Cody Dean, Government Concentrator in Mather House, Class of 2014
Veritas. Truth. As our motto, it’s what we seek to discover and make known as a university. It isn’t tamed by mountains, impeded by deserts, nor deprived of its existence by institutions of our own creation. Truth can solely exist and await its discovery. It is a universal language that knows no borders and serves as a foundation to our existence. Sans the sensationalism, Harvard has proven to me that this truth exists in all places around the world and not just in Harvard Square.
Coming to Harvard from the small town of Crab Orchard in the great state of West Virginia, I thought I knew exactly what the truth was. I had preconceived idea of what the world was and how we relate with those whom are our brothers and sisters in humanity, but are distant cousins in culture. However, looking back on that idea after my first year at Harvard, I could not have been more blinded. I had allowed my own experience to cloud my perception of the masses.
Harvard casts its net into the far reaches of our world and I have been given many opportunities to visit some of the most exciting places in that net during my first year. Over our extended winter vacation during the month of January, I took an opportunity to travel to the tiny fishing village of Thuwal, Saudi Arabia. Located about an hour outside of the city of Jeddah, Thuwal is one of the many villages along the Red Sea. The town consists of the university, a local fish market and souk, and seemingly endless expanses of desert on all sides. While there, I worked as a coordinator for the Winter Enrichment Program (WEP) at King Abdullah University of Science & Technology. A connection from a recent Harvard alumnus offered me the opportunity to experience a culture that, for many, remains a mystery.
Erected just three years ago, the university could be described as a fortress in the middle of a desert wasteland. While there, I worked as one of the program coordinators for the 2011 WEP. We brought in distinguished speakers from all walks of life to speak during the month long program and organized talks and symposia with topics including entrepreneurship, sustainable development, 3D animation, chemistry, and biological/marine sciences. I had the great pleasure of helping coordinate the multimillion-dollar program as well as the opportunity to meet and work beside distinguished guests such as Dr. Bengt Nordén, former chairman of the Nobel Prize Committee in Chemistry, and Maria Zuber of MIT and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. I also had to opportunity to experience daily life in the Muslim culture and saw a completely different system of government at work. I was challenged and at times overwhelmed by how much I once thought I understood about world religions, culture, and government. I saw the beauty of a religion that I had once dismissed as the opponent of my own and formed connections and friendships with people that I would have never encountered had Harvard not brought us together. I quickly realized that it is far too easy to categorize people subconsciously. It has been in the instances of complete immersion that I am constantly discovering what the truth is for me.
As I write this today, I’m sitting in a café in Buenos Aires, Argentina where I am spending the summer studying the Argentinean flavor of the Spanish language and eating my weight in the local beef as part of the Harvard Summer School in Buenos Aires. (Seriously, the things I would do for a vegetable these days are astonishing!) I was able to attend the program thanks to the generous gift from David Rockefeller SB ’36, LLD ’69 via the international experience grant named in his honor. I am spending eight weeks traveling around Argentina and learning the culture and language. We live with Argentinean host families for two months and get hands on experience of what Porteño life is truly like. We signed a firm contract to speak only in Spanish for two months and that requirement is taken quite seriously. Throughout of the program, we will travel to many of the various provinces of the country to further appreciate the rural life that exists outside Buenos Aires. The academic elements of the program have proven to be quite rigorous, but the result will mean an entire year’s worth of Spanish language credit towards my language citation at Harvard. My fluency has improved immensely throughout the summer, and we have traveled to some of the most breathtaking locations in the world. I have been amazed by the national addiction to fútbol and the expressive passion that is deeply embedded in the Argentinean culture. The program has given me a solid understanding of both the life and literature of Jorge Luis Borges, Julio Cortázar, and Domingo Faustino Sarmiento and has highlighted the music, nature, politics, and religion of the Argentines. The intersection of language and culture has been perfect for my understanding of the value of other lifestyles and I can’t recommend spending some time abroad while in college highly enough. Whether it’s having your group bus break down in the middle of the Corrientes marshlands or getting lost in the maze of streets that form Capital Federal, Argentina is sure to be an unforgettable experience.
If I could leave you with one piece of advice, it would be to seize every opportunity and take time away from the place you know best to discover what life is like in another’s shoes. Best wishes as you continue through your high school career!