Guest Blogger

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Sarah Esty, senior, pfoho, social studies
former vice president, current student advisory committee member at large.

One morning last spring, my alarm went off at 7:45AM. Happily, I wasn’t getting up for class (I don’t do morning classes – my earliest is normally at 11), and I also wasn’t madly finishing a paper due that afternoon. Instead, I was heading to a breakfast at the Institute of Politics with Michele Pierre-Louis, the former Prime Minister of Haiti. She was a visiting fellow for the week, in town to talk to us in a whirlwind of events from giving speeches in front of large audiences to having small personal conversations with small groups of students. I had heard from friends who had lunch with her earlier in the week (we joke that all IOP events seem to revolve around food) that she is fantastic, so I was very excited. She didn’t disappoint. Our hour-long breakfast rans twenty minutes over because we were all so interested in hearing first hand about the situation on the ground there, and about the major issues Haiti has been facing since long before the earthquake (I was shocked to find out that only 11% of schools in Haiti are public…talk about an education crisis). The most exciting part of the talk was finding out that she was going to be back in the fall for the whole semester as a residential fellow, leading weekly discussions and bringing in interesting guests to talk to us.

            One of the best parts of Harvard is that events like this are an everyday occurrence at the Institute of Politics. The IOP brings in heads of state, political figures, journalists, and experts from all over the world and the political spectrum for everything from major speeches to intimate discussions – it’s a normal day at the IOP when you get to hear Felipe Calderón or Michael Steele speak, or have dinner with David Plouffe. I’m still sad I wasn’t at Harvard yet when Stephen Colbert came in 2007. And the IOP isn’t just a place where you can go to hear cool people to talk or get a political internship (though I had a fantastic experience at the one the IOP helped me get with the Political Department of the DCCC last summer); it is also a home for students interested in politics and public service. A few days later, a group of us cooked brunch for the whole IOP, and bonded over politics, fruit salad, and chocolate French toast (I wasn’t kidding about the food thing). The IOP is a truly unique feature of Harvard, and is an amazing resource and community for everyone with an interest in politics – from the kid who can name all the Vice Presidents and Secretaries of State in reverse order (yes, one of my friends can do this) to someone who knows almost nothing about politics but wants to find out more.


Carolyn Chou, sophomore, Pfoho, Sociology
PBHA Afterschool Program Group Officer

Hi, my name is Carolyn Chou and I am a sophomore from Lower Merion, Pennsylvania.

When I arrived at Harvard the fall of my freshman year, I expected to do some community service, but I did not expect public service to become the largest component of my first year. After participating in the First Year Urban Program (FUP) before orientation, I realized how important it was to me to prioritize service during the year. I learned about the Phillips Brooks House Association (PBHA) and found out about the countless service programs run through the organization.

When I walked in to the Phillips Brooks House (the home of PBHA) for the first open house, I didn’t expect to become so involved so quickly. The open house was overwhelming (PBHA runs over 85 programs!) and I didn’t even know where to start. However, after talking to different people, I decided to get involved with a few programs that work with recent immigrant youth and gender issues. I now participate in both mentoring and tutoring programs, and I love working with kids of all different ages and both teaching them and learning from them.

PBHA is an amazing organization on campus; it is a student-run nonprofit that works in many different communities in Boston and Cambridge and has programs focusing on all kinds of different services from afterschool programs to environmental advocacy programs to teen mentoring programs to spring break trips (I got to go to the Mississippi Delta on one of these trips last year!), PBHA really has a program for anything you could be passionate about.

PBHA has provided me with an outlet to both do service work and think and talk about what that service work means to me and how to do it most effectively. PBHA has really pushed me to think critically about my role in service work and has supported me in really thinking about the work I am doing. Because of this, I decided I wanted to get more involved with the organization, so I ran to be an officer at the end of my first semester. It has been another really rewarding experience so far!

Along with becoming an officer, I also became a director of a tutoring program with recent immigrant and refugee youth in Boston. Being a director means that I help coordinate the program and make sure everything is running smoothly. I love getting to get off campus and explore a new part of the city while working with kids and other volunteers. Directing has taught me a lot about running a program so far, and while it’s been a lot of work, it has been really valuable.

For example, we had a field trip for our students one weekend, and it was so much fun! We brought them to campus to watch the Harvard men’s lacrosse team play Dartmouth. It was sunny but cold so, after the game, we made hot chocolate and played soccer together. All of the volunteers and the kids had a great time, and it was nice to bring the kids to our home and show them around!

Hanging out at the lacrosse game during our field trip with Elizabeth and Tai.

PBHA has been a huge part of my time at Harvard so far, and it has been a great way to make friends who share my passions, explore Boston and meet people outside of Harvard, and work toward social justice.

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