It’s hard to believe that summer is over, and all of the new freshmen will be arriving on campus soon. It’s weird to think I won’t be going back to Harvard in September to start school. I will, however, be back on Labor Day to serve as a marshal for Freshman Convocation, which is a fairly new tradition that started with my class. It is essentially a welcoming ceremony, and the only time that a Harvard College class is together in its entirety with the exception of Commencement. Both Convocation and Commencement are nice bookends to a Harvard experience, and I’m definitely jealous of all of the students just starting their journey. If you couldn’t tell by my (still) blogging, I miss it a lot! I imagine I’ll be posting very infrequently from now on, but I thought I’d post this recap I promised several weeks ago.

Commencement is the most wonderful, ludicrous, over-the-top experience. In the weeks leading up to it, I had several people tell me that it would be a crazy, extravagant ceremony, but words simply don’t do it justice. I know it sounds like it’s really far away, but senior year will sneak up on you! As a Class Marshal (which is basically the equivalent of a high school class officer or board member), I was lucky enough to stand at the front of the procession line of faculty, honorees, and special guests. We all stood there, ecstatic, taking photos of each other and of the incredible view we had–both of the stage in front of us and the sea of people behind us. I’m not sure if it’s true, but apparently there were over 32,000 people in Harvard Yard that day.

Commencement is broken up into three parts–the Morning Exercises, Diploma Presentations at the Houses, and the Afternoon Exercises (Annual Meeting of the Harvard Alumni Association).

The morning was my favorite. The ceremonies involved a man whose sole responsibility was to call the exercises to order by shouting at the top of his lungs and banging a long metal (?) rod on the ground. He did the same thing to close the ceremonies. He wore a large top hat and had the loudest voice I’ve ever heard. If I remember correctly, he spoke in an accent and appeared as if he could have arrived to Cambridge by horse. Beyond him, there were some incredible speeches that you can YouTube, but the most surreal part was being in front of all of the honorees, who are the leaders in their fields. The honorees included some incredible scientists, philanthropists, and historians, as well as Oprah Winfrey and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino.

The ceremony is really awesome–each dean from the different schools stands up and delivers brief remarks, which is followed by that respective school standing up and President Faust using the words “with the power invested in me” and “confer upon you” (or something to that “official” effect) to grant degrees. The College came last. It is tradition for the Class Marshals and Summa Cum Laude graduates to stand on the steps of the stage, directly in front of the Dean, President, and special guests as our degrees are conferred upon us. While I didn’t cry that entire week, this is where I cracked…a bit. It was very emotional standing up there in front of people like Oprah, and the whole 5 minutes was quite symbolic. I teared up and tried to hold it in, but when I looked over at my friend and fellow Class Marshal, Nadia, who was fanning her face with tears welling up in her eyes, I also started to cry. The best part was when Oprah saw Nadia, stood up, and motioned to hug her. That’s the point when waterworks began for several people and we all started hugging President Faust and Oprah, which was a crazy moment that I still don’t believe happened. Speaking with and meeting Oprah felt really out of body, like a dream. I know I’ll never forget it, and we got a pretty cool picture out of it, too!

Scott Yim, Nina Yancy, Julie Barzilay with Oprah at Harvard Commencement

The Oprah encounters didn’t end there. After we received our diplomas at our Houses, it was time to run over to the the Afternoon Exercises. I was lucky to have a seat on stage, but little did I know that I was going to be directly behind Oprah. I ended up being on camera nearly throughout her speech, which meant all of my stupid, goofy, and animated faces were documented. I’ve started to call it the image (s) that I will never escape. Footage or pictures of me behind Oprah have found themselves on MSNBC, ABC, various news channels, Pinterest, and all over my Facebook, among other places, I’m sure.

Just me and Oprah…

I really wish someone had told me I would be in the camera shot the whole time, but I guess it’s kind of hilarious and I guess it could be worse. I keep telling myself I’m lucky I didn’t fall asleep or yawn obnoxiously or something. After all, we were all up really late the night before Commencement, hanging out with friends, so it was very much a realistic possibility. I also had friends tell me I should have made ugly faces or have done something outrageous to catch peoples’ attention more. They said I had the best opportunity to troll behind Oprah and become a Buzzfeed sensation. Better luck next time? Regardless, if you haven’t seen the video, I’ve included it below, in case you want to see any of my ridiculous reactions and faces.

I’ll hopefully be able to write about some alumni events in New York, as well as Convocation. I’ll be sure to take lots of photos and write to give you a sense of what life as an alum is like! Signing off for now, but leaving you with an awesome photo 🙂

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Three teammates and I are spending the second half of their summers playing tournaments in France. It has been fun getting used to the European red clay, meeting fellow players at various tournaments and keeping our games sharp for the 2013-14 season. Here is the second blog entry:

After playing two clay tournaments in Biarritz and Ciboure, the rest of the team and I packed up the campervan and headed to our new destination, Soustons.

We had another great experience as the club was very gracious and loved having US players in their tournament. They had traditional U.S hardcourts which was a nice welcome after competing on the French “clay” and “quick” tennis courts. After the matches they conducted interviews, in English, but I vowed to do them in French if I ever returned. At the end of the tournament, the club directors hosted a buffet dinner, and the whole team was invited to join. After having our first home-cooked meal in weeks, we left Soustons in high spirits.

After the tournament, we had a couple of days before our next matches.  Alex and Nicky were set to play a clay court tournament in Dax, while Conor and I were going to play a hard court tournament in Urt. Luckily the two towns are pretty close, so we were able to commute back and forth. We drove to Dax and parked to campervan near the tournament site. There were plenty of restaurants in the area, and we had some time to explore the town. We stumbled across a bowling alley and decided to give it a try. We bowled several games and the internal competitiveness kicked in as we were all striving for the win. Conor and Alex bowled personal bests breaking the 150-plateau. We all had a great time, and it was nice change of pace from all the tournaments matches we had been playing.

Game 3- We all had nickname/ random names, and mine was “Larry”.

While we were in Dax, a kind French family offered to take us on a trip to the nearby lake and use their boat. Conor and I didn’t have matches for a couple of days so decided to take them up on the offer. The boat took about two-three person to sail it, and with the combination of our poor French speaking and their lack of English understanding, there were many interesting moments on the water. It was my first time sailing, and I really enjoyed the feeling of being on the water and using the natural elements(wind) to help guide the boat. After being on the road for weeks, it was a great chance of scenery.

Conor and Bella on the the first trip around the lake

My attempt at steering the small boat

I have touched on the French hospitality earlier, but there is one French custom that I wish we had in the US. After a match, here, it is expected for the winner to buy his opponent a drink. The players can share a nice chat, and have the chance to get to know each other better. If there are any disputes in the match this gives you the opportunity to work out any issues and move on. While we do have certain customs of our own, (for example, in Hawaii, it is customary for tennis players to give their opponents a box of macadamia chocolates after the match), we don’t have anything like this. Traditions like this help us get away from the cold, impersonal part of the game and helps you realize the friendships forged through these experiences is a far greater determinant of a victory.

Nicky offering a drink to his opponent after his match

We just finished our tournaments in Dax and Urt and will now head to Sarlat. It is surprising to see how fast time has passed on this trip as our journey is really winding down. All my teammates will leave within the week, while I will be leaving soon after. It has been a great experience so far, and we will be leaving France with many good memories. Stay tuned!


Counting the weeks of this summer internship has evolved into a daunting task. I don’t want to leave my abroad experience or have summer end!! Yet at the same time, I can’t wait to return home to California, especially since I started my internship just a few days after my last final last semester.


Kigamboni Beach: what I’m leaving

Del Mar Beach: what I’m returning to


For this summer of 2013, I’m participating in Harvard’s Global Health Institute’s international Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (iSURF) program. The institute supports both domestic and abroad research and serves as a liaison between eager students and professors/postgraduates.


More specifically, I’m interning on clinical research trials examining the topics of maternal health and nutrition in Tanzania. It’s my first time: diving into clinical research as well as nutrition research; in Tanzania as well as on the African continent; and feeding myself for an extended period of time.


So many “firsts” completed in just a few months which have truly been an incredibly transformative experience. It’s my second time spending the summer abroad on a Harvard program (summer 2012: Summer Internship Program (shadowing at a private clinic in Peru) with the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies) and I already feel much more like an experienced traveler. I’m more comfortable in foreign places, navigating rough/sketchy transportation systems, and communicating via charades.


The time has come when you can just sense everything winding down – like an (epic?) end is imminent. In the midst of a transition, many people are asking general questions about my overall experience in Tanzania. I feel a little guilty saying this (because I absolutely loved last summer in Peru and Bolivia!!), but my Tanzanian experience may be better overall. I think my preference can be explained by how last summer felt more like a summer of learning – I was learning tons of Spanish (with a Latin American accent) and learning a lot about myself: what I can do/what I’m capable of. And this summer feels like a practice run (of senior year? of real life?) where I’m using the characteristics and skills learned last summer and I’m honing them now to not only tackle, but also overcome challenges. If I wanted to be more cliché, I’ll say that I’m growing up!


My Latin American program last summer had more structure – students would go to class/work Monday through Thursday and weekends had fun excursions planned by the program coordinator. There were only a few weekends free for spontaneity and everyone had a host family to more personally watch over us and protect us.


My African program this summer has less structure – students get accepted into the program, are written a check (iSURF comes with automatic funding. Yup, best thing ever.), and can determine their preferred dates to work basically all on their own. You may or may not get picked up at the airport. You may or may not receive help in finding accommodations. All they really ask of you is to send a quick email upon a safe arrival. It’s like pushing a baby bird out of its nest and telling it to chirp if it can fly.


Regardless of a summer program’s structure, abroad experiences are phenomenal and every undergraduate student has to have one. Have to. I really can’t say if I have a preference for either type of structure because they have both fostered an abroad environment in which I thrived; but what I can say is that I’m really glad my first Harvard program abroad was the more structured one. This initial guidance definitely provided me with a grace period to learn the basics of adapting abroad – and adapting quickly.


I have had two main challenges while in Tanzania. These challenges arose early and have endured throughout the summer. Remember when I was venting (/complaining) about all the hardships concomitant to finding safe and affordable housing in Tanzania? My program partner and I settled on a hostel/guest house that was mid-range in costs, but also out of range of the city (which contributed to much of the problems I had finding safe and affordable transportation to/from work – but that’s a whole other story).

It was here at our guest house where we got comfortable and complacent, and even stressed all the benefits of our living situation when the chance came up in conversation to convince ourselves and our friends that we were doing just fine.


I was openly jealous of all the other summer interns in the area though because their accommodations were both better and free – and better not just because it was free! I’ve met a handful of other students, all on different programs, who are interning with different organizations for the summer. Their housing stems from US Embassy supported housing or alumni/coworker networks that have led to house sitting gigs.


One of the friends I made here – and probably the most gracious friend I’ve made here – was offered a house-sitter position in a house with 5 bedrooms. She invited both me and my program partner to house sit with her so she wouldn’t be all alone in a big house. Needless to say, I was (and still am) beyond super grateful for her invitation. To live in a house with a kitchen and running water, let alone a nice house…all for free?? “Too good to be true” doesn’t even describe it – mostly because the situation was true! My friend is a student at the Kennedy School (+100 for networking) so I hope she’s ready to be constantly showered with presents and love when we’re all back in Cambridge.


So there my program partner, Leanna, and I were. We just finished hiking Mt. Kilimanjaro. We hadn’t showered nor looked in the mirror for 6 days. I was sure my hair was about to dreadlock. I was living out of a trash bag in which clothing that only smelled a little sweaty were considered clean. Think when dirty, grubby children are coming home from the playground and their parents were excited but also disgusted – I’m sure this was how my roommates received Leanna and me.


I’ve never lived in a house that wasn’t owned by my parents before! I feel so grown up! Not only did the move ease my financial constraints, but it was also closer to work which ameliorates my ongoing transportation predicament. The move made my life 1000% better. Yes, 1000. Because if I had 10 lives, all 10 lives would have completely improved in every aspect and every manner.


Now that Leanna and I had access to a kitchen, we didn’t have to live off of ready-made food! Although I didn’t hate my avocado and tomato diet, I also don’t hate variety. (Ironic that I’m researching nutrition?) Probably a subconscious manifestation of me missing my Asian roots and home, the first dish I made was fried rice.


Guys, this is kind of a big deal because I don’t cook. Ever.


The first dish is always plagued with self-doubt, but after some ego-boosting compliments, I initiated some conversations about hosting a dinner party. Most of my friends are house sitting around the same general neighborhood which makes seeing each other on weeknights much less of an inconvenience. Everyone loves a free and home cooked meal so people gathered at our house after work. We were running a bit behind schedule though – looks like we definitely have immersed ourselves in some Tanzanian traditions – and everyone chipped in to whip up several dishes in under an hour!

Aww, dinner as a big family!

This post was pretty much all about non-work related events. Oops?

Before my work update, I’d like to note that I’m extremely attracted to abroad experiences because there’s learning everywhere!! Whether I’m inside or outside the office, I’m constantly stimulated and observing (and mimicking) new human behavior. A foreign environment is conducive to a very high concentration of ethereal experiences. Yes, ethereal. I just love learning people’s different habits and tracing them back to cultural differences – and you can’t learn this anywhere but abroad!

Work has been a little slow this week. My main contribution has been trying to optimize their database. I feel somewhat like a healthcare consultant because I spent a lot of time learning the protocol and then spent even more time learning what the researchers/lab technicians/staff actually practices. I’ve tried to grasp the flow of subjects and their bodily fluid samples through interviews, shadowing, and private investigations. With all this knowledge, I’ve been working with an IT guy and my postdoc to code a new database since the one currently in use is unreliable – the last 6-7 months of data haven’t been captured in a digital manner!! We were all really excited to recently have a finished database to pilot, although our enthusiasm simmered when we found lots of room for improvement during the pilot. We’re currently in the works of making those tweaks and hoping pilot 2.0 runs more smoothly!

I have a few side projects that I work on in addition to the database and I even got an unexpected, but very pleasant, opportunity to shadow a doctor who is also a professor at the medical school where my office is located. More on this next week!

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For the rest of the summer, three of my teammates and I will be traveling around France competing in tennis tournaments. This is a great opportunity to embrace a new culture while getting match play for the upcoming year. We will be traveling/living in a campervan, so it will be quite the experience.

Teammates, Will, Bella and I outside the campervan

I arrived in Paris on July 12th, and took a train down to Bordeaux. There, I met up with the rest of my teammates, and we started our journey. We are here with one of our coaches’s friends from Australia, Will. He coaches a top Australian junior, Bella, who is also competing in tournaments here. From Bordeaux, we drove to Barsac where some of my teammates were playing a tournament. After spending a couple of days there, I headed to Créon to play in my first tournament. While I had been training in Florida, I was a little anxious before my match because I hadn’t played in an official match since the NCAA team tournament in May. Luckily, I was able to dust the rust off pretty quick and take the tournament title. After competing in Créon, we headed to Biarritz, and Ciboure to play on the red clay. In the US, we play, primarily, on hard courts, so playing on the red clay was a new experience. While, I wasn’t a big fan of the surface, it was nice to try something new, and I really started to enjoy playing on the red clay towards the end of the tournaments.

Living conditions in Barsac

At Créon with the tournament directors

One of the reasons, it is advantageous to play tournaments in France, is that the French Tennis Tournament System is more efficient than the US tennis system. In the USA tournament system, the tournaments are age-based. This means that the entries of a tournament will be based off a player’s age(14 and under, 16 and under, 18 and under, Open level, etc.). This means that a beginning level player who was 17 years old could be entered at the same tournament as a top ranked junior who is also 17 years old. In contrast, the French Tennis System is purely level-based. Players of varying age will be entered in the same tournament, but players with a higher categorized rating will be fed into the later rounds of the tournament. The main ranking categorizations  in France are: +15, +4, +3, +2, +1, 0, -2, -4,  -15, -30. This way the tournament will hold many players, but you will be matched with players who are at a similar level and give you a competitive match. Both systems have their advantages, and I have enjoyed playing in the French System.

There have been many difference competing here, than in the US, but the utmost difference is the level of hospitality each tennis club offers. Each tennis club seems to be integrated within the community, and there are many locals who love watching tennis. Each club has a feast at the end of the tournament involving the players and the spectators throughout the event. This event is great as it gives you the opportunity to see other players off the court, and talk to the club members, who are keen on teaching us some French.  The tournament directors really want to make sure we have a good experience and have let us sleep in the clubhouses and use the kitchen and cooking utensils.

After Ciboure, we headed to Soustons, and have a couple of days off before our next tournament. By now, we have gotten into a routine and have spent some quality time with each other. Playing the tournaments have been a great experience, but most of the stories we will remember will take place off the court. From roaming through the morning markets on the street, to playing beach volleyball under a perfect sunset, and getting lost in the middle of nowhere for hours, the real experiences are far greater than a win or a loss. The living conditions have been far from ideal, but it has really given us a chance to bond, and embrace a new lifestyle.


When I dubbed last week (with my Zanzibar trip and a successful meeting with my principle investigator) as the best week ever, I might have spoke too soon. Alternatively, the best case scenario is that I’m having consecutive best weeks ever…let’s run with that.


The most epic week of my whole summer internship (thus far) and I didn’t even go to work once. Very analogous to those learning moments outside of the classroom – that is what the summer is for after all, right?


This summer, I’m serving as a research intern in clinical trials revolving around maternal health and nutrition. It’s my first time handling clinical trials and I’m definitely learning my fair share of the triumphs as well as the difficulties of protocol vs. practice. Did I mention I’m working in Africa? Yep, I’ve landed the dream “job” at age 21 by participating in the Global Health Institute’s international summer undergraduate research fellowship (iSURF) program.


Since iSURF is a fan of the buddy system and sends at least 2 students per destination abroad, I have a summer program partner, Leanna, and although we work on different projects and in different areas of the city, we try to align our African travel plans – because we too are fans of the buddy system. A bit of planning and flexibility allows students abroad to exploit their summer destinations. One of Leanna’s best friends and blockmates (a group of up to 8 friends that you tell the college you’re obsessed with during the spring semester of your freshman year to ensure that your group is placed together in the same upperclassman house for the remaining three years of undergrad) is pursuing research for her senior thesis in East Africa. They had roughly planned to hike Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa, together this summer. When her plans fell through, Leanna was still determined to hike it and I was pretty much indifferently down for the ride. Let’s keep in mind that I’ve never been camping for more than one night and for whatever reason, the sound of 6 days didn’t alarm me.

A view of Kilimanjaro from our bus ride. We were entranced about how the peak just pops above the clouds!

Leanna spearheaded planning the entire Mt. Kilimanjaro hike. Many Harvard students volunteer with SIC, Support for International Change, and she had heard of a partnership between SIC and a hiking company. We rode SIC’s coattails for their student discounts and had semi-strategically/semi-luckily planned our 6 day hike up Mt. Kilimanjaro to begin one day before the federal government of Tanzania imposes a hefty, high-season tourist tax.

I would have done a lot to avoid the taxes – but it would have been worth it regardless! Just look at this view from the rainforest, near the base of the mountain!

Everything seemed to be going our way! We bought bus tickets for a 12 hour ride to the base of the mountain and although our tickets mistakenly noted the wrong day, we didn’t have a problem boarding! The bus seats reclined and the Bongo-flavor music was all very conducive to sleeping. When slumber wasn’t on our side, we were easily amused by the passing of the beautiful green scenery as well as what we suspected to be a baobab tree forest!


Wiped out from the long bus ride, we turned in early despite the Friday night ambiance.


Saturday began with a hefty breakfast along with an introduction to our head guide named Kombe who visited us at our hostel to help us with our rental gear as well as give us a brief overview of our imminent week of hiking. After an initial blood oxygen level and pulse check, we bid farewell, knowing that the next time we met, we would be starting our ascent of Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Leanna and I spent the rest of Saturday food-touring the small town of Arusha and met up with a friend we made through mutual friends at Zanzibar last week. Her name was Lauren and although she was based in Arusha, she had yet to explore an arts and crafts center called Cultural Heritage.

Cultural Heritage was a huge arts center that included the largest collection of Tanzanite gems. Our eyes sparkled just as much as the gems as we stared, but we quickly made our way to the large art gallery next door.

A view from inside the art gallery

The gallery was fantastic! From architecture to content, the building fitted with stained glass window and spiraled around an impressive showcase boasting the most prominent aspects of African culture, from tribes to animals. There were plaques and framed letters of US presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton visits; too bad Obama wasn’t planning on coming to the Cultural Heritage center during his POTUS visit!

While roaming the town, we stumbled upon a library and nervously/curiously entered. To our surprise and shock, the library was absolutely crowded both on the basement and ground floor … on a beautiful Saturday afternoon!

Obligatory creeper pictures to highlight some studious Tanzanians!

As the adventurous young adults Leanna and I strive to be, we also called Saturday an early night in an attempt to relish our last night in a bed under a roof for the upcoming week. There were no regrets about our decisions Sunday morning when we were picked up by our hiking company and started making the short drive to the starting gate of the Machame route where we’d be spending the next 6 days.

Get it?! … X for X-treme! 🙂
At the starting gate – after registration and right before beginning!

At the entrance, we met our entourage – or as we endearingly nicknamed our crew: mantourage – which consisted of 2 guides, a chef, a waiter, a toilet-master, and 6 porters. 11 men to take care of 2 girls for 6 days. Yeah, the numbers seemed about right.

In too deep to turn back now…

Leanna has camping experience and she was able to call our adventure the most luxurious camping she’s ever done. I, on the other hand, during this camping trip, gathered very high standards for what camping should be like; the disclaimer here being that our 6 day Mt. Kilimanjaro hike was enough camping for my lifetime. (I’ll probably avoid camping again at all costs, but make sure everybody knows about that one time I hiked to Africa’s rooftop in 6 days.) We were essentially waited on hand and foot: everyone in our mantourage (except for our guides) would race up and down the mountain much faster in order to have our campsite set up upon arrival. Leanna and I were woken up daily to a hot beverage delivered to our sleeping bags and there was even “warm water for washing” in buckets right outside our sleeping tent twice a day. There was no doubt we ate better on Mt. Kilimanjaro than in lower elevations when we were responsible for feeding ourselves.


Feeling like CHAMPS after Day 1 of hiking through the rainforest.

Throughout our 6 day route, we made our way up to the nearly 6000 meter peak, Uhuru Point. The most pleasant surprise was reaching the summit on July 4th. I think it’s fair that students always get a burst of patriotism when abroad. Leanna and I may not have had an American flag to boast on Africa’s rooftop, but when we weren’t desperately trying to breathe oxygen into our lungs, we were radiating American vibes as best we could. Most of the hikers we ran into were American and reaching the summit not only felt like an escape from Africa, but also an escape from the real world.

…or maybe I was just feeling like there was some out-of-body experience happening because I was majorly oxygen deprived. I’m talking about a blood oxygen level hovering around 60%. This is when studying neurobiology serves as a disadvantage because I start listing all the neurons and organs that have most likely already suffocated to their demise. I wasn’t really aware of (or maybe I was denying) the severity of the situation. All I knew was that I was beyond super sleepy (on the verge of losing consciousness?) and very nauseous. I could n o t come to terms with not reaching the summit, especially after enduring so much dirt everywhere for so many days. I thankfully reached the top of the mountain with the hand-holding of my guide and raced down quickly after to chase some oxygen. Okay, so maybe Harvard kids are a little intense, but at least we’re not just intense about academics…?

Stella Point – not quite the summit, but an hour away – I wish someone had warned me about all this trickery!! Hey Tanzania, let’s not put congratulatory signs at non-summit points. Thanks.

Finally at Uhuru Point – Africa’s rooftop. Severely oxygen deprived & nauseous. Worth it? ABSOLUTELY.


It’s insane how many ecosystems you pass while hiking 6000 meters! We went through rainforests, deserts, heathers and moors! Mid-way through Day 2 of hiking, we were already above the clouds.

We’re breathing in a cloud!!!!!

The views of fluffy beds of clouds beneath us were priceless. Clouds would often roll right through our hiking trails and provide a movie set-like backdrop; I’d have to cue Leanna here to mention all the Lord of the Rings/Game of Thrones references I didn’t understand…


The entire week of hiking was not as physically rigorous as I thought it would entail – except for summit day of course. On summit day, you start hiking at midnight, trying to reach the peak around sunrise. This means you get very little sleep and it’s FREEZING. The wind was mercilessly whipping my face regardless of the direction I was facing.

Our guides called this “Kilimanjaro Cocaine.” Let’s just say this definitely pushed me up the mountain.

I countered this by taking gulps of straight up glucose provided by my guides. Yet, This isn’t to say the the 6 day adventure wasn’t exhausting, but I’m confident that most people could handle the level of hiking difficulty! In my opinion, Mt. Kilimanjaro is less of a physical battle and more of a biological battle. You struggle with things out of your control – the two main things being the cold and the altitude. With four pairs of pants on, Leanna and I were equipped to fight the cold (although our painfully freezing fingers and toes wailed in disagreement – I was just happy I could still feel pain rather than having my extremities go numb!!). However, I struggled a ton on summit day with altitude sickness and experienced my first oxygen mask…an overload of scary excitement! University Health Services, UHS, and abroad programs partner up before students go abroad to ensure students have all their necessary vaccinations as well as appropriate medications (i.e. altitude/diarrhea pills). With their medical support, we were prepared as well as we could be for the hike but mountain conditions are so unpredictable!


I still think my most physically challenging quest was hiking the Colca Canyon in Peru last summer after my Summer Internship Program (SIP) with the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies (DRCLAS), but summit day of Mt. Kilimanjaro was by far my most biologically challenging adventure. Is it ironic that I have Harvard to thank for an overwhelming majority of my blissful challenges whether that be academic, social, physical, and biological? College has definitely been a transformative and fulfilling experience if I’ve ever had one.


Overall, the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro was a super scary experience as it was happening and I’m lucky to say that I have no regrets. Reaching Africa’s rooftop was an experience unlike any other and I’m confident that this is a true statement I can continue to make throughout my life. It was my very first time doing anything of this kind – camping?? extreme mountain hiking?? Crazy.

You may have noticed that this blog sort of jumps all over the place. This can be explained by 1) my tendency to ramble, 2) all of my EMOTIONS – I’m so proud and happy for myself, for conquering something I didn’t even know was on my bucket list; but I’m also still debating whether or not it was stupid of me for doing something that brought me so close to kicking the bucket, and/or 3) the overload of events over the course of a single week that I’m still trying to process – I hiked ~19,500 feet, WHAT?!

Matters didn’t even really slow down off the mountain! We had scheduled one more day in the small town of Moshi which lies at the base of the mountain before returning to our internships. Plans were looking pretty grim as it seemed as if Leanna’s throat infection evolved into bronchitis during our hike. After consulting with a physician at the closest public hospital, Leanna chose to spend the day indoors. However, I met some New Zealand travelers in our hostel and ventured out with them to the nearby waterfalls and other attractions.

At the Moshi waterfalls with some New Zealand friends I picked up along the way

A week of pure nature without any responsibilities or distractions – amazing. I highly recommend it. But I have to admit it was really nice returning to civilization and being able to communicate with my family and friends regularly. And if we’re on the confession train here, I also hated returning to flooded inboxes and the guilt-driven impulse to reply immediately. Technology is such a double edged sword/catch 22. I have some really hefty travel plans for after my internship ends so we’ll have to wait and see how technology serves me then. Just 2 more weeks until my internship is over, but this in no way reflects that the summer is almost over!

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Students tend to feel the stress of summer planning during the spring semester. To be fair, our month-long J-term (January break/winter break) has recharged and prepared us to tackle the extra load of stress; especially since final exams are now before – rather than after – the break.


I had one goal for this summer: go abroad. (My sub-goal was to secure a warm location that was conducive to tanning.) My aspiration isn’t unique and when there’s such a high demand to experience life abroad, Harvard tries to supply. There is a ton of support for students’ foreign aspirations such as the OIP (Office of International Programs) or its sister, the OIE (Office of International Education). From studying and interning abroad, if the variety of Harvard programs doesn’t fit your appetite, it’s not uncommon to apply to other universities’ programs. All the opportunities can be a little overwhelming and a little more difficult to navigate – but this is more of a good problem to have.


Last summer, I participated in the Summer Internship Program (SIP) through the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies (DRCLAS) in Lima, Peru where Harvard runs several summer programs. I had some friends who were based also in Lima, but were participating in the international summer undergraduate research fellowship (iSURF) program through the Global Health Institute. I filed the latter program’s name in the back of my mind when I learned that acceptance into the program came with automatic funding! The iSURF program supports 8-10 week projects all over the globe (with the SURF program supporting domestic projects).


With my endeavors to achieve a secondary (more commonly known as minors at other universities) in Global Health and Health Policy, I researched projects pertaining to nutrition and was ultimately placed in Tanzania for the summer to jump on board with clinical trials examining maternal health and nutrition in the context of malaria. Abroad? Check. Tanning potential? Very high. My summer internship offer was a once in a lifetime opportunity to pursue many “firsts”: venturing out to the African continent and acquiring experience in clinical research. If this isn’t the American dream, it’s definitely the premed dream coming into fruition.


In the midst of summer planning stress, it’s important to remember that with a little planning, we can make it something special. –> This was a cheesy-cute introduction of a current summer email thread among fellow summer interns in Tanzania. I like to think we’re a very eclectic group that’s not very representative of a normal population sample. Although a handful of us are still in our undergrad, most of my friends are 1) in grad school (studying something along the lines of international development), 2) have volunteered in the Peace Corps, and 3) have DC origins. We all came together in quirky ways – from a Harvard in Africa summer contact list to random chance encounters. Our “how we met” stories all seem very shady on both the surface and deeper levels, but the more important thing is that we’re sticking together while we’re grasping Tanzanian culture.

Our process of cultural immersion would most definitely be incomplete without a trip to Zanzibar.

The domestic airport is full of baby aircrafts!

Unashamedly pretending to board my private jet to Zanzibar.

Incredible views for the short plane trip!

Before arriving to Tanzania, I was ordered to go to Zanzibar by every single person I knew who has stepped foot in this wonderful country. The opportune weekend finally presented itself so my iSURF program partner and I extended the weekend from Friday to Monday. We spent four fabulous days and three glorious nights in Zanzibar with each night on a different part of the dream-like island.

Stone Town, Zanzibar – no worries with a view like this!

Kendwa Rocks, Zanzibar – not too shabby, eh?

My Zanzibar trip was phenomenal. The pictures don’t do the paradise island justice, but it’s much better than what I could describe with words! It’s dangerously easy to fall in love with the island and its crystal clear ocean. For the first time ever, I pet a tortoise, ate lunch in the company of a peacock and his mistresses, and went snorkeling. When I returned home, I promptly declared Zanzibar as my honeymoon trip.

Prison Island with, like, a 156 year old tortoise!!!!

My home for the summer is in Tanzania where my research is based. I’ll never turn down the opportunity to travel, but I do prefer to travel to one place for an extended period of time so that it feels more of a home rather than a layover; this is just about the only way to discover the nooks and crannies – the real character – of any location.


Studying/working abroad is what I call a staycation: not exactly a vacation, but definitely not real life either because hard hitting responsibilities can be as transient as Zanzibar beaches. My Zanzibar trip was a pure vacation. I was sad when my weekend in paradise came to an end, until I realized I was only leaving one beach vacation and returning to a staycation – I’m no doubt the luckiest girl in the world!


In an attempt to get more comfortable in my summer home, I discovered a group of expats in the area who meet weekly to dine in a new restaurant.

Hibachi style – a Japanese tradition with a Tanzanian twang

The week that I had joined this expat group of foodies, it was their 100th dinner and there was even a celebratory cake! It was both extremely intriguing and exciting to meet such a diverse group of people who had also made Tanzania their home from anywhere between a handful of weeks and up to 13 years! It’s always a refreshing experience to mingle with people who have gone through similar transition phases, Swahili learning curves, and culture shocks.

Speaking of shocks (warning: worst segue ever), my trip to Zanzibar was quite unexpected; but sometimes the best parts of traveling stem from flexibility. My iSURF program partner and I were initially planning on leaving the city to spend a week hiking to Africa’s rooftop – we wanted to hike Mt. Kilimanjaro, otherwise known as the highest peak on the African continent. Our plans were struck down due to calendar conflicts: Professor Wafaie, the Principle Investigator of my project (and an overall champ of every department ever), was traveling from Boston to Tanzania. All the postdocs I work with on a daily basis urged me to reschedule my Mt. Kilimanjaro climb which I did very willingly because I was excited to see the man in action!


I’m very content with the way things worked out. Professor Wafaie and I exchanged a few emails before last spring semester ended in an attempt to meet and acquaint each other before I started on his research project. However, the semester ended quicker than we anticipated and we settled for meeting in Tanzania. I finally got to meet him in a meeting which I anticipated to kind of just sit in on and observe. The highlight of the work-week was definitely when I contributed to the meeting – I felt like it was one of those moments that would have made Sheryl Sandberg proud.


This meeting was filled with all the head honchos of the medical school and our big team of researchers. You could sense the higher tensions all day in preparation for this meeting. I had been assigned to work on some blood samples for the day and I reported some numbers and statistics to my postdocs before the meeting. However, my overloaded postdocs were scrambling to locate the scratch piece of paper where they scribbled my numbers on so I spoke up and announced the numbers out loud, to which Professor Wafaie responded by thanking me personally! … !!


Best week ever.

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This summer, I went to Florida to work at the Women’s Tennis Association. It is hard to explain, but I have always been a strong advocate for women’s tennis (I’m sure growing up with three sisters helped fueled this interest). I found out about this position in late May, when our team was competing at the NCAA tournament in Mississippi, and jumped on the opportunity. As soon as we got back to campus I took the first flight out to Florida, and was excited for the upcoming adventures.

As I got off the plane in Tampa, I realized this was the first time I was arriving at a location where I didn’t know anyone. It was unusual to walk out of the airport without anyone to pick you up. Instead, I followed the signs to a shuttle service and tried to figure out how to get to my next location. One of the WTA employees kindly let me stay at his place for the first couple of days, so I could figure out my housing situation for the rest of the internship. Living in the house system at Harvard really spoils you, as all the accommodations are taking care of. Similarly, living on your own is a wake-up call for what life will be like after college.

The first day of work is always interesting. You are excited, but pretty nervous as you are keen to make a good first impression. All my anxiety quickly evaporated as I climbed up the 11th floor of the building and saw the gorgeous view the WTA headquarters had of the St. Petersburg Gulf. At the WTA, I was an intern for the Communications and Digital Team. The Communications Team handles the tournament reports for each event. We use this program, ICAD, to generate the draws, pull up player records, match-ups, etcs. We are also in charge of planning some of the social events at the major tournaments. My timing at the workplace was great, as we covered two of the four major tournaments in my eight weeks. We started with the French Open, which went rather smoothly, but Wimbledon was going to be a greater undertaking. As part of the Digital Team, we were in charge of all the video content at the premier tournaments, as well as the distribution of our content over our social media sites. I worked on the digital team at the Pac-12 so I was more familiar with the work in this area.

Front Desk

Ping Pong Table in the game room

This year also marked the 40th anniversary of the Women’s Tour, and we were in charge of two events at the Wimbledon Championships. We helped organize the Pre-Wimbledon Red Carpet event, as well as the 40-Love Party. The 40-Love Party was a once in a lifetime event as we had 17 of the former 21 world #1 players attended( including many greats such as Margaret Court, Martina Navratalova, Billie Jean King, Chris Evert and Monica Seles). The up and coming players were also invited, truly bridging the generation gap. This event was broadcasted live on our youtube channel, and was definitely a great event for any tennis fans(here is the link to the video: WTA 40 Love Event).

WTA 40 Love Party

Looking back, I can’t believe that eight weeks have already passed by. Everyone in the office was really nice and wanted to make sure I had a great experience. For years, I have been an advocate for women’s tennis, and many people questioned me about it, but it wasn’t until this summer where I found my answer. Tennis is unique as it is one of the few professional sports that offer equal prize money for men and women.  In other professional sports(basketball, soccer, hockey) there is a huge income gap between the men and women athletes. Living in the 21st century,  I think gender equality is an important topic, and feel that equality across professional sports can set an example for countries that struggle with gender equality at the socioeconomic level.   With equal pay for men and women tennis athletes, we giving young aspiring tennis stars the chance to achieve gender equality, even though it may their own not be accepted by their country.

The opportunity to give female athletes the chance to follow their dreams is one of the main reasons I enjoyed working for the WTA. This coupled with the enthusiasm from the employees made each day exciting and vibrant. Working for the WTA has been quite the experience, and I leave Florida with many great memories. For the rest of the summer I will be traveling in France competing in tennis tournaments. Stay tuned!

Fellow WTA employees and I at the Rays Baseball Game


Hitting with a incoming member of the Harvard Tennis Team(Sebastian Beltrame)

Stacey Allaster(CEO of WTA tour) and I after the company ping pong tournament

It’s been a little over a month! So much has happened between Commencement and transitioning into the “real world” that it’s hard to remember every detail of the past couple of weeks. However, I’ll touch on some of the most memorable parts of my Commencement experience that made it so much more than anything I could have ever imagined. Here’s Part 1: Class Day.

As a member of the Senior Class Committee (SCC), I was able to help plan many amazing events for the Class of 2013. In particular, I was in charge of organizing Class Day, the annual gathering of the graduating senior class, as well as Harvard faculty, Housemasters, and the students’ family, friends, and loved ones. The ceremony is about two hours long, and features remarks from the Dean of the College, the Harvard Alumni Association President, graduating members of the Class of 2013 (4 selected student speakers, as well as student leaders on the SCC), and a special guest speaker. Myself and two other members of the SCC, Emily and Rebecca, worked together all year long to make sure this day was as special as possible.

The guest speaker whom we invited was Soledad O’Brien ’88. An incredibly accomplished journalist (she reports for CNN and HBO to name two) and philanthropist (she has a foundation with her husband that sends promising young women to college), we invited her because she pursued her passions of storytelling and followed an untraditional path after college. Today, she’s an incredible journalist, who has traveled the world telling stories of extraordinary people and circumstances. She sounds pretty awesome, right? Just wait until you hear the speech she delivered to our class.

Class Day Committee with Soledad O’Brien

Every year on the day of the event, the SCC is lucky enough to have a luncheon with the speaker. However, because these people are quite busy individuals, we were told that we shouldn’t necessarily expect to spend a lot of time with Soledad. And in past years, students have only been able to take one photograph with the celebrity. I can’t say that I was surprised when Soledad didn’t conform to these expectations. She arrived to the luncheon on time, and immediately started introducing herself to students. I thought this was weird because we obviously all knew who she was, yet she clearly didn’t think she was above shaking our hands and telling us her name just like any other person. Soledad was affable and down to earth. She was incredibly patient as she took individual photos with every single Committee member, which probably took a half hour–something that many people with an accomplishment list as long as hers probably wouldn’t stand for. She was quite the class act, and we all fell in love with her as soon as we met her. However, the most magical part of the afternoon happened when she took the stage. Soledad delivered a deeply personal and touching speech. I actually just watched it again last week, and despite the cliche message that one might expect from a Commencement address, her delivery was one of the most genuine things I have ever heard. See below. It truly made our Class Day one I will never forget, and she immediately became a role model whom I’m proud to be able to call our Class Day guest speaker. I know I’ll remember her speech forever.

Meeting Soledad O’Brien!

Presenting Soledad with a little gift from the Class of 2013 Senior Class Committee

Me and Soledad

Soledad’s speech (Keynote Address):

As Second Marshal (the equivalent of Vice President of my class–you see, Harvard has all of these official names, but it all means the same thing. Tuh-MAY-toe, tuh-MAH-to), I had the honor of closing our Class Day exercises. Speaking in front of an audience of 10,000 was incredible, especially looking out and seeing my family and friends in the sea of faces. It is definitely a moment I will cherish because I don’t think that’ll happen ever again.

My speech (Closing Remarks):

Keep an eye out for Part 2: Commencement. It’ll feature a special woman named…Oprah!

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Last week, I blogged about striking a meaningful balance between work and play during the summer. But summer with too much balance isn’t always a good thing. The ideal balance is a fluctuating one. Summer sort of lends itself to chaos anyways, and this week has teetered over to the stereotypical aspects of summer: movies and food.

Who am I kidding? Food is my most prominent thought at least every 30 minutes. (Like the majority of students, I’m on the full meal plan at school. Although a lot of students rag on the dining hall aka HUDS for their cafeteria style food, I appreciate how I always have access to food/snacks despite having specific meal times – cough, cough, Yale doesn’t have this flexibility). What I like most about food is its intense share-ability. Food tends to bring great people together for a fantastic reason and it’s so versatile! Theme of the week? Thai food.


This summer, I’m working on clinical trials dealing with maternal health and nutrition. It’s my first time pursuing clinical research and my first time examining matters in iron/vitamin A diets in terms of pregnancy and malaria endemic regions. I’m really cherishing my split time between a lab and the hospital environment and I have Harvard’s Global Health Institute to thank for it. Through my Global Health and Health Policy (GHHP) secondary (Harvard College’s fancy synonym for a minor), I discovered the international summer undergraduate research fellowship (iSURF) program which links students to summer internships abroad. The program has different sites all over the world and sends at least two students per site – a great use of the buddy system!

During the fall semester of my junior year, I enrolled in a Molecular & Cellular Biology (MCB) class about Neuroperception and Decision Making. Hands down, one of my favorite classes of my entire life. Instead of the traditional three hour final exam, we had a final project to create a research proposal. I became interested in the realm of decision making between equivalent options and the construction of preferences. Stretching my ideas, I wanted to apply preferences and favoritism to food so by the time my junior fall semester ended, I was determined to get my hands dirty with nutrition research.

Thus, during my junior spring semester, the iSURF program evolved into my ideal summer internship. They had four sites abroad that centered around nutrition: Barbados, Brazil, India, and Tanzania. Applying to iSURF was analogous to applying to colleges – there was a common application which is sent to the different sites. From there, students are interviewed by the program coordinators and matched with projects as well as the postdocs and professors.

I was matched to the studies in Tanzania and very much looked forward (with nervous excitement!) to my first time on the African continent. My program partner, Leanna, had previously studied in both Ghana and Kenya, but she still looked forward to her third return to Africa and first trip to Tanzania. Although Leanna and I are both members of the Class of 2014 (woot!), our undergraduate paths did not cross until we were both awarded Tanzanian summer internships. We met a handful of times before summer break began and only had about a week and a half to get to know each other in Tanzania because she was sent to a different city about 6 hours away from where we are based. She was gone for a full 2 weeks before she returned to accompany me once again in the big city.

While she was gone, I was fortunate enough to be connected with two Harvard alumni – class of 2008 and class of 2011 – and was introduced to their friends also interning in Tanzania for the summer. By the time Leanna returned to our base city, I presented her with a circle of welcoming friends. It was nice to have a roommate again in my hostel room and we celebrated her return with Thai food!

There’s a locally popular Thai restaurant and my friends may or may not have been aware about their weekly karaoke night. We dined on some (painfully) spicy Thai to warm both our hearts and vocal cords for karaoke. I was with a Harvard alumna who sang a capella with the Angels; needless to say, she brought most of the applause our way during our endeavors to win over every Tanzanian heart with each note we sang.

Tanzania loves Bruno Mars…just the way he is!

I wonder if Tanzania has heard about the Harvard baseball team…

Although ranging widely in age and study interests, the group grooves well together, making every meal fun (with or without karaoke)! I sometimes feel like I’m back at school making dinner plans and such, except we email to coordinate plans instead of texting. The summer interns are starting to get real comfortable with the food – we’re playing it more risky and have stopped questioning the kind of meats served on a stick. Keep your fingers crossed for us?

On the less risky side, we’ve succumbed to our guilty pleasure of movies. There are a few days a week when movie tickets are cheaper and it’s a weekly effort to watch at least one movie. The best part is that 3-D movies cost just as much as 2-D movies – yep, that’s one whole dimension for free! Thus far, the summer movie marathon has consisted of: The Great Gatsby, Star Trek, Man of Steel, The Heat, and The Internship. This is just a list of movies seen in theaters because including the ones I’ve watched on DVD would hit a character limit on this blog for sure.

I’ve had a really chill, lazy-bum week. But you know that saying – it’s always calm before the storm? Totally applies in this situation. Next week, another Dartmouth intern is arriving and will be my co-worker. The principle investigator of the entire study will also be making his way over from Boston so things around the office are about to get super hectic in preparation of the bossman’s arrival. And if we’re still going for the work hard-play hard balance, I’ll be taking off to Zanzibar for a long weekend! Let’s see if the island lives up to its hype…


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The biggest chunk of my summer will be spent in Tanzania where I’m lending a helping hand in some clinical trials pertaining to maternal health and nutrition. I lucked out with this sweet summer internship with the help of Harvard’s Global Health Institute and their international summer undergraduate research fellowship (iSURF) program. The program catalyzed my access to busy professors, accomplished postdocs, as well as generous funding for an 8-10 week abroad adventure! It has provided me with all the ingredients and now it’s solely in my hands to make sure I concoct a scrumptious final product!

I’ve been studying up on malaria and how it relates to (deficiencies in) iron and vitamin A, but I think it’s safe to say I’ve learned much more about Tanzanian culture. I was told that people here spoke English; I was told a lie. In an attempt to start crawling over both the cultural and communication barriers, I’m trying to pick up useful phrases in Swahili.

Learning numbers is always a fundamental component to speaking any language – the practical reason being I can now bargain down prices! Yet counting has began to be a scary activity…! This fear stems from my senior year of college creeping closer. I can’t believe – and hate admitting – that three years of my young adult life have ended! I also can’t fathom that I’m approaching my third year of blogging! So many rightful exclamation points!

I still remember the very first blog post I ever wrote. I’m not sure if it’s the first blog that went live, but part of the application for becoming a student blogger involved writing two sample blog posts. I was completing the application at the beginning of my sophomore year and I was fresh out of my first collegiate summer which I spent at home. I wrote about my summer and the seemingly endless doubts and insecurities about spending the entire summer at home.

Generally, Harvard students are intense about utilizing their summers to propel and supplement their studies. I’m one of the biggest advocates for this year-around productivity as evidenced by my avid and enthusiastic participation in science camps during my high school summers. This summer mindset seems to culture the association that summers are only productive if spent anywhere but home. Thus, during an entire summer at home, it becomes very easy to feel like I was wasting time, wasting opportunities and wasting  resources. Every Facebook update from my college friends flashed adventurous world travels. Now, I am the obnoxious one who is not-so-subtly boasting my worldly travels via Facebook. But it’s important to remember my roots; it’s important to note that all my motivations for pursuing opportunities abroad stemmed from my summer at home when I realized how small I was which sparked one of the biggest urges to grow bigger by traveling wider. At that point, flying coast to coast between home and school seemed like the longest flight ever; yet now, the frequency of international flights is at least equivalent to the number of domestic flights I take! I feel beyond fortunate that my interest in healthcare and development easily affords me opportunities to work abroad – not to mention Harvard’s resources and support which makes the logistics of it all even easier.

Every single person I meet stresses the importance of traveling now, when I’m “still young.” It may seem like I’m short on money now, but apparently I’ll be more pressed for time in the future. I’ve willingly taken their advice to dedicate my endeavors to exploring the world. Traveling can be hard, especially when you’re striving to strike the perfect balance between cheap and safety. Good thing there are endless excitements in Africa that constantly distract me 🙂

There is so much stimuli when you’re in a new country that it can be sometimes hard to remember that my first and foremost priority is my clinical research internship. Since I work at the Harvard Decision Science Lab as a research assistant during the semester, my clinical research summer internship is not my first time interacting with human participants. However, the studies we run at the interdisciplinary lab back in Cambridge usually are a one time gig rather than a series of repeated visits which is characteristic of clinical studies. I’m really getting a kick out of being involved in clinical research because I split my time in a research office, a wet lab, and the hospital environment – it’s the trifecta!

It took a few weeks for me to visit the hospital sites involved in the clinical trials, but it was well worth the wait! I loved meeting the enthusiastic nurses working with the trials as well as observing their relationships with the pregnant women. The study aims for monthly visits which have really fostered a trusting relationship between medical staff and patient – something I not only admire, but also yearn for myself!!

There are records on records at the sites! Space for all the information is often a problem.

An unexpected but nonetheless interesting aspect of my summer internship is the healthcare consulting component. The postdocs are very receptive to my thoughts and opinions about protocol and efficiency! I’ve made edits to their standard operating procedure and am in the process of renovating their database. It’s all very exciting because I feel like I’m an important member of their research team. I’m contributing to the project – which is something I couldn’t say last summer when I was shadowing at a private clinic in Peru.

A pharmacy near the research office distributes the supplements to the sites.

As previously mentioned, Harvard students are super determined to construct productive summers. Once j-term (January break/winter break) ends (and perhaps even during the break!), students jump start every spring semester with tons of summer applications. But don’t worry about us – the rough winter weather and of course the academic rigors concomitant to each spring semester also make students very mindful of burning out. In my personal efforts of refreshing myself, I joined some recently graduated Harvard College alum in their fun weekend plans!

The iSURF program always sends at least 2 students per location abroad. However, my program partner, Leanna, was sent ~500 km away to work at one of her sites. She’s working on a study revolving around maternal health and HIV, a study which has more distant sites than my own cases. Leanna was told she’ll be gone for at least 3 days and perhaps up to 2 weeks. I wasn’t surprised by the grand ambiguity because the concept of time seems abstract in just about every country; rather, I was more saddened by how long I’d be alone! Thank heavens there’s a Harvard in Africa contact spreadsheet that I was able to utilize as a preventative measure to my loneliness.

A Harvard College class of 2011 member, Sam, who has been in Tanzania for just a little short of a year, was introduced to me by the executive director of the Harvard Decision Science Lab where I’m a research assistant during the term time. Luckily for me, Sam and Alena are great hosts and they have shown me around one of the main markets in the city’s center. We got along well during our market times, mealtimes, and movie times. One of their friends was house sitting for a weekend and decided to host a dinner party. Plans were made to attend the dinner party in preparation for the city’s Full Moon Beach party. When I first arrived at my internship, a Dartmouth intern was ending her time in Tanzania and basically transitioned me into the internship. Not only did she show me the ropes around the job, but she also emphasized that there was a Full Moon Beach party once a month that I was not to miss – she even made it sound like it was in my job description to attend!

The dinner party and the Full Moon Beach party far exceeded my expectations! It was definitely one of my nights in Africa I’ll remember forever. We collectively cooked a delicious meal from all the random ingredients we had contributed. I don’t ever cook because I never need to – being on the full meal plan at school (like most students) and coming home to parents who dearly miss me, I always have the easy option of eating already prepared food! Creatively cooking was a lot of fun, as was snooping around the house we were house sitting for, which came with 4 pet ducks. The dance party afterwards was also really fun with great music, lights, and atmosphere. I was a bit nervous because all my company would be older than me by at least 3 years, but age never posed any obstacles of disconnect! It was a super fun, super memorable night/morning – everything in Tanzania happens really late (we ate dinner around 10 pm!)!

A handful of hours of sleep later, I hesitatingly woke up to my alarm. I had plans to meet another group of friends for the Tanzania vs. Ivory Coast soccer game, a FIFA World Cup qualifying match! My main link to this other group was through a Harvard College 2008 alumna who is interning with the US Embassy in Tanzania which provides housing for their interns so most of them were roommates if not also current graduate school classmates. It was my first professional soccer game and I was stoaked beyond belief! In all honesty, I was half stoaked, half scared; the same Dartmouth intern who had raved about the monthly Full Moon Beach party had also told me that she and 2 of her friends were mugged by thieves with knives outside the stadium. The sensible half of me told me to avoid the stadium at all costs, but the stubborn side of me reasoned that if I was with a big group of friends, everything would be okay.

Quickly did I learn that the stadium was synonymous to chaos. My friends and I had done everything we could think of to make the soccer game a nothing but pleasant experience – we got in a taxi to the stadium 3 hours before the game started and we splurged an extra $4 for VIP seats. There were, however, many more factors out of our control! First of all, they oversell tickets to the game so everyone is both eager and aggressive to enter the stadium. There appeared to be a huge bus that was selling tickets so people were crowding that bus and were even trying to climb up on the tires to crawl in the windows. The driver wanted to avoid everyone breaking into the bus so he sped down the road without any concern for the hundreds of people standing in the street. Additionally, there are multiple gates to the stadium that people swarm and shove their way inside. My friends and I stood in line for a while, but eventually gave in to join the mobs so that we’d be able to enter too. Pickpocketing is always a heightened concern in crowded areas. Some people tried to pickpocket some of my friends even when their hands were resting in their pockets! Someone did manage to pickpocket some cash out of my friend’s pocket, but this friend is fluent in Swahili so when he verbally confronted the thief, some mob justice ensued and random people in the crowd started beating the thief until the police broke it up. Needless to say, all heart beats were rapid.

Pulses remained high even after we managed to group-push our way through the initial gate. After a quick moment of relishing in our front gate triumph, we heard the crowd roar from cheers of happiness which sparked us to race towards the second, inner gate as to not miss any more of the action. At the second gate, people just wanted to push through in an unorganized manner, but the police were very adamant about mandating a single file entry and they were willing to use force. During my first attempt to pass, the man in front of me got hit a few times by a policeman’s stick so I instinctively turned around. My friend held my hand for the second attempt, but our link broke in the crowd and I was almost pushed into an officer. I was extremely fearful of getting beaten so when I almost stumbled into an officer, I threw my hands up in a surrender position. The police officer could probably see all the fear in my face even if he was blind; he smiled at me and it broke all the tension. We had a great moment. After this second entry, everything was smooth sailing! It was crazy to see how everyone’s barbaric behavior instantaneously disappeared when they could see the soccer field! Everyone was super nice inside the stadium and some strangers even helped me get a seat with a good view!

My friends and I were pretty shaken up from experiencing such a high concentration of seemingly near death moments. We decided to treat ourselves to some fabulous Chinese food – we did have another full week of work ahead of us!

I think I’ve told my soccer game story about a dozen times, adding more and more drama to each subsequent version. My stadium experience may seem horrifying and overly risky, but as I mentioned in my last post, the iSURF program grants participants pretty much complete freedom to make and handle our own decisions.  The soccer game was only a cool experience because all of my friends and I managed to leave unscathed. We’d be happy to have Lady Luck as a member of our friendship circle anytime!

PS – Sorry for the lack of pictures! I want to keep a clean, non-mugged tracked record so I often leave the camera at home.

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