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Hello again!

I’ve been unfortunately pretty quiet in the blog world so far this semester, but I think it’s for a pretty great reason: I’m currently charging through the last few weeks (T-16 days!) of my senior thesis for Social Studies. This is a project I hinted at in earlier blog posts but that has become an increasingly large part of my life over the past couple of months, and it’s finally due – printed and bound – at 2 pm on March 13. I’ll be sure to write a more detailed post after I’m finished talking more specifically about what I’ve been working on, but in the meantime I thought it would be interesting to give a bit of a peek into the life of a “senior thesis-er.”

We seniors have a made-up word for the last couple of months of writing: “thesising.” Thesis writers can be spotted at all hours of the day (and night) in libraries, dining halls, and cafes around campus, usually surrounded by a stack of books or journal articles and often frantically typing on our overworked laptops. While many of us started thinking about and planning our theses almost a year ago at this point (time flies!), the bulk of the production and polishing happens between January and March, when most theses are due. About 50% of the senior class works on a thesis each year, and it makes for good company during these weeks of intensive writing and editing. Just for perspective, my thesis must be 20,000-30,000 words in total, which works out to about 100 pages.

So many chapters….

Many of us returned early for J-term and lived on campus for three weeks focusing solely on our thesis. During that month, we created an email group – “jtermthesis” – that was shared with many of the seniors on campus and allowed us space to ask questions about chapter formatting or plan outings to the movies as a study break. Some of the best email subject lines from that month included: “something to brighten your thesis adventure,” “late night study buddy?” and “good news for coffee drinkers,” all of which included links or tips for getting through January.

Now that we’re back on campus, thesis-related work has settled into a more regular rhythm because seniors have had to adjust back to class schedules and normal student responsibilities. Social Studies has been a great resource in helping us stay focused on the project deadline, though, largely through workshops and email reminders. I’ve been participating in a thesis writers’ seminar sponsored by Social Studies over the course of the year, and every other week I exchange drafts and feedback with two of my classmates in addition to meeting as a total group of 10 for an hour and a half. Social Studies also organized “presentation workshops,” which allowed me an opportunity to present my whole thesis in 15 minutes to a new group of students; the feedback from a fresh audience was incredibly useful.

Outside of these more formal aspects of thesis writing, there are some more fun additions that have been helping me push through the last couple of weeks. One great tradition maintained by many student groups is “thesis fairies,” where underclassmen volunteer to bring treats to seniors writing theses. Thus far I’ve been generously gifted Nutella, a slice of pie, Oreos, and a Dunkin’ Donuts gift cards – all of which provided an excellent energy boost! There’s also an anonymous Tumblr – seniorthesisproblems.tumblr.com – to which my classmates have been uploading GIFs capturing the sillier side of thesis writing. Definitely worth a visit if you want a funnier angle on the thesis process.

I’m writing this blog post from inside the Graduate School of Education’s Gutman library, which is one of my new favorite spots to study. I’m including a snapshot to give you all a sense of what studying at Harvard looks like!

Live action post from Gutman

And finally, I should clarify that I haven’t spent ALL of my spring semester drafting and editing – I did get a chance to enjoy winter during the blizzard a couple of weeks ago and during a weekend trip to my friend’s house in Vermont. I’m including a couple of photos below!

Dunster courtyard post-Blizzard

“Presidents’ Day Ski & Snow” Crew, as we named ourselves

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Happy New Year, everyone! Here’s my first post in 2013. I graduate in less than 5 months! I’m currently at home relaxing for a week before I head back to campus. I just returned to the States from South Korea on Thursday. I was in Seoul promoting the documentary I’ve been a part of for the past 9 months. You can read more about it in a post I wrote back in June, but to get you all up to speed, here’s a quick recap: “Homo Academicus” is a new documentary series that I’ve been hosting in between school and other commitments since the beginning of summer in 2012. Along with 3 other Harvard students (Brian ’14, Jenny ’13, and Lilli ’11), I traveled to various countries around the world to observe how cultural differences, privileges, and inequities affect education and styles of learning. Between the 4 of us, we’ve traveled to China, Japan, India, Israel, South Korea, and Uganda, visiting schools, interviewing students, and immersing ourselves in the rich culture of each of the countries. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity for which we’re all incredibly grateful. It won’t be released until March 2013 on the Korean Broadcasting System (KBS) and possibly BBC, but I thought I’d share a sneak peak of it with you all. I’ll have to try to find some online videos on YouTube or something, but in the meantime, check out the video below.

The trip to Korea was over a span of 5 days, including travel. The flight itself is about 14 hours, so we weren’t there for too long. The morning after we landed, we had a publicity blitz consisting of a morning talk show, as well as interviews and photoshoots with 3 different magazines and a newspaper. Some of the footage in the YouTube video above is from this week. Many of the interviews included questions about each of our upbringings and our road to Harvard. It’s fascinating how different all of our experiences were while growing up, and I learned new things about Brian, Jenny, and Lilli as we answered each interviewers’ questions. Many of the magazines also asked us our thoughts on the education systems of the countries to which we traveled. We mentioned some key takeaways we realized from traveling. I think one of the things we all agreed on is that we’ve been quite fortunate here in the United States, not just at Harvard, but in the education system in general. We’ve been able to study what we’re passionate about, which isn’t always the case in some other countries due to family expectations or boundaries that are set upon children at birth. We also agreed that we learned a lot more than we expected. Education isn’t the first thing you think about when considering cultural differences; it’s usually the language, food, social structure, etc. that come to mind. However, we all learned firsthand that the approach and attitude towards education vary from country to country and region to region.

This is one of the best examples of a neat opportunity I’ve had just by virtue of being a Harvard student. This project definitely would not have presented itself if it weren’t for Harvard, and all 4 of us agree that we’ll never forget this experience.

What am I doing this week? Well, I’m currently transferring files from my old laptop to my new one. My first computer was on its last leg during the fall semester, so I purchased a new one, but didn’t have the time to migrate photos, music, and important documents. Therefore, I’m doing it now–what I consider a great use of my January break. Unfortunately, I forgot my external hard drive at school in my dorm room so I’m currently using a 16 GB flash drive. It’s quite a slow process, and I’m driving myself nuts. It’s such a mindless process, though, that I really don’t mind it all too much. I just get nervous that I’ll end up missing a file that I really need.

I’ve also been working remotely from home with tons and tons of emails and Google Hangouts regarding things pertaining to the senior class. I’m a Marshal for the Class of 2013, which is probably best explained through the Harvard Alumni Association‘s website:

“Each senior class will elect eight class marshals. The first marshal is the Harvard College equivalent of class president and the second marshal is analogous to vice president, with the remaining six marshals serving as Class-wide representatives. Class marshals are elected by all senior class members eligible to vote, with the top two vote-getters earning the designation of first and second marshal, respectively.”

The Class Marshals make up 8 positions on the larger Senior Class Committee, which is a group of 29 seniors who work together to make senior year and beyond awesome and memorable. You could think of us as The Party Planning Committee if you’ve seen The Office. I’m pretty sure I’ve used that analogy when talking about House Committees in a previous post, but we do a lot of similar things–just on a larger scale! We’re currently working on a merchandise order, as well as planning parties, innings (around campus), outings (in Cambridge or Boston), service trips, and Senior Week in May. We actually just launched our official website–harvard13.org–so be sure to check that out!

I’m off to migrate more files. Take a look at our new Twitter layout for 2013. I’m no pro, but I try. We received some new followers after early admit decisions came out last month, so I’m trying to use my time productively and make it stick!

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Junior year of college has been all about future planning. It’s been pretty hard for me to live junior year in the present.


Freshman year, you have the total right and responsibility to be a wide-eyed, deer-in-headlights type of student who explores classes, student organizations, perhaps even jobs and (dorm) entryways, and maybe even persuade some initially unwilling strangers to be your new best friend.

Sophomore year, you have a better handle on campus life as you really begin leaving your mark – you’ve narrowed your potential concentrations (majors), acclimated to the hectic schedule, reached an ideal (burping) comfort level among your friends, and not only have grown accustom to but also miss your school routine and campus duties while you’re away. You’re no longer lost around campus – or at least have the online and peer resources to reach out to when in need. You have your head on a little straighter and the whole small fish in a big pond feeling is (hopefully!) fading away.

I don’t really have a generic (cheesy? overly expected?) summary of junior year (yet!), but I do feel like I’ve definitely spent a larger amount of my time thinking about senior year and beyond. Maybe it’s because half of my (older) friends have graduated, entering graduate school or the real (scary) world of jobs, and by keeping in touch with them and listening to their current priorities, there’s a strong influence for me to put myself in their shoes and project what my concerns will be like in a few years. Or maybe my futuristic mindset stems from how the summer of 2012 (shadowing at a clinic in Peru through DRCLAS – David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies) has catalyzed both my desire and certainty to pursue medical school.

Thinking about medical school, for me, is super intimidating. As I follow the steps to try and set myself up for a bright future in medical school and beyond, I feel like I’m walking through the darkest haunted hallway where I’m scared of everything whether I should be or not.

I was pretty hesitant to prance along and identify myself as a premed student. And if I were being completely honest, I’d have to admit that I sometimes revert back to that annoying hesitation. Especially right now during winter break (J-term, January term) as I study for the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test). I sit here staring at the mitosis chapter wondering what other careers that could possibly interest me even the slightest. Brainstorming to no avail, I continue on with my cell division review.

Thankfully, tons of my worries and questions regarding medical school and its application process has been addressed by multiple premed tutors (advisers) – some of them even live like 21 stair steps from me! After freshman year, students are assigned to an upperclassman house for their remaining time as an undergraduate. Each upperclassman house has both resident and non-resident tutors specializing in popular career areas (i.e. medicine, business, law, etc.). The best part is that these tutors advise from not books and movies, but rather from their personal experiences. For example, pretty much all the premed tutors are students at Harvard Medical School so I often feel like I’m in the best hands. Yet this doesn’t mean that it completely prevents my hands from trembling when I think about the future!

Perhaps my world has a little blast-to-the-future flavor because I fast-forwarded my life a year or two. Initially, I planned on taking at least one gap year between undergrad and med school so I could live out the whole young-adult-seeks-identity chapter of my life. However, as any great outline thrives on a little flexibility, I found myself editing that chapter out after this past summer. Thus, I began my junior year moving forward with plans to apply to medical school straight through which means thinking about serious things like the MCAT! Eeeek! T minus 11 days. Oh man, I definitely should not have just counted the days. The looming of this test has been such a heavy weight on my shoulders, but with my studying and practice, I hope to train so that it’ll soon dissolve!!! Just think in 11 and a half days, I can breathe effortlessly again, that is if I’m not crying from the cruelties of the test.

So as I sit at home with my nose in a review book, my friends are traveling the world, tanning, and catching up on some quality television. Just kidding…well kind of kidding; I’ve made some time to live a little too:

Today, the Harvard Club on San Diego is hosting a celebratory dim sum brunch for the early admits in the area. I’m crazy excited…and not just for the free food. Ever since the spring of 2010, I swear the Club has only held events when I’m out of town!! So this will be my first time meeting some locals. More about this brunch soon! I’ll check back in once the spring semester starts 🙂

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It’s officially been seven days into winter break (aka J-term) and it’s been a beautiful string of seven days! After surviving/conquering another semester of college, everyone truly deserves a relaxing break – the sad part is I’m already kind of itching to get back … SLIGHTLY.

Last Friday (Dec. 21st) was the last day of final exams. I had a final in the morning despite it being my 21st birthday. Although this has been my #1 complaint since the Final Exam schedule was published from the registrar, the brightest side is that it forced me to stay on campus until my birthday which granted me the pleasure of celebrating with my college friends!

The way finals work at Harvard is that the majority of classes will hold exams in the span of one week and on any given day, there are 2 exam slots (1 exam at 9 am and another exam at 2 pm). Therefore you can have a maximum of 2 finals per day. Exams are not proctored on Sundays and some classes may not have final exams but rather a final paper/project instead (these final-alternatives tend to be due during Reading Period, the week before official Final Exams, also known as Dead Week at other universities). Some classes also may proctor a final test earlier than the university’s official exam week (this most commonly happens for language classes…I think). One of my ultimate goals is to never have 2 finals on one day. I’ve been successful so far, but some of my friends have had 4 finals (one for every class) on the last 2 Final Exam days – pretty much as cruel as academic torture gets.

Home is not just where the heart is, but it’s also where I can take a postcard picture with my phone. SUP SAN DIEGO

My birthday final went pretty well and my friends super skillfully utilized the 4 hours between the end of my final and my flight home to celebrate my birthday. I flew to back home to California, regaining the 3 hours of my birthday I had lost from the final. My family received me better than I could ever ask for and I definitely milked my birthday for every free item I could 🙂 I literally kept this 21st birthday celebration so strong that I think my birthday was a bigger deal than Christmas. I have tons of family in Vegas so I’m spending the holidays here.

HEY VEGAS, you look better with the lights off

At school, I definitely feel like my circle of friends has easily become like a new family to me. Some people say you’ll never make friends like your college friends, while others simply say you’ll never make friends after college. Although I can not personally definitively confirm any statements, I can contest to the intensity of my college friendships in terms of their strength and pace! I’m lucky to say that my friends at school have definitely hindered me from feeling homesick often. As terrible as this sounds, it makes it hard to remember what being around family feels like – especially since I was only with my family for less than 2 weeks this past summer! Being home now, for the entirety of J-term feels so, SO great! There’s nothing like family and the instant connection I feel with them. I’m cherishing the time I’m spending with my 18 month old niece and the hours of algebra and Spanish tutoring with my cousin who’s a freshman in high school. I’ll be spending the rest of break studying for the MCAT and running like a wannabe beast in preparation for the Boston Marathon.

More on my MCAT preparation and premed lifestyle in my next post!

I’ve been vacationing so hard this past week that I’m itching to get into a routine. Sleeping cycle-lessly and eating nonstop may or may not be taking its toll on me :p I guess moral of the story is that you’ll make great friends in college but the relationships you’ll leave behind will be met again! So to all you high school seniors nervous about moving away for college, try to leverage your anxiety and use this time to enjoy the holidays!! Yes, this is easier said than done. I know my senior year of high school was probably the most emotional year of my life with my future so close yet profoundly unknown – but once all your applications are in, then it’s out of your hands so there’s no use in worrying. Good luck to all you still working on those applications too! The process sucks, but it’s an investment worth making for your near future! I’m keeping my fingers crossed for all of you!

Cheers from Vegas!

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I’m done! And I’m writing to you all from home! I got home on Saturday afternoon and then spent the rest of the day shopping for Christmas gifts. By the way, the holidays totally snuck up on me this year. I haven’t really had the time or chance to think about them and Christmas Eve is…today!

The days leading up to my exam, I spent quite a lot of time in one of my favorite study spaces on campus: The Graduate School of Education‘s Gutman Library. It underwent renovation last fall and was completed in the spring. Gutman Library is actually one of the most relaxing places ever. The people don’t seem very stressed out; perhaps it’s something about the Ed School culture? On top of the great atmosphere, they have awesome purple chairs, huge tables, comfy, lounge-like couches, and an amazing cafe that beats Starbucks any day. Check out the following video of John Collins, Head Librarian, who gives a tour of the renovated space:

What’s my favorite part about Gutman Library? No one checks your bag before you walk out! The other two libraries I frequent, Lamont and Widener, have people who sit at the entrance to inspect bags as students are leaving. They have to do this to make sure that someone isn’t walking out with items such as the Gutenberg Bible, of which Widener has a complete surviving copy. There are so many important books in our libraries…it’s nuts. It’s funny because as soon as you walk out of Gutman, it feels strange that no one asks you to open every compartment of your backpack. I love it. Hey, it’s the little things! And speaking of little things, another one of my favorite parts about Gutman is the fact that Dean McCartney buys everyone free coffee and tea throughout Final Exam Period! No kidding — it’s free drinks every single day, and you don’t even have to be an Ed School student. However, she was just named President of Smith College so I’m hoping whoever succeeds her will still buy us free coffee and tea during exams. I know it sounds hilarious but it’s really one of my favorite parts of studying there at the end of each semester! Gutman Library is truly a gem, and if you get the chance, I hope you’ll all check it out!

My sister, Amanda, came to visit on Thursday and stayed with me for two days. I don’t see her too often because she lives and works in Los Angeles, so all I wanted to do was hang out with her. Of course, I had to force myself to study! Luckily, I brought her to Gutman with me on Thursday and we were able to do work next to each other. She loved Gutman as much as I do, and just ask her for an outside opinion; I’m confident she would give rave reviews.

Happy Yim siblings!

Happy Yim siblings!

Now that I’m home, I’m ready to take some time to relax for the holidays, which will include plenty of eating, as well as Netflix watching. I’m thinking of starting a new television series. I also have several books I want to read. After some much needed chill time, I think I’ll start applying to post-grad opportunities. I’m also going to Korea with three friends from Harvard for 5 days to do a final promotional run for the documentary series that I was a part of this past summer. However, I’m purposely trying not to stay too busy!

I hope everyone enjoys the holidays and the end of the year. I also hope you’ll write or tweet to us bloggers if you have any questions! See you all in 2013!

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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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Remember in elementary school when venn diagrams were all the rage? Let’s get back into that mentality.

1. Southern California trumps wherever you are – similarity

Sorry I’m not sorry for being born and raised in the best place on this and any other alternate universe. I may no longer technically live there or spend much time there, but I’ll always identify with its casual culture. And with regards to its endlessly sunny weather, ignorance is bliss. C’mon, where else can you surf to school?

Here’s a snapshot of my man Kobe at the Vietnam airport: another not so subtle reminder that SoCal runs the world.

2. Priorities – similarity

When it comes to the three C’s, you know …

Cosmetics, Chocolate, & …


the States and Vietnam have seriously got them on lock. The coffee is actually special coffee. It was one of those times when I was really glad my parents withheld information until after I tried and liked it! I hate to be living evidence that college catalyzes a caffeine addiction, but my affectionate feelings for coffee began this past summer due to the delectable and exquisite taste of Trader Joe’s coffee – so it doesn’t technically count, right??

Vietnamese coffee is practically a brand of its own though. Its power ingredient is condensed milk and it’s infamous for being really strong. Ease into this gateway drug, kids!

3. All of the lights – similarity

Thanksgiving 2011 was the first time I was in New York City during the holiday season. I got to watch the Thanksgiving Parade live and leisurely roam the lengthy avenues at my pleasure. Even with all the hype and high expectations about the city lights, it surely did not disappoint with its meticulous detail and ornate décor. 

Vietnam rings in 2012 with Tet about a month after the US does although they do not hesitate to celebrate with the States with their New Year as well. Downtown Saigon is currently resplendent with its various main roads and roundabouts brightly decorated. The main mode of transportation here in the city is by motorcycles, or as the locals call

them, ‘Hondas.’ Between my sister and me, it took about a week to pressure my parents into driving us around in Hondas even though rules of these Vietnamese roads are highly questionable. It’s so much easier to appreciate the lights on the back of a motorcycle (compared to a taxi) and I find it way more culturally immersive to have my mom lean over to a nearby biker at a red light to ask for directions.

But what is more culturally immersive is driving a motorcycle on my own! What up Asia

The topic of motorcycles brings us to our first few differences.

4. Tomato, potato; living room, garage – difference

Like New York City, Saigon’s real estate is limited, causing architects to exploit the third dimension of height. Most of the houses I’ve visited in Saigon have at least three and up to five floors! They remind me of Harvard entryways (which are like normal dormitory floors, but vertical and connected by a staircase). Due to the low supply of land, houses here don’t have garages! The Vietnamese with cars/Hondas use what Americans would call a living room as a garage. People just drive into the first room of their houses!! Most restaurants have valet parking, but some restaurants will let you drive right into the restaurants, which is actually the best kind of security for your car (in my opinion) +1 Vietnam.

5. Road Safety prevents Road Kill? – difference

As mentioned above, most Vietnamese people get around via Honda motorcycles. This method is not only more gas efficient, but also uses space more efficiently – I haven’t seen parking spaces for cars as of yet, unless of course you park on the side of the road, close your eyes, and hope that the other Hondas dodge it. All of these efficiency advantages fall to their death,

however, when you factor in travelling with your family. Kids can be seen wedged in between adults, which naturally seems like the least dangerous option, but standing up?? Also, here, plastic bags don’t seem to be too much of a safety hazard. I understand that you’re much more vulnerable to toxic gas emissions on a Honda compared to an enclosed vehicle, but using a plastic bag over the head as a preventative measure seems like risky business. I admire the Vietnamese for fearlessly confronting death, but not enough to let Vietnam win this one…+1 United States.

6. The FDA: The Food-Death Argument – difference

Go big or go home: why just confront death on the road when you can confront it at meal times too? I won’t believe you if you tell me this isn’t a question that’s been forever lingering in the back of your mind.

During my first night in Vietnam, I freaked out about seeing lizards chilling on the walls of restaurants. Good thing my aunt reassured me early on that lizards are seen as a “good intruder.” Lizards apparently eat ants, mosquitoes, and other gross things that are categorized as “bad intruders.” Now my scientific side would +1 Vietnam because major snaps for being green and exploiting the ecosystem but my leniency regarding cleanliness only goes so far.


I’m going to turn the other cheek and just blindly believe that the green liquid in the plastic bottles is soap that will be used to wash these dishes. I applaud your transparency Vietnam, but I do like the letter A’s not only on my report card, but also on the front windows of my favorite restaurants. Thus, +1 America.

7. The Health vs. Taste Controversy – undefined

Viet BLT, hold the L&T anyone?

A "bo bia ngot" street vendor: wrapped sugar sticks, shredded coconut & sesame seeds

Now I’m a level-headed, young woman of the Y2K+12, so I’ll compromise some cleanliness in order to please my taste buds. I’m an advocate for the growing popularity of food trucks in America so I’ll be a faithful advocate of street vendors here in Vietnam. I’m pretty confident when I say street vendors give you more bang for your buck and belly, but my confidence dwindles with regards to your digestive tract because no amounts of deliciousness validates an icky sicky day. Let’s just say my father will pay my tuition with less hesitation after some UHS (Harvard University Health Services) travelling sickness pills – two months ago when I went in to get vaccines in preparation for Vietnam, they helped me make sure that all my bases were covered!

As with most controversies, no clear winner is apparent at the moment, but bonus +1 UHS!

8. You are what you eat – too many variables

My mother openly voices that I’m approximately 3 magnitudes uglier when I’m tan. My determined endeavors to soak up the sun may seem like residual teen rebellion, but this recurring clash is truly a cultural one. Throughout history, Vietnamese people have appreciated lighter skin tones because it symbolized wealth since reduced sun exposure most likely meant you didn’t have to go outside and work. I, however, have adapted the more mainstream American way of thought that tan lines represent a sporty and adventurous personality. Even though some people have resorted to artificial means to imitate tans, surprise still struck me when the soap aisle at the supermarket could have been called the bleach aisle.

Although the featured ingredients of aloe vera, milk, and licorice extract seem to compose of a balanced diet, they also apparently help brighten your skin. This has made me weary every time I use unidentified soap to wash my hands. If only I packed a month long supply of Purell…

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Hello, everyone! I am back on campus for Wintersession, writing to you all from the comfort of my dorm room! Wintersession (formerly called “Optional Winter Activities Week” or “OWAW” — I actually like this better than what they renamed it to, just because I liked to pronounce it as “Oh, wow!”) is the week before spring classes start, filled with College and student-led programming everyday, all funded by the University. It’s supposed to be a time for fun and exploration, to do things that you can’t really do during the normal semester just because there’s such a focus on academics and other extracurriculars. For example, many students are going on a ski and tubing trip, as well as a Boston Celtics basketball game. There are also some cool classes that are being offered, including a music workshop, a DJ-ing class, among many others. Last year, I was on campus recording a charity song I wrote with two friends in a local recording studio. The song, called “Going Up”, was written in response to the tragic earthquake that hit Haiti in January of 2010. We wanted to raise relief funds and awareness through our project. With Harvard’s help, we ended up recording, releasing, and performing the song at the end of the week, and it was one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had here. Check it out below:


Starting tomorrow, I’m participating in a special engineering course called “Sustainable Materials as Biomedical Materials” where we’ll be exploring different paths in biochemical and biomedical engineering, including industry and research. Here’s a glimpse at our schedule:

Tuesday, January 17, 2012:  International Symposium on Bio-Inspired Engineering
Wednesday, January 18, 2012: Introduction to Biomedical Engineering, Biomaterials, and Drug Delivery; Biocompatibility Testing of Biomaterials
Thursday, January 19, 2012: Introduction to Biochemical Engineering and Metabolic Engineering
Friday, January 20, 2012: Biochemical Engineering meets Biomedical Engineering – Polysaccharide-Based Tissue Glues; Biochemical Engineering meets Biomedical Engineering – Clinical Trials

Today, I went to a book talk, jointly sponsored by the Undergraduate Council and Harvard Alumni Association. These two groups have come together to bring alumni and faculty authors to campus all week to speak about their books, experiences, etc. The awesome part about these book talk events is that not only do you hear from some interesting people, there’s a raffle that gives away 50 copies of the author’s book.

This afternoon’s guest was Joanne Chang ’91, a pastry chef who owns both Boston’s Flour bakery and Myers + Chang Asian cuisine restaurant. She was an Applied Mathematics/Economics concentrator (our word for major) here, but left a career in management consulting after two years to follow her passion of baking. She told us the entire story of how she got to where she is today. Her talk was very inspiring because she was super real and candid with us, and she’s found both success and happiness after following a very untraditional path. Joanne has even been on The Food Network’s Throwdown! with Bobby Flay. We had the opportunity to talk to her briefly afterwards, and she was extremely down to earth. She signed my book, and we even got a picture with her!

Us with pastry chef and Harvard alum, Joanne Chang!

Us with pastry chef and Harvard alum, Joanne Chang! Her book got cut off at the bottom there…

Joanne's recipe book, "Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston's Flour Bakery + Cafe"

Joanne's recipe book, "Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston's Flour Bakery + Cafe"

This evening, there was an ice skating event at the Bright Hockey Center, home to the Men’s and Women’s Varsity Hockey teams. Now, I’m not the best skater, and was a bit hesitant to go, but my friends convinced me and I’m really glad I did. It was definitely a lot of fun, and there were so many more people than I was expecting. I didn’t fall, either! Wintersession has been great thus far, and I’m definitely looking forward to the rest of the week!


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My first formal exposure to the Spanish language (not counting Dora the Explorer) was in 8th grade where Introductory Spanish was a 6-week course offered as part of the Exploratory Wheel elective. Spanish class soon became a year-long course for me every year since then – even now in college!

I clearly remember the day in 8th grade when I became determined to acquire Spanish fluency. One of my good friends – endearingly nicknamed Briana Banana – raised her hand in the midst of silence during a writing exercise. She inquired about one of the new infinitives we just learned meaning “to play” which evoked an alarmed and confused countenance by the teacher who repeated back: “soufflé?!” It was one of those unexpected misunderstandings that provoked our endless giggling – we literally hysterically laughed about this for weeks. If I were to ever write a memoir, this moment wouldn’t only be noted as a randomly hilarious event, but also as a turning point when I decided it would be way more than awesome to be fluent in Spanish so that I could translate words like “soufflé.”

I’ve been learning Spanish for almost 5 years now (didn’t enroll in a Spanish class senior year of high school after taking AP Spanish my junior year, highly recommended class by the way!) and recently, I’ve been feeling that the steep slopes of my learning curve have started their inevitable plateau. This is not to say that Harvard language classes aren’t fulfilling – I definitely feel like I have more mastery with regards to grammatical points such as compound verb phrases and my most recent class (see description below) incorporated Spanish cinema which naturally gave me more of a sense of Spanish history and culture.

[Spanish 40: An advanced language and culture class that further develops linguistic competence using regions of the Hispanic world as a focus for class discussion, grammar review, and an introduction to Hispanic social contexts and texts. Course materials may also include films, interviews, painting, photography, music, selections from the press, as well as literary or historical readings. Frequent written and oral assignments, and a thorough review of grammar.]

I think my lack of complete satisfaction stems from the fact that my Spanish acquisition has been contained within the four walls of a classroom. Ever since high school, most of my time outside the classroom has been dedicated to furthering my scientific interests in order to narrow my future career path. However, I’m pretty confident that I need to either volunteer or study abroad in Spain, Latin America, or any other Spanish-speaking region so that my Spanish learning is concomitant to my personal growth (as corny as that may sound) because studying abroad offers a harmonious combination of formal learning in the classroom and informal learning via outdoor adventures and interpersonal interactions. My adventures in Vietnam this J-term have really cemented my desires to pursue being active abroad in the near future.

As a first generation Vietnamese-American, I simultaneously learned Vietnamese and English growing up. I’ve never received any formal Vietnamese instruction, but I can listen and speak just as well as I can butcher words when I read them. I couldn’t write Vietnamese if my life depended on it and my reading abilities are fairly limited to restaurant menus. Therefore, I depend on my listening comprehension and speaking skills for communication. My parents’ friends are generally impressed with my fluent façade because most Vietnamese kids born in the US have English-dominated language skills. I believe my bilingual language advantage stems from the fact that I grew up living with my grandparents so the demand for Vietnamese was higher. However, this advantage no longer applies in college where I no longer reside with anyone who pressures me to speak Vietnamese. My desire to maintain my Vietnamese in college led me to volunteer in Dorchester, a heavily Vietnamese populated community near Cambridge. These efforts haven’t been too helpful since the PBHA BRYE (Boston Refugee Youth Enrichment) program aims to tutor struggling Vietnamese teens in English. I’ve also sought out various ways to enhance the Vietnamese half of my Vietnamese-American identity such as participating in Len Duong Camp last summer and traveling to Vietnam this J-term.

I’ve been in Vietnam almost two weeks now and my parents who once use to mercilessly describe my Vietnamese abilities as pathetic, now just tell friends and relatives that I’m indeed capable of speaking Vietnamese. I’ve learned much more slang as well as new vocabulary – specifically for all the new fruits and cuisines that aren’t readily available in the United States.


I think the most convincing proof of my Vietnamese acquisition has been my improved abilities to make jokes and puns in Vietnamese!!

I’m not even sure if Charles Dickens has enough words to describe how fulfilling my first (and hopefully not last!) trip to Vietnam has been. Everything from meeting all the relatives who I have and haven’t heard about to seeing where my parents were married and where they use to hang out afterschool has not only been a culturally immersive experience, but also a personally fulfilling one.

A man playing the recorder…with his nose!!

I intend on using this family trip to Vietnam as a catalyst for studying abroad because I am SO ready to collect some stamps in my passport!

A street sign in Saigon – I guess rockets are allowed on this street?? 😉

This restaurant had a special vomit section in the bathroom and we still ate there.

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Back to campus in 7 days. Normally, I hit this wall where I don’t feel like being home on break any longer, simply out of boredom, and am itching to get back to my dorm in Quincy House. However, I haven’t quite made it to that point yet. I think it’s because I’ve been doing a lot of reading, as well as summer internship applications. J-Term (what we call our winter break) has been very busy for me, despite having a lot more free time than during the semester. It’s not a bad kind of busy, but definitely not crazy enough that I’m dying to get back just yet. Last year, I was on campus already at this time in January, training for my upcoming volleyball season. I walked on to my team halfway through freshman year, and after being a varsity athlete as a freshman and sophomore, I decided to “retire” as a junior after realizing I wanted to pursue other opportunities during my career here. I’ve always loved volleyball, and it was my life all throughout high school. But being an NCAA Division I athlete at Harvard requires a lot of discipline and time management skills. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve made some lifelong friendships through my teammates (that’s how I met one of my roommates), and got to travel to some great places when I was in season and while training. My favorite memory was playing against the University of Southern California Trojans during our spring break trip to California last year. They were the defending national champions and to even step foot on the Galen Center‘s court was a dream come true. However, Harvard has so much to offer, and there’s only so many hours in a day. Between training, practices, games, and traveling, I felt like I wanted to move on to other things and focus my energy elsewhere for my last two years here.

Harvard NCAA Division I Men's Varsity Volleyball, 2010-2011

Harvard NCAA Division I Men's Varsity Volleyball, 2010-2011

It’s definitely different not being a part of an organized team, but I don’t think it’ll fully hit me until my former teammates have their first game of the 2012 season on January 24th. I haven’t actually experienced a spring semester here while not being in season, so I’m looking forward to what other things I’ll get involved with. When people find out I left my team, the question they ask me most frequently is why I quit. I then correct them using the word “retire” and proceed to explain. The next question I’m usually asked is whether or not I’m happy with my choice. Yes. I am incredibly happy with my decision. However, I do miss many aspects of being an athlete, and do not regret investing the past two years into volleyball. I’ve learned time management skills, teamwork, leadership, so much about myself, and met some of my best friends.

Harvard Men's Volleyball

My team — can you spot me? (Hint: I'm the shortest!)

For those of you who are considering applying to Harvard and playing a sport here, I encourage you to do it. If you don’t, though, it’s not the end of the world. As a 3-sport athlete in high school, not being able to play sports was one of my biggest fears coming into college. There are so many levels of athletics here, from pick-up games to intramurals to club to varsity–there’s a level of skill and commitment for everyone. If it’s meant to be, it’ll happen (how cliche of me…). I didn’t plan on pursuing volleyball in college, but things just fell into place halfway through freshman year. Of course, you need to do what’s right for you, but having athletics as part of my undergraduate experience was definitely one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It’s true that everyone, athletes included, are held to the same academic standards here. But Harvard professors and teaching fellows are normally understanding and willing to help make sure you have a positive experience, athlete or not. I had a great experience as a student-athlete. I will admit that I still need to get used to my roommate, Derek, running out of the room to go to practice without me, but I’ll definitely be in the stands supporting my team this spring.

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