iSURF

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On my way to the library a few weeks ago during Reading Period, I ran into one of my friends – this adorably small freshman girl struggling with her packing boxes. Wanting to be the hero, I graciously offered to help. She kindly refused both me and my muscles as she had already called one of her peer-freshman friends to come help her. As I waited with her in the generous springtime breeze, it warmed my heart at the thought of how one year can build insanely close friendships. In an incredibly stressful time of final examination preparations, there are still helping hands left and right if you ever need anything!

Side bar: <http://whatshouldweharvardme.tumblr.com/post/50963190356/trying-to-pack-for-a-month-away>

Packing is always a struggle as Inesha and Rob mentioned because of the time crunch – you have to pack and furiously study/cram for finals! Harvard tries to smooth the chaos concomitant to the end of the semester as much as possible though by offering students free summer storage. A few of the upperclassman houses are undergoing construction during this summer which means the usual storage rooms in the houses are unavailable due to renovations; but students still get storage! The houses contract off-campus storage for us and although our storage limitations become much, much narrower (normally 10 boxes, now down to 4), it’s definitely better than nothing! I remember my family and friends at other universities scrambling for summer storage and I’m really glad that’s not an additional concern I have to worry about!

Anyways, my friend’s friend arrived promptly to help her with her boxes and we introduced ourselves to each other. He surprisingly recognized me from this blog and told me that he thought my last summer in South America was awesome. I’m still feeling all warm and fuzzy from my 45 seconds of fame, but I do feel a little bad because I definitely grilled him with questions like if my narrative of my Harvard experiences was an accurate depiction of undergraduate life here. He told me that reading this blog got him really excited for the opportunities and that he was not disappointed at all with his first year. That’s definitely what I like to hear! But that being said, there are comment sections on this blog for a reason, so definitely let any one of us know if we can speak about something of your interest because we’d be more than happy to blog about requested topics! I’m not done with my shameless plug until I pressure everyone into following us on Twitter 🙂

I continued blogging throughout last summer (2012) during my first abroad adventure in Europe (France, Italy, and Spain) and South America (Peru and Bolivia). Blogs from last summer are a great alternative to Facebook stalking myself and I hope to continue blogging this summer as well! I’ll be participating in the iSURF (international Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship) program through the Global Health Institute.

The application process for my summer ventures was grueling to say the least. I knew I definitely wanted to be abroad more than anything so I applied to a handful of programs abroad which also meant that I needed to apply for funding/grants as well. Since I was fortunate enough to have Harvard fund my last summer abroad, I wasn’t eligible for a lot of funding sources this year which means I had to get a little creative and apply to some obscure programs as well as outside-Harvard funding. I wasn’t willing to bank on getting both an acceptance into an abroad program and funding so I applied to a ton of domestic programs as well. Not only was I writing personal statements like it was my day job, I was reaching out to a bunch of previous professors/TFs (Teaching Fellows: normally graduate students who lead discussion/problem solving sections that usually supplement lectures/lab) for recommendation letters. Although it was a stressful process on top of my normal class, volunteering, and lab schedules, I think it was a really good practice run for when I apply to medical school next year!

I’m striving for a secondary field (Harvard’s term for a minor) in Global Health and Health Policy and am beyond elated to be researching through the Global Health Institute this summer!! The Institute offers amazing summer programs both domestic and abroad (details can be found here) and also guarantees funding which is every student’s dream come true! In researching the programs, I became really interested in nutrition because it’s a topic I’ve yet to explore in any of my classes, but it’s also a topic that I think about every time I eat (which roughly translates into 6x/day)! I applied to the abroad programs that revolved around nutrition (i.e. Barbados, Brazil, India, and Tanzania). After submitting an online application, students interview with the program coordinators who then pass your application along to the appropriate researchers. Second round interviews then take place with the researchers- at least theoretically (I didn’t have a second round interview).

Around the same time as the  online application deadline for international program applicants, the Institute organizes modules that are designed to help you prepare for your abroad experience. These modules try to jump start your way of thinking to be more open and inclusive as well as prepare you for the inevitable dangers of being in an unfamiliar location. Professors as well as students who participated in past years run the module to speak/preach about their experiences. There are three modules in the spring semester before the international internship begins and then one more follow-up module the following fall semester. The modules last anywhere from 2-4(?) hours and take place on pretty arbitrary nights. For students, this is a huge block of time for either class or homework so it can be really difficult to attend. The Institute nudges attendance by advertising that applicants who attend are more likely to be selected to participate in the program. Plus, the event is catered and they give out fancy folders and notebooks! These modules aren’t mandatory until they extend you an offer and you accept the summer internship. Make-up modules were also held on a Saturday during Reading Period for students who couldn’t attend the regular sessions, only going to show the program’s flexibility and how willing they are to work around students’ needs.

In all honesty, these modules sounded like a waste of my time because I can be unjustifiably arrogant about my traveling skills. I think that since I’ve roughly traveled in Vietnam, Peru, and Bolivia, I’ll be able to survive in any other (developing) country. I’d like to think I’m a good level of paranoid about my sense of security abroad, but there were a lot of tips that I haven’t considered (i.e. checking the tires before entering vehicles). All in all, the program does a great job with availing students resources in order to prepare for our trip abroad. They make sure we make health clinic appointments so that all our vaccinations are up to date, help us schedule meetings with our mentors, as well as print out personalized articles about our destinations! I openly complimented the project coordinators about this because I was super appreciative of being babied while I was prepping for finals!

My destination is Tanzania! I’ll be researching maternal health and nutrition within the context of malaria and its connection with iron and vitamin A deficiency. I. am. so. excited! The principle investigator, PI, of the studies is Wafaie Fawzi. We tried to schedule a meeting before I left for Tanzania, but our schedules unfortunately conflicted too much. He’ll be coming  to visit sometime in June though so I’m excited to meet the face behind the Skype calls – every Thursday, we Skype call Wafaie to give him a weekly report and discuss timelines of the study.

I’m not exactly sure how SURF works, but with regards to iSURF, there are always at least 2 students sent per destination so no one is traveling alone for the summer. My program partner is Leanna, also a member of the class of 2014, a proud resident of Lowell House, and a Human Evolutionary Biology concentrator (major). We didn’t know each other before being paired in the program so I reached out to her to meet up on campus so we would at least know what each other looked like before arriving in Tanzania. She’s a pretty seasoned traveler in Africa – having studied in Ghana and Kenya in different programs. I was excited about the expertise she was bringing to the table, especially since it’s my first time on the continent! Having the opportunity to participate in iSURF was as exciting as making a new friend! Depending on my internet resources abroad, I’ll be updating weekly 🙂

 

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