Jeanie’s Blog

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Last week, I blogged about striking a meaningful balance between work and play during the summer. But summer with too much balance isn’t always a good thing. The ideal balance is a fluctuating one. Summer sort of lends itself to chaos anyways, and this week has teetered over to the stereotypical aspects of summer: movies and food.

Who am I kidding? Food is my most prominent thought at least every 30 minutes. (Like the majority of students, I’m on the full meal plan at school. Although a lot of students rag on the dining hall aka HUDS for their cafeteria style food, I appreciate how I always have access to food/snacks despite having specific meal times – cough, cough, Yale doesn’t have this flexibility). What I like most about food is its intense share-ability. Food tends to bring great people together for a fantastic reason and it’s so versatile! Theme of the week? Thai food.

 

This summer, I’m working on clinical trials dealing with maternal health and nutrition. It’s my first time pursuing clinical research and my first time examining matters in iron/vitamin A diets in terms of pregnancy and malaria endemic regions. I’m really cherishing my split time between a lab and the hospital environment and I have Harvard’s Global Health Institute to thank for it. Through my Global Health and Health Policy (GHHP) secondary (Harvard College’s fancy synonym for a minor), I discovered the international summer undergraduate research fellowship (iSURF) program which links students to summer internships abroad. The program has different sites all over the world and sends at least two students per site – a great use of the buddy system!

During the fall semester of my junior year, I enrolled in a Molecular & Cellular Biology (MCB) class about Neuroperception and Decision Making. Hands down, one of my favorite classes of my entire life. Instead of the traditional three hour final exam, we had a final project to create a research proposal. I became interested in the realm of decision making between equivalent options and the construction of preferences. Stretching my ideas, I wanted to apply preferences and favoritism to food so by the time my junior fall semester ended, I was determined to get my hands dirty with nutrition research.

Thus, during my junior spring semester, the iSURF program evolved into my ideal summer internship. They had four sites abroad that centered around nutrition: Barbados, Brazil, India, and Tanzania. Applying to iSURF was analogous to applying to colleges – there was a common application which is sent to the different sites. From there, students are interviewed by the program coordinators and matched with projects as well as the postdocs and professors.

I was matched to the studies in Tanzania and very much looked forward (with nervous excitement!) to my first time on the African continent. My program partner, Leanna, had previously studied in both Ghana and Kenya, but she still looked forward to her third return to Africa and first trip to Tanzania. Although Leanna and I are both members of the Class of 2014 (woot!), our undergraduate paths did not cross until we were both awarded Tanzanian summer internships. We met a handful of times before summer break began and only had about a week and a half to get to know each other in Tanzania because she was sent to a different city about 6 hours away from where we are based. She was gone for a full 2 weeks before she returned to accompany me once again in the big city.

While she was gone, I was fortunate enough to be connected with two Harvard alumni – class of 2008 and class of 2011 – and was introduced to their friends also interning in Tanzania for the summer. By the time Leanna returned to our base city, I presented her with a circle of welcoming friends. It was nice to have a roommate again in my hostel room and we celebrated her return with Thai food!

There’s a locally popular Thai restaurant and my friends may or may not have been aware about their weekly karaoke night. We dined on some (painfully) spicy Thai to warm both our hearts and vocal cords for karaoke. I was with a Harvard alumna who sang a capella with the Angels; needless to say, she brought most of the applause our way during our endeavors to win over every Tanzanian heart with each note we sang.

Tanzania loves Bruno Mars…just the way he is!

I wonder if Tanzania has heard about the Harvard baseball team…

Although ranging widely in age and study interests, the group grooves well together, making every meal fun (with or without karaoke)! I sometimes feel like I’m back at school making dinner plans and such, except we email to coordinate plans instead of texting. The summer interns are starting to get real comfortable with the food – we’re playing it more risky and have stopped questioning the kind of meats served on a stick. Keep your fingers crossed for us?

On the less risky side, we’ve succumbed to our guilty pleasure of movies. There are a few days a week when movie tickets are cheaper and it’s a weekly effort to watch at least one movie. The best part is that 3-D movies cost just as much as 2-D movies – yep, that’s one whole dimension for free! Thus far, the summer movie marathon has consisted of: The Great Gatsby, Star Trek, Man of Steel, The Heat, and The Internship. This is just a list of movies seen in theaters because including the ones I’ve watched on DVD would hit a character limit on this blog for sure.

I’ve had a really chill, lazy-bum week. But you know that saying – it’s always calm before the storm? Totally applies in this situation. Next week, another Dartmouth intern is arriving and will be my co-worker. The principle investigator of the entire study will also be making his way over from Boston so things around the office are about to get super hectic in preparation of the bossman’s arrival. And if we’re still going for the work hard-play hard balance, I’ll be taking off to Zanzibar for a long weekend! Let’s see if the island lives up to its hype…

 

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The biggest chunk of my summer will be spent in Tanzania where I’m lending a helping hand in some clinical trials pertaining to maternal health and nutrition. I lucked out with this sweet summer internship with the help of Harvard’s Global Health Institute and their international summer undergraduate research fellowship (iSURF) program. The program catalyzed my access to busy professors, accomplished postdocs, as well as generous funding for an 8-10 week abroad adventure! It has provided me with all the ingredients and now it’s solely in my hands to make sure I concoct a scrumptious final product!

I’ve been studying up on malaria and how it relates to (deficiencies in) iron and vitamin A, but I think it’s safe to say I’ve learned much more about Tanzanian culture. I was told that people here spoke English; I was told a lie. In an attempt to start crawling over both the cultural and communication barriers, I’m trying to pick up useful phrases in Swahili.

Learning numbers is always a fundamental component to speaking any language – the practical reason being I can now bargain down prices! Yet counting has began to be a scary activity…! This fear stems from my senior year of college creeping closer. I can’t believe – and hate admitting – that three years of my young adult life have ended! I also can’t fathom that I’m approaching my third year of blogging! So many rightful exclamation points!

I still remember the very first blog post I ever wrote. I’m not sure if it’s the first blog that went live, but part of the application for becoming a student blogger involved writing two sample blog posts. I was completing the application at the beginning of my sophomore year and I was fresh out of my first collegiate summer which I spent at home. I wrote about my summer and the seemingly endless doubts and insecurities about spending the entire summer at home.

Generally, Harvard students are intense about utilizing their summers to propel and supplement their studies. I’m one of the biggest advocates for this year-around productivity as evidenced by my avid and enthusiastic participation in science camps during my high school summers. This summer mindset seems to culture the association that summers are only productive if spent anywhere but home. Thus, during an entire summer at home, it becomes very easy to feel like I was wasting time, wasting opportunities and wasting  resources. Every Facebook update from my college friends flashed adventurous world travels. Now, I am the obnoxious one who is not-so-subtly boasting my worldly travels via Facebook. But it’s important to remember my roots; it’s important to note that all my motivations for pursuing opportunities abroad stemmed from my summer at home when I realized how small I was which sparked one of the biggest urges to grow bigger by traveling wider. At that point, flying coast to coast between home and school seemed like the longest flight ever; yet now, the frequency of international flights is at least equivalent to the number of domestic flights I take! I feel beyond fortunate that my interest in healthcare and development easily affords me opportunities to work abroad – not to mention Harvard’s resources and support which makes the logistics of it all even easier.

Every single person I meet stresses the importance of traveling now, when I’m “still young.” It may seem like I’m short on money now, but apparently I’ll be more pressed for time in the future. I’ve willingly taken their advice to dedicate my endeavors to exploring the world. Traveling can be hard, especially when you’re striving to strike the perfect balance between cheap and safety. Good thing there are endless excitements in Africa that constantly distract me 🙂

There is so much stimuli when you’re in a new country that it can be sometimes hard to remember that my first and foremost priority is my clinical research internship. Since I work at the Harvard Decision Science Lab as a research assistant during the semester, my clinical research summer internship is not my first time interacting with human participants. However, the studies we run at the interdisciplinary lab back in Cambridge usually are a one time gig rather than a series of repeated visits which is characteristic of clinical studies. I’m really getting a kick out of being involved in clinical research because I split my time in a research office, a wet lab, and the hospital environment – it’s the trifecta!

It took a few weeks for me to visit the hospital sites involved in the clinical trials, but it was well worth the wait! I loved meeting the enthusiastic nurses working with the trials as well as observing their relationships with the pregnant women. The study aims for monthly visits which have really fostered a trusting relationship between medical staff and patient – something I not only admire, but also yearn for myself!!

There are records on records at the sites! Space for all the information is often a problem.

An unexpected but nonetheless interesting aspect of my summer internship is the healthcare consulting component. The postdocs are very receptive to my thoughts and opinions about protocol and efficiency! I’ve made edits to their standard operating procedure and am in the process of renovating their database. It’s all very exciting because I feel like I’m an important member of their research team. I’m contributing to the project – which is something I couldn’t say last summer when I was shadowing at a private clinic in Peru.

A pharmacy near the research office distributes the supplements to the sites.

As previously mentioned, Harvard students are super determined to construct productive summers. Once j-term (January break/winter break) ends (and perhaps even during the break!), students jump start every spring semester with tons of summer applications. But don’t worry about us – the rough winter weather and of course the academic rigors concomitant to each spring semester also make students very mindful of burning out. In my personal efforts of refreshing myself, I joined some recently graduated Harvard College alum in their fun weekend plans!

The iSURF program always sends at least 2 students per location abroad. However, my program partner, Leanna, was sent ~500 km away to work at one of her sites. She’s working on a study revolving around maternal health and HIV, a study which has more distant sites than my own cases. Leanna was told she’ll be gone for at least 3 days and perhaps up to 2 weeks. I wasn’t surprised by the grand ambiguity because the concept of time seems abstract in just about every country; rather, I was more saddened by how long I’d be alone! Thank heavens there’s a Harvard in Africa contact spreadsheet that I was able to utilize as a preventative measure to my loneliness.

A Harvard College class of 2011 member, Sam, who has been in Tanzania for just a little short of a year, was introduced to me by the executive director of the Harvard Decision Science Lab where I’m a research assistant during the term time. Luckily for me, Sam and Alena are great hosts and they have shown me around one of the main markets in the city’s center. We got along well during our market times, mealtimes, and movie times. One of their friends was house sitting for a weekend and decided to host a dinner party. Plans were made to attend the dinner party in preparation for the city’s Full Moon Beach party. When I first arrived at my internship, a Dartmouth intern was ending her time in Tanzania and basically transitioned me into the internship. Not only did she show me the ropes around the job, but she also emphasized that there was a Full Moon Beach party once a month that I was not to miss – she even made it sound like it was in my job description to attend!

The dinner party and the Full Moon Beach party far exceeded my expectations! It was definitely one of my nights in Africa I’ll remember forever. We collectively cooked a delicious meal from all the random ingredients we had contributed. I don’t ever cook because I never need to – being on the full meal plan at school (like most students) and coming home to parents who dearly miss me, I always have the easy option of eating already prepared food! Creatively cooking was a lot of fun, as was snooping around the house we were house sitting for, which came with 4 pet ducks. The dance party afterwards was also really fun with great music, lights, and atmosphere. I was a bit nervous because all my company would be older than me by at least 3 years, but age never posed any obstacles of disconnect! It was a super fun, super memorable night/morning – everything in Tanzania happens really late (we ate dinner around 10 pm!)!

A handful of hours of sleep later, I hesitatingly woke up to my alarm. I had plans to meet another group of friends for the Tanzania vs. Ivory Coast soccer game, a FIFA World Cup qualifying match! My main link to this other group was through a Harvard College 2008 alumna who is interning with the US Embassy in Tanzania which provides housing for their interns so most of them were roommates if not also current graduate school classmates. It was my first professional soccer game and I was stoaked beyond belief! In all honesty, I was half stoaked, half scared; the same Dartmouth intern who had raved about the monthly Full Moon Beach party had also told me that she and 2 of her friends were mugged by thieves with knives outside the stadium. The sensible half of me told me to avoid the stadium at all costs, but the stubborn side of me reasoned that if I was with a big group of friends, everything would be okay.

Quickly did I learn that the stadium was synonymous to chaos. My friends and I had done everything we could think of to make the soccer game a nothing but pleasant experience – we got in a taxi to the stadium 3 hours before the game started and we splurged an extra $4 for VIP seats. There were, however, many more factors out of our control! First of all, they oversell tickets to the game so everyone is both eager and aggressive to enter the stadium. There appeared to be a huge bus that was selling tickets so people were crowding that bus and were even trying to climb up on the tires to crawl in the windows. The driver wanted to avoid everyone breaking into the bus so he sped down the road without any concern for the hundreds of people standing in the street. Additionally, there are multiple gates to the stadium that people swarm and shove their way inside. My friends and I stood in line for a while, but eventually gave in to join the mobs so that we’d be able to enter too. Pickpocketing is always a heightened concern in crowded areas. Some people tried to pickpocket some of my friends even when their hands were resting in their pockets! Someone did manage to pickpocket some cash out of my friend’s pocket, but this friend is fluent in Swahili so when he verbally confronted the thief, some mob justice ensued and random people in the crowd started beating the thief until the police broke it up. Needless to say, all heart beats were rapid.

Pulses remained high even after we managed to group-push our way through the initial gate. After a quick moment of relishing in our front gate triumph, we heard the crowd roar from cheers of happiness which sparked us to race towards the second, inner gate as to not miss any more of the action. At the second gate, people just wanted to push through in an unorganized manner, but the police were very adamant about mandating a single file entry and they were willing to use force. During my first attempt to pass, the man in front of me got hit a few times by a policeman’s stick so I instinctively turned around. My friend held my hand for the second attempt, but our link broke in the crowd and I was almost pushed into an officer. I was extremely fearful of getting beaten so when I almost stumbled into an officer, I threw my hands up in a surrender position. The police officer could probably see all the fear in my face even if he was blind; he smiled at me and it broke all the tension. We had a great moment. After this second entry, everything was smooth sailing! It was crazy to see how everyone’s barbaric behavior instantaneously disappeared when they could see the soccer field! Everyone was super nice inside the stadium and some strangers even helped me get a seat with a good view!

My friends and I were pretty shaken up from experiencing such a high concentration of seemingly near death moments. We decided to treat ourselves to some fabulous Chinese food – we did have another full week of work ahead of us!

I think I’ve told my soccer game story about a dozen times, adding more and more drama to each subsequent version. My stadium experience may seem horrifying and overly risky, but as I mentioned in my last post, the iSURF program grants participants pretty much complete freedom to make and handle our own decisions.  The soccer game was only a cool experience because all of my friends and I managed to leave unscathed. We’d be happy to have Lady Luck as a member of our friendship circle anytime!

PS – Sorry for the lack of pictures! I want to keep a clean, non-mugged tracked record so I often leave the camera at home.

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udpated 12 July 2013

For a great deal of this summer, I’ll be pursuing clinical research in maternal health and nutrition in malaria endemic areas. I got this sweet gig through the iSURF (international Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship) program run under Harvard’s Global Health Institute.

 

iSURF happens all over the world and across multiple continents. (The domestic version of iSURF is called SURF which supports students pursuing research on/near campus.)

They send 2 students to each location to essentially fend for themselves. It’s a phenomenal program for handfuls of reasons, some of the most prominent ones being how the program closely connects you to professors/postdocs that are experts in the career field you aspire to join and if you get into the program, summer funding is guaranteed.

 

Just last night, my program partner, Leanna, and I were discussing our experiences in the iSURF application process and how excited we were about the opportunities concomitant with iSURF. I’ve never been involved in clinical studies before and the public health spin of my studies were right up my alley! Leanna even applied while she was studying abroad in Kenya so the program is very accommodating with Skype interviews and whatnot. It also seems like iSURF doesn’t look down upon students with previous abroad experiences – sometimes you’ll get a sense that programs are geared towards first-time abroad students – so this was a nice aspect since I also spent last summer abroad in Peru.

 

I’m only knee-deep in week 3 of the program and I’ve already immensely learned about the culture differences here as well as picked up some Swahili! It’s been eye-opening as well as thought-provoking – when you’re super accustomed to things being done in a certain, American way, it’s fascinating to peek out of the box and see how others have been doing it. E.g. ignoring street lights to have police officers constantly filter traffic jams; parents’ names changing to their first/last born names. I look forward to wearing my arrogant mask and referencing Tanzanian customs in many, many conversations when I return home.

 

But this isn’t to say my amazing abroad experiences aren’t well balanced with frustrating ones. The other day, Leanna and I were also discussing the profound independence that the iSURF program springs on students. It’s almost like entering college again and recreating that unique experience where you find yourself with immense, new found freedom which can end up either 1) awesomely incredible or 2) terribly horrible.

 

iSURF definitely prepares you financially with their generous, automatic summer funding, and the program links you professionally as well by creating an academic purpose to your travels. However, everything else from flights, housing, food, tourism, etc. is all up to you!

 

It’s been a constant struggle to find housing – it was especially hard trying to book a reasonably priced place from the states. Even on site, I’m having trouble saving money while maximizing convenience and safety. iSURF and its mentors can check in on me to make sure I’m alive, but in terms of housing, they’re not much help, unfortunately. I’ve been meeting a lot of summer interns here who received tons of support from their programs in finding a comfortable place to stay. I think there’s an end-of-the-summer mandatory report (for most summer programs) and I’m going to make sure to stress how important accommodations are and perhaps suggest an emphasis on reaching out to alumni as well as the US Embassy.

 

Like I said earlier, independence runs down 2 roads. So as difficult as finding a place to live can be, it’s very nice to be able to do whatever I want without needing to report to anyone. I can go to the latest movie screening and talk to sketchy people at restaurants if I wanted.

 

Last summer, I participated in the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies (DRCLAS) Summer Internship Program (SIP) which is a much more chaperoned program with a host family as well as pre-planned field trips almost every weekend.

 

Anyone who knows my first name also knows last summer in South America was one of the happiest summers of my life, and I would not hesitate to put my life’s worth down on betting that I’ll say the same when this summer is over too. I’m very excited to see how the rest of the summer pans out and how I handle all this independence while I try to conquer Africa!

 

This third week has been even more independent as my program partner traveled about 8 hours away to work at another site. To me, this was like ripping my crutches out without warning. It’s always nice to have someone going through exactly what you’re going through to validate your confusion. Now I’d be in a big city without a roommate!

 

So as my only friend left the city for an indeterminate amount of time, I set out on a quest to make friends. I’m not sure who is responsible for this (and I wish I did so I can give them more credit), but a Harvard in Africa contact spreadsheet was created in an effort to build a network. I initially thought it was for current students, but after emailing around 45 strangers from the list, there were professors and alum on the list too!

 

The responses have been beyond friendly and it’s always beyond touching to be helped by a random person where your only link is the Harvard affiliations and location on the same continent. By reaching out to people all over Africa, I’ve been able to roughly outline a travel itinerary with some local insight as well as make plans to hang out – yay friends for me!!

 

After a frustrating last week, it was inevitable that this week could only be better. However, I think that if this week stood alone, it would still be my best week here! The people you choose to surround yourself with makes all the difference!

 

The director of the Harvard Decision Science Lab (where I’m a research assistant during term time) connected me with a Harvard College 2011 alum who is working for an agriculture NGO nearby. After a slew of email exchanges, I was excited to meet him and his coworkers at their work’s launch of an innovation competition. Their NGO created this competition, challenging locals to come up with ways to try to make the chain from farmer to consumer more efficient. The launch event brought together a lot of people from the tech/coding community and it was really interesting to mingle!

As a part of the competition, the NGO offers tours of one of the biggest markets in the city – I tagged along on this too! During the tour, I even got a watermelon for hopefully not a ridiculous-tourist price. One of the competitors had a fun little side experiment by having me ask how much certain things were in order to compare the price differences for non-locals vs. locals.

 

I definitely feel like I got to know the city a little more intimately as I basically shadowed my friends and the competition they’re running. Before you start thinking we exclusively do nerdy things together, we’re normal friends too! We went to go watch The Great Gatsby in 3-D. This may sound weird, but one thing I always love to do while living somewhere abroad for an extended amount of time is go to the movies! They’re always much cheaper than back in the states and practically every movie is 3-D. Maybe my abroad cinematic experiences are so special to me because it’s a symbol of summer and the slower pace of life I’m afforded during this beautiful season.

 

Although my new friend, Sam, and I didn’t know each other during our one year college overlap, it was really cool making a new friend abroad and instantly connecting about all of Harvard’s quirks i.e. saying “concentration” instead of major, Sunday Sundaes, and blocking.

 

Blocking is an activity – you may even call it a friendship exercise – during the middle of your freshman spring semester. The College asks you to form groups of up to 8 people so that the entirety of the group will be placed in the same upperclassman house. If you have more than 7 friends, you can “link” with another group so that the 2 linked groups will be placed in the same neighborhood. Hence the terms “blockmates” and “linkmates.”

 

One of Sam’s blockmates was actually visiting which was beyond touching to see because as my senior year and college graduation approaches, the thought of disconnecting hips with my blockmates breaks my heart! Drama is necessary to describe this kind of dire situation. Living together definitely helps make your friendships convenient so it’s fair, if not cynical, to question how these friendships will morph without convenience. However, seeing blockmates visit each other across continents is a prime example of the strong interpersonal relationships Harvard fosters! The alumni network is great and I’m happy to have utilized the network for some friends abroad!

 

To my surprise, the network is inclusive of grad schools too. After emailing people on the Harvard Africa contact spreadsheet (mentioned earlier), I’ve made some friends who are current Harvard graduate school students too! One of which accompanied me to the special Farmer’s Market over the weekend where we tried Tanzanian chocolate, Mango jam, and expat cupcakes.

I guess I’ve complained about how the iSURF program didn’t help me figure out accommodations abroad, but the Harvard network definitely helped me connect with people to find a better footing in an unfamiliar place. So it seems like everything is going to be getting exponentially better from here as my social calendar is booked for next weekend already! I’ve been maintaining contact with my program partner via email, but I still have no idea when she’ll be back. It’s very rewarding for me to know that I can still stand strong when someone rips my crutches out from underneath me.

 

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You’ll hear me say time and time again that last summer (2012) was one of the best summers of my life. Last year, I was beyond fortunate to be able to travel Europe with my friends and then immediately board a plane to Peru to begin the David Rockefeller Center of Latin American Studies Summer Internship Program (DRCLAS SIP). My passport stamp collection continued by ending my trip with Refresh Bolivia, a student group on campus.

A simple list of my summer 2012 destinations can make a brain drool. Interestingly enough however, when I reminisce about my life one year ago, my most potent memories of phenomenally personally strengthening experiences are juxtaposed with memories of heightened frustration. Hiking Machu Picchu for one of the best breathtaking views of the world is remembered alongside with feeling completely useless and unnecessary as a medical shadowing intern at a private clinic. Winning a dance battle by crowd applause in a random club alludes to all the nights I felt hopelessly trapped inside because being a foreign young female was much less than ideal.

Although I can’t honestly isolate the purely good memories, summer 2012 will always be remembered in a positive light because there’s something incredibly empowering about leveraging frustrations into moments of learning. I think this is why I find traveling abroad to be so alluring: being clueless most of the time inevitably results in frustration. Thus, traveling abroad is a type of accelerated learning … ?

I’m in Swahililand so the main language is Swahili. I’ll find English speakers if I’m lucky, but there’s always a gap in understanding, a lot of charades, and inferences made between the different syntax and varying accents. I’m in the process of mastering my greetings in Swahili, but a big part of me thinks that I’m better off slightly butchering the pronunciations as people are always getting a kick out of that. Last summer, my few days in France and Italy was my first experience of traveling to a country where I couldn’t speak the native language. Needless to say, it’s completely different being unable to communicate when you’re traveling through somewhere compared to when you’re living somewhere. I have a “Let’s Learn Swahili” book that haunts me from my nightstand, but I’m having trouble securing a strong motivation to learn the native tongue. On one hand, it’s extremely frustrating when communication is impossible, especially when I’m lost and in the middle of nowhere. On the other hand, I don’t understand a lot of what people shout at me, but the small phrases I do understand, I do not like.

A challenge in South America was learning how to cope with the catcalling and shameless staring. It was helpful that the DRCLAS program was more of a group program and I could tell people in Spanish about some boyfriend/husband to get people off my case. Here in Tanzania though, locals tend to be much more friendly – from shouting and honking at you from their car, smacking their lips, and even grabbing your wrists and hands. Since I’ll be living here for a while, I’d ideally like to be able to live without feeling like I’m a walking target of harassment. An essential component of feeling comfortable in a foreign country is adapting and desensitizing yourself to certain customs. Yet as ironic as can be, the whole process of becoming comfortable is making me uncomfortable. There is no resolution as of now although the best coping mechanism has been surrounding myself with friends who consist of a diverse group of locals and summer interns. Power in numbers proves to be true once again, yay!

A shorter term problem I was determined to settle this week was transportation especially to and from work. The first day was luxurious since we had a driver and the following days weren’t too bad since there was a Dartmouth co-intern who lived pretty close to me so we could carpool. However my carpool days were doomed since she was finishing up the internship and actually taking summer orgo (organic chemistry) at Harvard. (Sidebar: Quite a few premeds choose to take summer orgo. I guess it’s pretty logical since it’s more compact, but I still think they’re crazy for learning a year of material in ~7 weeks.)

There appeared to be 2 types of possible transportation methods to get to work 1) the public bus system known as Dala Dalas and 2) bajaj – the Tanzanian equivalent of a rickshaw. The buses would be cheaper than a bajaj which are cheaper than taxis. Their prices pretty much correlate to their safety levels.

Everyone told me the public buses would be useless due to where I lived and where I worked. Like a teenage rebel, I didn’t listen. I asked the locals at my guest house who gave me directions which included 2 bus transfers and I was on my way. Four hours later, four bus transfers later and lots of body odor later, I arrived at work. Never doing that again – taking the bus to work that is, not being a teenage rebel.

The bajaj was the recommended commute method with its abilities to weave in and out of traffic, drive on the sidewalk and opposite of traffic being a time advantage (not to mention a safety disadvantage). However, being Asian and unable to communicate (or negotiate) in Swahili yields the 100% accurate conclusion that I am a foreigner, meaning I have to pay the concomitant ridiculously high prices.  For the first week, I became friends with a regular bajaj driver that drove me and the Dartmouth intern both to and from work. Yet even with established loyalty and pleading eyes, my bargaining still added up to $50 USD/week for transportation to and from work. Ridiculous with a capital R for sure. Harvard and the Global Health Institute (that runs iSURF and SURF programs) has been more than generous for helping me fund this summer, but this didn’t mean I had this kind of money to throw around, especially if I wanted to be able to feed myself.

I’ve seen a few people riding their bikes on the street and I have cringed for them. Little did I know I would soon be a biker! The roads aren’t always paved here which makes sidewalks pretty hopeless. They also drive on the left side of the road which freaks me out, but you basically have to scan 360 before crossing any streets here anyways because lanes, right-of-ways, and generally street lights don’t exist or are neglected. Definitely not the safest option and probably not the smartest option, but buying a bike to commute to and from work was the most economic decision. No one really supported my decision. In fact, people both at the Global Health Institute and at work pretty strongly advised against it with their strongest argument pointing out how helmets aren’t really a thing here. On the up side, a lot of summer interns in the area have expressed their admiration about my biking. If this decision ends my life, at least I’ll have some street cred tacked to my name. In all seriousness, choosing to bike back and forth was a tough decision to make. I have to say that it has changed my lifestyle for the better though! I think I may be on the healthiest regimen of my life. Besides from forcing myself to bike ~25 km/day, in order to avoid traffic but still have it bright outside, I strive to head out around 7:15 am which means I wake up at 6:20 am and get first dibs on breakfast (which comes with our guest house rate and is essentially the only hot meal we eat)! For all you math whizzes who are thinking that I’m a diva taking forever to get ready in the morning, the majority of my time is spent either eating or lathering myself in a mix of sunblock and bug spray. All in all, I’m still learning how to cope with the catcalling, the insane traffic and driving norms, and being absolutely drenched in sweat upon arrival to work. These are three necessary life skills if I’ve ever seen one.

I feel like a lot of this post has painted a terrible picture of my abroad experience thus far, but this would be terribly inaccurate. I’d be lying if I said that thoughts about going home to my familiar shelter never crossed my mind. Whenever this happens, I pretty instantly feel really spoiled and bratty because I’ve been awarded not only the opportunity to pursue clinical research abroad, but also the funding for it! If it sounds like I’ve been awarded the tools to make dreams come true, this is because I have been. This is my summer and I’m going to come out on top whether or not you like it Africa.

My front bike tire went flat one day. A slightly humorous situation both during and in retrospect because when I explained the types of bumpy terrain I was biking on to my sister via gchat, she was 125% sure I should carry around a pump with me for my inevitable flat. I openly told her I wouldn’t do that and projected a lot of crying if that ever happened. This is one of the rare moments I’m proud to announce how wrong I was – I think my legs were burning so much from biking on a flat tire that I couldn’t possibly cry. 12 km later, I was too happy that I arrived safely at home to let anything get me down. As the doorman eagerly grabbed my bike to put it away in storage for me, we played a healthy game of charades which concluded in him pumping my front tire for me. When that didn’t work, he took it down to the bike store for me. And when the bike store was unsuccessful because they needed to purchase a tire zip (?), he went to the nearest open air market, bought the bike part and brought everything back to the bike store. Current status of my bike: unknown. Regardless, I’m beyond grateful for all this help!! Whether this altruism stems from a kind heart or pity from my helplessness, I’ll take it! The staff at my guest house has really become analogous to a host family because they’re constantly concerned about my safety and essentially helping me survive on the daily.

My program partner, Leanna, and I work in different places. I’m not sure if Leanna’s boss knows it yet, but he and his wife has adopted us. They are the epitome of the family I want in the future. They have a 6 year old daughter and the three of them together go to a nearby university 3x/week to run for an hour. Leanna had mentioned during the workday that she and I try to run almost every day. Her boss invited us to join them on their running escapades. I think it’s safe to say Leanna and I charmed everything out of them as our running session ended with an invitation to go clubbing with them. As I said, this family is SO COOL.

Just when you thought things couldn’t get any brighter, my boss told me about the goat races happening over the weekend. It sounded like an annual fair I didn’t dare miss. When I returned home from work, I told Leanna that we were going to these goat races, no choice. She was a little hesitant at first but was a trooper and came along. I thought these goat races were a big deal and that every bajaj driver in town would know what I was talking about. Nope, not the case. Leanna and I essentially kept repeating “goat” and after a few back and forths along the coastline, finally arrived at the fair which was equipped with gelato and BBQ goat. We had a great time at what seemed like an expat dominated event.

With the goats as they prep for their races!

As orderly as goats can be

The goat winner even gets a TV interview … !

I’m glad Leanna didn’t resent me for dragging her to something that sounded ridiculous, especially because she was leaving me for an indeterminate amount of time. She was assigned to travel to a much more rural area to work on the data there for 3-14 days. Packing is obviously even more fun when it’s for a trip you have no details about.

Leanna’s departure means that I’m all on my own for week 3! Fingers crossed for the hopes of making new friends!

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Harvard President Drew Faust never disappoints when it comes to her commencement speeches. In addressing the class of 2013 with regards to the excitingly scary new chapter of their lives, President Faust sagaciously encouraged graduates to run towards adventure.

I wanted to join in on this “seize the day” mentality too! My adventure for the summer awaits me in Tanzania! Running is definitely the appropriate metaphor here. Personally, whenever I have a 5k/half marathon footrace, regardless of how many months I’ve been training (or at least talking about my intentions to train), it always seems like I haven’t trained enough and that I’m always rushing. It’s not the most comfortable feeling in the world. Good thing  discomfort is temporary because this same sentiment is experienced every time I travel abroad.

As I mentioned last week, most of my summer will be dedicated to nutrition research in the iSURF (international Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship) program, which involves me traveling abroad. Distracted by finals during the end of last semester, my program partner/travel buddy and I semi-arbitrarily selected our internship dates, using flight sales as the most important determining factor. She bought a round trip ticket as I purchased a one way flight to Africa with the hopes of traveling (to South Africa/Bolivia) before allowing summer vacation to end.

As with most college stories, most of my abroad preparations were pretty last minute. After a quick skim of the government’s website on traveling to Tanzania, I recognized all the vaccines and thought I was in the clear. With regards to medical preparations, all I needed was anti-malaria pills so I tried buying some at the Harvard pharmacy and was quickly turned away without a prescription. Oops. UHS (University Health Services), although they get ragged on by most of the student population, was really great at scheduling a last minute appointment with my doctor and the travel clinic who determined I actually needed several vaccines. Double oops. It may seem like I’m really irresponsible, but let me take a moment to defend my honor and say that I got all 3 vaccines in my left arm so that my right arm would be unaffected for my final.

Many students travel home before starting abroad programs so they can take care of all this with their doctor who has known them since the womb. However, students like me who don’t go home very often have all the resources necessary at UHS. All this health business wasn’t a priority for me when I was choosing colleges, but it’s definitely an advantage having a university health system that’s really flexible – you can even cut down on costs and waive Harvard’s supplementary insurance if your parents still cover you!

Another surprise bonus of going to school in Boston is the international airports. Yes, plural. I’m from  San Diego which means I can pretty easily choose between San Diego and Los Angeles for my flying needs. Luckily, on the other coast, I can freely choose between Boston and New York as well. Matters get even more economical when bus tickets between Boston and New York are $15! Some of my friends at different schools fly into their closest airport and have to cab/shuttle it forever to get back on campus. Sucks for them. By the way, the Silver Line on the T (the subway) is free from the Boston airport.

I left Boston with my cheap bus ticket to New York and passport in hand.

Breakfast fit for airplane champions

I was thrilled to be en route to Africa for the very first time! I love flying and the airplane food. My short legs are also really conducive to cramped spaces. My ebullience continued to rise with a 13 hour layover in Amsterdam – it’d be my first time in the Netherlands and my first time leaving the airport during a layover!

Breaking out of the Amsterdam airport for a city adventure! Stroopwaffles and cheese, here I come hungry!

Amsterdam’s clean and fast public transportation is admirable!

On the train leaving the Amsterdam airport and entering the city, I sat next to a woman who generously shared her map of Amsterdam. Across from us sat a man. The three of us started talking as we were all planning to infiltrate the city during our lengthy layovers – I’m beginning to suspect all flights have long layovers to stimulate their economy or something! The man turned out to be a student at Harvard Business School; it’s strangely cool and natural how connected I always feel when meeting someone with a Harvard association. The conversation got even livelier as we all spoke in Spanish. Fun fact: we took a free walking tour around Amsterdam conducted in Spanish.

Amsterdam can definitely be a looker!

Having the opportunity to explore Amsterdam on the way to Africa was awesome – I felt like I was utilizing Harvard’s summer funding to squeeze in 2 abroad experiences! It wasn’t until I was communicating in Spanish with my new layover friends that I realized the only reason I could communicate so well was because Harvard also afforded me the opportunity to travel South America last summer. It was during this transformative summer that I finally tested my Spanish skills outside of the classroom as a means for survival rather than for a passing grade. Six years of formally learning Spanish is one thing, but throwing yourself into the culture and a host family will do wonders to language fluency! I now have a grand old time feigning a South American accent whenever possible. This is why graduating college and entering the real world in a year scares me to pieces – can there really be more opportunities after life at Harvard? When else can I receiving funding for my abroad explorations??

Amsterdam highlights:

EYE Film Institute: This screen creates art from your body’s movements!

The original bookcase that Anne Frank lived behind for years!!!

One of my favorite pastimes is spinning my abroad experiences like I’m just getting paid to travel. If I wanted any elements of reality in the picture, I’d illuminate the fact that I’m definitely not showering in diamonds, but perhaps just dangerously playing with their razor sharp characteristics. There are undoubtedly inherent risks while traveling abroad. And watching Taken the day before I left the country absolutely did not comfort me whatsoever.

After my Amsterdam layover, I had a less fun 6 hour layover in Nairobi. I was extremely exhausted by this point but didn’t dare sleep: Nairobi has been nicknamed by tourists as Nairobbery and I’m no fool. Pleasant surprise: free wifi! Unpleasant surprise: dead computer battery and my plug adapter was in my check in.

Nonetheless, arriving in Tanzania went pretty smoothly. This was the first time I entered a country without an appropriate visa which made me a little nervous. Again, not an accurate indicator of irresponsibility since everyone recommended I apply for a visa at the airport upon arrival.

Within the 2 months leading up to my arrival, I had been e-introduced to about half a dozen people. I was emailing faceless people associated with the iSURF program as well as the clinical research studies. They were extremely essential to planning a smooth arrival and I can’t be grateful enough for their help with accommodation reservations and coordinating drivers from the airport to our hostel as well as our first day of work.

The most important lesson I’ve learned about traveling with a few passport stamps under my belt is that success while traveling is directly proportional to one’s flexibility and ability to quickly adapt. In other words, planning a smooth arrival doesn’t necessarily imply its execution.

My program partner – the other undergraduate student selected to participate in the program – and I tried to coordinate arrival times as best as possible. We would be landing within ~5 hours of each other, me being the first to arrive. Some of our on-site program coordinators scheduled separate drivers for us to be picked up at the airport and safely shuttled to our hostel. Yet no one was holding a sign with my name on it 🙁 This wasn’t like the movies at all. Exhausted from sleep deprivation, I overemotionally responded by feeling like an abandoned 3rd grader. Although I exited the airport about an hour after my scheduled arrival (delay due to visa application), I thought maybe they were late because all of my abroad experiences have also taught me that there is an almost universal lack of respect for time and punctuality. I waited, wishfully searching for a sign with my name; I would have even settled for a sign with my initials.

It took a while for me to muster up the courage to ask those around me for help. In my mind, admitting that I’m lost and confused is equivalent to telling someone to mug me. Most people didn’t speak English, but I really stroke luck when someone offered his phone for as long as I needed. Eventually, the driver arrived and profusely apologized. There seemed to be a misunderstanding between my arrival and that of my program partner’s. I pretty much showed every sign of narcolepsy as soon as I stepped into his car, but during my small and quick bouts of consciousness, I remember him saying 2 things: “Sorry, there was a misunderstanding!” and “Karibu sana, you are very welcome.” I genuinely accepted his apology and sat in my confusion as to the implications of the second statement. Should I be thanking him more often? Am I being culturally disrespectful?? After my heart skipped a few beats from panic, I realized that he was welcoming me to the country!

Heads up, if you’re ever in Tanzania (and maybe other Swahili speaking countries), you’ll hear “Karibu” all the time. It demonstrates their tremendous friendliness! I think Americans are a little rougher around the edges, which is really just my nice way of saying Americans are meaner, so Tanzania’s friendliness was a little overwhelming at first! I really can’t complain about their hospitality though and I look forward to adapting this mentality! With everyone left and right emphasizing how welcome I was, I definitely felt less intimidated by the language and cultural barrier to ask questions to catalyze my personal orientation.

I didn’t anticipate this, but arriving on a weekend meant that we couldn’t really use co-workers to help us get oriented. Since my program partner, Leanna, and I were starting our summer internship very early on in the summer, most of the people we knew who were going to be in Africa hadn’t yet arrived. This wasn’t a huge deal as we spent much of our first weekend sleeping. One of the side effects of our anti-malaria pills is dreaming vividly – I met so many celebrities in my REM world! When we weren’t sleeping we explored around our guest house and found tons of small shops, a gym and a decent beach all within a 5-7 minute walk from our room! I’m proud to say we successfully grocery shopped and laid out on the beach over the weekend.

Living that beach side life

My first day of work was pretty much ideal. I met a ton of people who work in my building and started putting faces behind the emails. To my surprise, they had a Dartmouth intern who took her spring quarter off for this internship. It seemed as if things couldn’t be planned any better because her last few days overlapped with my first few days so she was able to not only orient me to the workplace, but also around town!

As I find my footing in the city, I’ll be sure to update! Wish me luck!

 

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On my way to the library a few weeks ago during Reading Period, I ran into one of my friends – this adorably small freshman girl struggling with her packing boxes. Wanting to be the hero, I graciously offered to help. She kindly refused both me and my muscles as she had already called one of her peer-freshman friends to come help her. As I waited with her in the generous springtime breeze, it warmed my heart at the thought of how one year can build insanely close friendships. In an incredibly stressful time of final examination preparations, there are still helping hands left and right if you ever need anything!

Side bar: <http://whatshouldweharvardme.tumblr.com/post/50963190356/trying-to-pack-for-a-month-away>

Packing is always a struggle as Inesha and Rob mentioned because of the time crunch – you have to pack and furiously study/cram for finals! Harvard tries to smooth the chaos concomitant to the end of the semester as much as possible though by offering students free summer storage. A few of the upperclassman houses are undergoing construction during this summer which means the usual storage rooms in the houses are unavailable due to renovations; but students still get storage! The houses contract off-campus storage for us and although our storage limitations become much, much narrower (normally 10 boxes, now down to 4), it’s definitely better than nothing! I remember my family and friends at other universities scrambling for summer storage and I’m really glad that’s not an additional concern I have to worry about!

Anyways, my friend’s friend arrived promptly to help her with her boxes and we introduced ourselves to each other. He surprisingly recognized me from this blog and told me that he thought my last summer in South America was awesome. I’m still feeling all warm and fuzzy from my 45 seconds of fame, but I do feel a little bad because I definitely grilled him with questions like if my narrative of my Harvard experiences was an accurate depiction of undergraduate life here. He told me that reading this blog got him really excited for the opportunities and that he was not disappointed at all with his first year. That’s definitely what I like to hear! But that being said, there are comment sections on this blog for a reason, so definitely let any one of us know if we can speak about something of your interest because we’d be more than happy to blog about requested topics! I’m not done with my shameless plug until I pressure everyone into following us on Twitter 🙂

I continued blogging throughout last summer (2012) during my first abroad adventure in Europe (France, Italy, and Spain) and South America (Peru and Bolivia). Blogs from last summer are a great alternative to Facebook stalking myself and I hope to continue blogging this summer as well! I’ll be participating in the iSURF (international Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship) program through the Global Health Institute.

The application process for my summer ventures was grueling to say the least. I knew I definitely wanted to be abroad more than anything so I applied to a handful of programs abroad which also meant that I needed to apply for funding/grants as well. Since I was fortunate enough to have Harvard fund my last summer abroad, I wasn’t eligible for a lot of funding sources this year which means I had to get a little creative and apply to some obscure programs as well as outside-Harvard funding. I wasn’t willing to bank on getting both an acceptance into an abroad program and funding so I applied to a ton of domestic programs as well. Not only was I writing personal statements like it was my day job, I was reaching out to a bunch of previous professors/TFs (Teaching Fellows: normally graduate students who lead discussion/problem solving sections that usually supplement lectures/lab) for recommendation letters. Although it was a stressful process on top of my normal class, volunteering, and lab schedules, I think it was a really good practice run for when I apply to medical school next year!

I’m striving for a secondary field (Harvard’s term for a minor) in Global Health and Health Policy and am beyond elated to be researching through the Global Health Institute this summer!! The Institute offers amazing summer programs both domestic and abroad (details can be found here) and also guarantees funding which is every student’s dream come true! In researching the programs, I became really interested in nutrition because it’s a topic I’ve yet to explore in any of my classes, but it’s also a topic that I think about every time I eat (which roughly translates into 6x/day)! I applied to the abroad programs that revolved around nutrition (i.e. Barbados, Brazil, India, and Tanzania). After submitting an online application, students interview with the program coordinators who then pass your application along to the appropriate researchers. Second round interviews then take place with the researchers- at least theoretically (I didn’t have a second round interview).

Around the same time as the  online application deadline for international program applicants, the Institute organizes modules that are designed to help you prepare for your abroad experience. These modules try to jump start your way of thinking to be more open and inclusive as well as prepare you for the inevitable dangers of being in an unfamiliar location. Professors as well as students who participated in past years run the module to speak/preach about their experiences. There are three modules in the spring semester before the international internship begins and then one more follow-up module the following fall semester. The modules last anywhere from 2-4(?) hours and take place on pretty arbitrary nights. For students, this is a huge block of time for either class or homework so it can be really difficult to attend. The Institute nudges attendance by advertising that applicants who attend are more likely to be selected to participate in the program. Plus, the event is catered and they give out fancy folders and notebooks! These modules aren’t mandatory until they extend you an offer and you accept the summer internship. Make-up modules were also held on a Saturday during Reading Period for students who couldn’t attend the regular sessions, only going to show the program’s flexibility and how willing they are to work around students’ needs.

In all honesty, these modules sounded like a waste of my time because I can be unjustifiably arrogant about my traveling skills. I think that since I’ve roughly traveled in Vietnam, Peru, and Bolivia, I’ll be able to survive in any other (developing) country. I’d like to think I’m a good level of paranoid about my sense of security abroad, but there were a lot of tips that I haven’t considered (i.e. checking the tires before entering vehicles). All in all, the program does a great job with availing students resources in order to prepare for our trip abroad. They make sure we make health clinic appointments so that all our vaccinations are up to date, help us schedule meetings with our mentors, as well as print out personalized articles about our destinations! I openly complimented the project coordinators about this because I was super appreciative of being babied while I was prepping for finals!

My destination is Tanzania! I’ll be researching maternal health and nutrition within the context of malaria and its connection with iron and vitamin A deficiency. I. am. so. excited! The principle investigator, PI, of the studies is Wafaie Fawzi. We tried to schedule a meeting before I left for Tanzania, but our schedules unfortunately conflicted too much. He’ll be coming  to visit sometime in June though so I’m excited to meet the face behind the Skype calls – every Thursday, we Skype call Wafaie to give him a weekly report and discuss timelines of the study.

I’m not exactly sure how SURF works, but with regards to iSURF, there are always at least 2 students sent per destination so no one is traveling alone for the summer. My program partner is Leanna, also a member of the class of 2014, a proud resident of Lowell House, and a Human Evolutionary Biology concentrator (major). We didn’t know each other before being paired in the program so I reached out to her to meet up on campus so we would at least know what each other looked like before arriving in Tanzania. She’s a pretty seasoned traveler in Africa – having studied in Ghana and Kenya in different programs. I was excited about the expertise she was bringing to the table, especially since it’s my first time on the continent! Having the opportunity to participate in iSURF was as exciting as making a new friend! Depending on my internet resources abroad, I’ll be updating weekly 🙂

 

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The best lectures are stories – they’re motivated and seamless, captivate us, and intrigue us. But every great story comes to an end and this is how I perceive the end of my third year of college. It’s been an incredibly enduring as well as fulfilling ride – from ending my first summer abroad experience as a dual continent venture to rush back to begin my junior fall semester, from taking more than the average 4 classes per semester for the first time, from finishing my MCAT all the way to kicking off my junior spring with snowboarding in New Hampshire with the blockmates, to meeting alumni Sheryl Sandberg & Matt Damon, and to witnessing the boundless strength of Boston. I can’t believe another year of college has flown past me – but describing it this way makes it seem like the quick passage of time is a passive experience. I’d like to think I’m actively partaking and making the most of my undergraduate years at Harvard. (Like how Reid talks about actively making life changing decisions!)

It’s very common for students to graduate and find themselves settling down nearby Boston for real-world jobs, research, grad school and the like. For students who aren’t graduating this May, we also try to linger around campus too – whether that is to bid farewell to graduating seniors, continue pursuing public service/research projects that began during term time, or make some extra summer money with jobs through the Harvard Alumni Association (HAA) like Dorm Crew, baby-sitting, bartending, etc. We love staying on campus when the weather isn’t a frigid 3 degrees and we enjoy campus even more when classes have ended.

After an entire semester of story time-lectures, I think it’s more than fair to say that all students deserve a little time to kill a few brain cells catching up on trashy television and sunbathing – all of which I really want to be guilty of as soon as possible! “Camp Harvard” (no school, just friends) is definitely a much needed, much slower pace to life that no one will ever complain about. Just imagine an ideal fantasy world where you can endlessly chill with your friends – guiltlessly too as there are no papers/psets (problem sets) to start or lectures to catch up on!

The summer after my freshman year, I stayed about 1.5 weeks after the end of the semester to work Dorm Crew which is pretty much an entirely student run business contracted by the university to clean students’ dorm rooms both during term-time and the summer in order to get rooms sleek for new/summer students and previous students (who come back for reunions!).

I hardly had time to wrap up the loose ends of my sophomore year as booked it to the airport a mere 2-3 hours after my last final, rushing home knowing that I’ll be abroad for the first time in South America (Peru and Bolivia) soon.

This year, I checked off my junior year by taking a chemistry final on the morning of the last day of final examinations; it was the worst having to pack with final preparations hanging over my head! A lot of my friends graciously helped me pack and move – I really couldn’t have packed everything on time without them!! Friends help me every year and I can’t imagine doing it without them, let alone leaving them for the summer!

The way my plans worked out this year, I’d stay on campus for about 3 days after the official move out day, then hop on a plane to Africa for the summer. Seniors do not have to abide by this move out deadline though since they stay for Senior Week and Commencement.

Senior week is planned by the senior class committee (which fellow blogger Scott is a part of!) and includes really awesome events like a trip to 6 Flags amusement park, a scavenger hunt with prizes, a Boston harbor moonlight cruise, dances/formals, and more! Staying on campus low-key for the first few days of Senior Week was a little too much foreshadowing for me, but I really needed a few days to run some errands and really prepare for my summer in Africa and South America.

One of the errands on top of my priority list was white water rafting with my blockmates 🙂 A few months ago, we bought this package deal for rafting in Northwestern Mass. IT WAS SO FUN. The weather was pretty crappy, but it was the first time I didn’t mind the rain! It didn’t rain all the way down the river (thank goodness), but it rained for a good part of it and it got a little bit chilly. The cold and being really uncomfortably damp for hours was well worth it! We took turns sitting at the front of the boat, trying to maintain balance standing on the edge of the boat, and wheelies (our boat was much more vertical by the way *brushes shoulder*) – I even got to sit on the very front of the raft while everyone rowed like crazy down a rapid (aka “riding the bull”)! It’s important to keep in mind that college is all about the opportunities you take, whether that’s from your school or nearby nature, have fun with it!! Adventure is everywhere!

I spent the next few days catching last meals with friends, lingering in the dhall (dining hall) for hours, watching movies, and (re)packing. One of the highlights from all this non-scheduled time was definitely catching lunch with my former Expos 20 preceptor!

Expos 20 (Expository Writing) is a required course for all freshmen. During the summer before coming to Harvard, admitted students all take a placement exam that sounds much more intimidating than it actually is! What I remember about the placement exam for Expos is that it’s a timed, on demand essay. There may or may not be like 2 prompts to choose from. Your placement is either in Expos 10 or Expos 20. You don’t have to take Expos 10, but you have to take Expos 20. The former is only offered in the fall while the latter is offered both in fall and spring and students are assigned to a certain semester to enroll. Straight out of high school, I’d be the first to eagerly admit my hatred for writing; but I’m not so eager to admit that now – check me out blogging!

Regardless of how averse you are to arranging letters coherently, Harvard tries to make the pain as minimal as possible by offering tons of courses with specific topics: from Family Matters and Shakespeare to Darwinian Dating and HIV/death. From a long, long list of available courses (which change from year to year), you rank your preferences and some mysterious algorithm spits out an email with your assignment. I wanted Darwinian Dating so so so so so so soooo bad. All 3 of my roommates got Darwinian Dating in the fall, but I was assigned to take it in the spring and did not get Darwinian Dating. womp womp. As a freshman, I pretty much felt like my world was ending when I had to enroll in Tales of Murder.

Little did I know that I would make such a great friend in my Tales of Murder Expos preceptor!! We’ve kept in touch ever since freshman spring (2011). To be honest, we hadn’t really spoke after the class until a year later when I emailed her saying that I looked through my Expos notes in order to outline my paper for a Bioethics course I was taking. In her quick response, she summarized some of the key points of my essays from 2 years ago and it was just like this.

Sadly enough, this past spring semester was her last semester at Harvard as she’s taking time off to write a book. I definitely wanted a (final?) goodbye so we made time to meet up and catch up. It’s kinda scary (but definitely scary-awesome!) finding friends in your teachers, but these are the great relationships this intensely academic environment fosters! When people say the people is the best part of Harvard, we’re not only talking about the students here.

 

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Let’s live a bit in the past for this blog, yeah? I’m the worst when I start drafting a blog then never get around to finishing it! If it’s any consolation, I’m posting from Tanzania (experiences that I’ll speak to in upcoming blog posts!!).

Welcome to Final Examinations Week! (All proper pronouns to emphasize its importance and legitimacy.)

Accomplishments since my last post include, but (hopefully) aren’t limited to: writing an 11 page Spanish research paper and having a full on conversation with none other than Miss Amy Adams!

I’ve been dreading this Spanish paper since the beginning of the Spring semester so I guess it’s pretty fair to say I had adequate time to mentally prepare – this doesn’t necessarily mean I had adequate time to academically prepare…

This research paper was for my Spanish 90c class (Representations of Racial Belonging and Difference in the Hispanic Caribbean) which was essentially a history-literature course taught completely in Spanish; it was my first language class that wasn’t about grammar! I decided to write my final paper about the development of Cuba as an independent nation and its quest for a unique national identity and how this development was directly correlated with the rise of the sport of boxing as well as Nicolas Guillen’s representation of them in one of his poems. It was really interesting researching boxing in Cuba, but extremely difficult eloquently translating my ideas into Spanish…Like all-nighter difficult, running to the dropbox with freshly printed paper in hand minutes before the deadline difficult – my version of the run of shame. More appropriately, I was also in yesterday’s clothes having been in the library all night. Currently painting a picture of college’s worst moments, you’re welcome.

Truth be told, I definitely was not obsessed with the class. I thought a lot of the themes were repetitive and the discussions didn’t really help me form an opinion one way or the other, although it exposed me to many different opinions. The primary source readings were also really hard as a lot of the text included Creole and French – languages which I am not familiar with (at least for now! I am tentatively planning to enroll in French during my senior year…). Since the class wasn’t heavy on grammar, I don’t feel like I grew as a writer, but my reading and listening skills have undoubtedly improved. The coolest take away from this class was my individual section with my TF – talk about private school!

After submitting this paper, I had 4 days of nothingness before my last final exam. I had no problem filling these days with packing, “lasts” with friends, and getting off campus.

Their leftovers…maybe creepy, but creepy-awesome

I have some really good friends at MIT who are seniors so we scheduled one last meal at The Friendly Toast – a place I’ve never heard of but it’s apparently a really popular place on the MIT campus. Maybe even popular to the greater world too as Amy Adams, husband, and daughter (whose birthday they were celebrating!) were sitting at the booth next to our table!! I was initially staring because their daughter was so FREAKING CUTE as the server brought out a Mickey Mouse shaped pancake with a candle on it. My friends made a comment how it could be Amy Adams which I took as a joke until a quick Google search was full of “Amy Adams in Boston” hits. She’s filming a movie (with Bradley Cooper – what I would have given to have him at breakfast too!!!!) in Boston. My friends and I planned our approach and practiced what we were going to say. The plan was for me to say “Excuse me” as they were leaving their table and someone else would ask to verify her identity. Our plan went very smoothly! The meeting had a very “life comes full circle” feel to it since we had all watched Sunshine Cleaning when we were all stuck together during the weekend of the Nemo storm! We raved about this Sundance type movie while she said it was nice to meet us. As you can see, the fan-girling was completely mutual. I then spent the whole day on a celebrity high.

Breakfast, although off campus, was really convenient for me because I had a tour of the Broad Institute later that morning. The tour was scheduled through my LS1b (Life Sciences 1b: Genetics) professor, Pardis Sabeti, who is a baller. She went to undergrad at MIT, then to Harvard Medical School as well as grad school (doctor-squared), and now has a lab (that’s also international) at the Broad (which is pronounced like Brode by the way). The tour was about an hour as we went to multiple buildings and visited all the machines we had discussed during lectures!

The institute is relatively new and has a gorgeous lobby open to the public! This tour is a great example illustrating the greatness of unstructured time during Reading Period and Finals Week.

Everything is done by robots!!

A ton of their walls are either white boards or glass – talk about never missing an idea! You get to the point where you think you can write on just about every surface! Pretty much a dream study space.

Pardis’ lab takes an annual picture. Everyone in her lab is someone in the original painting and for those who missed photo day, they were photoshopped into the sculptures in the back! It’s like family pictures on a whole new level.

Some of the offices have beautiful views of Boston!!

Necessary end-of-the-tour group photo

One of my favorite parts of LS1b this semester was sequencing our own genomes for class! There’s a lot of liability involved with this lab project so you can imagine that students who wanted to participated signed the crap out of waivers. The experiment spanned a few weeks and involved tons of PCR-ing, PCR purifications, and sequencing/analyzing with chromatograms. The best part is that we understood every step of the process! It was really cool to see the machines that sequenced our genomes. With these sequences, we tried to match our genotype to expected phenotypes (i.e. if we’re early/late risers, if we’re lactose tolerant, etc.). Ah, the sweet life of being nerdy-cool 🙂

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It’s that time of the year when I continuously vocalize that college is really hard…and receive absolutely no sympathy. That’s probably because when I say college is really hard, I actually mean having so much fun is super exhausting…

May 1st marked the last day of official classes and the beginning of Reading Period which is a whole week of unstructured studying time for students to prepare for Final Exams. A lot of final papers and projects have deadlines during Reading Period – so much so that students can even finish all their classes before the official week of exams begin! I am always actively grateful for this week because a lot of universities have classes up until exams which I think is completely ludicrous, unreasonable, and pretty much sets you up for tons of stress eating. Good thing Harvard cares about us 😉 But don’t think Reading Period is a like a week on the beach!! Depending on your schedule, you’re probably living in the library and attending review sessions like it’s your day job. The great part is that by night, there are tons of activities lined up! Whether these activities include going into Boston for movies, study breaks (read: snacks), end of the spring semester formals, or catching up on sleep, Reading Period definitely rounds up the typical semester routine very well.

Scott & I go to a sorority formal in Boston!

Not very many kids complain about classes ending for Reading Period, but this isn’t to say that we don’t appreciate class. The semester definitely reliably blends unpredictable events into everyone’s life which can make attending every single lecture and (discussion/problem solving) section difficult. Most lectures, however, are recorded so if you absolutely can’t go to class, you can always watch the video at your own leisure. There are even tools out there that allow you to watch videos 1.5x to 3x faster – talk out upping your efficiency, though it can be hard to understand someone talking that fast. These technological advances can make life easier, but there are invaluable perks about attending lectures. A lot of my classes have “clicker” questions that are along the lines of mini pop quizzes during lecture; students answer questions that are meant to check for conceptual understanding on the spot. These responses not only help professors evaluate how well they’re communicating to students, but also help them take attendance. Besides from the logisitics, there are plenty of sweet incentives to physically attend lecture. The last day of my Physical Sciences class involved professors and teaching fellows using liquid nitrogen to produce vanilla, chocolate AND strawberry ice cream! Also one of my totally boss professors, Pardis Sabeti, catapulted t-shirts from her lab at the Broad Institute into the audience! Next week, I’ll be heading over to the Broad Institute for the first time, as Dr. Sabeti is opening her lab up for a tour! It’s pretty common for professors to go above and beyond here to interact and motivate students. I’m just glad I’m available to take advantage of these opportunities, especially during Reading Period when my schedule is a bit more free.

During the semester, Pardis threw oranges to students who bravely answered questions during lecture.

For her grand finale lecture, there was a specially made t-shirt catapult! What a crowd pleaser!

It’s inevitable that the end of the semester brings a lot of stress with final exams, projects, and papers, but it’s important to realize that we have a lot of accomplishments to celebrate as well! We can celebrate with food, formals, and free t-shirts, but what we’re really celebrating is each other, with a focus on the graduating class. Many seniors dedicate over a year to their thesis. Theses can be either mandatory or optional, depending on your unique concentration/secondary field (major/minor) combination. Regardless, a thesis is undoubtedly a grand accomplishment whether it was mandated or voluntary! Thus, concentrations will hold thesis receptions and presentations to provide opportunities for seniors to rightfully boast about their hard work!

My friend presenting her thesis on babies in movie format!

I’m a neurobiology concentrator, a department with an optional thesis. Every spring, there is a neurobiology thesis presentation where seniors voluntarily present their work in a very informal manner. In fact, the goal is to present their thesis in one minute in any kind of format! Students can either go the traditional route and speak with a powerpoint guide, but students have also written poems and made movies to share as well! Each student is presented with an “award” that’s something along the lines of “best thesis with the cutest subject” (babies) or “best thesis research location” (Italy). Don’t be too quick to brush these awards off as jokes though! A lot of them come with monetary prizes, such as the prestigious Hoopes Prize!

The end of every semester calls for a celebration honoring our hard work. This semester is a bit special because in light of recent tragic events in Boston, it also seems imperative to celebrate Boston. Other bloggers and I have mentioned before that’s it’s a tad difficult to motivate Harvard students to get off campus because there’s always so much to do on campus and because it’s like we’re constantly living in a time crunch.

However, when you have tickets to an NBA playoff game, you get off campus without hesitation! My roommate scored amazing tickets for the both of us to the 4th game between the Celtics and Knicks. It was a crucial game for the Celtics since they lost the first 3 (of 7) games in the series, so my roommate and I made sure to cheer extra loud, especially in overtime when the Celtics pulled through for their first win in the series! I have to admit I’m pretty much a fake Celtics fan (being from Southern California and all), but this didn’t stop me from constantly bragging about my attendance to an NBA playoff game. Campus is less than half an hour from TD Garden which is a great arena for not only sporting events, but also music concerts and much, much more! I can’t believe it’s taken me 3 years to make it out to TD Garden, but I’m beyond glad that I can check that off my bucket (grucket) list!

I hope this blog shows you that Reading Period is really fun and a week to absolutely look forward to – prefrosh, I’m really excited for you! – but remember that fun is exhausting too, so it’s also critical to balance with work. Kind of a lie, since my work thus far has been pretty fun. This semester, I took my favorite math class ever: Math 19a, modeling and differential equations for the life sciences. The majority of topics we covered had direct, real world implications. It’s a course that’s offered every semester and this semester had an (abnormally?) low enrollment number which catalyzed a really close pset (problem set) group aka new friendships! We had 2 exams during the semester and instead of a typical final exam, we had a final paper. I know it sounds crazy to have a math paper, but it’s probably one of the best works I’ve produced here as an undergraduate. My topic focused on modeling the periodic outbreak of whooping cough and although putting numbers and equations into written words was a new challenge for me, I’m proud with the finished project I submitted! The day after my math paper was due, I had an exam for my Genetics class (the class where they catapulted t-shirts). If you’ve been counting, that’s 2 classes down! I’m almost ready to submit my final paper for my Dopamine junior tutorial, bringing myself around for my Spanish research paper, and then I have a few days until my Physical Sciences exam on the last day of finals (May 18th). Between studying, I’m going to try to pack so I can avoid what happened at the end of sophomore year. When school finally ends (insert bittersweet feelings here), I’ll have a few days to get myself together and then I’m leaving the country for the entire summer! I don’t think I’ve posted a blog about my plans, so I’ll keep you all lingering until next time 🙂 Wish me luck with my last week of junior year!

 

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To reiterate what Rob said, Boston (Strong) and the Harvard community is moving forward after the tragic series of events last week. Although we trudge on forward, we definitely continue to honor the past. If you don’t follow @HarvardBloggers on Twitter, then 1) you should and 2) look at how the Science Center Plaza – a place with one of the highest foot traffic on campus – is supporting the community we’re proud to be a part of:

Tons of poster boards for students, faculty, and townies to freely express themselves

A recently remodeled Science Center Plaza celebrates springtime while honoring the past. The flowers were free to take! 😀

This week was most definitely highlighted in my calendar as an academically rigorous week. I had three midterms spread out over the course of 22 hours. After a lot of denial and sleep-deficient nights, I tackled the midterms and hopefully conquered them…

It’s been a pretty rough time for everyone because of last week’s craziness, a lot of “midterms” (more like exams) and psets (problem sets/homework) were pushed around. Even recently accepted students of the class of 2017 felt the consequences as Visitas (prefrosh) weekend was cancelled to prioritize everyone’s safety. Through the movement of #virtualvisitas, however, I really hope that the new prefrosh has felt the love from not only the Admissions Office, but also current Harvard students as we’ve been posting like crazy in the 2017 Facebook group, excited to (electronically) meet you and answer all your questions! The Harvard Club of San Diego even has their own group to try to foster a sense of community. You all should have received an email, but students have been posting videos and there have been discussion panels in an attempt to virtually recreate Visitas! <https://plus.google.com/u/0/102309278484648429541/posts>

While 2017ers have their commitment day approaching, students here have been equally struggling (if not struggling more) with the semester ending. Whether it’s the typical emotional senior sad about a looming graduation or everyone else being slayed with “midterms” and papers, we’re all trying to swim to the shallow end to keep us from drowning in the work that is perpetually piling. We also all want to enjoy the spring sunshine that we’ve been eagerly waiting for what seems like 18 eternities.

Back to my series of midterms, I think they all went relatively well. That being said, my standards of doing well in school have definitely lowered since high school. It’s pretty common for students to be stellar students in high school, then come to Harvard and have to deal with everyone else being so much better at everything from breathing to deriving theory. Our successes are all pretty relative which makes me thank the heavens and beyond for pset groups! Students very commonly work with a circle of friends (or strangers that become your good friends during the semester) and professors will go out of their way to ensure the success of you and your friends. For example, I’m currently enrolled in a math class that deals with manipulating differential equations to model biological and the life sciences. It’s an AWESOME class with a professor and a CA (course assistant – undergraduate students who have taken the class before and have done extremely well) that make this world a better place by teaching math. I’m serious. It would be a disservice to humanity if they ever stopped teaching math! After grading our math exams in like 3 days, the professor realized that the mean for this exam was about 8 points lower than the mean of our 1st exam. As a result, he’s allowing us the opportunity to earn a few points by correcting some of the problems we initially completed incorrectly. In conclusion, not only is he a phenomenal math teacher, he also has the kindest heart. I’m kind of obsessed…

You know you’re in the greatest environment populated with even greater people when you’re slammed with midterms and can still call the week one of the best. Put short and sweet, the highlight of my week was definitely meeting Matt Damon…twice!

Tickets to see MATT DAMON <3

Every year, Harvard holds an “Arts First” celebration where they honor art in general – made by both students and professionals. These two groups aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive! Matt Damon, a previous student at Harvard College, was awarded a medal for his dedicated promotion of art as well as for being awesome in general. This past Thursday, he was interviewed by another amazingly successful past Harvard student, John Lithgow, in the same Sanders Theater where Sheryl Sandberg spoke just a few weeks ago! Matt’s and John’s dynamic was the epitome of perfection as they harmoniously blended laughter and serious topics into their discussion. I’m still starstruck if you can’t tell…

John Lithgow

Matt Damon walking out on stage with the encouragement of John Lithgow

Matt Damon on high school Matt Damon

President Faust presenting Matt with the Arts First Award!

Matt discussed his wonderful experiences growing up in Cambridge with Ben Affleck and being a student at Harvard. He proudly talked about the beginning steps of creating Good Will Hunting, which later played in the Science Center Plaza. As mentioned earlier, the Science Center Plaza has recently reopened after months of reconstruction. It’s super beautiful and just in time to give students a great place to soak up some springtime sun! In the spirit of Arts First weekend, the plaza has transformed into a stage where student bands and movies have played. After Matt’s interview and award ceremony, a Good Will Hunting screening took place with a fantastic introduction by Matt. Too bad he didn’t stay to watch the movie with us…

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