Study Card

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Although it’s only been a handful of days, I feel like I’ve been on campus for at least a few weeks already! I guess my quick-comfortable level serves as a testament to how much at Home I feel at Harvard. After traveling all summer, it is REALLY nice to be settled in one place again.

When I say I’ve been traveling all summer, I really mean literally traveling all summer – and I’m not even abusing “literally” here! When my last final took place in the spring semester this past May, I had 3 days at school to get myself ready for my internship in Africa! When my clinical research internship ended, I traveled down Africa – alone and meeting up with other Harvard students – and made a pit stop in Dubai and London before returning home to California where I did a bit of domestic traveling as well! Harvard took me to Africa and I definitely took advantage of the great geographic location!

Please allow me to semi-quickly summarize the end of my summer and outline what the first 4 days of school have been like. One ending is just another beginning ! 🙂

Part 1: Amsterdam

I know the Netherlands doesn’t really make sense in the context of Africa, but the Amsterdam airport is a huge international hub for flights. The cheapest flight from New York City to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania involved a 13 hour layover in Amsterdam during the middle of the day. Let’s just say I was far from complaining and very eager for my new passport stamp!

Amsterdam

Things conquered in Amsterdam:

Stroopwaffles & Cheese, Eye Film Institute, Free walking tour in Spanish, Flower market, Chinatown, Vondelpark, Anne Frank’s House (!)

Part 2: Tanzania

I scored an internship through Harvard’s Global Health Institute program called iSURF (international Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship) through which, for the first time, I pursued clinical research projects revolving around maternal health and nutrition. I loved the research topic, my co-workers, and the grad school friends I made!  During my time here, I picked up enough Swahili to barter and speak to taxi drivers – thanks to my dedicated co-workers who doubled as translators. There’s no denying that a big chunk of my heart stayed in Tanzania. Living abroad gave me a grander perspective on the disparities in health access and socioeconomic status which is helping me clarify what profession I want to follow after graduation. Thinking a bit shorter term, I’m also looking into following up on this topic of maternal health and nutrition by writing a mini thesis this fall semester in a GHHP 91r course (Global Health & Health Policy, Supervised Research and Reading).

 

Paje, Zanzibar, Tanzania

Things conquered in Tanzania:

Biking in heavy traffic to work, Impersonal greetings in Swahili, General nightlife scene, Zanzibar, Arusha, Moshi & last but not least Mt. Kilimanjaro!!!

Part 3: Zambia

I’m pretty sure I made everyone nervous – including myself and my credit card company – when I bought a one way ticket to Tanzania. I knew I wanted to visit Cape Town, South Africa ever since my roommate went the summer after her freshman year and refused to stop talking about it. In the roughest of rough travel itineraries, I intended to go from Cape Town to Bolivia in order to join in the forces of Refresh Bolivia, just like the end of my summer 2012. However, when flight prices from Tanzania to South Africa were $500 more than what I expected, and when flights from South Africa to Bolivia were $1000 more than what I had budgeted for, I had to sadly face reality by accepting that I wouldn’t be able to “Refresh Bolivia” this summer.

Perhaps this huge itinerary change came as a blessing in disguise because I had more time to focus on the journey to Cape Town rather than just the destination. I took a 3 day train (note this mode of travel is highly NOT recommended) from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania to Zambia. I stopped in a few places in Zambia, but was mostly interested in Victoria Falls. I met a few people in Zambia that redefined altruism by taking me in when in need. Since I was traveling by myself, I learned a lot about myself and my capabilities. It’s very empowering to travel alone and I can’t thank the universe any more profusely than I do every single day for affording me this opportunity to not only explore the world, but also explore what I want to do in this world!

Gorge Swinging over Victoria Falls, Zambia

Things conquered in Zambia:

Kapiri Mposhi, Lusaka, Livingstone, Zambezi River sunset cruise & gorge swinging/abseiling/zip lining over the Falls

Part 4: Zimbabwe

TripAdviser recommends seeing Victoria Falls from both the Zambia and Zimbabwe side – I second this recommendation! I crossed over the border and explored the waterfalls from this side as well. This was one of the more developed destinations out of my itinerary so I took advantage of the available WiFi and hot water. Continuing my travel southwards, I caught a flight out of Zimbabwe to South Africa to meet a fellow 2014 Harvard classmate and iSURF intern who had been working in Uganda for the summer.

Free showers at Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

Things conquered in Zimbabwe:

Victoria Falls, Bulawayo

Part 5: Cape Town, South Africa

No more overnight trains and sketchy buses for me – from here on out I would by flying high 🙂 After a week of solo backpacking in central Africa, I was more than ready for any and all companionship! One of my good friends from school, Jen and I had thrown around the idea of traveling in Africa together since we would both be iSURF interns. Africa is a very large continent so I tried to remain realistic while throwing ideas around, but as emails were exchanged and flight information was forwarded, there was no hope in containing either my or Jen’s excitement! We did a ton of research and planned an intensive yet flexible itinerary to take advantage of our 5 days there. We even met up with a fellow rising senior who also arrived to town around the same time we did for thesis research. (Tangent: He’s a statistics concentrator writing a senior thesis on wine…so he got funding to travel to Cape Town, wine capital of the world! Anything. is. possible.)

Cape of Good Hope, Cape Town, South Africa

Things conquered in Cape Town:

Stollenbosch, Camps Bay, Table Mountain, Hout Bay (seals!), Chapmans Peak, Cape of Good Hope, Cape Point and its Lighthouse, Boulders Beach (penguins!), Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, Greenmarket Square & VA Waterfront

Part 6: Dubai

When I was booking flights from Cape Town back home to California, I learned flights from Cape Town to London were ridiculously cheap. I’m a sucker for a sale so I booked. Initially intending to spend 2-3 days in London, I actually spent 5 days there due to flight sales. I won’t start raving about London here (that’s the next part!), but Dubai comes into play because I had a 12 hour layover from 2 am to 2 pm. After getting lost for hours in their enormous airport, I managed to leave the airport and hop onto their sweet metro system which helped me see as much as I could in my 6 hours of daylight! It was a bit stressful trying to spend all my Dirham currency, but that’s maybe the only kind of stress I’d welcome.

Jumeirah Beach, Dubai

Things conquered in Dubai:

Dubai Marina, Jumeirah Beach, Mall of Emirates & Dubai Mall

Part 7: London (and Cambridge)

Words just don’t do justice when it comes to expressing my love of London. I had the absolute best time and on a budget too! You may be thinking London on a budget, whaaattt?! But thanks to Harvard’s diversity and international presence, I made a really good British friend last semester who was beyond helpful in my London trip. He connected me to his high school friends who offered me free housing (as well as free tour guide services!) and he even made a detailed itinerary of London and Cambridge. I also had a lot of help from other Harvard friends who either studied abroad in the UK or who had traveled through London earlier on in the summer. I’m undeniably a California girl at heart so it means a lot when I say London is incredible despite its gloomy reputation.

London, UK

Things conquered in London:

Natural History Museum; Biking through Hyde Park, Buckingham Palace, and Trafalgar Square; Leicester Square; Chinatown; VA Museum; Science Museum; St. Paul’s Cathedral; Modern Tate Museum; The Angel in Islington; Shoreditch; Covent Garden; Piccadilly Circus; Kingly Court; Camden Market; Tower of London; Westminster Abbey; Big Ben; St. James Park; Princess Diana Memorial Walk; Cambridge/Kings College

Part 8: Los Angeles

Domestic Harvard friends are impressive as well! It was cheaper to fly London > Los Angeles (LA) > San Francisco (SF) rather than London > San Francisco directly, but I would land in LA too late to be able to catch a same day flight to SF. I called upon 2 of my blockmates (blockmates are a group of up to 7 other friends that you make during your freshman year and tell Harvard you love them enough to commit to living in the same upperclassman house for the next 3 years of your undergraduate life) who are LA natives. They very willingly picked me up from the airport, energized me with the famous In-N-Out, housed me and entertained me until my flight the following night. College friends very quickly become family and although I already knew mine are very reliable, it still warms my heart that they very willingly cater to my outrageous needs!

Santa Monica pier, Los Angeles, California

Things conquered in LA:

In-N-Out, Reactivating my American Phone, The Melt, Santa Monica Pier, LA traffic

Part 9: San Francisco

I’m not originally from the Bay but my best friend from college was finishing up her internship there and my best friend from high school attends UC Berkeley – do I have to further explain why this trip to SF was so completely necessary and amazingly timed?? I hadn’t been up to Northern California since participating in a science camp (Young Scholars Program as UC Davis) in 2009 so it was nice to come back and play tourist in my home state!

Crissy Field, San Francisco, California

Things conquered in SF:

(spontaneous) Giants v. Red Sox game, HRD Cafe, Ikes Sandwiches, UC Berkeley student life and UC Berkeley Kappa Alpha Theta chapter (it was awesome seeing sisters on the opposite coast!), Coit Tower, Crissy Field, Dolores Park, Washington Square, Lombard Street, Palace of Fine Arts & Nick’s Crunchy Taco Tuesday

Part 10: Home Sweet San Diego!

I have 2 influential factors when creating a travel itinerary: flight prices and free housing. Due to these 2 factors, I only managed to sneak home for about 4 days! This would be the shortest amount of time I’m at home during a break from school ever! I do not plan on making this the norm. It was too short, but well worthwhile! Thank goodness my parents and sister had free time to hang out with me and love me. Home was fabulous as always. However, due to my extreme circumstances of 4 days, I was spending time with my family by day and chilling with my high school friends by night – and in between these appointments, I visited the dentist and optometrist too! Sleep? What is that??

Sunset from Iron Mountain, San Diego, California

Things conquered in San Diego:

Family, Friends, Food

Part 11: Boston (and Cambridge!)

I’m lucky to have family friends in Boston who eagerly greet me at the airport and drop me off on campus with enough food to feed an urban county. This luck continues on campus as my friends warmly welcomed my return. Catching up with everyone, unpacking, and shamelessly shoving my face with Asian fruit took up the one day I had before classes started. During my final year of Harvard (!!!!!), I have 1 Neurobiology concentration requirement, 2 Global Health and Health Policy secondary requirements and 2 General Education classes left. This definitely is not a lot as some of them can double count and I have 2 semesters to fulfill everything. With my General Education courses, I have tons of freedom which means a hectic shopping schedule and a blind hope that everything will be figured out when Tuesday 5 pm rolls around – Tuesday is Study Card day when students must turn in a list of courses that they intend to enroll in for the semester and some classes need instructor signatures which can be a tad stressful on occasion. I’ll know my classes by the next blog though!

Mather Courtyard, Harvard College, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Things NOT conquered back at school:

Unpacking, class schedule

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Two suitcases – one for summer clothes and one for winter clothes. One backpack with a laptop, toothbrush, and a passport.

This was my arsenal of protection for five countries in three months. I know I wasn’t exactly roughing it to the extreme, but it sure felt like it at times, especially when my bus company left me at the Peruvian-Bolivian border and my mess of sobbing tears triggered the sympathy of a different bus company to bring me into Bolivia…pretty much my favorite sob story from the summer.

At the age of 20, I’m beyond proud, honored, and lucky to say that I feel like an experienced world traveler. I know that passport photo headshot copies are as useful as eye drops and burn ointment to carry around with you. I know that I can go four days without showering and still be happy. I know that I can survive without a smartphone to Google Map me out of any bad situation.

It’s extremely comforting as well as empowering to discover some of my hidden capabilities. And I’m only slightly exaggerating when I say it feels just as great to be home at Harvard. Home sweet Harvard! 

The heart wants what it can’t get in a really sick and twisted way. I’ve wanted to travel and roam freely since I could string a grammatically correct sentence together, but there were low moments while traveling when I just wanted to be home and settled. I couldn’t wait to return to Mather (my upperclassman “house” or dorm) and have the luxuries of a dining hall where I would never eat potatoes again.

Sure, I may have returned to this:

College essentials

5 loads of laundry later…

But when your college roommates are as welcoming as this:

Welcome back/catch up session with the best friend and roomie!

Then your high spirits help you make your beautiful single into:

I’m excessive 🙁 but I’m working on it!

I’ll never take having a home base for granted ever again. It also helps to live in Mather – one of the twelve upperclassman houses at the undergraduate college – because our house motto is “Singles for Life,” meaning that each student is guaranteed a single room. I’ll admit that I’ve been very spoiled in my college housing lotteries since I’ve never had to bunk with anyone and because the singles in Mather are inside a bigger suite so you can control your degree of isolation for studying purposes!

There are seemingly endless perks concomitant to entering your third year of college – having a room triple the size of your sophomore room is just one of them. My other favorite elderly perk is my increased class elective freedom. Since I’ve completed several of my basic core classes such as physics and orgo (organic chemistry) for both my premed and Neurobiology concentration requirements, I’m now facing much more relaxed requirements with guidelines such as “one advanced Neurobiology class” with more than 20 choices to fulfill it. Having so many choices resulted in my craziest Shopping Week ever.

Shopping Week is referred to as the first week of every semester because students are free to walk in and out of any classes at any time during the week – we essentially shop and sample any classes that our hearts and minds desire. Although it can still be difficult to project if you’ll enjoy the class for the rest of the semester, Shopping Week takes part of the guessing factor out and allows students to make educated decisions when selecting classes. The week is also a lot of freedom that most college students don’t ever experience (my high school friends like to remind me how lucky I am) so I always make sure to try to appreciate the entire week!

Study Card Day” marks the end of the first week of school which is the same as the end of Shopping Week. Students submit to the registrar Study Cards which list the classes they’re planning to enroll in for the semester and sometimes these cards require professor/adviser signatures depending on the course.

I had a lengthy shopping list of classes that sounded super interesting, had a great Q guide score (the Harvard version of ratemyprofessor.com), and had colorful recommendations from my older friends. Although this is a good problem to have, the choices layered the week with stress which is actually a topic that the Harvard Decision Science Laboratory, where I work as a research assistant, has discussed. The midst of stress can blur the bigger picture and make your week dreadful. When I had six classes competing for one slot – four of the six occurring simultaneously – I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed and uncomfortable since I would be walking out of intriguing lecture classes the size of ~15 students in hopes that maybe another class would be even more engaging.

It wasn’t until I ran into a recently graduated sorority sister by surprise while crossing the streets of Cambridge that my attitude about being a class shopaholic changed. She more than willingly listened to me vent and reassured me. As we parted, she turned to reiterate that Shopping Week’s evil twin of chaos is always short-lived and worthwhile. All the diligent course sorting I’m doing now will make a better semester because my classes and workload will be customized to my interests. I instantly felt better about my situation and lingered around how I feel like my youth has passed but my wisdom hasn’t arrived yet.

What students see on my.harvard.edu

After a short yet long week of shopping and meetings with advisers, I’ve decided to take 4.5 classes. One of my courses counts as “half” a class because it only meets for 1.5 hours every week (3 hours is about the average) but I’ll be taking the class throughout the whole year. Even though it’s a year long course, it will only count as a full one semester course. This special class is my Neurobiology 95hfh tutorial on Dopamine. I was weary about taking a whole class on just one neurotransmitter, but the professor, S. Barak Caine, is beyond riveting! He’s so passionate about the topic and has a knack for transmitting that excitement onto his students. I was hooked after just one lecture and I’m really excited for our class on Monday! Neurobiology tutorials are capped at 12 students so it’s a great way to get to know a professor, especially since the classes really thrive on discussion. Throughout the year, we’ll be focusing on developing skills to critically read and understand scientific articles.

Aesthetic and Interpretive Understanding 50 – Literature and Medicine

This class double counts for a General Education requirement as well as for my secondary in Global Health and Health Policy. I’m a little nervous about the class because I’ll never consider English and Literature my thing, but the professor, Karen Thornber, is a phenomenal public speaker and is very aware that a 2 hour lecture can be difficult to sit through. I’ve only been to one lecture, but it seems like we’ll be attacking how literature throughout the ages has tried to capture illness and disease. I’m looking forward to further developing my writing skills!

Molecular and Cellular Biology 145Neurobiology of Perception and Decision Making

This marks my second course that counts as an advanced Neurobiology course and it was the golden course chosen because of my recent realization that I’m a closet economics person. I started working at the Harvard Decision Science Laboratory at the beginning of my sophomore year and therefore have been more exposed to economic professors and research topics ever since. Its always been a fascinating work environment because I hardly think of every facet of life in an economic viewpoint which motivated me to take this class so I can further dive into this thought process. The title of the class is pretty self-explanatory, but what excites me most is our final project which will mimic a grant proposal for a research topic of choice!

Mathematics 18 – Multivariable Calculus for Social Sciences

Math 18 is a brand new class this semester – well it has a brand new name and an upgraded structure! It use to be called Math 20 and it’s required for students on the Honors Economics track. It’s suppose to be like the Math 21 series, but instead of physics applications, we’ll be using economic models. I came across this class as I was looking into Math 19a (Modeling and Differential Equations for the Life Sciences), a Neurobiology concentration requirement, and shopped it just because I was curious. The professor, Meredith Hegg, is new to the university but teaches the class with such energy, encouragement, and enthusiasm that I would have felt stupid for missing a grand opportunity if I didn’t enroll in the class. Math 18 is only offered in the fall, whereas Math 19a is offered every semester, so I’ll definitely be taking Math 19a next semester. For now, I’m pretty happy with taking Math 18 just for fun, although the first three psets (problem sets) have been pretty tough and lengthy. It’s been a little rough because I’ve never taken an econ class so I don’t know what terms like substitutes and complements mean, but there’s tons of support for the class. Meredith Hegg has office hours three times a week and the two undergraduate course assistants also hold a multitude of office hours as well.

Spanish 61nThe Ethics of Business

I’ve had my eye on this course since last spring semester!! I wanted to skip Spanish 50 to take this class because I felt like I’ve had enough Spanish grammar review for a lifetime, but everything happens for a reason. This semester is the perfect semester to take this course because it focuses on businesses in Latin America which is where I spent the majority of my summer! It’s so fun to be able to relate my experiences in Peru and Bolivia – especially because 2 other students who participated in the same DRCLAS (David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies) program in Peru are also taking the class with me! This is my first Spanish class that is like a normal class, just conducted in Spanish and I love it!! The 1.5 hours go by too fast and I spend most of that time laughing. It’s also a nice change to only be talking about corn and potatoes instead of actually eating it 🙂

Yes, 3/4.5 of my classes deal with economics/business even though I’m definitely a Neurobiology concentrator. Yay for liberal arts education! As I said before, I’m still really refreshed and excited about this upcoming semester! I’m eager to do my assignments and have no trouble seeing the real life applications of my class lessons. Junior year is starting off with a blast and I wouldn’t change anything about it! Hopefully I can maintain this attitude until the end of finals…

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The chances of a Harvard student completing a pset (local nickname for
problem set) during his/her undergraduate career are equal to the
chances of said student running into a tourist in Harvard Yard.

I spy…tourists in between Memorial Church and Widener Library.

The statistics get more complicated within the context of optional
psets. Yes, these little optional gremlins do exist with the apparent
purpose of guilting us. In my experience, optional psets at the
beginning of the semester exist to remind you of how forgetful and
rusty you are, whereas the (typically) nongraded optional psets
sprinkled in the midst of the hectic semester exist as exam
style/format hints. But what about the optional psets during the
summer??

I hope I didn’t scare anyone with the thought of “summer assignments.”
In my high school, a handful of classes required students intending to
enroll in the specific class to complete reading, writing, etc.
assignments during the summer which was the leading cause of
all-nighters before the first day of class. Thankfully, Harvard
College holds a Shopping Week – the first week of each semester where
students can drop by and even walk out of classes as they see fit.
Since our schedules aren’t finalized until Shopping Week is over and
our Study Cards (the list of normally 4 classes we’ve chosen to take
for the semester) are submitted to the registrar, it’s difficult to
assign “summer assignments.” (Note that there is also a grace period
of a few weeks after Study Card submission when you can add/drop
classes!) However, some outlier courses may require something along
the lines of a letter of intention – this is something I’ll have to
submit by August 21 for a Spanish class I’m SUPER interested in taking
this upcoming fall semester. Class policies vary widely but Harvard’s
been pretty good to me about providing me with the freedom to
personally design my own summer…independent of the presence of
psets!

I’m participating in a program called DRCLAS SIP (David Rockefeller
Center for Latin American Studies, Summer Internship Program). For 8
weeks, I’ll be living with a homestay family in Peru while I shadow at
a private clinic. Ever since I converted into a premed student
freshman spring semester, a trillion and a half decisions came before
me i.e. when to take certain prerequisites like physics and organic
chemistry, or if I want to pursue one or perhaps more gap years.
Shadowing and eventually becoming good friends with these doctors
during my summer internship has given me not only valuable, but also
realistic insight to what the journey to becoming a doctor is like. I
already feel more confident in my personal timeline of when and how to
approach my medical goals, although I’m still nervous about expressing
this openly in fear that if I change my mind, everyone will hate me.

But I find comfort in the fact that everyone hates optional psets more.

There definitely wasn’t an optional pset scheduled on the DRCLAS SIP
calendar. But the 13 participants rallied together and added a pset
session…at least this is what it felt like even though we were
meeting in a mall. We needed a secure public area to meet with free
wifi to plan a trip to Machu Picchu!

Girls pic near the entrance of Machu Picchu!

And in the shopping center’s cafeteria we sat with laptops out, shared
“Machu Picchu” titled Google Doc open, listening to each other
intently but also not afraid to cut each other off, compromising,
budgeting, and typing fleeting questions on our desktop’s Post-It app.
Passionate opinions were expressed and heated debates transpired, but
no personal feelings were affected. Planning an economically feasible
weekend trip to one of the few wonders of the modern world was exactly
like a pset – we were all there to do business and come out as a
better person in the end. Almost 3 hours later, we felt on top of the
world…or at least Machu Picchu!

 

We trekked up the adjacent mountain that overlooks Machu Picchu … breathtaking in multiple ways

Scurrying home, we were all ready to book buses, trains, planes and
hostels. Despite the unfortunate realization that the domestic trip
would cost much, much more than we all thought it would, it didn’t
make sense to live in Peru for 2 months without venturing to these
famous ruins. A trip to Machu Picchu with the entire group would be
the first non-DRCLAS-organized trip we would all take together.

Freezing cold in Cuzco, Peru even with all the body heat!

The whole process of Machu Picchu – from organization to execution –
was what made the glue holding us together become cement. Needless to
say, spending time together on a mini-vacation within summer vacation
doing once-in-a-lifetime activities is the secret element to
friendship. But I’d also like to attribute the pset session atmosphere
for our group bonding because this potentially intense, highly
productive environment truly fosters respect for your pset-mates.

You have to hold a person in high respect in order to collaborate on a
pset because it shows that you have trust in their intellectual
capacity – when was the last time you wanted to be lab partners with
someone you didn’t think highly of? You’ll also have to tolerate, if
not enjoy, their company since it’s at the very least a once a week
commitment. A lot of my close friends come from my pset groups
actually! Regardless of whether we were friends first or became
friends via psetting, it’s almost inevitable that pset groups grow
close as the night before a deadline gets later and later. To clear all the rumors about students being nerdy and antisocial, psets foster friendship.

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