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During this week, the majority of Harvard students are on Spring Break; but I’m a rebel so I’m on Alternative Spring Break (ASB).

Making it big on the front cover

The Phillips Brooks House Association (PBHA) sponsors a handful of trips during Spring Break that offer a harmonious combination of F U N and productivity. As a freshman last year, I participated in the New York City (NYC) trip and a week with upperclassmen premedical students visiting medical schools was enough to catalyze my decision to pursue the medical path. Last year’s Spring Break was so meaningful to me that I was quite determined to return as a director of the trip. I’ve spent a large portion of my sophomore year co-directing and organizing the trip which makes this Spring Break extremely rewarding.

Although the week is only half over, I feel like we’ve accomplished so much! Ten other premedical students and I have been conquering NYC by storm – volunteering with nonprofit organizations and visiting medical schools.

We’re working with God’s Love We Deliver (GLWD), an altruistic organization that preps and delivers love-infused, nutritious meals to the ill around the New York (and New Jersey!) area. Approximately 4,200 meals go out everyday which constantly shocks the whole group because the organization is able to accomplish their lofty goals with such limited volunteers! We’ve already volunteered with multiple aspects of their organization, whether that’s in the kitchen, delivering food, or handling paperwork. Their friendly and benevolent staff definitely foster a great atmosphere to work in!

Sanitation first!

The other volunteers are always interesting to interact with since GLWD has a relatively smaller reputation so most of their volunteers have a personal connection with the organization. Today was a special day at GLWD, however, that sparked our New York City celebrity streak! We got to meet the humble Jamar Rogers, a contestant on NBC’s hit show The Voice, who was so kind and happy to return to his GLWD community.

Star struck squared (#alliterationwin)

Speaking of celebrities, in the midst of one of our GLWD shifts, we received word that Jeremy Lin was eating lunch right down the street! In a frenzied teenage girl panic, I raced to the restaurant to stare at the back of his head as he ate lunch and managed to snap:

Everyone on this trip is so thankful that GLWD allowed us to help out, even if it’s just for the week! We’ve learned and realized so much through volunteering at this organization. Typically premedical students are focused on immersing themselves in a hospital environment to expose ourselves to the environment we strive to succeed in. Yet, working at GLWD proved to be a refreshing experience as it enlightened us with a refined definition of health – letting us perceive it from a unique perspective. Most of us crave medical school with the end goal that we’ll be able to provide a better lifestyle through personal interactions with our patients. GLWD is exactly this, but in the context of the kitchen rather than the resplendent luminance of a hospital. Concomitant to this realization comes a stirring sense of excitement for our academic future!

Our futures have become more tangible through connections with recent Harvard alumni who have generously offered to give us tours of their respective NYC medical schools.

Two Harvard College alumni met us on Madison Avenue for an informal tour and Q&A of Mt. Sinai Medical School. Although we were initially disappointed that Admission Officers respectfully declined our request for an official meeting, it was a great advantage, in retrospect, to have Harvard alumni show us around and speak in Harvard acronyms like “proctor” (resident adviser) and “section” (small group discussion sections outside of lecture) as well as tell us what they specifically did in their undergraduates years that they found most helpful/applicable in graduate school.

The Annenberg of Mt. Sinai (not limited to freshman nor a cafeteria!)

Both previous Harvard College students seemed genuinely happy in the midst of their second year of medical school – an attribute us undergraduates didn’t expect with negative misconceptions of the rigors of graduate school!

Two more generous Harvard College alumni and current Columbia Medical School first years met us to show us around the campus. It was a top-down tour as we started on the roof and they swept us away with a breathtaking skyline of New York City.

The roof of Columbia Medical School's Bard Building

The theme of the day was how great the Pass/Fail system is because the first 1.5 years of Columbia Med follow this more relaxed system. The students loved how this grading style developed a community between the ~160 students of a class to the point where wonderfully organized, color-coded study guides were freely emailed out to share! It also gave students time to frolic outside the library to enjoy the nearby Times Square, performing in theatre, or watching free symphony style shows on “Musical Mondays.” Needless to say, we’re all determined to bring this laid back grading style to Harvard College!

I personally believe that the gloomy hesitation looming around committing to medical school stems from the negative connotations of studying in a competitive, cut-throat environment. I’m confident enough to speak on behalf of the group, however, and say that we were deeply comforted in the fact that these medical students had happy and balanced lives; continued reassurance was also provided by the fact that all our tour guides so far were also Harvard College undergraduates because this made it easier for us to picture ourselves in their shoes and being happy in medical school.

 

Major themes: Harvard Alumni & Celebrities (not mutually exclusive)

Snaps to Academic clarity & Spring weather!!

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The encircling 1am darkness was subtly interrupted by the dim lights of a New York City subway underpass. Up the stairs stumbled two Southern Californian 19 year old females struggling with the forces of rain, wind, and heavy suitcases. A scheduled 8:30pm bus arrival became a midnight arrival due to rain and natural Thanksgiving traffic. These unforeseen, unfortunate circumstances left my roommate and me at Penn Station flipping a coin to determine if we should take the uptown or downtown train. Maybe leaving for New York City for Thanksgiving break 25 hours after a wisdom teeth extraction was poor planning on my part, but am I glad (retrospectively) that I did it?

 

From the Tuesday night until Sunday morning of Thanksgiving vacation, my roommate and I conquered New York City. We shamelessly stuffed ourselves in Little Italy and Chinatown, tapped into our domesticated sides at the grocery store to create a wisdomteethless-friendly Thanksgiving dinner, watched the Macy’s Day Parade live, saw The Lion King on Broadway, and were approached by countless people soliciting money and/or directions – an extremely immersed experience if I do say so myself.

Times Square

Ice Skating in Central Park

Personally, Thanksgiving break has become an essential necessity like water or oxygen. It is perfectly placed between the second (or third) wave of midterms/papers and before final semester exams. This vacation teaser allows you to resuscitate your sleep depository and mentally prepare for looming obstacles.

Being born and raised in San Diego, California, I feel an innate inclination towards urban settings. That’s why one of the strong benefits of Harvard University is its location. Not only does Boston offer a great skyline and a delicious array of cultural restaurants, but Boston also offers unique opportunities in practically any industry you can think of (i.e. business – Boston Consulting Group, medicine – Massachusetts General Hospital, non-profit – Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program). Yet, Boston doesn’t feel like a giant, overwhelming city. If that’s the atmosphere you’re looking for though, New York City is just a short bus/train ride away. I love the fact that I can take advantage of both majestic cities during my undergraduate years!

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