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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I didn’t realize it before today, but this is the first Father’s Day I won’t be with my Dad. I am working in Florida for the summer, and won’t be back home until the winter holidays. I have taken today to reflect on the last couple of years, and it is weird to think about how fast time flies. I can’t believe I have left my teenage years and have already completed half my time here at Harvard.

When you look back at your teenage years, you only remember disconnected fragments. For me, most of my childhood memories involve traveling across the country playing junior tennis tournaments. It might seem like a glorious lifestyle, being able to travel to new places and play at nice country clubs, but it is a very lonely path. You lose the chance to live a normal childhood, where you can spend your holidays at home with your family and have a good balance of friends. Luckily, my dad traveled with me to every one of my tournaments and was there every step of the journey.  I still remember my first tournament I ever played. I competed in the 10 and under category at the Johnson Ranch Country Club in Sacramento. I was thrilled with my second place finish, and knew I loved the game, but couldn’t imagine where it would take me.

For the next eight years, I found myself on the road with my dad. We would travel almost every school weekend in the local Northern California area, and then would travel nationally on the major holidays(Thanksgiving, Christmas, Spring Break, Summer Vacation, etc.). From the beginning, my dad made it clear that he would not be my coach. He didn’t want to have that relationship with me, and I am grateful he decided that from the beginning. As we traveled I saw many cases where the parent became too involved, and it destroyed their parent-child relationship off the court. By having this hands off approach he let me make my own mistakes, and I was able to learn much quicker. Despite not being my coach I always searched for him in the crowd during my matches, and he was the first one I wanted to see right after a match.

When we started this journey over ten years ago, I don’t think we imagined where it would take me, and am grateful for everything I was able to achieve in the sport. We were both thrilled when it earned me a place in Cambridge, knowing that I was about to embark on an even greater adventure. Even though I know I won’t see him in the crowds when I compete in Boston, I can feel his presence on the court, and I know he is always on the court supporting me in every step of the journey. Be sure to thank your dad on this special day because I know I wouldn’t be here without all my dad’s support.

Happy Father’s Day!

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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Hi readers!

My apologies for my delay in posting. Since school wrapped up, I was able to spend a little bit of time at home before coming to NYC to start my internship with Fareed Zakaria’s CNN Show Global Public Square. After this I’ll be headed to Sri Lanka to work on a social entrepreneurship project that I am really excited about (more on that later!) First things first, inspired by this Crimson column that I thought was pretty spot on in describing Harvard summers, I figured I’d go ahead and share with you a little bit of mine… Here goes!

CNN! (And me in front of the Time Warner globe 🙂

Thursdays are show days. The beginning of the week creeps by slowly riddled with planning and research and story pitching. The first three days of the week however are nothing compared to Thursdays. You see, on Thursday—and Friday—the show is made. At least that’s what I learned my first week at CNN’s Global Public Square Show (GPS) with Fareed Zakaria. A complete newcomer to this side of journalism, my mind completely front-wheeled when my supervisor started talking about ingests and slugs and copies (and for the record, I’m not talking about the kind you make at the copy machine.)

In my first week I was introduced to three new computer programs, figured out what a rundown actually is and how to create one, sat in the control room and watched our show take off, and prompted our host—a job that may seem unglamorous to most but that I would tell you was more stressful for me than preparing for Finals.

In short, it was a week that had me finding my way at CNN. And I’m happy to report that in between checking out the control room, taking in all the new faces, and doing my own first assignments for my supervisor, I sensed how it is that CNN still values—as they like to say—their “southern roots.” I appreciated how, even as my colleagues were charged with putting a whole show together and prepping for interviews with the likes of former Secretary of State and National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger, they still made time to teach me, to check in on me, and to really take care of me.

My internship at CNN was a serendipitous find. Funded by the Institute of Politic’s wonderful Director’s Internship Program, it seemed the perfect fit for someone who was internationally focused and too interested in journalism and its future in a landscape that is constantly changing. I have a feeling though that by the end of the internship, I will walk away with more than just the experience of having been immersed in the news world; I will too have learned the art of producing a show—a side benefit and a whole world in journalism that I have never quite explored.

I will have learned how to really take an angle on a story, how to develop it, and how to inject fresh, new analysis that really reveals the deeper meaning or lessons to be learned. And hopefully, I will at least be able to tell you what a slug is.

I come to CNN at an interesting time. Journalism has long been a field that is experiencing a sea change, a product of a technological revolution that prominent news companies are still figuring out how to capitalize off of and monetize around. More specifically, here at CNN, there has been a tremendous amount of internal restructuring since new President— and Harvard College alum—Jeff Zucker came in January. CNN, like every news organization, is trying to figure out its market, its role, and its specialty in a news market that is often oversaturated and a news age that does not merely encourage redefinition but demands it.

Hard cuts and difficult choices will have to be made, but if there was one thing I realized in my first week at CNN it was that therein lies too incredible potential for entrepreneurship and innovation in this space. This fundamentally excites me. And in my opinion, there’s no better time for this.

Recent headlines about NSA and other high security leaks have seen the American people starting a conversation with its government about what information should and should not be disclosed when it comes to security of the homeland. These leaks have also, however, reminded us of just how important journalism is. Journalists do not just cover the news; they also push our government and our administration to be accountable and transparent with the people.

They are, at their core, public servants. In many ways they reinforce the social contract that exists between the state and her citizens. And so, if journalism is to remain that first draft of history that sets things in motion, journalistic innovation is not just necessary for the survival of the news industry—but too for the survival of our democracy. I’m excited to use my internship this summer to work at the nexus of the two.



So I am currently sitting in my room in Hampden Hall, staring out at very famous gate that leads into Harvard Square. It says “Enter to Grow in Wisdom” on the side that I can see, with a similar inscription on the other side, partially hidden by the steep angle between it and Wigglesworth (a freshman dorm) – “Depart to Serve better Thy Country and Mankind.” I don’t see why the two should be discrete; we should constantly be serving mankind, including our country, and are surely capable of doing that while studying. That is all I have to say about that matter, for the moment.

Room with a View

So. Where was I? Oh yes. Yesterday I took the Dartmouth Coach, my favorite bus that can only be described as an airplane on wheels, to Boston for the summer. I’ll be working here for the next few months as a summer tours coordinator and a proctor, getting heavily involved in the Harvard life from different angles – no longer am I just the student, but also the authoritaaay. (Haay!) So that will be incredibly interesting and challenging – I can’t wait to talk about my experiences! I also was assigned to live in a huge suite in Eliot House, one of our upperclassmen dorms. The suite normally holds two or three people, but it will be just me, as there’s a single proctor (kind of like a RA) assigned to each entryway (a subdivision of the dorm). So I have three rooms! Lo and behold, I have no furniture, but that shall be resolved somehow.

Floorplan. Wut wuttt

After moving all of my stuff into the room I’ll be living in for this week (can’t move into my massive suite just yet, major flaw with Harvard’s housing…all of these bridge weeks and such), I walked up to my friend’s apartment to watch the Bruins game. It was a lovely evening, with sweet warm air, and I started to get excited for the summer. Honestly, it reminded me of Paris…the exhaust smell cutting through the gentle breeze, the slightly muffled street noises, the kind-of slower pace. I passed Currier, where I lived last year, and was not surprised to see that everything looked exactly the same. Eventually, I made it to Allie’s place, ate some delicious food in her adorable apartment, and sat down to watch the most grueling game of hockey I’ve ever seen. It was so intense. TRIPLE OT. Unfortunately our team did not win. 🙁 We still have a ton of chances (6) and will beat Chicago, I don’t care how hard we have to try.


But on a better note, I went to my six month check-up for my vocal nodule situation today. After waiting for a bit too long, I was escorted into my fabulous doctor’s examination room, was sprayed with foul, bitter numbing solution in my nostrils, was scoped (camera in the nose), had to say ‘ee’ a few times, and was shown the before and after pictures of my vocal folds. (Look it up if you have no idea what I am talking about, basically it is the part of your larynx that makes you phonate or create sound.) My vocal folds were really healthy, and my doctor said she hadn’t seen progress like that in a long time. I am pumped! It is another confirmation that I am actually making progress, and that my weird diet is truly helping me. My voice teacher yesterday, who hadn’t seen me in six months, was thrilled by my voice’s progression. As a musician, as someone who really truly eats, sleeps, and breathes music, not being able to express myself in the most natural way was the worst. I only had to sacrifice a few months, though, instead of my whole life, which is really what it would have come to if I’d continued singing and not knowing about my acid reflux. I sang a very clear, very comfortable high C yesterday, something I’ve known I was capable of but also something that’s been so painful and weak for the past few years. Things are looking up.

The Waiting Room. Just gorjusss

In other news, I have started arranging “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes,” that fantastic Paul Simon song, for the Opportunes (my a cappella group on campus). If you are coming to Harvard in the fall, and you can sing, AUDITION for us! I would be thrilled a. because I would know that people actually read this thing and b. because then we could hang out and sing together. Okay, I’m off to get some food before I watch the latest Superman with some of my Nostalgics friends at midnight! Woohoo. Go man of steel, etc etc.

Steely Man.

Peace Out.


Two years ago, I was sitting on my first flight to Harvard, when the girl next to me smiled and asked me what school I was going to. When she found out that I was going to Harvard, she shrieked in excitement, and we proceeded to talk about student life for the rest of the trip. Once we landed she gave me a tour of campus and made me feel so welcome. Her name is Winnie, and she kept tabs on me throughout my freshmen and sophomore year and I think she is a perfect example of the character and kindness exhibited by the Harvard Senior Class of 2013. I honestly don’t know how to say a proper goodbye to such a great class, but I did want to say a few farewells to a couple of seniors.

Firstly, I wanted to say goodbye to our lone senior on our tennis team, Andy “Tron” Nguyen. From a fearless samurai on the tennis court to a strong leader off the court, he encompasses the qualities that Harvard Athletics strives for.  He was such an instrumental part of our team this past year, and helped push Harvard Tennis to the next level. Spending these past two years with him have been so special and the there will be a void next fall.  We wish him best of luck in his future pursuits, and know he will achieve success in anything he does.

Andy(right), Denis(left) and myself on the first team trip of the year.

Then, there is a shout out to my Eliot family of seniors. Led by Jordan and Wes, we rocked the Winthrop’s Arbella Ball, Disney movies(Finding Nemo and Monster’s Inc), and all of the Eliot Formals. They are two of the most genuine and memorable people I have ever met, and my Harvard experience would have been incomplete without them.  I’m going to miss you guys!

Eliot Extended Family at Arbella Formal!

Eliot family at movie screening of Monster’s Inc

Next, I have to say goodbye Kristin and Hideko,  the two seniors on the Harvard Women’s Team. I will miss your smiles everyday at the Murr Center, and all our conversations. You were great role-models for the girls team and will be missed!


2013 Spring Tennis Banquet

Lastly I wanted to give a special congratulations to my older sister who just graduated from college this past year as well. While she does not go to school in Boston, she is another reason why I think the class of 2013 is so special!

Congratulations Sheena!

There are simply too many seniors to name, but you get the idea. This was truly an extraordinary class and they leave big shoes to fill.

Now for the high school seniors, please enjoy your graduation ceremonies and senior events. These moments are really special and a great time to thank all the people who have helped you become the person you are today. Behind every great student are loving and supportive parents who have always put their children’s needs first. So thank them all and be ready to take on Cambridge in the fall.

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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Last week was Senior Week, which operates a lot like a high school senior week — a week of fun and memorable events just for seniors! My senior week in high school involved a Blue Man Group show, an honors and awards banquet, prom, senior breakfast and yearbook signing, and Relay for Life. Senior Week at Harvard is pretty similar, and I thought I would share our schedule events below:

Sunday, May 19 – Six Flags
Monday, May 20 – Scavenger Hunt
Tuesday, May 21 – Moonlight Cruise
Wednesday, May 22 – Senior Talent Show
Thursday, May 23 – Luau & Last Chance Dance
Friday, May 24 – Beach Day
Saturday, May 25 – Senior Soiree
Sunday, May 26 – Senior Olympics & BBQ

With friends for Senior Olympics!

I’ll be sure to post some videos from the Senior Talent Show as soon as we get them. We are planning to post them on our official Harvard 2013 YouTube channel. I did a hip-hop routine with Expressions Dance Company — we closed the show! It was so cool to perform on Sanders Theatre’s stage before graduating. Definitely one of the highlights of the entire week.

My favorite event was the Scavenger Hunt. I was one of the Senior Class Committee (SCC) members who planned it, and it was a lot of fun. Just as an FYI, the SCC is a board of just under 30 members of the senior class who plan events for our last year in college and make sure the transition to alumni life is as smooth as possible. The SCC tries to ensure that students remain connected to Harvard. Despite not participating in the Scavenger Hunt, my friend Nina and I got to make up all of the tasks and help score as people sent in their hilarious pictures and videos. We sent our peers off with over 60 tasks around campus and Boston, including taking pictures with tourists, conga lining down Newbury Street, and running around from freshman dorm to upperclassman house. There were some creative takes on many of the items on the list. It was pretty awesome to see how dedicated (and fast) people were. Two groups even got a Nobel Prize winner to do the dougie with them, which was a task that had one of the largest point values. We also didn’t think anyone would actually be able to do it!

SCC with our best blue steel faces!

Nina and I on Scavenger Hunt day!

It’s such a different feeling being on campus with nothing to do and a goal of simply having fun. I think every class should have a week dedicated to themselves at the end of the year, but perhaps that would make the final Senior Week less special. And of course, all good things must come to an end. Senior Week has come and gone, with a quick turnaround to Commencement Week, which included some of the most memorable and magical days of my life. Commencement warrants its own post entirely, so I will make sure I do that sometime soon. To give you a preview — I had lunch with Soledad O’Brien; I cried in front of, talked to, and hugged President Faust, Dean Hammonds, and Oprah Winfrey; and, most importantly, was awarded my diploma surrounded by my family and friends. There were so many emotions running through my head and it all happened too quickly. Luckily, it was well documented in photos, which I will post in my next blog entry.

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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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