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As a Harvard student, I think one of the fastest lessons you learn is that the word “midterm” is a misnomer. These tests should really be re-coined as exams because they seem to happen all throughout the semester rather than just in the middle of it. Some classes won’t have midterms (maybe they’ll have papers) while some classes will have up to three midterms (more common in science classes).

This week, my big exam was in my LS2 (Life Sciences 2: Evolutionary Human Physiology and Anatomy) class. It was a 50 point in-class exam and students had 50 minutes to complete it. We were very thoroughly notified that time would be a critical issue, but this didn’t help with my anxiety. There really isn’t any time to think! I truly had to know everything about germ layers, embryos, sensory impulses, and etc. inside and out to be able to not think yet thoroughly answer all the questions. Whether or not this crazy-fast recollection of physiology and anatomy will ever help in the future is still TBD. When this exam was over, I definitely had less on my plate – but still enough on my plate to keep me a bit overwhelmed.

My senior fall midterm schedule is looking pretty nice since they’re spread out over a few weeks. However, I’m still running from meeting to appointment to interview in a (hopefully) hot mess fashion.

In my EMR 20 (Empirical and Mathematical Reasoning 20 – The Business and Politics of Health) class, my professor David Cutler cut a deal with his students: if students volunteered to present in groups the pros and cons of the New York Soda Ban, those students would be able to drop a pset (problem set). This class has a pset due every other week which seems nice at first because most psets are weekly. However, these psets tend to be longer and since I’m very interested in the international development trend of the course, they take me longer as I research my tangent thoughts. Long story short, I volunteered to present the cons concomitant to Bloomberg’s Soda Ban and was placed in a group of 4 students total. Group presentations – especially when you cannot select who to work with – can be wild cards. My “con” group was great though! We were super organized, efficient, and productive. Everything was seamlessly shared on Google Drive and we even ran through our presentation at least twice the night before! It was definitely one of the best group project dynamics I’ve ever experienced to date. Coincidentally, we all represented four different years of the university; I really appreciated not only meeting new peers, but also listening to their different perspectives and knowledge about the university. Harvard students employ an outrageous amount of acronyms so it was funny to see which ones freshman learn first. From class selection, sleep/eating schedule, to our approach on how early to start psets, our opinions and preferences all varied yet were all similar as well. I can’t really articulate the common thread linking all Harvard students, but there’s something warm and fuzzy keeping us together through our experiences in Annenberg (the freshman dining hall), The Yard, and beyond.

The group presentation is just one of the many ways Cutler makes his lecture-format course interactive. He’s one of the best professors I’ve ever had in terms of transforming lectures into an active, rather than passive, activity. He challenges us with questions and then uses our answers to pose higher level thinking questions. He’ll poll us on our opinions before and after discussing certain topics like whether or not we should improve the economy to improve health or focus on healthcare first to have the enhancement of the economy follow. I’m really enjoying the lectures thus far!!

Outside of class tests and projects, I’m starting another research experiment as a Research Assistant at the Harvard Decision Science Lab. I’ll be working with a fellow from the Department of Psychology and Brain Sciences. Since we employ human subjects in the lab, it’s always hard for me to determine how much information to disclose so I’d rather err on the conservative side. We’ll be spinning around the Dictator Game to answer our research questions about impulsive decision making and bargaining.

This week is also the beginning of the PBHA (Phillips Brooks House Association) mentoring program that I’ve been involved with since my freshman fall and have been directing since my sophomore fall: BRYE Teen. (I’ve warned you all about our ridiculous amounts of acronyms!) PBHA is a student-run, umbrella public service organization that supports hundreds of different programs serving the elderly, the youth, and every person (or animal!) in between! BRYE stands for Boston Refugee Youth Enrichment and has many subcategories such as BRYE (afterschool) Tutoring, BRYE Summer (summer camp), and many more. My co-director and I have been working super diligently this past first month of school to recruit both mentors and mentees. We’ve been nervously waiting to see the fruits of our labor and I’m more than happy to report that the fruit turned out sweeter than what we were hoping for!

My favorite thing about PBHA is that it connects you with your community as well as other students. Many of my friendships have blossomed from being involved in mentoring and PBHA in general. Once a month, PBHA serves dinner and hosts a meeting called Cabinet where directors from various programs come to give updates and learn about the other aspects of PBHA they might not be aware of – sort of like a behind the scenes look. The PBHA Cabinet meeting is a great place to learn about how Harvard students have been spending their time!

Although the theme of my week has been running around from task to task, I try to make time to stop and smell the roses. The establishment of the new Science Center Plaza has helped me make time to stop and smell the roses. The new plaza is incredible – and even more so in the nice weather we’ve been having in Cambridge! I’m glad that no more students will have to go on without the plaza. It’s a unique and thriving place to meet with friends, have lunch, and get tan! I’m pretty sure I always naturally smile when passing the plaza. There’s also a tented area where farmer’s markets happen with frequency along with other special events too such as health fairs and boutique shops!

Coincidentally at the same time as Obamacare?

Health = fresh fruit baskets


Great use of space


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As I mentioned last week when I was describing my course schedule for the semester, I’m taking more independent classes this term. These less structured courses are a new experience in my academic career and I’m nervous-excited as I venture into this personally new unknown. Hopefully, I’ll be able to manage my time and work well enough to not go crazy come November.

One of the two of my more independent classes is GHHP 91r (Global Health and Health Policy Supervised Reading and Research). The goal of the class is to write a mini-thesis on a topic of choice under the supervision of a faculty adviser who is there to help focus my topic as well as grade me at the end of the term. I’ve (tentatively) chosen to continue my topic from the summer when I was performing clinical trials about maternal health and nutrition (vitamin A/iron supplementation during pregnancy within malaria-endemic regions). However, I’ve been unable to secure an adviser as of yet. I’ve been emailing and meeting with people like crazy and I have (false?) confidence that I’ll find an adviser eventually, but this process has been much more difficult than I anticipated and thus, I have been a bit discouraged.

Good thing this discouragement doesn’t carry over from classes to my extracurricular activities! This week of school has been focused on my “work” outside of the classroom.

In my search for a global health adviser, I was directed to a Harvard initiative about raising awareness about malaria. There’s actually a competition open to all Harvard affiliates and I’ve gathered 3 of my friends to form a team with me and enter. When I first perused the article and found out about the competition, I definitely thought it was cool, but something I would never enter due to no time/thinking I would never win. However, I still attended their informational session and ran into some friends there. We threw around the idea of forming a team and I’ve been super determined to enter with a great idea. We don’t have any ideas yet though — but we’ve been having a blast trying to come up with some! Okay, so most of our meeting time is spent joking around and relaying stories, but the few serious minutes we had were pretty productive. We’ve scheduled a meeting with the head of Malaria No More and intend to schedule many more with professors and whatnot.

I’ve not only never entered into a contest of this sort, but also wouldn’t have seen myself doing something like this. I’m getting really excited about my team though since we come from many backgrounds (life sciences, economics, education, computer science), it’s been really useful to bounce ideas off of each other!

This Defeating Malaria contest is definitely more of an academic extracurricular. However, I’m also involved with the Phillips Brooks House Association (PBHA) which is an umbrella organization running a bunch of programs geared towards public service and volunteering in the community. Mentoring was a huge part of my high school years; I mentored elementary students afterschool all throughout high school. When I moved across the country for college, I knew I wanted to continue mentoring and the opportunity to mentor the heavy immigrant population in Dorchester was perfect because it would also help keep my Vietnamese language ability alive.

I joined the Teen sector of the BRYE (Boston Refugee Youth Enrichment) program during my freshman fall and started directing the program the following year. At the beginning of each semester, PBHA programs like BRYE work diligently to recruit student volunteers. I spent a lot of time this week interviewing applicants. I’ve also stressed the importance of recruting mentees this year so I’ve been calling a lot of families in Dorchester and utilizing my proficiency in both Vietnamese and Spanish. BRYE has truly been the best application of my language abilities and I love it!

One more “extracurricular” that I’ve tacked onto my schedule for my senior year has been trying to find something to do post-graduation. My plan is medical school, but not immediately. I’m hoping to fill in my gap year(s?) with something related to the medical field and hopefully this different insight will help me become a better practicing doctor when the time comes! Besides from looking into research fellowships, I’ve also been on the job hunt for healthcare consulting/tech firms. I’ve never actually sought out a job before and this whole process of networking and interviewing has been intimidating! I had a phone interview with a healthcare software company this week and apparently that went well enough so that I’m at the next stage of their hiring process: a skills assessment. It’s essentially an online logic test from what I gather. There will be a proctor just sort of watching me as I take this 2 hour test, but I won’t be able to see the proctor! I’ve never done anything like this and I’m nervous – probably more nervous than what’s good for me. I’m taking this logic test this week and just don’t know what to do with myself since I feel like I can’t prepare for it…

So I’ve been trying to relax. I’m a senior and I’m not currently active in the medical school application cycle. There are endless reasons why I should be having a great time…and I may or may not be exploiting them. However, the ticking clock ticks louder senior year because time is definitely running out to do everything I want to do! But one step at a time right?

One thing I’ve always wanted to do was to get money to throw a party. Thanks, Harvard! There’s a student run group on campus called Drug & Alcohol Peer Advisors (DAPA) and they give out grants every week to students who apply for funding. I decided I wanted to host a party revolving around guacamole and although I requested $40, I received a good $20 for guacamole and everyone was so impressed. It was the best. I definitely want to continue taking advantage of this resource to feed all my small cravings 🙂

I sort of have this problem where even when I’m full, I won’t stop eating. It’s the worst. I’m just glad I have an affinity for exercising to counter my bad habits. I have my third Boston Half Marathon coming up in three weeks and have been experiencing anxiety about it for the past three months. I don’t ever feel ready for long races! But around the end of every September, there’s a community 5k event called the Brian Honan. It’s an amazing event, full of community and spirit! Harvard also sponsors a huge group of runners at the event so registration is free for us! Today was my third Brian Honan as well as my best 5k time! A huge group got together for the event and some of us even jogged back together with a stop at the football stadiums to run up a few stairs before heading over to brunch. Today was just overall an amazing day! It was downpouring at 6am in the morning but the sun was out and the day was beautiful by noon when the race started!

In the summer of 2012, we were all in Barcelona together. In the fall of 2013, we’re still running happy at the Brian Honan 🙂

It’s been a great week, but I need to stop ignoring my classes. Midterms are coming up…what?! Midterms are definitely the sneakiest thing in college.

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Another grand congratulations to the Class of 2017! Such an incredibly exciting accomplishment, but definitely also scary at the same time because I’m sure you all have great alternative options. In some ways, it doesn’t even seem fair that at age 18, you have to decide where you want to be receiving a diploma at age 22. How do you know where you’ll fit into the mold best – or where you can create an improved mold of yourself? The honest and worst answer is that you don’t. You don’t know, we don’t know, your parents don’t know. And all you want is someone to just tell you what to do because this way, when the going gets rough, at least you can blame someone else, right?!

I love having options, but they can also be a source of stress. One of my favorite ways to leverage this stress into fun is by sampling. I like to try a little bit of everything, and only after this do I step back to make an informed decision. For all of you who are still on a verge of deciding where to attend college, find comfort in the fact that you still have some time and even more resources to help you. I hope this blog can provide a unique insight to student life here at Harvard!

I didn’t check in last week (have been getting slayed by midterms since forever) so I wanted to give you all a little sampling of the highs and lows of these past 2 weeks instead of focusing on just one event 🙂


Sheryl Sandberg on leaning in

Caroline blogged about Sheryl Sandberg speaking at Harvard as a stop on her book tour. I heard about this event about a month beforehand because of some of my friends in the student organization sponsoring her talk, Women in Business (WIB). I reserved tickets about a month in advance and was excited for the event all day! I’ve only watched her talks online so it was surreal to be sitting in the live audience, especially when College President Drew Faust was right there along with me! It’s even more surreal that Sheryl Sandberg was a member of the audience at one point too during her undergraduate years. To share, or at least be able to relate to, a part of her history is really inspiring and a great reminder that Harvard generously provides both the academic and financial resources that can catapult us down phenomenal career paths! Sheryl Sandberg always makes really good points about putting yourself out there to be in a position to fearlessly lead that I think both men and women would benefit from following.

Sheryl Sandberg kicked off a great weekend because the very next day was Relay for Life, an all night walkathon hosted by the American Cancer Society. Last spring, I was involved in Relay as the incoming Vice President of Philanthropy on the Panhellenic Council, but since I was in the midst of transitioning in last year, everything ran smoother this year and I was much more involved. Our “Go Greek” team actually became the #1 team, fundraising the most money for the event – a little friendly competition doesn’t hurt!  The walkathon was a culmination of tons of planning as we had fundraising events such as bake sales, water pong tournaments, restaurant fundraisers, etc. leading up to the walkathon. It was great seeing all the sororities and fraternities taking time from their rigorous academic schedule during midterms to rally and honor cancer survivors as well as support cancer research.

The day after Relay for Life, I went on a field trip to the Boston Aquarium with my students in a volunteering program I direct through PBHA (Phillips Brooks House Association), called BRYE (Boston Refugee Youth Enrichment). It was my first time at the aquarium and I’m pretty sure I was more excited than my group of teenagers!


It’s pretty rare for most Harvard students to get off campus to explore Boston which can be nice because it makes Boston more of a novelty, but it can also be a sad thing because we’re missing out on all the great things Boston has to offer i.e. the aquarium, Quincy market (as Rob mentioned), etc. My friend, a senior at Yale, was visiting this weekend for Harvard Law School admit/orientation weekend and was able to go to the aquarium as well. It was really interesting to hear my friend’s perspective of Harvard and Boston in general. Being so use to New Haven, my friend was delightfully surprised we could walk around Cambridge at night without getting mugged, beyond pleased by our morning run by the river since New Haven’s nature isn’t really existent, and also impressed with how close Boston is since most Yale kids have to take a train to New York City for any kind of real urban experience. Don’t take this as me hating on Yale, but rather a Yalie hating.

Yale and Harvard represent at the Pet a Stingray exhibit!!!!!!! Best. exhibit. ever.


It’s mid-April, which is essentially the worst time of the academic year. It’s that time when school is pretty much over, but you have all your work left. Spring Break is long and gone and students are getting slammed with midterms up until finals. If the weather was nicer, I could probably try to put a positive spin on that somewhere, but I’m a weather-spoiled California kid and this rainy-windy combo is just not cutting it. I was also planning on running the Boston Marathon this Monday (as a bandit), but I have a genetics midterm this Marathon Monday and the latest I can reschedule is 7 pm. LAME. Harvard is also basically the only school that holds classes on Marathon Monday, which makes no sense because it takes out all the fun-community-building that stems from the Boston Marathon, an event people fly in to Boston to compete in from all over the world! We shouldn’t hold classes as a simple sign of respect!!

Yet, there is a light at the end of this (loooong and dark) tunnel – it’s called Mid-May. Classes are officially over in about 2 weeks, starting Reading Period, a week where students have unorganized time to study for our final exams. When school ends, I’ll still be denying that I’m 3/4 done with college. This denial will continue abroad since I’ll be abroad for most of the summer again 🙂 This was literally the best news to me because after spending summer 2012 in Europe, Peru, and Bolivia, I’m officially obsessed with collecting passport stamps. I’m honored to be accepted into the Global Health Institute’s iSURF (international summer undergraduate research fellowship) program which is sponsoring me to pursue clinical research in the context of women and nutrition in Tanzania. I’ll be spending about 10 weeks there and then heading over to South America/Bolivia again. More updates to come once I get everything sorted out, but for now, I’m SO excited to get familiar with Africa!

Also can’t contain my excitement because today is Yardfest! There’s been some controversy over Yardfest this year, but the other bloggers and I will be sure to let you know how the event goes!

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A grandly deserved congratulations and warm welcome to the class of 2017!!!! Every time that number increases, it’s a subtle reminder of the aging process and every time the admissions rate decreases, it’s a not-so-subtle reminder that I probably wouldn’t have been admitted if I applied that year. Acceptances are awesome because it’s a validation of your hard work and competence; however, please keep in mind that the converse is not true. Not getting accepted in no way validates your laziness or incompetence – it’s just a sad realization that there are too few spots for so many incredibly talented people. The weather sucks here anyways… 😉

Regardless of where you’ll be attending college, the transition to college is more often than not a difficult journey. Just keep in mind that difficult obstacles yield better memories and are often more rewarding. Think of the last time you drove yourself crazy studying for a test or training for a race and when you performed exceptionally well, you promised you’ll work just as hard, if not harder, next time.

The first few weeks of the college transition are tumultuous to say the least. This ambient and seemingly constant chaos tends to drive students to a quest for order and routine; a routine and schedule that they’ll essentially follow for their remaining time as an undergraduate. This is a part of what we here call “The Harvard Bubble.” This phrase more commonly refers to our collective unwillingness to leave campus despite all the luring and tantalizing the Boston skyline does. Yet this bubble imagery connotes many strong interpretations.

Not only does Harvard protect us with their amazing advising program and guidance before we enter the scary real world, but Harvard students can also easily get wrapped up in their routine and schedules. Personally, this ease of approaching the mundane makes getting off of the Harvard campus more important. It’s along the lines of “too much of a good thing” concept where I love and am grateful for spending most of my time on campus (as evidence by my fear of graduating even though I have another year!), but it’s easier to appreciate what you have once you don’t have it – even if you don’t have it for just 4 hours every week.

Visiting the top of the Science Center’s Observatory during our “field trip” to Harvard’s campus!

I spend my a few hours of every weekend afternoon off campus, volunteering in Dorchester. I direct the teenage segment of a larger program called Boston Refugee Youth Enrichment (BRYE). A handful of volunteers and I mentor, tutor, but above all become friends with teenage students who have all immigrated to the US. Each semester, the curriculum is catered to the group of students we have – if they want extra homework help, more books to read, arts and crafts projects, field trips, etc. the volunteers and I will bend over backwards to provide what they find useful. Our funding comes from the generous Presidential Public Service Fund and BRYE falls under the umbrella of the Phillip Brooks House Association (PBHA) – a student run organization that our very own blogger Meaks is running!

 I’ve been involved with BRYE Teen since my freshman fall semester and stepped into a leadership position my sophomore year. Pretty sure it’s the extracurricular activity I’ve been involved with for the longest amount of time. It also took me a long time to appreciate the program, although this may sound terrible right off the bat. However, I think I’ve taken a lot and learned thousands of lessons from BRYE which drives me to keep giving back.

The immigrated students participating in BRYE vary drastically from year to year and even semester to semester. Sometimes they’re vocal (and only vocal about all the things they hate about you), sometimes they seek humor, and often they’re shy. My freshman year, I had a group of the rowdiest, most unappreciative kids ever and thought about quitting constantly. I consistently questioned why they came back week after week if they were overtly against every activity we suggested. It took me almost the entirety of my freshman year to realize that the kids preferred coming to BRYE over spending their time chilling in a park or watching TV at home because they had to get something from BRYE the sessions even if they vehemently denied it. With the high student turnover rate that BRYE experiences, I’ve gained so much perspective about my patience and interpersonal skills in the context of diversity and this helps me actively improve myself to not only put my best foot forward, but also to make sure my other foot isn’t too far behind.

This semester of BRYE has run much more smoothly with my new co-director! It has frequently been the highlight of my week this semester and some of the shy kids are more comfortable with us and are finally opening up!

Fun examples of what we’ve done just this semester: carnival for Lunar New Year,

The sign says “Happy New Year” in Vietnamese

 learn a handful of Chinese characters and phrases, and explore the Boston Harbor/Faneuil Hall.

It’s been a blast working with people who still adore cartoons and aren’t stressed about upcoming exams/papers. Getting off campus in a productive manner has been a truly refreshing experience for me and I definitely plan on being involved with BRYE until (and maybe even post?) graduation!

Once again, congratulations to all those accepted! Definitely enjoy the rest of your senior year and summer. Hope to see you for Visitas (prefrosh visiting weekend!)

Hopefully next week, I’ll have a better idea of my summer and can update everyone 🙂 Here’s a hint: I’m definitely going abroad 😀

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Hello all!

Signing in after what amounted to a very long sabbatical from writing.  I hope everyone is doing well through these colder months (Boston just got another big snow storm… typical), and that y’all have been finding some really awesome content on the blog!  I do have to say that the opportunity to write for you guys over the course of my now two and a half years at Harvard (OH MY GOSH!!!… time has flown!) has been an extreme honor.  It has helped me reflect on my life here and my development as a person.  And the opportunity to meet people who have read this blog, especially some you who are in the classes below me at Harvard now, is really mind blowing.  So thanks guys!

What has my life been since I last posted?  Well, it has been transformational.

It is interesting to be a college junior because it is perhaps the first time one can look back on their college experience and see growth—personal, academic, experiential, philosophical (and maybe around the middle if you’re not careful).  I look at pictures of myself as a freshman and see a younger version of myself today.  I reconsider my ideas and beliefs about life and see a thoughtfulness and regard for other points of view that I didn’t used to have.  I think back to all of the cool experiences that Harvard has given me and feel thankful for every day.

Me and a few friends back in September

Since last writing, I was elected as President of the Phillips Brooks House Association (PBHA), the nation’s largest student-run public service nonprofit, and the bastion of community-based service at Harvard.  As a student-run 501c3, my position is technically President of the Board of Trustees, and from that office, I work with a team of student officers and adult staff to run 1,400 person strong organization.  Being in this position, while crazy and insane (I seriously have a full-time job while trying to be a student), has challenged me in ways I could have never anticipated and set me on a path I never could have predicted I would take.  From learning how to schedule every second of my day, to how to facilitate a good training/meeting, to how to contribute meaningfully to the Harvard campus and to the Greater Boston area, I have taken so much from this experience even as it asks so much of me.

Vice President of PBHA Sam Greenberg ’14 and me doing PBHA work

I love working with people.  I love thinking about team dynamics, appreciating the unique strengths of everyone in the room, and supporting people in a way that makes them feel valued and productive.  And I love especially working with the amazingly gifted students I find in PBHA.  Within our Officer Team this year (as we call ourselves, DreamTeam2013), each person arrives with a different story, and each person has new insights and thoughts to offer that challenge me to question my assumptions and consider sometimes things that are fundamental to our society – IT’S SO COOL!

A team circle-up at the end of our week-long PBHA Officer training — “Nonprofit Management Intensive” — back in January (I’m the one in the gray sweater).

Not a day goes by when I don’t find myself wondering, “Well, why is it that way?” Or “How do I reconcile these two conflicting ideals/experiences/philosophies in my life?”  And the confidence I have developed in understanding myself and my world strengthens daily.

Woah, I just got deep really fast there.  Sorry if that was a lot.

So for the sake of all of our sanities, I’m going to narrow this post down to what I did this past week, rather than try to cover months of lost time.

My schedule for last week

Allow me to refer to my handy-dandy Google Calendar!  Hmmm… let’s see.  Well, I went to a lot of meetings, as per usual.  With over 30 hours of PBHA “on the clock” time (as in, not including checking and sending emails, writing proposals, planning agendas, and all the outside work), it’s easy to see how it is my main thing.

I also went to class and had a paper due on Thursday!  This semester I am taking some really interesting classes – History 1280: History of the Soviet Union, History 1629: China and the Environment, Ethical Reasoning 24: Liberty, and Sociology 95: Research for Nonprofits.  I have found each of these classes to be fascinating and love the range of material I am learning.

Last week I also got to go to the celebration of Teen Empowerment’s 20 year anniversary where they honored Mayor Menino for his commitment and service to Boston’s youth!  It was so amazing to meet and see a lot of Boston’s major public service players, people who have committed their lives to making the world a better place and live passionately.

Finally, this weekend a friend of mine from back home in Pittsburgh came to visit!  It’s always the best to connect with people from home and talk about Pittsburgh-y things.  One thing that I have learned is that people from Pittsburgh will never shut up about how awesome Pittsburgh is (myself included).

This coming week is going to be a scary one!  I have so much to do to get ready for Spring Break and then BAM!— I’m off to Madrid for Harvard Model Congress’ Europe Conference!  I cannot wait to meet and work with all of the high school students I am about to coach through a mock National Security Council session!  And after the conference, some friends, and I are going to the Canary Islands where I intend to tan (let’s be real, I’ll really just burn) and soak in as much relaxation and Vitamin-D as I can before returning to the craziness of life here.

So strap on your seatbelts y’all!  I’m back to posting every week, and this year is going to be a crazy ride.


Kate Meakem

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The annual Harvard-Yale football game not only lifts our school spirits, but also flags the end of the semester. After this game quickly comes Thanksgiving, Reading Period and Finals Exam week. Then BAM, our grand prize of a month long winter break (J-term/January term) for successfully finishing another semester of college.

We are currently in the midst of Reading Period: seven days without official classes (although unofficial classes/review sessions/language classes usually take place during this week) where we can prep for our finals. This time of the year can be pretty stressful with multiple final papers and projects due at the end of Reading Period. Regardless of the stress level, I am constantly reminded that I should be grateful for this week – imagine if we had to accomplish all of our immense assignments on top of class! This is actually what most college students have to do.

When I first learned of Reading Period, I thought it’d be the chillest week ever – a week of catching up on my favorite television series and sleeeeeep. However, the relaxation has definitely never been this extreme although the week’s flexibility does allow for normal sleeping hours and longer meals with friends. Reading Period can easily get a bad rep due to the high levels of associated stress, but when I talk to my non-Harvard friends, at MIT and Californian universities, my love for Reading Period is automatically rekindled!

This fall semester, I have 4 papers due within this coming week and then 1 math final on the last day of finals. I’m feeling some pressure, but this hasn’t hindered my holiday cheer!

He may look small but sure knew how to work the dance floor!!!!!

Last weekend, PBHA (Phillips Brooks House Association) – our volunteer program umbrella – hosted an end-of-the-semester Holiday Party where there was tons of sugar (cookie decoration, gingerbread house-making, etc.), dancing (dance offs, limbo!), and Santa even made an appearance with presents for all! It was tons of fun seeing all the hard work we put in these term time programs culminate into some of the happiest faces on these kids! It’s also heart warming to see students take a few hours from their busy studying schedules to make joyous events like these happen, especially because they only come once a year!

The high holiday spirits definitely emanate off campus as well.

Boston Commons Park

In the middle of Boston Common, there’s a seasonal ice rink called Frog Pond. My friends and I rung in Reading Period with an ice skating celebration. The park is also beautifully decorated with holiday lights and an enormous tree (someone in the park told us the tree was imported internationally too!)

Some of us ice skated while others hung on for dear life…

What is a holiday season without delicious food??

Good thing that’s something I don’t have to answer since (I think) each individual upperclassman house (dorm) puts on a holiday feast. Each dining hall also puts up a well decorated Christmas tree and menorah. It’s like the school does everything possible to make this time of year less stressful and more cheerful!

All my roommates after dinner

My upperclassman house, Mather, had a wonderful dinner – some highlights were artichoke poppers, roast beef, apple stuffing, broccoli rabe, cheesecake, egg nog and mulled apple cider! YUM

Mather also has an annual game of Assassins since we’re not in class and usually studying around Mather. Students organize the entire game – this year, they passed out water guns (whereas last year, our provided weapons were nerf guns). We have 24 hours for each round and the end of the round comes with an emailed list of obituaries filled with (black) humor.

My favorite laugh from yesterday was reading these obituaries. Here’s my favorite:


Theresa & Jonathan

Both victims of the most casual of killers:

I killed Theresa and Jonathan yesterday.”

…as if this were the most natural thing in the world to send per email. Sends chills down my veteran spine. 
Theresa’s dying word was ” =( ” 
I was killed yesterday morning at the lab I work at. I thought I was safe being a good 15 minute walk from Mather but apparently my assassin was super dedicated and was waiting for me to come in for 40 minutes! Also uncool how her roommates are my co-workers…

Maybe it was a good thing I was killed during an early round so that I can work on my papers! AH


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Wow! It’s been such a whirlwind of a week!! That’s literally (due to this nasty, rainy weather lately) and mentally (midterm season!)


Happy October everyone! This month marks our one month of school. If you ask any non-freshman student, we’ll tell you that it simultaneously feels like we JUST started school and that we’ve been here forever. Many things are still relatively new – we’re still getting the hang of balancing our new combination of assignments as well as establishing an organization and studying method curtailed to this semester’s classes – however, academia has been a critical part of our lives for so long that these activities seem second nature to us.

I had my first midterm of the semester this past Wednesday night so I’ve spent the majority of my free time preparing for my first of three exams for Math 18 (i.e. going over class notes, class worksheets, homework, and additional practice problems). Normally, midterm tests are held during scheduled class times, but math exams, for whatever reason, are typically held during the evening. My midterm was scheduled for 6-7:30pm but I had my Aesthetic & Interpretive Understanding 50: Literature and Medicine section from 5-6pm. There are strict attendance policies for my Lit & Med class (they’ll deduct from your grade if your absent!), but know that flexibility indeed exists within the rigid structure of Harvard. I emailed my TF (graduate student Teaching Fellow – essentially the same as a TA at most other schools) a few weeks before my math midterm asking for permission to either leave early or to attend a different section for the week of my math exam. She allowed me to leave a few minutes early which was probably the best part of having a math exam!

Despite all my extensive review for the math exam, I didn’t really know what to expect and was somewhat nervous going into the test. It’s a new class this semester, so there are no reputations like “exams are tricky” or “exams are essentially the practice tests” to help build your expectations. I felt pretty good during the test though and felt even better after it – because it was over!

I immediately felt the post-midterm laziness (that I’m still suffering from)! I spent the rest of the night talking to friends, catching up on my comedy television shows and getting excited for my sorority’s fall formal.

It feels like I haven’t been academically productive in a while, but I can tell you about the productivity in other aspects of my life!

In preparation for the Boston Half Marathon 2012, I’ve been trying to run longer and longer runs. Thank goodness I have the Charles River and the Esplanade to run along, but on certain days, ~10 miles can feel like much more even with my pumping iTunes beats. One of my best friends (who I traveled Europe with this past summer!) is currently training and fundraising for the Boston Marathon 2013 by making an extra effort to run all throughout Boston. I took advantage of her creative routes by running with her into Chinatown where an elementary was holding a fair with cotton candy, photobooths and carmelized popcorn!

We even met (and danced with) Pooh Bear!

This long run throughout downtown Boston and eventually ending up in Chinatown made the time pass by very quickly. I love when (physical) productivity effortlessly blends in with new, fun experiences! I’m definitely looking forward to being more adventurous on my runs by being more willing to deviate from the riverbanks. Next weekend, I’ll be running the Boston Half Marathon for my second time. I’m feeling pressure to beat my time last year but I think this is only possible if the rain gods have some mercy and cancel the predicted rainy forecast!

Another long term project I’ve been involved with since my freshman fall semester is called BRYE (Boston Refugee Youth Enrichment) Teen. This is a program I direct through PBHA (Phillips Brooks House Association), essentially the central hub of public service work on campus. The teen program runs once a week, on Saturdays, at a Vietnamese Community Center located in Dorchester, where (recently) immigrated students gather to work on homework, supplementary lessons we’ve created, arts & crafts, and we often strive for field trips to museums/Harvard’s campus. This is my second year directing the program and I feel like this year will be easier than last, not only because my previous experiences will help me solve future problems with much more skill, but we’ve received a lot of generous financial assistance to run the program this year.

At the end of the 2012 spring semester, I applied to the Presidential Public Service Fund (PPSF) grant to alleviate some of BRYE Teen’s accumulated deficit – a heavy burden that started before I became a director. Luckily, BRYE Teen received this generous grant as with a handful of several other programs (see the university’s generosity here!). PBHA partnered with Dean Evelynn Hammonds for a reward reception where program directors gave a short summary of their programs’ goals in exchange for a hefty and generous check.

Presidential Public Service Fund grant reception with Dean Evelynn Hammonds

It’s so rare (and difficult!) to unite 20+ PBHA program directors and hear about their passionate work so it was really a beautiful event to attend. I know that my program, BRYE Teen, would have great difficulties running without these funds so all my volunteers and participants are eternally grateful for this financial support and encouragement!

Needless to say, it’s been a phenomenal week! There are no classes held on Columbus Day, so the long weekend is looking extra marvelous. I don’t have any midterms this coming week, so I’m looking forward to doing some learning without intensive pressure!


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Hi everyone!

Summer has wound down to an end, and here we arrive at another amazing year at Harvard.  Sometimes I find that I get so caught up in everything going on in my college life that I forget how truly blessed I am to attend such a fantastic institution, one that offers me every opportunity if I only look for it.  But the beginning of the year is certainly an excellent reminder.

Even though I’ve been on campus all summer working for PBHA (Phillips Brooks House Association), there is something distinctly magical about Harvard at the beginning of the school year.  The air turns crisp, the sun is bright, and there is a charged atmosphere of excitement as new friends are made, old friends are reacquainted, classes are chosen, extracurriculars are comped, and dorms are unpacked.

Freshman exploring Green ’16 outside of Memorial Hall (photo courtesy of Google)

Before I started writing this blog post, I took some time to go back through my previous posts, all the way back to the beginning of my freshman year, and it is amazing to me how much/little time has gone by and all that has happened in the interim.

One post that is certainly missing, however, is one about my summer experience with PBHA’s Summer Urban Program (SUP).  I tried several times to write this summer, but shockingly working 80+ hours a week is not conducive to publishing anything of substance.  Opening lines of half-completed posts that I still have up on my computer (yes, I am one of those people who keeps up tabs and windows from months and months ago) include “You guys would not even believe how amazing this month has been!” and “Two weeks left of summer.  Two weeks left of the best summer of my life.”

My Full-Time SUPport clipboard!

And these lines are true, but they don’t do a great job of describing what exactly I did this summer, so here it goes.

This summer I worked for the PBHA’s Summer Urban Program (SUP) on its Full Time SUPport (hehe get it?) team.  Some background information – PBHA is a student led, student run 501c3 nonprofit organization that helps to run over 80 public service programs that reach out to over 10,000 people in the Greater Boston area.  At 1,400 student volunteers from Harvard, Wellesley, Tufts, Wentworth, and Boston University, we are one of the largest student-run organizations in Boston.

SUP is a huge part of what we do.  With twelve inner-city summer camps run throughout Cambridge and Boston, over 800 kids, around 80 college-aged Senior Counselors, and many more high-school aged Junior Counselors, in addition to the student Directors, the Staff, and the Full and Part Time SUPport teams, SUP is a large operation.  As a student Officer at PBHA during the school year and a member of the Full-Time SUPport team during the summer, I got to help run SUP at every level.

Color-coding and filing evaluations for every camp

At the organizational level, I was able to see the big picture of SUP, talk about its vision and goals, help enact and enforce its policies, and have input on the outcomes not only for that summer but in some cases for summers five years out.  At more of an operational level, each member of the Full-Time SUPport team had projects to complete over the course of the summer.  Mine were organizing two weeks-worth of Senior Counselor Training at the beginning of the summer, coordinating and leading the Community Cousins program (which I am continuing into the school year, so more on that later!), and carrying out all of the Evaluation processes that help SUP assess its programming and progress.  In addition, as Programming Chair during the school year, I also continued my responsibilities to what we call the “term-time” programs that chose to continue throughout the summer.

The van I drove all summer. We became quite close.

And at the most basic (and fun) level of SUP, I spent a lot of time leading camping trips in the Myles Standish State Forest, lifeguarding at the beach or the pool, substitute teaching, and driving a 10 passenger van full of children around to and from various field trips!  This was easily my favorite part of the summer because it meant that I got to know the kids.  Nothing made my day more than when I would pull up to one of the camps, and the kids getting into my van recognized and talked to me!  It was the time when I could look at them and know without a doubt that all of my late nights and early mornings and lack of weekends were absolutely worth it.

My tent while camping with the kiddos

On top of all of my SUP stuff, I also wrote two and a half briefings for Harvard Model Congress to be sent out to schools around the country for our conferences coming up later this year!

Just because I had to write briefings, didn’t mean I couldn’t do it sitting outside of Peet’s Coffee in Harvard Square while listening to live music!

Whew (taking a breath because I’m pretty sure I wrote all of that so fast I didn’t breath).  So yes, this is why I didn’t blog.

But lest you think my summer was horrendous, let me remind that it was the best summer of my life!  I didn’t complete any of the goals on my summer bucket list that I alluded to in my previous blog post, but that was only because when I made that list, I had no idea what kinds of opportunities would be open to me!  Rather than learning how to do a cartwheel (I’m starting to believe I might actually be hopeless), I learned how to lifeguard.  Rather than watch all of the Academy Award Best Pictures, I watched a Boston Public Schools community meeting in which parents, students, and teachers alike debated the current redistricting process.  And rather than eat at a cool new cultural food restaurant every Friday night, I found myself eating perfectly normal sandwiches from delis in Dorchester, the South End, South Boston, Mattapan, and Cambridge.

My best friend Jared and me at the City of Cambridge Summer Dance Party! It’s a giant party for all of the members of the Cambridge community, old, young, and in between, to come out and celebrate the start of summer.

I also did some really cool things like go to the Museum of Science, a Pawtucket Red Sox game, Canobie Lake Park, Lexington and Concord, Minute Man State Park, Cape Cod, and Washington D.C.!  Some of these were on my own time, but most were on field trips with the camps or with my Community Cousins program!

Some friends of mine and I also ran the Color Me Rad 5K!

I guess the bottom line is that while I was working all summer, work was fun, and I made so many friends in the process!  And as I am starting to think about my future for life outside of college, I’ve learned that any profession where I can gain new experiences, love my work, and make new friends (isn’t that wonderfully vague?) is exactly where I want to be.

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Gene Corbin, Assistant Dean of Harvard College for Public Service

Over 500 students are devoting their summer breaks to serving others and tackling critical social issues through amazing experiences funded by public service organizations at Harvard College.  Such opportunities abound and include:

Additionally, many students apply to the Office of Career Services for fellowships or grants to fund their own public service pursuits – including projects throughout the world made possible by David Rockefeller International Experience Grants.

Although only a drop in the bucket of the good work students are doing this summer, below are three examples:

Tyrell Dixon is a rising Senior from Baltimore.  Thanks to the Center for Public Interest Careers, Tyrell is working at the Legal Aid Society’s Juvenile Justice Department in New York City this summer. Through interacting with clients, shadowing attorneys,  sitting-in on court cases, and forging his own personal relationships with clients and attorneys, Tyrell is experiencing first-hand the way the law impacts individual lives.

Rising Senior Tyrell Dixon

Julia Konrad is a rising Senior from New York City.  She received a Director’s Internship from the Institute of Politics (IOP) to work for the US Department of Education in Secretary Arne Duncan’s Office.  Julia is having an unbelievable summer helping plan many important events – including the 30th Anniversary of  Title IX where she brought people together to celebrate this landmark amendment for gender equality including Secretary Arne Duncan (the slightly taller person next to Julia in the photo).


Meredith Arra is a rising Sophomore from Georgia.  She became involved in public service immediately upon arriving at Harvard College – beginning with the First Year Urban Program.  Meredith is devoting her summer to teaching 6 and 7 year-old youth in the Phillips Brooks House Association’s (PBHA) Chinatown Adventure Camp – one of the 12 camps in PBHA’s Summer Urban Program.  She’s focusing her efforts on healthy living and nutrition to combat obesity.

Teaching at the PBHA Chinatown Adventure Camp

Rising Sophomore Meredith Arra teaching at the PBHA Chinatown Adventure Camp

All of the above programs represent not only a chance to serve others, but also the opportunity to benefit from life-changing relationships and experiences.  Every fall, I have countless conversations with students who have new insights about themselves and what they want to do with their lives – including many students who return motivated to pursue a public interest career.

More information on the opportunities Tyler, Julia, and Meredith pursued, and many more, can be found by clicking the summer opportunities tab at www.publicservice.fas.harvard.edu.  I, along with the other staff members in our public service organizations, look forward to helping all students at the college pursue these exciting opportunities!

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Hello friends!

Yes, it is I, after a very long sabbatical from writing, back to report to you about my life.

So wow, a lot has happened, but rather than bore you with a drawn-out narrative of the stressful end to my sophomore year (papers, papers, papers, Finals, Finals, Finals, PACK UP, MOVE OUT, OMG STORAGE IS CLOSING IN 30 MIN! AHHHHHH), I will share with you a few vignettes from my summer so far.  I have had some incredible experiences – some big and some small and meaningful.  But they foreshadow what I hope to be an amazing summer!

Before I launch into it, I’d just like to say that finishing my sophomore year has been a strange experience — I’M HALFWAY THROUGH COLLEGE!  What is this supposed to mean?  Do I even know what I want to do in life?  Am I ready to graduate in another two years?  Did I do enough with the two I just had?

As I contemplate all of these feelings, Bon Jovi’s song “Living On a Prayer” Living on a Prayer comes to mind, and that’s where I got the name of this post.


Take Me Out to the Ballgame

In celebration of being done with all of our final exams, my roommates and I treated ourselves to buying tickets to a RedSox game.  I had never been to a RedSox game before and one of my roommates had never been to any baseball game before so this was a big event.

It was a wonderfully warm summer night, and the Boston fans were out in full force.  The Sox were playing the Indians, but not a single Cleveland fan could be spotted (I mean, they would have to be pretty brave).  My roommates and I arrived at a packed T-station, sporting all of the RedSox paraphernalia we could find.  Thrilled by the combined sentiments of being done with finals, of being at a Sox game, and of finding great seats even though we had paid for standing room-only tickets, we were giddy as we dug into our cracker jacks and hot dogs.

One of my roommates and me at the RedSox Game!

But in the moments after the ballpark had stood up to sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” I admit, the happy feelings began to falter a bit.  Our sophomore year was over!  We were now halfway through our college experience.  We weren’t going to see each other for an entire three months.  And in just another two years, we would be separated by wherever life took us.  Everything just seemed so scary!

And so, embarrassingly, we had one of those girly, sentimental moments – right there, in the middle of Fenway Park.  A few tears may or may not have been shed.  And I don’t regret it one bit.  In fact, I think it’ll be one of the moments I remember most fondly when I do eventually graduate and look back at my college experience.  Because I was there, surrounded by my closest friends. Together we had grown to be new people, together we would continue to change during the next two years, and eventually together we would face the world.  And it wouldn’t be so scary so long as we had each other.

And that might be the corniest thing I have ever written.

But I mean it.


So freaking Patriotic

I went home for a week around Memorial Day, which is a big deal in the town of Sewickley, PA.  We host a huge parade in which every pee-wee baseball team, every Girl Scout troop, every high school band member from every high school around, every greyhound dog owner (don’t ask…), every vintage car owner, and every firefighter troop and its trucks, not to mention every veteran from every war (including reenactments of the Revolutionary and Civil Wars) march, jog, trot, play, and drive through the town.  In addition, the middle school’s Clown Club always provides alternative modes of transportation to its members such as unicycles and pogo sticks.

Not only is Memorial Day a big deal to our town, but it’s also a big deal to my family.  My dad is a Gulf War I veteran and we’re all very proud of it.  My dad will usually organize a group or fellow-vets to march in the parade and host a barbecue at our house afterward.  This year, the town asked my dad to give the public address at the post-parade commemorative ceremony.

As my dad stood in his dress blue speaking about the heroism of those who fight to defend our freedom, I felt so proud and so loved surrounded by my family and my community.   It’s a feeling that I sometimes forget when I’m at Harvard, hustling and bustling from one activity to another.

My sister, my dad, and me after my dad’s speech on Memorial Day!

But as I watched the parade march by, the same parade I had been watching every Memorial Day since I can remember, and as I was feeling this great sense of family and community, I couldn’t help but also feel a sense of separation.  Less and less do I feel like Sewickley is my home, and more and more do I feel like its part of a very loving past.  It wasn’t a sad feeling, just a different feeling, one that I accepted.  I had been living at Harvard the past two years, Harvard was my home now.  And well, I guess that’s what you get after you finish your sophomore year.

My sides hurt from Cartwheels and Laughing

During the summer, when most Harvard students are off campus exploring the world, the Phillips Brooks House Association (PBHA) suspends its normal programming and starts up twelve summer camps for low-income kids around Cambridge and Boston.  These twelve camps constitute PBHA’s Summer Urban Program (SUP).  Like everything else at PBHA, SUP is student-run, so I am working this summer on what we call Fulltime SUPport (get it?).  I like to tell people that the job is a combination of administrative work and manual labor.

We hauled 60 chairs from the Harvard Recycling Center to our Mission Hill Summer Program camp site for their classrooms. It was a 97 degree day. In the background is one of my friends cheering when we finished!

SUP is a great community of awesome students working together to change the lives of elementary and middle school students.  But beyond that, it’s a great community of friends.  We live in the Radcliffe Quad in Cabot House, and in the evenings, after camp is done for the day, we use the Quad to play soccer, run around and have fun.

This summer, I have compiled a short bucket list of things I would like to accomplish.  One of these things is to be able to do a cartwheel.  Now, I know this is a basic part of many people’s growing up, but somehow between my never-ending stages of gangly awkwardness, I never could quite get there.  I remember when I was probably three or so, my mother signed me up for a Gymnastics course, and at the end of the class while all the kids performed cartwheels and summersaults to the “Ooooo”s and “Ahhhh”s of their parents, my only contribution to the performance was a Donkey-kick… in which my teacher had to grab my legs and kick them up for me.

Yes, clearly I am gymnastically-talented.  So finally, at the age of 20, I am determined to accomplish this great feat.

With the help of a few good SUP friends, I practiced on the Quad Lawn for about an hour, slowly progressing, but never quite getting it.  By the time it started getting dark, I was sore all over from trying to propel my legs through the air (don’t laugh…) and from laughing with my friends at each of my awkward crashes to the ground.

I haven’t accomplished a full cartwheel yet, but it was a great evening, one I shared with close friends as we looked forward to what the summer would offer us.

And that’s all I have for now!  As you can see, I have some pretty mixed feelings about beginning the second half of my college experience.  A large part of me is screaming, “I don’t want to grow up!!!” while all the while, I keep looking around and seeing the ways I already have.  It’s a funny thing.  But you guys get to witness the whole process.  Should be interesting to look back and read all of these entries in two years.


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