natalie

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Sorry for dropping off the Internet!  I was spending a warm and sunny Christmas in California, followed by a sunny January at my grandma’s house in Florida.  Some people prefer a “white Christmas,” but I feel so lucky that I got to wear flip-flops all through the break.  Here’s me and my brother during the first week of the new year — can you tell it’s January?

I wasn’t all that excited to return to snowy Cambridge, but my first week back was amazing.  Harvard has a new initiative called January Arts Intensives, held during the week before school starts.  The classes are small (about ten people each), and we receive intensive instruction in a special art technique.  The week-long class wasn’t graded, which makes it feel less like school and more like recreation.

I signed up for the coolest class: How to Deejay.”  I’m not your typical-lookin’ deejay, but I’ve always been in love with music – I religiously read Rolling Stone, SPIN and Pitchfork, and I spend any extra money I have on new tunes.  I’m embarrassed to say that I don’t play an instrument of any kind (not even the recorder! and everyone learned the recorder in grade school), so this deejay class seemed like the perfect opportunity to learn how to “make music” without actually playing an instrument.  Each class is taught by an expert in the field, and mine was led by the phenomenal Boston DJ and ethnomusicologist, DJ Super Squirrel.

Over the course of the week, we learned about mashups and remixing as an ideology that extends into an infinite number of fields (not just music!)  Remixing can happen in films, in visual art, in performance, in poetry and lyrics — and even in fields beyond the arts, like science, where major solutions are often found in the intersections of very different projects & studies.  Remixing appeals to me on a really fundamental level, because I’ve always felt like I come from a mashup of cultures.  Sometimes I don’t even know where my loyalties lie — I feel so invested in each community and place that shaped me.  At the end of our deejay class, I made a sweet mixtape that blended some of my favorite Kenyan pop songs with US dance music.  The result sounded as muddled as my own identity, but at least it was danceable.

For most of the week, we used this mashup software called Ableton, which is apparently what all the eminent DJs use (even artists like Girl Talk and Skrillex!).  But, in the interest of authenticity, we also learned how to scratch using records and turntables – the old-skool way.   I discovered that I have no natural skills in the scratching department.  You gotta use your left hand to push the record while you flick the fader back and forth with your right hand.  Unfortunately, I can’t make my hands do different things at the same time – but it was still fun spinning Nastymix records like I knew what I was doing.  In my daydreams, I’m just as amazing as these guys:

 

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So apologies to begin with for missing out last week on posting: it was a busy week trying to get packed up from California and move back to campus in Boston. But I’m back now and will be making a particularly detailed post to make-up for it because it’s been a particularly busy (but fun!) week.

 

This week we saw our first two snow falls since Halloween, luckily nothing too heavy but gives a nice winter-feel to the barren trees. Trudging through the windy days, Harvard campus finally saw the return of many students to campus for the week long Wintersession.

 

Wintersession is a great, recently invented opportunity for students to come back to campus a week early to participate in a number of activities, some free or quite discounted. Everything from a one-day ski trip to a TV script writing class (taught by Carlton Cuse, Harvard Alum and scriptwriter of Lost, aka. Greatest drama show ever). I was lucky enough to participate in some great events that I know will be extremely useful as I move forward towards graduating and living on my own.

The first was a weeklong(-ish) afternoon Personal Finance Program set-up by the Harvard University Employees Credit Union. The subjects covered each of the four weekdays were Financial Budgeting and Planning, Personal Credit, Personal Insurance and Taxes, and Investing.

 

After a continental breakfast (much needed coffee and bagels at 9:30am), we received lectures from experts on personal finance as well as practice making our own budgets, choosing insurance plans, and credit cards among others. The information on personal credit was of particular interest as I’m currently looking into starting to build my credit now, as was the investing day for potential use in the future.

 

One more of the career oriented side, I participated in three different events put on by the Harvard Alumni Association (HAA) and the Office of Career Services (OCS) oriented towards understanding jobs in food and wine. These events were led by Harvard alum Cathy Huyghe, wine-writer and contributor to WGBH—part of NPR and the Public Broadcasting for Boston.

The first event was an evening on wine writing where we learned to understand all the sensory aspects to wine (including sight, texture, taste, small) and history to allow us to write about wine more creatively. After my experience on the wine tasting tour in Santa Barbara, this was a great way to integrate the skills I learned in sensory description of wine into creative writing. Of all the wines tasted that night I found my favorite to be this Argentinean Malbec that elicited a strongly smoky smell and brought forth an interesting history of how foodways changes with cultural adaptation (Malbec being originally a French grape).

 

The next day was an amazing experience. For the first time I took the commuter rail from Harvard Square to Concord, MA where we were led on a tour of recently opened restaurant by HBS alum (Ian Calhoun) and his partner, 80 Thoreau. Carolyn Johnson (former Chef-de-Cuisine at Rialto) is the head chef for this quaint upscale restaurant on the second story of the station, overlooking small shops and quite streets. Calhoun and his partner Vincent Vela were incredible informative and friendly in telling all of us about how to open a restaurant and what its like running a business. My own future endeavors I hope one day will lead me towards opening a restaurant/bar and the information I learned was enlightening.

 

After that we proceed back to Harvard Office of Career Services for the Harvard Food and Wine Internship and Job fair. There were a number of interesting opportunities I look forward to applying to in the next few weeks both during school and after. I’ll keep you updated as the career moves proceed. For now, I’ll enjoy the first days of snow with the last free weekend before classes start.

 

~Natalie

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After days of sleeping in, thoughts of school have once again drifted to mind. Perhaps because the upcoming semester is my last, but I find myself eager to begin my pre-term planning for my last set of classes.

 

One of the courses I have to take this semester is a Philosophy Tutorial, the last class I have to take to complete my secondary (aka. minor) in philosophy. The department offers a choice of four subjects courses to complete the tutorial: Environmental Ethic, What is Life?, Rationality & Emotions, and Human Nature. Based on my previous study in political theory and moral philosophy, I’m currently leaning towards the Environmental Ethic course that includes such discussions as obligation to future generations, private property, and factory farming.

 

The other courses I plan to take include Government 99 (the second half of my year long thesis course), International Political Economy (as fulfillment for my Government International Relations requirement), and Accounting. The accounting course is a class I hope to cross-register for at M.I.T, a common occurrence between students of both universities and a class I hope to be useful for any future business endeavor.

 

One of the courses I’m most excited for though is the International Political Economy class, a subject I find quite relatable to my current thesis research on the World Trade Organization. The Harvard student-based review system, the Cue Guide, suggests the class is riveting if not quite challenging.

 

As with each plan we make though, surprise is inevitable and no course is set in stone. I’ll keep you updated on the process as I continue to search and start the semester-based shopping period. From the suburbs of California, I hope the winter months are treating you well!

 

~Natalie

 

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My Boyfriend and I in Santa Barbara for Christmas

Nothin’ says California lovin’ like a day in the sun and luckily we’ve been getting a lot of that. It almost makes me forget the potential snow I may be coming back to.

 

So to enjoy the days outside while I can, my boyfriend and I took a trip up to Santa Barbara from Los Angeles for a day as a Christmas gift. We visited a number of beautiful, family-run, and even one biodynamic, vineyards in the area (never have I had the pleasure to sample so many delicious wines in one location), as well as enjoyed the picturesque beaches.

 

One of the quaint wine estates visited on our trip to Santa Barbara

Since then I’ve just been readjusting to reality, looking at potential jobs upon graduating—I’m currently in a restaurant management internship for Tremont 646 in Boston and the experience has been truly enlightening—, as well as outlining my class shopping list for next semester (both subjects that I will explore more in depth in the coming weeks). But all of this move towards planning after a week of mainly just sleep, food, and friends has got me thinking about the ability to push work ethic and determination.

Chef Andy Husband’s Restaurant on Tremont St. in Boston

I got a great comment from a reading about procrastination and how to deal. This, of any time of the year, is probably the worst. You get a break, but it goes by so fast after all the holiday cooking, shopping, cleaning, adjusting… the last thing you may want to do it prepare for summer internship applications or—like me—getting to work on your thesis.

 

But like anything in life, sometimes taking a real break and committing to it is what you need. Allowing myself the time to focus these last two weeks on family, old friends, getting back to hobbies like cooking and home gardening, all have allowed me to transition most easily into a work mindset feeling refreshed.

 

I suppose I’ll leave you with that as the New Year approaches and, as it does, I’ll be sure to fulfill that resolution of taking a deep breath, and break, often.

 

Happy soon to be 2012!

 

~Natalie

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Its winter break and with Christmas only but a few days away, this should be a time for everyone to curl up by the fire and take a moment to enjoy life with your loved ones.

 

Goodbye cold library—at least for now. I was one of the few students left on campus Monday, having my last final then, but at least the spaced out finals schedule allowed me ample time to prepare. And now I can relax (somewhat, there is still thesis writing to be done) for the next few weeks.

 

Speaking of classes, this is also my last blog post featuring my fall semester classes: the class this week is my “core” history course, “Slavery, Capitalism, and Imperialism” and actually was the last final I took.  “Core” is just the older version of Harvard’s now “General Education” system, where students have to opt to take a class from a certain number of general departmental requirements (history, physical science, literature, etc). The pictures inserted for this week are a sampling from all the documents we read through-out the semester.

For my History B Core I choose this class mostly because the material was very appealing to me as a Government concentrator, but also because the format of the class was quite unique. Don’t expect any white board outlines or fancy power-point presentations—Professor Walter Johnson has only himself and his voice as he lectures twice a week to his students on the imperial expansion of the U.S. against Native Americans, or the way slavery and anti-slavery movements were often more about class than sectionalism (Northern U.S. v. Southern U.S.).

 

You may be surprised for me to say, though, that there was never a dull moment in lectures. Never have I been so captivated before by a raw telling of history and unique appeal to historical documents—it really highlights the multitude of ways in which history can be understood and how we can even, hopefully, learn from it.

Like many Harvard classes though, it seems we were often assigned an untenable amount of reading each week.  However, one thing you learn is how to read “efficiently”, whether that be skimming or just knowing what to read for.

 

All that said, the joy of the class and format considered, I am more than happy for the semester to be over. I am very much looking forward to applications for summer and careering opportunities coming up, as well as spending quality time with family and friends.

 

I look forward to checking in with you as winter break continues, even if I’m at now is warm and sunny rather than snowy.

 

~Natalie

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A Presentation of the Books for my Course: “97 Orchard”

Ever wonder what McDonald’s in East Asia is like, or the type of food immigrants to America in the 1850’s cooked? Interested in doing your own research projects on local ethnic restaurants or a growing food movement?

 

If you answered yes to these questions then you’re probably like me and would find Harvard’s Anthropology Course “Food, Culture, and Society” one of the most fascinating courses. Taught by esteemed Anthropologist Ted Bestor, an expert in the global fish trade and Tsukiji fish market in Japan, Food and Culture allows you to explore the myriad forms of culture surround foodways and consumption.

 My Professors’ Book “Tsukiji”

As you probably guessed by now, I’m a bit of a foodie, so some of the material I’ve passed by before. But this was my first anthropology class and a great experience. One of the best parts about the class was the two ethnographic studies we did individually—an opportunity to document a cultural phenomenon in food as an outsider.

 

My most recent ethnographic study was on the artisanal food movement: I studied one particular artisanal site, Cambridge local When Pigs Fly bakery. Being able to engage with our class’s theoretical concepts in a way truly applicable to real world settings was helpful and fascinating.

 

On McDonald’s Gone Global: Golden Arches East

It is also the first class to be completed this semester. With our final paper turned in last night, I’m only two classes from the end of my last fall semester. Next final up is for Science and Cooking. We recently had our final science fair and my team’s project on Coffee Emulsions won “Most Business Applicable” and received a spherification kit–can’t wait to play with that over winter break.

My Lab Group with Chef Ferran Adria

And just in time, it is beginning to feel like winter: with temperature dropping, high winds, and Christmas trees about, it’s the perfect excuse to stay in with a warm cup of tea and my textbook to study.

 

Enjoy the rest of the weekend!

 

~Natalie

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Widener Library: Filled with tons of original manuscripts, while it’s beautiful to look at, not my first choice for studying

 

Hi all, hope you had a great Thanksgiving if you celebrate or otherwise just a good weekend! I made the trek to New York again last weekend to cook & enjoy family time with my brother and his girlfriend. The weather was perfect for gallivanting around the city.

 

So today is the last day of Harvard’s Fall 2011 classes! Cause for celebration? Perhaps for some, but the large group of senior Thesis writers including myself, it is more of a time for a bit of stress, as today is also the day our first 7,500+ words is due to our thesis advisor.

 

Given that, I thought I’d talk today about my class this semester,  “Government 99: Thesis Tutorial”. Unfortunately I don’t have a cool and relevant pictures I’ve taken myself to insert, so I have instead attached some lovely photographs of all the places at Harvard I’ve been studying and doing research at. The most interesting part of this course is not the class itself, as we only meet once a week for an hour and it is only graded pass/fail. Rather, it is the prospect of writing a thesis generally. This was a decision I took on since last spring and have been preparing ever since.

Lamont Library Cafe: Common Late-Night Study Space for Undergrads featuring Coffee & Food

Most departments have a tutorial such as mine (thus, I’m taking the government tutorial, being a government concentrator) that allows students to develop the writing and research skills necessary to embark on a thesis. Most of us, including myself, have never before written a 100+ page paper, but the idea of culminating my experience at Harvard through such a thorough academic investigation is quite exciting, if not a bit daunting.

 

Luckily, if you decided to write a thesis or as you may know from experience, you have a thesis advisor, usually a graduate student or professor, who has expertise in your area. One thing I’ve learned from the process is to work closely with your advisor to make sure not to fall behind on the writing—7,500 words is not easy to write, but especially if you’re writing it in the last week. Keeping up on my work has been immensely helpful to this.

 

Another great thing about writing a thesis at Harvard is that there are so many opportunities for funding and traveling abroad if your thesis requires it. I was able to secure funding from the Saloma Fund for helping me travel to New York and D.C. to conduct interviews.

 

Science Center: Featuring Cabot Science Library which is always fairly less crowded than Lamont

All in all, writing a thesis is a great experience but a choice I wouldn’t suggest to take lightly. It will slightly take-over your life, but if you do well, your thesis grade can help secure graduating with Latin honors (Summa Cum Laude, Magna Cum Laude, and Cum Laude).

 

Of course, I wouldn’t leave you hanging for the weekend without giving some details on my own thesis. Always being philosophically inclined, I have decided to write a political theory thesis about the presence of coercion in the international realm (in particular, through trade relations set out by the World Trade Organization) and whether this presence of coercion in trade relations demands justification through more equal trading mechanics. Let me know if this sounds interesting and I can add a few more details in the comment. With the draft of my first chapter is done and sent into my advisor though, it is time to enjoy the weekend and prepare for the next few weeks of finals.

 

 

 

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