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:
But when your college roommates are as welcoming as this:
Then your high spirits help you make your beautiful single into:
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.
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 145 – Neurobiology 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 61n – The 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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