study abroad

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I love movies. I’ve been a film connoisseur since my earliest memories. Actually, though. I remember watching the Lion King and commenting on the director’s techniques in between spoonfuls of my corn flakes, let’s put it like that. And even though I never strayed too far from that Hakuna Matata lifestyle, there were still some things about movies that frustrated me, like: Why was there such a divide between reality and fantasy?

I wanted to fly to Never-Neverland like Peter-Pan, I wanted Eddie Murphy as my guardian dragon like Mulan, and I wanted to befriend an expert chef mouse like Linguini. Why did these things seem so far out my reach? After I got a bit older, I started to face the facts and realized that some things are only meant for the silver screen. As hopeful as I was, there was no point in getting frustrated in how, at the end of the day, fantasy is… well, fantasy: not possible in real life.

Interestingly enough, what I didn’t realize is that along with pixie dust, talking dragons, and ambitious mice, I was also classifying the settings of these movies as fantasy. I didn’t understand that although certain aspects of these stories were fictional, the worlds they took place in were very real. These fantasies have become my reality. I’ve seen aspects of Never-Neverland as my plane flew in to Brazil back in early June; I admired the Emperor’s throne in the Imperial City in Beijing in late August, and at last, I have stood at the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France just this past weekend. These past few months came at a pace I am still trying to keep up with but the blessings that have lined the way have humbled me and made me more aware of what these milestones in my life mean.

Whenever I enter a new country, whenever I see a new monument, whenever I relish a local delicacy, it’s not just me- it’s my family and it’s my community doing these things. I’ve realized that I carry them wherever I go. I am not sharing my experiences in order to breed envy- I’m doing it because I want you to realize that these things are possible for you too. Too long have we accepted “fantasy” as separate from reality. We have to understand that these places, although pictured as far away lands in the depths of our dreams, are actually closer than we think. But how far, exactly? Well, only you can determine that. I can only offer encouragement. And trust me, the hard work is well worth it. There is no other feeling like that moment when you step back and say, “Whoa… I’m here.”

I experienced that feeling this weekend as I stood in front of the Eiffel Tower. I really hope you get to experience something similar as well. Not just for you but also for your family and for your community, remember that you carry them wherever you go. Check out the video below to take part in my experience- it won’t compare to when you feel it for yourself but I hope you enjoy it, nonetheless. Keep working hard.

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The theme of last weekend was: The Future! So it’s pretty safe to say a concomitant theme would be: Hot Mess.

Most colleges ask freshmen to state their major at the beginning of their undergraduate journey. However, Harvard knows that its students’ interests are synonymous to windy tornadoes that could really take us anywhere. Meaning, Harvard will nod and smile reassuringly when we throw around intended concentrations (AKA majors) during our freshman year, but will only take official documentation during our (supposedly wiser) sophomore year. Throughout this process of declaring our concentrations, sophomores will meet with both concentration and academic advisers to develop a list of classes we intend to take during the rest of our majestic time as an undergraduate. All this pondering and planning really puts things in perspective because you can realistically chronicle required/desired classes for your concentration, secondary, citation, and even indicate that you plan to study abroad! SNAPS to academic clarity and a sense of purpose!! … at least for now…

But let’s discuss a topic that isn’t as deathly intimidating as your long-term-future life plans. Let’s talk about your relatively-shorter-term future life plans!

By now, it’s undeniable that the best season, summer, has ended and autumn is in full swing.

Lucky residents of Mather, an upperclassmen house, get a friendly reminder of East Coast beauty every time they step outside.

And let’s just skim over the perpetually frosty winter season and move right along into spring – more specifically Spring Break! As a person who strives to radiate California, I imagine tanning, beach volleyball, and lemonade as three necessary factors for a perfect Spring Break. However, college serves as a perfect time to not only redefine yourself academically, but also redefine what trivial things, like Spring Break, can mean to you. Last year, during my first Spring Break as a college student, I traveled to New York City with a group of Harvard students I didn’t know in order to volunteer with God’s Love We Deliver and tour medical schools. After this week, I left New York on a bus back to Harvard with the same group of Harvard students who were no longer strangers, but instead great friends!

Phillips Brooks House Association (PBHA) (basically the Harvard version of Key Club International) is the altruistic heart of Harvard College and one of the many beautiful programs they run is called Alternative Spring Break (ASB). Last year, I participated in the ASB New York Premed trip which actually convinced me to commit to the premed track after being hazy for what felt like a lifetime. ASB trips not only foster friendship due to the inherent intimacy of a small group travelling, but also is the perfect harmony of productivity and fun! I’m definitely obsessed with ASB and that’s one of the reasons why I applied to direct the trip this year. I was partnered up with another sophomore to direct the trip and I certainly cannot verbally express my excitement about the great potential the trip has! Although the trip won’t occur until March 2012, paper applications have closed and we spent the long weekend interviewing over 70 fantastic applicants! Although these three loooong days of interviewing really cut into my physics midterm and biology paper writing time, I just can’t contain my excitement for this trip!! Maybe I’m just REALLY excited for The Game (at Yale this year). GO HARVARD!!! YAY IVY LEAGUE CHAMPS!!!

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Rome, Italy… One of the places I’ve dreamed of going since the first time we learned about its epic history in elementary school. I remember looking at the pictures of the Colosseum and the Pantheon and wondering if I’d ever get a chance to walk the same terrain as the ancient Romans. After all those years of dreaming, I finally had the chance to experience it firsthand and it was unbelievable.

Rome’s ambience cannot be mistaken. It’s archaic buildings and huge city streets were just like I pictured them- only better. I was eager to explore the city and I wanted to understand why Rome seemed to be calling my name. I found out on the first night.

I arrived after sunset and the city lights provided the perfect introduction to set the stage for my adventure. I dropped off my bag and set off for a little exploration. Luckily, my friend from back home was studying abroad in Rome and she provided plenty of direction. We roamed (no pun intended) the streets and I had the chance to soak in the city’s feel. The scattered piazzas (plazas) and extravagant fontanas (fountains) around every corner had me gasping for breath but I had no idea what was up next. As we continued to zigzag down the narrow streets, I caught a small glimpse of the side of a building that looked different from the others. With my curiosity piqued, we finally made the turn into the Piazza della Rotonda- home of the 2000-year-old Pantheon.

Words do not describe the awe I felt. Accented by the night’s light, the enormous marble pillars of the Pantheon towered over me and had me mesmerized. The stone was smooth to the touch and as I pressed my hands to the column, I could feel the ancient building taking on my warmth. I began to think about just how many others stood where I stood, felt what I felt, and marveled in the same way I did that night over the past 2 millennia. I couldn’t speak for my mind was captivated. The building itself was impressive but what it stood for, in my eyes, was even more so. It is the connection between hundreds of generations, it is proof of how far mankind has come, and it is a symbol of how much further we have to go before we reach our true potential. This is why I had come to Rome- I had to experience this feeling.

First sight of the Pantheon

Pantheon-"To Every God"












Potential… Never in my lifetime did I think I would be able to see the things I have seen in the past few months, let alone the past few days. I think about what this means for me, my family, and my community and I am grateful for every moment. I am constantly reminded that one should never say, “never,” and that one day, with hard work and dedication, one can come closer to their dreams- no matter how far away or impossible they may seem.

If this was the first couple hours, you can only imagine how the rest of the weekend was. I thumbwrestled at the Colosseum, Lizzie McGuire’d it at the Trevi Fountain, and even saw the Pope in Vatican City. And of course, there were daily Gelato stops along the way accompanied by some of the best Pizza, Pasta, and Lasagna I have ever tasted in my entire life.

Trevi Fountain

I have come a long way from canned Chef Boyardee and those hot-dog bun/ketchup/kraft singles “pizzas” my friends and I would make at Austin’s house back in the day. I cherish those memories with all of my heart and it reminds me of how important our past is when heading towards the future. I will continue to learn and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for me next.

Check out the short video below for some thoughts I had to share while in front of the famous Colosseum.

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One thing I love about Barcelona is the diversity. The immigrant population here is very high and so everywhere you go, you see people from all over the world. For someone born and raised in San Diego, I feel at home. You see, as you walk down the street from where I live in San Diego, you have everything from Vietnamese Pho Restaurants to small Mexican Food spots (“Taco Shops” as we call them in Southern California) where you can indulge in tastings from around the globe. As hard as it is to believe, the food isn’t even my favorite part- the way you’re able to interact with people whose cultures seem completely different from your own is what I treasure the most.

I’m finding this same kind of interaction taking place in Barcelona. For example, in addition to the great culinary selection, I’m able to make friends with people who come to Barcelona from all over. Take my barbershop for instance. As I explored Las Ramblas, an area of Barça that is always filled with locals, tourists and street performers, I found myself down a side street where I discovered a barbershop that, just like in San Diego, had a sign with several languages- Punjabi being the largest. I was shocked at first- they only charged 6 Euros! I swear, haircuts over here usually go for somewhere around 20-25 Euros and just because something is cheaper, it doesn’t mean it’s of less quality! My barber is great at what he does and he never lets me down.

His name is Azem and he came to Barcelona from Pakistan when he was a teenager. Whenever I come in, we tell each other about the previous weeks and sometimes swap stories of life in an immigrant family. Even though our stories are different, I am finding there are still many similarities in the ways we interact with our families and how we go about our lives in the city because of these experiences- it’s interesting to see how they compare. After the cut and the conversation, we say good-bye, dap and I head out until next time.

Last Friday, some friends from my study abroad program were in need of a haircut so I showed them to Azem. I usually go during the week when it’s much slower and was surprised to see how busy it was. It was Friday so I’m sure the line was filled with gentlemen trying to look nice for the festivities of the weekend.  As we wait, one of the guys hooks his phone up to the stereo and starts playing some hip-hop music. As the beat comes in, I like it, I’m bobbing my head and then that distinct Punjabi flavor takes me by surprise. It brought me back to that Jay-Z & Punjabi MC collaboration back in the early 2000’s. Needless to say, the nostalgia alone was enough to make me a fan. It was great to hear a different take on hip-hop and I honestly liked it. I didn’t get a chance to find out which artist it was but I’ll ask Azem about it next time I see him.

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Wait, what?  Summer is almost over?  It is completely impossible for it to already be August 22.  Time has clearly played a trick on us all.  AHHHH!

Good news is, I’ve had an INCREDIBLE summer!  Bad news is, I haven’t been able to tell you all about it ‘til now…. But here I go!

Ok, so this summer I had the ridiculously, amazing opportunity to say, “Psh… summer?  Who would ever want to stop studying for three months?” and take a summer class…. In BARCELONA!

That’s right!  I went with the Harvard Summer Study Abroad to Barcelona, Spain to learn about Barcelonan art, architecture, and culture.  I got to speak all sorts of Spanish, pretend to know Catalan, eat yummy food, travel to Paris and Rome, soak up the sun on the beach… oh right, and go to class.  Of course.

When I went, I knew absolutely none of the other kids on the program.  They were all rising sophomores and juniors from Harvard, but for whatever reason I’d never met any of them.  I love meeting new people, so this didn’t bother me, but I still did not know what to expect.

It was one of the best summers of my life.

Me in front of the Sagrada Familia!

We lived in a summer student housing residence in large singles.  Not only was each single relatively big, but each had its own full bathroom and kitchenette!  Our classroom was located in the historic main building of the University of Barcelona, and we got to learn all of the ins-and-outs of the city’s super-efficient metro.   We only had class Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday of every week, so this meant four full days every weekend to explore and travel!

In Madrid!

An average school day went as follows:

  • 9:15 – Wake up to enjoy the Residence’s complimentary breakfast of croissants, fruit, and expresso (I am now an addict).
  • 10:15 – Leave the Residence to walk to the metro station.  Wait a maximum of four minutes for the metro to arrive.  Ride to school.
  • 11:00 – 1:00 – Learn about Barcelonan history, art, architecture, and city planning.
  • 1:00 – 5:30 – SIESTA!  This means eat, sleep, explore, shop, go to the beach, do homework, etc.
  • 5:30- 8:30 – Itinerario, which was our term for class-led field trips around Barcelona to see the buildings that we had learned about in class.
  • 9:00ish – Dinner.  Because Barcelona is a pretty touristy area, the food can be expensive.  We went out to eat some, but we mostly utilized the kitchenettes in our rooms, which meant LOOK OUT WORLD!  I LEARNED TO COOK!  That’s right, I can now make eggs in every style you can possible imagine (including poached, thank you very much), and a mean orange chicken.
  • 10:30 – If we didn’t have a lot of work, a lot of the times we went out.  Barcelona has all sorts of cool things to see at night, and why would you want to miss out on such an intrinsic part of the cultural experience, right?
Beyond all of that, I also made some incredible friends, who I know I will stay close with during the next three years of my Harvard experience.

The whole group with a view of Barcelona in the background

Now that I’m home, I can’t wait to go back to school!

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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.

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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!

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