Boston

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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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I would say this this past week was our first (much needed) dose of spring. The sun has been shining all week and it has done so much to lift the spirits of everyone on campus as we deal with the difficult events of the other week and prepare for the onslaught of final assignments.

Another example of positivity in Harvard Square

Another example of positivity in Harvard Square

I had a difficult time figuring out how to share my perspective on the tragedy at the time, but I could write a novel about the outpouring of love and support in the Harvard community since.  For example, I found the most inspiring email in my inbox earlier today. One of my blockmates forwarded me the link to a page for a Recovery Fund for a man named Jimmy who had been injured in the bombing at the Boston Marathon.  At first, the name didn’t register with me.  I did, however, notice that the message had been forwarded from email list to email list, so I clicked on the link to the page out of curiosity.  When the page loaded, I instantly recognized Jimmy from our countless exchanges my freshman year.

As it turns out, Jimmy worked in the Freshman Mailroom (in the basement of the Science Center), so he interacted with many Harvard students interacted with him on a regular basis.  Checking your regular mail is a relatively impersonal experience (since each student has a personal mailbox), but in order to collect a package you check in with someone at the Mailroom Window.  Jimmy was often the person greeting students at the window, and in his position he has shared countless conversations with countless Harvard freshmen over the years, myself included.

I am not a particularly sentimental person, but I was touched to see how many of my classmates recognized the important role that Jimmy and the Mailroom staff serve on campus, and were willing and eager to share the link with their peers.  I wanted to take a moment and share it with all of you as well.

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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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The past week on campus has been incredibly surreal. I was at the marathon on Monday, up all night on Thursday and in front of the TV most of Friday watching coverage of the manhunt, and celebrating Friday night when it all came to a close. Jeanie, Inesha, and Rob each gave their own insights into this week’s events, and I would echo much of what they said: it was a scary experience that brought the campus and the city together. I’ve seen and heard echoes of “Boston Strong” again and again in the past few days, and the sentiment could not be more true: everything from the dedicated police response to the incredibly high spirits after the arrest made on Friday demonstrated again and again that Boston is a proud and resilient city.

Having spent nearly four years living in the Boston area, seeing the city unite in the wake of the bombings was unsurprising to me – there is a fierce sense of pride that comes through in Red Sox fanaticism, local politics, and winter weather survival. What surprised me more, actually, was the sense of local pride I saw blossoming in myself and in fellow students over the course of this week. While we are residents in the area, I think many of us don’t necessarily consider ourselves “Bostonians” or “Cantabrigians” if we’re not from here originally. But in the wake of this week’s tragedy, we all were experiencing the pain, sorrow, and eventually triumph along with the rest of the city. For many of us, it was the first real sign that Boston and its community has truly become part of our identity in the years we’ve been living here.

There was a really touching article published in The Atlantic this week entitled “You May Leave Boston, but Boston Never Leaves You” that talked about exactly this sentiment. While we may not realize it consciously, college students living in the Boston area come to this city for some of the most formative years of our life and become part of the “enormous extended family” of people who consider Boston home. For most of us at Harvard, Boston will only be home for a brief while, but it is the city in which we develop into “real people,” come to form a sense of identity, learn to think for ourselves, and join a diverse community. What this week has taught me is that the community that has helped to shape me extends far beyond the walls of Harvard – Cambridge and Boston, and the sense of intense local pride so unique to this area, are just as much a part of the equation.

This sense of connection extends beyond my eagerness to cheer for local sports teams. I’ve spent all three of my summers locally: one at Harvard, one interning downtown for Boston Public Schools, and one working at a consulting firm in Cambridge. I wrote my thesis about the Boston community, and spoke with residents about the best (and worst) parts of the city. I boast about my knowledge of Boston geography, and take pride in my ability to walk around the city without needing a map. In my four years here, I’ve campaigned for local politicians, attended cultural events in Cambridge, and explored the area’s rich history. My attachment to Boston and Cambridge is deep and multifaceted, and in a strange way this week’s tragic events were the first chance I had to really reflect on how much this city has shaped me as a person.

Yesterday, I set off on a long run along the river and through downtown Boston to visit the memorial at Boylston Street and get a glimpse of how the city is bouncing back. I’ll let the following photos speak for themselves, but it was a really moving and uplifting experience to be downtown with countless others venturing out to enjoy the spring weather and celebrate the city in the wake of terror and tragedy. If there’s one thing I’ve learned this week, it’s that Boston is strong, and that I’m lucky to have picked up a bit of that strength, pride, and resilience in my short four years here.

Daffodils in bloom along the Charles

A touch of humor near Boylston St

Huge crowd gathered at the Boylston St memorial following the Red Sox game

Outpouring of support at Boylston St

A running-themed flower box on Beacon St near Boston Common

Beautiful view along the Esplanade

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Another grand congratulations to the Class of 2017! Such an incredibly exciting accomplishment, but definitely also scary at the same time because I’m sure you all have great alternative options. In some ways, it doesn’t even seem fair that at age 18, you have to decide where you want to be receiving a diploma at age 22. How do you know where you’ll fit into the mold best – or where you can create an improved mold of yourself? The honest and worst answer is that you don’t. You don’t know, we don’t know, your parents don’t know. And all you want is someone to just tell you what to do because this way, when the going gets rough, at least you can blame someone else, right?!

I love having options, but they can also be a source of stress. One of my favorite ways to leverage this stress into fun is by sampling. I like to try a little bit of everything, and only after this do I step back to make an informed decision. For all of you who are still on a verge of deciding where to attend college, find comfort in the fact that you still have some time and even more resources to help you. I hope this blog can provide a unique insight to student life here at Harvard!

I didn’t check in last week (have been getting slayed by midterms since forever) so I wanted to give you all a little sampling of the highs and lows of these past 2 weeks instead of focusing on just one event 🙂

 

Sheryl Sandberg on leaning in

Caroline blogged about Sheryl Sandberg speaking at Harvard as a stop on her book tour. I heard about this event about a month beforehand because of some of my friends in the student organization sponsoring her talk, Women in Business (WIB). I reserved tickets about a month in advance and was excited for the event all day! I’ve only watched her talks online so it was surreal to be sitting in the live audience, especially when College President Drew Faust was right there along with me! It’s even more surreal that Sheryl Sandberg was a member of the audience at one point too during her undergraduate years. To share, or at least be able to relate to, a part of her history is really inspiring and a great reminder that Harvard generously provides both the academic and financial resources that can catapult us down phenomenal career paths! Sheryl Sandberg always makes really good points about putting yourself out there to be in a position to fearlessly lead that I think both men and women would benefit from following.

Sheryl Sandberg kicked off a great weekend because the very next day was Relay for Life, an all night walkathon hosted by the American Cancer Society. Last spring, I was involved in Relay as the incoming Vice President of Philanthropy on the Panhellenic Council, but since I was in the midst of transitioning in last year, everything ran smoother this year and I was much more involved. Our “Go Greek” team actually became the #1 team, fundraising the most money for the event – a little friendly competition doesn’t hurt!  The walkathon was a culmination of tons of planning as we had fundraising events such as bake sales, water pong tournaments, restaurant fundraisers, etc. leading up to the walkathon. It was great seeing all the sororities and fraternities taking time from their rigorous academic schedule during midterms to rally and honor cancer survivors as well as support cancer research.

The day after Relay for Life, I went on a field trip to the Boston Aquarium with my students in a volunteering program I direct through PBHA (Phillips Brooks House Association), called BRYE (Boston Refugee Youth Enrichment). It was my first time at the aquarium and I’m pretty sure I was more excited than my group of teenagers!

Mesmerizing!

It’s pretty rare for most Harvard students to get off campus to explore Boston which can be nice because it makes Boston more of a novelty, but it can also be a sad thing because we’re missing out on all the great things Boston has to offer i.e. the aquarium, Quincy market (as Rob mentioned), etc. My friend, a senior at Yale, was visiting this weekend for Harvard Law School admit/orientation weekend and was able to go to the aquarium as well. It was really interesting to hear my friend’s perspective of Harvard and Boston in general. Being so use to New Haven, my friend was delightfully surprised we could walk around Cambridge at night without getting mugged, beyond pleased by our morning run by the river since New Haven’s nature isn’t really existent, and also impressed with how close Boston is since most Yale kids have to take a train to New York City for any kind of real urban experience. Don’t take this as me hating on Yale, but rather a Yalie hating.

Yale and Harvard represent at the Pet a Stingray exhibit!!!!!!! Best. exhibit. ever.

 

It’s mid-April, which is essentially the worst time of the academic year. It’s that time when school is pretty much over, but you have all your work left. Spring Break is long and gone and students are getting slammed with midterms up until finals. If the weather was nicer, I could probably try to put a positive spin on that somewhere, but I’m a weather-spoiled California kid and this rainy-windy combo is just not cutting it. I was also planning on running the Boston Marathon this Monday (as a bandit), but I have a genetics midterm this Marathon Monday and the latest I can reschedule is 7 pm. LAME. Harvard is also basically the only school that holds classes on Marathon Monday, which makes no sense because it takes out all the fun-community-building that stems from the Boston Marathon, an event people fly in to Boston to compete in from all over the world! We shouldn’t hold classes as a simple sign of respect!!

Yet, there is a light at the end of this (loooong and dark) tunnel – it’s called Mid-May. Classes are officially over in about 2 weeks, starting Reading Period, a week where students have unorganized time to study for our final exams. When school ends, I’ll still be denying that I’m 3/4 done with college. This denial will continue abroad since I’ll be abroad for most of the summer again 🙂 This was literally the best news to me because after spending summer 2012 in Europe, Peru, and Bolivia, I’m officially obsessed with collecting passport stamps. I’m honored to be accepted into the Global Health Institute’s iSURF (international summer undergraduate research fellowship) program which is sponsoring me to pursue clinical research in the context of women and nutrition in Tanzania. I’ll be spending about 10 weeks there and then heading over to South America/Bolivia again. More updates to come once I get everything sorted out, but for now, I’m SO excited to get familiar with Africa!

Also can’t contain my excitement because today is Yardfest! There’s been some controversy over Yardfest this year, but the other bloggers and I will be sure to let you know how the event goes!

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It was an extreme week indeed and I may even still be recovering!

at Franklin Park

My week started with a bang (literally!) at the start line of the Boston Athletic Association’s Half Marathon 2012. This would be my second time racing in the event, but my anxiety level mirrored that of last year’s. Even though I’ve acquired running as a huge hobby for a year now, I felt immense pressure to beat my time from last year (2:10). I knew I was faster this year and I knew that running a personal record was possible – but this just made the unknown that much scarier!!

During the summer of 2011, a bunch of my sorority sisters encouraged me to start running, but it wasn’t until the push of my biological sister that really started me going. I had been seeking a new physical outlet ever since I stopped competitively swimming after my senior year of high school; and running in Cambridge, especially along the beautiful Charles River, presented itself as not only an aesthetically pleasing alternative, but also a convenient one! Relative to the streets and atmosphere of Southern California, I feel like there’s a larger running culture here. Cars don’t hesitate to yield to sweaty runners and vehicle passengers often express their support vocally. This was one of the biggest reasons I was so excited to return to campus after a blessed summer of exciting world travels. My training schedule while traveling Europe and South America wasn’t ideal…or even existent haha so I was pleasantly surprised to be able to run right back into the swing of things!

Who just ran a half marathon?? THIS KID.

My prerace goal was to pace 9:30 minutes/mile (compared to my 9:59 pace from last year). Yet during the first 7 miles of the 13.1 mile course, I was beyond elated to realize that I had been pacing around 8:30 because I could finish really under 2 hours if I kept it up! Too bad I died out. The last half of the race, especially the last 5K, was killer. Every stepped seemed so heavy and my iPod couldn’t even pump me up. I finished with an average pace of 9:28, slightly exceeding my goal but also slightly disappointed. Even though I had become an improved amateur runner, I couldn’t decide if I was happy or disappointed … so I ate a bagel.

The Boston Half Marathon is always a great event – everyone there has so much energy and spirit at 6am that you can’t resist smiling even if your eyelids are droopy.

A huge turnout!

It’s always a wonderful opportunity to get off campus, especially if it means investing yourself in the Boston community. As glorified as it sounds, the half marathon always makes me feel part of something greater than myself. Here at Harvard, it’s scarily too easy to become self-consumed – when I say this, I mean that students’ lives effortlessly become so busy and hectic that our calendars have us at 3-6 places in any given moment. So in order for us to feel like we’re not drowning – or maybe even feel like we’re happily drowning in responsibility – we zoom in on our to-do list, leaving little time to envision the bigger picture and all the outcomes of our productivity. Sometimes training for the half marathon felt like picking up a 6th class and I would become so frustrated with myself every time I had a crappy/slow run. But now that the half marathon has happened and passed, it’s awesome to realize that tons of people were working extremely diligently to have such a successful event too and so much money was raised for incredibly altruistic organizations such as the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Another highlight of the event was that it fell over Columbus day weekend – a 3 day weekend!! I successfully avoided academic work Sunday night by heading over to MIT where some friends cooked up a beyond delicious dinner to regain all those calories burnt earlier in the day! I had also been really good at avoiding academic work the entire weekend so I celebrated Columbus day by catching up on some reading, psets (problem sets), and writing papers. I made it to bed at a decent hour, planning to get a healthy and reasonable 7 hours of REM cycles. Surprisingly, I managed to get 10 hours of sleep – only because my cell phone alarm did not ring! 🙁

I was suppose to wake up at 9:30am for my Perception & Decision Making class from 10-11:30am. Immediately following, I have Spanish between 11:30am-1pm where the first hour would be dedicated to our first (of three) exams. From 1-3pm, I would submit a response paper for my Literature & Medicine Class right before attending the weekly lecture.

My lack of alarm caused me to wake up at 12:30pm, right when my Spanish exam had ended. I still have no idea what happened to my phone because as I angrily jerked it around when I woke up, my phone was turned off. I literally had no idea what to do. After checking my running watch and my everyday watch which concurred that it was definitely 12:30pm, I violently burst into my roommate’s room with the insane hope that it was actually 12:30am or something! I’ve never accidentally missed a class before let alone an exam!! I had even emailed my Perception & Decision Making professor over the weekend to request permission to leave a few minutes early to arrive to my Spanish exam on time! I couldn’t even rush to Spanish and offer to take the exam right then and there because I had to physically submit a paper at 1pm! All these frantic thoughts scattered my brain and I ashamedly admit that I considered quitting on life and just going back to bed to deny that the day existed. I called my sister, who was probably expecting me to wish her a happy birthday, and I quickly explained my complicated predicament in my trembled-on-the-verge-of-tears voice. She told me to just rush to class and deal with things as they came. Pretty simple, but I couldn’t have thought of that myself.

On my sprint to class, I shot my Perception & Decision Making TF (graduate student Teaching Fellow) an email requesting an appointment with him sometime later in the day. I arrived in Spanish during a student presentation and anxiously waited until class ended to approach my teacher. I honestly explained my situation in a string of trembling conjugations and she was super accommodating and told me to come to her office after my last class for the day. After making up the exam, I rushed to my Perception & Decision Making TF’s lab where I simultaneously explained the series of unfortunate events from the morning, fought back my stupid tears, and offered to write thousands of extra papers in order to eradicate all my guilt for missing class. He refused my offer after reassuring me, but also vocalized that nothing along these lines should ever happen again.

As I made my way back home after a long, stressful day of adrenaline and watery eyes, I was super incredulous that I was walking away from what felt like the most climatic battle of a huge war without any wounds. In retelling this story, I still can’t believe the ending. I’m also being overwhelmed by guilt again! I just felt so terrible because my biggest responsibility in life is being a student so having such a traumatic day didn’t only make me feel like a horrendous student, but also an awful person! All my friends keep telling me that I’m being overly dramatic and need to relax, but I’m only finding relaxation by setting alarms on multiple devices.

Happy news that the rest of the week was much more normal! I don’t think I could have handled any more trauma. Heading into this week, it’s a heavy Spanish week as we have a paper due and I have to give 2 presentations (one group and one individual). Vamos!

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Wow! It’s been such a whirlwind of a week!! That’s literally (due to this nasty, rainy weather lately) and mentally (midterm season!)

 

Happy October everyone! This month marks our one month of school. If you ask any non-freshman student, we’ll tell you that it simultaneously feels like we JUST started school and that we’ve been here forever. Many things are still relatively new – we’re still getting the hang of balancing our new combination of assignments as well as establishing an organization and studying method curtailed to this semester’s classes – however, academia has been a critical part of our lives for so long that these activities seem second nature to us.

I had my first midterm of the semester this past Wednesday night so I’ve spent the majority of my free time preparing for my first of three exams for Math 18 (i.e. going over class notes, class worksheets, homework, and additional practice problems). Normally, midterm tests are held during scheduled class times, but math exams, for whatever reason, are typically held during the evening. My midterm was scheduled for 6-7:30pm but I had my Aesthetic & Interpretive Understanding 50: Literature and Medicine section from 5-6pm. There are strict attendance policies for my Lit & Med class (they’ll deduct from your grade if your absent!), but know that flexibility indeed exists within the rigid structure of Harvard. I emailed my TF (graduate student Teaching Fellow – essentially the same as a TA at most other schools) a few weeks before my math midterm asking for permission to either leave early or to attend a different section for the week of my math exam. She allowed me to leave a few minutes early which was probably the best part of having a math exam!

Despite all my extensive review for the math exam, I didn’t really know what to expect and was somewhat nervous going into the test. It’s a new class this semester, so there are no reputations like “exams are tricky” or “exams are essentially the practice tests” to help build your expectations. I felt pretty good during the test though and felt even better after it – because it was over!

I immediately felt the post-midterm laziness (that I’m still suffering from)! I spent the rest of the night talking to friends, catching up on my comedy television shows and getting excited for my sorority’s fall formal.

It feels like I haven’t been academically productive in a while, but I can tell you about the productivity in other aspects of my life!

In preparation for the Boston Half Marathon 2012, I’ve been trying to run longer and longer runs. Thank goodness I have the Charles River and the Esplanade to run along, but on certain days, ~10 miles can feel like much more even with my pumping iTunes beats. One of my best friends (who I traveled Europe with this past summer!) is currently training and fundraising for the Boston Marathon 2013 by making an extra effort to run all throughout Boston. I took advantage of her creative routes by running with her into Chinatown where an elementary was holding a fair with cotton candy, photobooths and carmelized popcorn!

We even met (and danced with) Pooh Bear!

This long run throughout downtown Boston and eventually ending up in Chinatown made the time pass by very quickly. I love when (physical) productivity effortlessly blends in with new, fun experiences! I’m definitely looking forward to being more adventurous on my runs by being more willing to deviate from the riverbanks. Next weekend, I’ll be running the Boston Half Marathon for my second time. I’m feeling pressure to beat my time last year but I think this is only possible if the rain gods have some mercy and cancel the predicted rainy forecast!

Another long term project I’ve been involved with since my freshman fall semester is called BRYE (Boston Refugee Youth Enrichment) Teen. This is a program I direct through PBHA (Phillips Brooks House Association), essentially the central hub of public service work on campus. The teen program runs once a week, on Saturdays, at a Vietnamese Community Center located in Dorchester, where (recently) immigrated students gather to work on homework, supplementary lessons we’ve created, arts & crafts, and we often strive for field trips to museums/Harvard’s campus. This is my second year directing the program and I feel like this year will be easier than last, not only because my previous experiences will help me solve future problems with much more skill, but we’ve received a lot of generous financial assistance to run the program this year.

At the end of the 2012 spring semester, I applied to the Presidential Public Service Fund (PPSF) grant to alleviate some of BRYE Teen’s accumulated deficit – a heavy burden that started before I became a director. Luckily, BRYE Teen received this generous grant as with a handful of several other programs (see the university’s generosity here!). PBHA partnered with Dean Evelynn Hammonds for a reward reception where program directors gave a short summary of their programs’ goals in exchange for a hefty and generous check.

Presidential Public Service Fund grant reception with Dean Evelynn Hammonds

It’s so rare (and difficult!) to unite 20+ PBHA program directors and hear about their passionate work so it was really a beautiful event to attend. I know that my program, BRYE Teen, would have great difficulties running without these funds so all my volunteers and participants are eternally grateful for this financial support and encouragement!

Needless to say, it’s been a phenomenal week! There are no classes held on Columbus Day, so the long weekend is looking extra marvelous. I don’t have any midterms this coming week, so I’m looking forward to doing some learning without intensive pressure!

 

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Remember back in those elementary/middle school days where you were always so excited for any field trips because the locations were always SO COOL (i.e. local fair, museums, zoos)?? Then you hit high school and the field trip locations may or may not have gotten worse, but there was still excitement because it usually meant less work for the day…

Well, college field trips are the best. You’ve probably heard tons of people say that college is the best and that it’s way better than high school. I have to agree with this statement (even though I LOVED high school) because in college, you really do become your own boss. Therefore, college field trips are basically trips to anywhere you want and the itinerary includes whatever your heart can possibly desire at any given moment.

This is a continuation of my off campus exploration series! Although I’m proud of myself for actually getting off campus more rather than just saying I will, I’m worried that my goal to explore outside my comfort zone is more like a New Year’s resolution which will die out in due time. With this fear in mind, I’m going to soak in every moment I spend off campus.

It’s much easier to get off campus when I’m organizing an event with a group of people so I took advantage of my leadership position as Vice President of Philanthropy on the Panhellenic Council (Panhel) and organized the Fall Philanthropy event in the next town over.

Each semester, Panhel strives to organize a volunteering event that unites the three sororities and fraternities on campus (note that the University does not officially recognize these 6 organizations). I’m hoping to establish consistency and familiarity which will boost number of participants, so during the fall semester, I partnered with Cradles to Crayons and in the spring semester, I plan on concentrating my efforts on Relay for Life. The event at Cradles to Crayons happened last weekend and was pretty successful considering we more than doubled our numbers relative to last year! It was really exciting for me, as the organizer, to see people pumped about the event! We spent a few hours early Saturday morning sorting clothes, cleaning shoes, and creating care packages. It was awesome to die of cuteness over all the adorable baby clothes while simultaneously instantly seeing your impact because the packages we made would be delivered soon to get kids ready for the start of school and the transition of seasons.

Clothes need to be reviewed for quality and then organized into age/size groups before being packaged.

Same rigorous process for shoes!

It was a weekend of early mornings because on Sunday, there was an annual, community Brian Honan 5k walk/run event. I first heard about the Brian Honan race through HCMC (Harvard College Marathon Challenge) as a sophomore and have vowed to participate every year that I can because it’s an AWESOME event!! The course is smooth and slightly hilly and there’s FREE: food, tshirts, and finisher medals! The aspect that most attracts me is how free it is, especially because the Harvard Community Affairs Office prepays slots for Harvard students and employees.

The 5K was on a gorgeously sunny and breezy day. Everyone was in high spirits and the positive energy was resonating all around. I don’t think I could have sported a bigger smile for the rest of the day (despite my sore muscles)!

We were all in Barcelona together this summer!

It’s like they won the Olympics or something… (ps Check out the custom Harvard-Brian Honan free swag!)

The event also had a carnival/fair-like character because there were booths with local businesses as well as street art for your creative juices and a live band performing for your dancing juices. 

 

 

 

 

 

Even though I’ll always consider myself an amateur runner, my habits of running have definitely built a wonderfully unexpected community for me here at Harvard. People are always willing to run with you at extreme hours (i.e. 6am, midnight!) as well as give you advice on mysterious pains. In a sick and twisted yet beautiful way, there’s a uniting aspect of running your body down physically that’s also slightly addicting. One of my long terms goals is running the Boston Marathon and because I won’t be ready for it this spring 2013, I’ll be living vicariously through one of my friends who is fundraising and running it in 7 months! If you’re interested in running (around Boston), you can even check out her running adventures here! She’s running with the support of HCMC who reserves a few slots for Harvard students in the Boston Marathon each year. I always love seeing my peers challenge themselves in ways beyond academia and lucky for me, everyone here seems to push themselves out of their comfort zone frequently.

Although I’m extra-appreciating my time off campus, this does not at all mean that I’m not appreciating my time on campus as well! I can’t believe it’s happening, but junior year is starting off as the best year ever! I know I say that about every year, but it’s been incredible to get back into a nice routine and reconnect with my friends. My profound happiness also stems from my courses – I’ve never been happier with my class schedule.

In one of my more recent blogs from this semester, I listed the 5 classes I’ve enrolled in. Midterm season is lurking – or is already here for some of us! I call it a “season” because once your first midterm hits, more and more keep bombing you until Final Exam Week. Thus, it’s a perfect time to update how classes are going!

Neurobiology Tutorial – Dopamine

Relative to my other classes, we haven’t done too much because it’s half a class each semester, but meets for the entire year so will eventually count as one full semester course by the end of my junior year. Shopping week wasn’t a facade because this class is still riveting! There’s so much enthusiasm from the professor and he seems to effortlessly make topics and tangents connect in the end. My favorite part thus far are the video clips about research experiments we watch because he’s trying to train us to critically watch and listen to these interviews. I use to mindlessly watch and listen and just blindly accept what they’re throwing at me, but now I’m beginning to question the validity of their experiments, data, and interpretation – I feel like a boss! Our first assignment is to read a scientific article and be ready for discussion Monday; hopefully, the critical analytic skills are transferable to fine print.

Aesthetic and Interpretive Understanding 50 – Literature and Medicine

I don’t think I’ve ever had this much reading assigned to me in my life and I don’t think I’ve ever read this much of the assigned reading, haha. I can’t lie and say I’ve read it all – the college way of life and sacrifices has not allowed me to read all of it (yet?). Since this class is more of a GenEd (General Education requirement) for me, I’m honestly not prioritizing it. But when I’m procrastinating from my other assignments, I’m happily reading for this one! This class is stretching me in new ways. I’ve never taken the time to think about the patient’s perspective or the importance of how and why someone chooses to describe pain. Analyzing the (positive and negative) emotions concomitant to being a doctor have kept me intrigued during the weekly 2 hour lectures! Our first submitted assignment was due this week – it was a 2 page response paper and we had the option of performing a close reading of a passage from anything we read or interpret a theme prevalent in many of the works we’ve focused on (analogous to a compare and contrast mini essay).

Molecular and Cellular Biology (MCB) 145 – Neurobiology of Perception and Decision Making

GAH, this has been my favorite class! We meet twice a week, on Tuesday and Thursday for an hour and a half each. On Tuesdays, the class splits into 2 and we discuss the assigned scientific articles. Weekly written reports on these articles are submitted, but 4 students each week have the option to present the article to the class rather than submit a written report. I volunteered to present first, which was a little nerve wracking because I had no standards to work off of, but it went very well! It was a pretty casual presentation, with people butting in to ask questions and express their opinions which is exactly what I wanted! Discussion based classes are awesome in theory, but it really only works when students are willing to take risks and participate. The beauty of this class lies in the fact that it’s more of an upper division class and upperclassmen are more willing to voice their thoughts. Then on Thursdays, the professor lectures (we also had 1 guest lecture already!), but still strives to keep the class very interactive. We’ve had tons of 3D image-illusion examples in class and the interesting material is our natural caffeine!!

Mathematics 18 – Multivariable Calculus for Social Sciences

Bleh, so many fixed feelings about this class. I’ve been learning a lot, yes. The concepts I’m learning are not only applicable, but also easily useful in real life, yes. But all these pros are quickly countered by the fact there’s no credit-incentive I’m receiving for this class since it’s entirely an elective for me. There are 3 psets a week and they’re always pretty difficult which means I designate the majority of my homework time to math. I saved the worst con for last: the final for this class is not only on the last day of finals, but it’s also on my 21st birthday! I was hoping to go home earlier than December 21st, but nope, I’ll be embracing the snow and bone chilling cold until then. At least I can rely on the constantly glorious Southern California weather? Help me with more pros here people.

Spanish 61n – The Ethics of Business

Love this class! Two kids who I spent the summer in Peru with are taking this class so it’s great to talk about our experiences and relate class material back to real life, personal experiences! We’ve had a mixture of reading, writing, and movie watching assignments. My teacher is one of those people who would own at Jeopardy because she’s incredibly knowledgeable in all categories of everything. It’s my first Spanish class that isn’t based on grammar, but rather runs like a normal class, just in Spanish. It’s definitely a transition because grammar has always trumped content in lower level Spanish classes, but now it’s flipped!

 

I once was asked in the comments section of my blog how I organize for classes.

I’m a binder person so I’ll designate a binder for each class or split up a binder for multiple classes (typically grouping together classes that happen on the same day so I don’t have to carry too many things on any particular day) using tabs and within those tabs, I’ll divide up class notes, reading notes, section notes, lab notes, etc. depending on the demands of the class. If you look around my room, you’ll probably never guess that I’m super organized with my schoolwork, but I can be very type A about the organization of my school business. I probably get these attributes from my elementary habits when teachers required you to organize in a certain way.

With regards to notes, I like to use different colored pens sparingly and hardly highlight anything. For a few of my premed requirement classes (i.e. organic chemistry and physics), I’ll rewrite my class notes so it’s not obvious that I was semi-dozing off in the early morning lectures. I get all middle-school-girl-giggly when my notes are aesthetically pleasing because for whatever reason, I keep my notes forever. I kept all my notes/assignments from high school and was finally convinced to throw them out right before moving to college.

 

See all the stacks of paper I have on the top of my bookshelf?? That’s the accumulation of my academic-sweat since freshman year of college. These are only the notes I write down, but I take notes with my laptop for certain classes as well! I basically cherish my notes like they’re my chromosome-carrying babies and have this fear that one day I’ll want to know something specific, will remember where I wrote that fact down, but won’t have my pretty, pretty notes to look back through them. This is ridiculous, yes, especially because inventions like the internet and Wikipedia exist, but I can’t help it!

As for studying habits, I’m not much of a re-reader because I personally perceive that task as inefficient and I frown down upon inefficiencies. To trick myself, I’ll read pretty slow the first time around which increases my material absorption and will review my notes to write papers, complete psets (problem sets), and prepare for exams. I discovered that practice problems in preparations for exams have an immensely greater importance because any good exam will test your ability to apply concepts learned in class to varying situations rather than to regurgitate facts.

 

Harvard is academically rigorous – there’s no reason to deny this because we should be proud of it. However, I hope that you can realize that it’s both rigorous and fulfilling in more areas of life than just academia! Next week, I have my first midterms (in math and Spanish), my sorority’s formal, and the Boston Half Marathon! That’s stress in all aspects of my life – academic, social, and physical – and I’m nervous-excited to take on these thrilling obstacles!!

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Students from around the globe apply to and attend Harvard for its academic rigors and plethora of opportunities. These are the driving factors that compelled me to enroll; however, there are a different set of factors that explain why I have willingly stayed as an eager student in the community. The people I’ve met on campus and the relationships I’ve built are the reasons why I get butterflies of excitement when I return to school after a vacation or even when I return to my dorm room after a long day of class and lab.

No one can truthfully deny that Harvard is competitive, but I think the intensity of our competitive nature is usually overestimated. Disregarding the outliers that I expect to exist in every academic setting, we’re a community of forward thinkers who like to discuss as well as debate our innovative ideas and controversial opinions. We may like to keep secret our hope that our unique idea is the best, but more often than not, we’re not very good at keeping our ideas a secret from each other. As a math and science student pursuing the premedical track, I normally have multiple, brain-teasing (or even brain-splicing)  psets (problem sets) due each week. I’ve never submitted a pset without asking questions to either the professor or TF (teaching fellow) in office hours, or my peers. NEVER. And I don’t even finish psets early. I normally try to start psets as early as possible, but the majority (if not all of it) gets completed the night before the deadline – this is a horrible habit and me and my history of sleep deprived nights are fully aware of this; therefore, I do not encourage this practice! Anyways, enough confessions for me, my point is although I typically finish my homework close to deadlines, students are still willing to answer my questions and review the material. Learning definitely boosts both our knowledge and confidence, but it’s not a selfish practice here.

My roommate and I studying in Lamont Library basement

Learning, studying, and practicing class material, coupled with our extracurricular commitments (i.e. sports, work, various student groups) consume the majority of our time. But I think most students (hopefully) would agree that there’s also time for random, nonacademic, YOLO activities which probably take up the majority of my fondest college memories…and that’s why my roommates and I went on a random cruise of the Boston harbor!

The physical setting of Harvard is already phenomenal even if you look at it in isolation. Yet if you expand your horizon just a few miles, Cambridge and Boston harmoniously merge as the Charles River leads into the Massachusetts Bay. At the same time, it’s still like an ironman challenge to try to rally students off campus due to the high concentration of events and opportunities conveniently right in the heart of campus. At the beginning of every semester, I always tell myself that I’m going to get off campus more frequently and this became less and less of a lie as I started to pursue distance running during my sophomore year. Running around 10 miles along the river helps you realize all the wonderful events and opportunities off campus yet still super close to campus. I’ve been able to participate in heart walks, various community 5k fundraisers, as well as the delicacies of farmers’ markets! My friends and I have never regretted making a trip out to Boston, even if it’s just for some dessert! Therefore, when one of my best friends and roommates advertised a 2 hour cruise on the Boston harbor, there was no hesitation in committing.

The girls in my blocking group soaking in the Boston skyline!

We excitedly separated ourselves from campus for a few hours after making a few expert transfers on the T (subway) and soon boarded the boat! Our backdrop was beyond beautiful, the DJ was skillfully mixing throwbacks and top 40 songs, and an array of fruit and hummus was served. If you couldn’t already tell, all the ingredients for the perfect night were present and I don’t think we could have exploited the night any better!!

It’s always emotionally tolling when I think of how little I see my family and friends back at home, across the nation; however, I know the opportunities I have here on the East coast are unparalleled. I can’t imagine having this much fun anywhere but Cambridge where there’s a harmonious blend of an urban and small-town feel.

I may put more of an effort into exploring downtown Boston, but it’s always very natural to explore Harvard during my downtime too!

I’d say it’s pretty common for students to have jobs on campus – whether its to pay for academic or social costs – most of my friends all hold steady jobs during the term time. There’s even a Harvard Student Employment Office (SEO) that links available jobs to students. Jobs range widely from librarians, cafe baristas, cleaning bathrooms with Dorm Crew, or lab/research assistant jobs like mine at the Harvard Decision Science Lab (HDSL). The common thread of these varying jobs is that they all pay well! If your salary is connected with the Harvard payroll, it’s usually higher than minimum wage and since the jobs are on campus, they’re super convenient! Although you should keep in mind that job opportunities are not only limited to the university’s offerings as some of my friends work for local restaurants and retail boutiques as well.

One of my friends recently started working at Eliot grill. I’ve never heard of Eliot grill, but I’ve heard (and enjoyed!) its sisters: Quincy grill and Dunster grill. Eliot, Quincy, and Dunster are all upperclassman houses (dorms for sophomores, juniors, and seniors) which have a late night grill for the typical college cravings i.e. mozzarella sticks, burgers, and ice cream milkshakes. Their hours differ but are typically open even later on the weekends.

The school gives each student $65 of “BoardPlus” per semester to spend on university affiliated cafes. Crimson Cash is credit loaded onto a student’s ID card via credit card/cash – also useful for laundry!

We decided to visit the grill while my friend was working and it was much fancier than I thought! I kept wanting to refer to it as Eliot diner because “grill” just didn’t cut it!

Such a cool hang out place!!

There was a pool table, a Foosball table, a big screen television and comfy couches all atop a checkered tile floor. I just wanted waiters/waitresses to come by on roller skates!

I’m not really sure when Eliot grill started working, but I’m pretty disappointed I didn’t know about this space earlier. I’m excited and determined to continue exploring both Boston and Harvard! It’s always the best to be able to tell your visiting guests a few exciting secrets about your home.

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Follow your dreams. That seems to be a theme of my posts, but that is because I truly believe it. There are so many opportunities to do so at Harvard too—everything from growing your own vegetables, to engaging in political discourse, to theatre troupes with a long history. Yet the wealth of resources can also make us veer of course.

 

I (perhaps unfortunately?) was not one of the students that changed my major as often as I immersed in Lamont to study. Partly because all the departmental intro meetings often have delicious, free food at them, but mostly because for my first two years I was so entrenched in pre-college major that I didn’t give myself the freedom to explore callings that arose.

It wasn’t until junior year that I explored the Mind-Brain-Behavior Track Program & Philosophy Department. In senior year I took on classes in anthropology & history, and realized my dream was at the intersection of all of these courses, departments, and teachers: food education, nutrition policy, and cultural foodways.

 

Instead of jumping into a job the day after graduation, I took on a fellowship to research the artisanal food movement (which I begin this week!), and completed a yoga teacher training (YTT) program that spoke to my interest in healthy & holistic healing (complementary to nutrition). Its scary to take the road less travelled, but in doing so, you may just realize (as I did) that its the path your meant for.

 

Indeed, if I never stayed in Boston and did the YTT, I would never have met the amazing owner of the studio in which we did our YTT (Karma Yoga), Jesse Widner. Through Jesse I became involved with helping and expanding his non-profit C.A.R.E, (the Community Animal Rescue and Education organization) into new projects I probably will update more as the summer goes on and plans become solidified. I’ve found this work an extremely satisfying way of bring together my varied passions of community, yoga, healing, and education.

My YTT Tribe & Jesse in the middle at Karma Yoga!

So, wherever you end up, follow your desire and carve the path you want. More updates on a summer in Boston—including the beginning of the fellowship and my evolving working with C.A.R.E—to come.

 

~Natalie

 

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