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Hi there! My name is Inesha and I’m excited to join this awesome group of Harvard bloggers. My hope is that through me you’ll get a better sense of what Harvard life is like, the opportunities we have open to us, the places we often stumble upon, and the chance encounters this place makes happen. When I came here my friends back home would joke that I was going to “Hogwarts,” not Harvard. I used to laugh them off. Yes, our freshmen dining hall does have a little bit of a Harry Potter feel to it, but let me tell you… this place? It’s pretty magical. And to show you how it is so magical, I figured I’d have to start by telling you what it was like leaving Harvard for a semester… and coming back. Because only then did I really appreciate just how amazing this place is!


That time during the fall semester that I randomly got on a bus and went all the way to Ohio…one of the best weekends of my life. #2012

This past September, I wasn’t back at Harvard but standing instead on Harvard Street in Washington, D.C. wishing so badly that I was. I was starting an internship at the White House in the Office of the First Lady and the timing meant that I saw an election, a Christmas season, and a full-fledged fiscal crisis right in front of my eyes. I got to staff the Congressional Ball and I got to go halfway across the country to Ohio to knock on doors and ride down random streets in a minivan, car doors wide open (I’m pretty sure this is not legal but alas…) asking people to go and vote. I went to my first political rally. With the President and Jay-Z and Bruce Springstein. I backtracked to the White House on November 7th in relief and joy. We had won ourselves a second term.

I sat in on speaker series with the Vice President, the President’s Press Secretary, the Head of Legislative Affairs. I sat at a table with Ben Rhodes and Samantha Power. And I got to meet the First Lady. The First Lady. And all the while, I got to hear stories from the American people. People from Hawaii and California, Kansas and Virginia. I got to push my eyes and ears up against the walls of the White House, so grateful for the chance and the opportunity to maybe impact those who stood at those black iron gates just a few hundred feet from where I got to stand. And all the while, I was pushed and challenged and sometimes made so tired that it was all I could do to put one foot in front of the other. I made incredible friends. I learned some hard lessons. I met people who inspired me. And I grew to understand just how big and grand and truly diverse this country is.

The day the President stopped by our offices…

The White House can be one magical place, especially during the holiday season. This is one of my favorite shots from my entire internship…a rare moment of peace in the hallway!

I can’t say that I didn’t miss Harvard—or my sophomore fall. I did. A lot. There were days when I would look up from my desk at the White House and yearn so much to be sitting at the dining hall in Mather with my friends, or wrapped up in a conversation at Burdicks, or sitting at the top of the Science Center gazing at the stars and all of campus passing by. I would look at my emails and lament all of the incredible speakers I was missing—I mean, I was at the White House and I swear at times it felt that Harvard students were getting more exposure to incredible White House officials than me. From David Axelrod to Jim Messina to Thomas Donilon—only at Harvard and the White House could you fill up entire weeks with speaker series with these people.

This realization itself taught me to appreciate so much more the school I get to go to. Now that I’m back at Harvard, I can’t help but think that all of those days and months in DC…. they were so worth it. Because now I’m back where I can take all of the “real world experiences” I’ve had and let them be too a part of the story I’m writing at Harvard. It’s a really long story and I realized at the White House that it will probably never end the way I think (or yes, even hope) it might. This story is filled with huge lessons and incredible nights, times of struggle-busing (maybe it’s just a Harvard word, but you get the picture,) and weeks that stretch into months and years with incredible friends.  And all the while, I’ll be blogging right here, hoping to give you as much of a view into the life of a Harvard student. I’m so glad you’re here—please check back soon… there’s still so much I want to share with you!

Perhaps the biggest lesson in public service that I learned during my internship…


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I have a love-hate relationship with my lofty personal goals. I love overcoming (or at least enduring) the concomitant challenges and of course the hilariously adventurous journey of memories. I hate how you can always count on the presence of hurdles barricading the end goal. But there’s a reason why love, rather than hate initiates the phrase.

In high school, I set two seemingly impossible goals for myself: 1) Earn admission into a private university (because I had grown weary of the faults of my public high school) and 2) Go abroad during my four short undergraduate years. Words will never be able to sufficiently express how thankful I am that high school goal #1 worked out so well – not only because I’ve achieved a profound sense of happiness within the Harvard community, but also because accomplishing goal #1 gave me the smoothest segue into accomplishing goal #2.

I didn’t go abroad after my freshman year of college and as sophomore spring semester began (this is the popularly stressful time where the majority of students scramble to make plans for the upcoming summer), I knew I couldn’t stand another whole summer of Facebook updates from all my friends abroad. I know this may sound quite shallow, but hey I’ll take a little leverage for motivation from anywhere! So I spent tons of time scrolling through websites by the Office of International Program (OIP) that looked a lot like this: suggested programs for studying abroad and summer study abroad programs.

It was all pretty overwhelming – and I was just looking at Harvard programs even though you can participate in selected non-Harvard programs and still transfer credit. There were just so many (too many) places that I wanted to experience and only one summer ahead of me. I started to approach my abroad struggles by activity instead of location.

The thought of taking summer Spanish classes was completely unsettling for my mind, body AND soul. I had come to a point in my Spanish-learning academic career where I felt like I had just been reviewing the same grammar lessons time and time again. It was definitely time to take my Spanish knowledge to the streets – or at least to a clinic in a Spanish speaking country which would incorporate my premedical interests that developed my freshman spring semester.

My interests blended together in a (suspiciously) harmonious fashion as I continued researching the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies Summer Internship Program (DRCLAS SIP). Sorry, Harvard’s really big on acronyms.

I applied, interviewed, and received funding as the spring semester progressed.

Participating in DRCLAS SIP gives me an 8 week opportunity to ensure that I want to pursue the lengthy medical school path, practice my Spanish in a real world setting, as well as immerse myself in a completely different culture! That’s right, 8 weeks for academic clarity and cultural immersion. Thank goodness I have tons of support and guidance from the DRCLAS team, both on campus and in Peru!!

I’ll say this time and time again whether on this blog or in person: DRCLAS is a beautifully organized program. This fact is very apparent even in the application process as you see them handle paperwork, emails, interviews, etc. with the utmost promptness and professionalism. Although DRCLAS is a robot-like organized program, it’s also incredibly thoughtful of its students.

In the earlier weeks of this program, they definitely held our hands through orientation week which was pretty necessary as it is much easier for foreigners to run into dangers more prominent in South America than America. But with each day, the grasp on our hands have been slowly lightened and it’s full freedom ahead with two jazz hands. We were trained to call secure taxis rather than take ones off the street, to not flash our smartphones in public, and to generally stay low key.

However, no amount of training could have prevented a string of four muggings – in one night … on the same bridge. Yay for making DRCLAS Peru history for its first mugging ever. Nay for, well the muggings taking place.

It sounds worse than it was, I promise! The whole group gathered to celebrate a birthday. It was nighttime. There was a bridge necessary to cross on foot to arrive at the house. There were four men looking for trouble and found cash, a digital camera, and an iPhone. It was quite a large and unfortunate hit, but the event was nonviolent and the robbers even returned IDs and house keys.

At least there was cake waiting for everyone!

The consecutive muggings were truly a series of unfortunate events (tehe there was no resisting this one) that added some unnecessary stress, but really there was no way to prevent it – the buddy system was even in place! It opened our eyes and heightened our sense of awareness. Then we found comfort in food. Typical college student behavior?

Ceviche – my favorite famous Peruvian cuisine of deliciously seasoned raw fish. I’m so glad you can’t see me drooling right now.



Raw fish topped with Peruvian sauces – from flavorful to spicy! DRCLAS isn’t afraid to turn up the heat…











Sometimes the comfort from food stems from the preparation process

Aligning with DRCLAS Friday culture day, the whole group headed to a well known, beach side culinary school. We spent most of the morning and afternoon working hard to earn our lunch, but boy was it worth it! I haven’t cooked in so long (or really ever) since the majority of undergraduate students are on the meal plan at school. We made a multiple course lunch with dessert and drinks – all the types of Peruvian cuisine we’ve been dreaming of. Then we took our food babies to the nearby beach to enjoy some surf and sun! Local roaming took us to the main square where the Peruvian equivalent of the White House stands. In front of the presidential palace are tons of guards…

…who may or may not be friendly to tourists

It can sometimes be annoying to feel that I’m experiencing Peru more than I’ve experienced America – I’ve never been to the White House! But remnants of annoyance are quickly fleeting because life abroad can be fast-paced and I’ll have more opportunities to explore the land of the free for the majority of the rest of my life.

At this point of my summer, I’ve been outside American boundaries for a personal record of time. This whole summer has been exhilarating, but with this excitement comes its evil twin: fear. Life abroad can easily feel like a perpetual seesaw between gleeful adventure and dangerous confusion which can take an exhausting toll on you. I can’t help but constantly fight sparks of homesickness for both Southern California and Cambridge while simultaneously throwing myself in new adventures in new places.

Lake Llanganuco

I left Lima for the weekend in hopes of returning homesick for Lima and my loving host family. All it took was an 8 hour bus ride to Huaraz: “the Switzerland of Peru.” This was our first student-led trip as DRCLAS had no part in planning it although they were ready to advise us on transportation, lodging, or anything else we needed.

With altitude pills (and llamas) on our side, we hiked around the Andes Mountains to discover beautiful lakes and majestic snow-capped mountains. The local cuisine (see below),

Cuy, otherwise known as guinea pig is a famous Peruvian dish. It tastes like a fusion of duck and chicken.

fresh air and sights were quite refreshing as Huaraz served as the much needed get-away from urban (and polluted) Lima.

Hiking the Andes (at 5am!) and seeing wild llamas bathing in a river are definitely once in a lifetime adventures that I’ll always cherish. However, I think the best part of the weekend Huaraz trip was staying in a dorm-like hostel where there were 7 beds in a room which accommodated everyone on this mini trip. The reflections and conversations right before peacefully falling asleep together will ALWAYS be remembered with a huge grin on my face.

Living with a host family is my ideal situation because I get to truly observe Peruvian lifestyles day in and day out, but falling asleep to the delirious thoughts of my friends abroad with me is definitely the next best thing!


Me getting cozy with a llama

The Huaraz group enjoying local ice cream flavors and meeting another American sporting a poncho!

Conquering our Andes trek

Peek a Boo in the Andes

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There’s an inexplicable, magical aura revolving around the number three.

Which numbered attempt is a charm? How many musketeers are there?


As week number three (out of eight) of my Summer Internship Program (SIP) through the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies (DRCLAS) came to a close, I noticed the semblance of routine formation. As foreigners to this Peruvian land, us thirteen students were getting use to certain cultural characteristics (i.e. HEAVY lunch and light, if any, dinner)

This is a story about me not only overcoming, but conquering misunderstandings in a foreign culture: One time at my homestay, at 8pm my family asked if I had eaten lunch. When I said yes, they didn’t make me dinner so I snooped in the kitchen and made myself a tomato and avocado sandwich! These are the ingredients to my happiness.

 as well as the ropes of our internships. One of the best parts about having the splendid opportunity to be abroad and in a family homestay is the cultural immersion – and the fact that this immersion is a seemingly endless adventure. Although I’m a fan of routine, I’m also a huge advocate of surprises so I’ve really been enjoying constantly learning new aspects of Peruvian culture and the Spanish language simply by being present in Peru.

Bringing a little Harvard flare and organization to Peru, the students have created and shared a communal Google document where  each student contributes by listing Peruvian customs we’ve observed that stand out compared to our American-tinted eyes.

Some of my favorite items are:

1. Eggs, butter, and water are not refrigerated.

2. Bedroom doors are kept open whenever possible so that if an earthquake occurs, people won’t be trapped inside their rooms. (Earthquakes are common in our area.)

3.  Fitting people in a taxi is like playing the ultimate game of Tetris.

I’m hoping Google has swept all universities as much as it has taken over Harvard because I feel like Google makes life easier. Within  this past year or so, Google has become the official email domain which has catalyzed the skyrocketing of applications such as Google Documents (great for brainstorming with other students and even sharing Powerpoints!) and Google Voice. I’d highly recommend everyone getting a Google Voice Number because it’s a permanent phone number that you can forward to your cell phone which makes filling out paperwork less of a hassle since you won’t ever have to update your phone number again! Also, Google provides the option of having voicemails transcribed and emailed. I’m not even working for Google and I’m raving about them…

Coming back from my tangent (!), for the majority of my summer, I’m shadowing at a private clinic where I was promised freedom to roam and follow my interests as I wish. Although Spiderman claims that the best promises are the ones you can’t keep (the Amazing Spiderman movie is AWESOME and my obsession will be explained later), the promise of my liberties in the clinic have been one of the best kept promises.

I shadowed a brain surgery on my first day in the clinic last week and I’ve been making a home for myself in the operating rooms ever since. Watching surgery firsthand is light years better than what Noah Wyle and Patrick Dempsey could even portray combined on cable television! However, my supervisors, in their wise judgement, pressured me to rotate around the different departments. A part of me knew their aggressive suggestions had kind intentions and a bigger part of me didn’t want to argue in Spanish, so I rotated as they wished.

I requested Pediatrics and met some loves of my life:

I can’t help but to think newborns are so ugly-cute!! AHH little feet!!!!!!

In my short time at the clinic, I had already seen a handful of caesareans where a group of doctors whisk away the  baby while other doctors stitch up the mama. It was an enlightening experience to follow the baby this time as nurses cleaned him/her as well as performed basic medical check ups. My mind was blown to think that everyone starts off sooooo small and helpless (…and ugly-cute!)

The newborns department entrusted me with much more responsibility than the operating rooms did. My excitement climaxed – and with great responsibility comes profound fear! I was allowed to cradle some (crying) newborns in my arms, feed and weigh them, as well as collect their footprints. There was also a good 12 minutes when I was in the nursery without any other staff member, just sayin’. I’ve never carried a newborn before! I’m talking about new-newborns…like they’ve been breathing on their own for maybe 5 minutes. Although I felt really honored to be trusted so much, I felt like the H-bomb really helped me out here…I don’t hate it.

Chocoteja variety from Lunahuaná

Another thing that I’m far from hating are chocotejas – chocolate shells with manjar blanco (and usually another surprise like peanuts, pecans, etc.) filling. [Manjar blanco essentially tastes like caramel, but I’ve recently learned the sad, sad lesson that it’s basically boiled condensed milk AKA a fatty death wish.] Simple, addictive, and delicious, I surrender to chocotejas.

My host family told me to keep an eye out for chocotejas  in Lunahuaná, a small town that DRCLAS planned a group trip to on the third Friday of the program. I’ve said before that DRCLAS SIP is the epitome of a perfect “summer internship” because it’s a harmonious balance between productivity and relaxation, but it also skillfully see-saws between structure and freedom! After orientation week, most days are free days except for the majority of Fridays where DRCLAS organized events take place with the purpose of catalyzing our cultural immersion while abroad. Oftentimes after work, a few students will meet up and explore, but Fridays are always so great because the whole group finally comes together.

Lunahuaná is also known for white water rafting which has been on my bucket list for quite some time now (since the summer of 2010 to be exact). I think the closest rafting location to Cambridge is in Maine, but it was SO much cheaper to do it in Peru! Checking off an activity on my bucket list while being abroad made me feel so productive, fulfilled, and accomplished!!

While abroad, I’ve had such a concentrated amount of new and once in a lifetime experiences that I’ve hardly had adequate time to reflect. But when I do take a few moments to evaluate my experiences, I’m overwhelmed with happiness because I know that everything I’ve done this summer – from roaming Paris alone for 36 scary hours to holding a living man’s colon – has been WORTH IT, regardless of the negative reflections on my bank account…

This week’s guest blog was one of the most eloquent and succinct arguments for going abroad ever. I think it has convinced me to go abroad again! There’s a reason why everyone you talk to who has been abroad raves about their experiences and memories as their face lightens up. There’s also a reason why Harvard College has teams on teams of professionals and (financial) resources to help students pursue their desires abroad (Office of Career Services & Office of International Programs to name the most prominent). And to these reasons, I know I’ll be forever thankful!!!

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 “Summer internship” is a loaded phrase; its contrasting connotations blend splendidly together – especially under the umbrella of the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies (DRCLAS) organization.

As mentioned in my previous blogs, I’m participating in the DRCLAS Summer Internship Program (SIP) for the majority of my jam-packed summer. The first week oriented the 13 participating students in Peruvian history, culture, and safety which essentially tried to eradicate our touristy characteristics (i.e. taking group photos in front of ALL churro stands) – whether or not these efforts were futile is still vehemently debated to this day. Orientation week ended with a cocktail mixer with our bosses.

Program student participants, coordinators & partners!

The program felt surreal up until the moments we awaited for our bosses to arrive. Most of us, at this point, never had personal contact with our bosses and had no idea what we would be doing for the next 7 weeks. A Peruvian company name was enough for us to purchase a round trip ticket without hesitation! The anxiety concomitant with jet-setting to a foreign country without complete job security rose and climaxed when we realized conversation icebreakers had to be in Spanish. Avoiding awkwardness in English is already almost impossible for me as it is, so I patiently awaited my boss as I perused my arsenal of knowledge, mentally recounting Spanish books and movies from class so I could quickly relate to them if the conversation lulled.

Thank goodness Melvin, my Peruvian boss, is suave enough for the both of us. We discussed the logistics behind shadowing at the clinic, ceviche, chocolate,  and before I knew it, the program coordinators declared a final toast so that no one had to travel home during an obscure hour.

My excitement about my shadowing internship carried over for days! Melvin and I had made plans for me to start my internship early in order to meet the majority of the doctors at the clinic as well as get my uniform customized. He said I would have full reins to observe whatever I wanted in the clinic and he has definitely kept his word to this day.

On my first day at the clinic, I was ushered into the operating room of a brain surgery!!!!! Yes, all these exclamation points are necessary.

Me in the middle of a surgeon sandwich!

I’ve seen human brains before – at science camp (and on Grey’s Anatomy!) – but they’ve never been attached to a beating heart.

The patient was a teenage boy and it would be his 4th brain surgery within the year. He had an aggressive brain tumor and an aggressive team of talented doctors to match. As I loomed over the shoulder of the neurosurgeon and watched as the patient’s head was shaved, a lot of conflicting emotions erupted from the core of my stomach.

A patch of the patient’s skull was meticulously drilled out of his head almost as quickly as I could imagine future-surgeon-Jeanie with the drill in my hand. Yet I wanted to run out through the automatic sliding glass doors to the beat of the patient’s heart. Although I can physically see myself running the scenes of an operating room, I feel like I have to become emotionally cold to cope with the emotional trauma of the patients! (Did I mention I cry during every Grey’s Anatomy episode? Because I don’t….)

Before this shadowing internship, I thought shadowing was a stupid waste of precious time because I’m more of a hands-on person. However, all the Mather (my upperclassman House/dorm) premed tutors/advisers strongly recommended shadowing. Since it was difficult for me to find time during this past academic year, I was beyond elated to not only receive the opportunity to shadow and simultaneously practice Spanish, but also acquire generous funding through the Office of Career Services (OCS) [see “International Internships and Funding” in the hyperlink].

I never thought I would stand inside an operating room in action before the third year of medical school. The fact that I’ve already had this experience as a rising undergraduate junior blatantly demonstrates how Harvard and its resources effectively provide a catalyst to jumpstart as well as support students on their career paths. Reid, in her more recent blogs, mentions how grateful she is to be studying abroad in the country known for love and food. I couldn’t agree with her more.

I’ve done a lot of traveling this summer and still have tons of traveling ahead of me. When my summer official ends on September 4th (the first day of class of the fall semester), I’ll have my personal record of travel mileage. Every plane, bus and train that I board is made possible by Harvard, its opportunities and resources, as well as the strong support of my family and friends. Have I mentioned that I love life enough? And I haven’t even begun to rave about the “summer” half of “summer internship” …

Peruvian tradition calls for the birthday person to bite the cake before cutting it.

DRCLAS’s official calendar has students working/going to class Monday-Thursday with organized activities on Fridays and free weekends. Please note that students may be called in to work on any day! The flip side applies too – meaning that spontaneous holidays have happened. For example, the second Thursday of the program was a participant’s birthday! The main program coordinator was gracious enough to invite all the students over to her house to celebrate with pizza and CAKE! It was really great to reunite with the other students because we saw each other every day during orientation week, but when work and school started, we hadn’t seen each other for days! Hearing about everyone’s internship over a slice (or multiple slices!) of delicious birthday cake was the ideal way to wind down the first “business week.”

On the second Friday of the program, DRCLAS organized a tour through Paracas and Ica. In Paracas, we boarded a boat headed to the Ballestas Islands.

The caves and rock formations were carved by sea, wind, and weather!


On our way to the islands, we got a great view of “The Chandelier” hieroglyphic

This steep hillside encryption can only be seen on boat. Its origin and function remain as mysteries!

as well as a wide range of animal species including sea wolves and Humboldt penguins! Back on the mainland, we toured a winery. Although you might expect a bunch of college students to get excited about free wine samples, we were all just really eager for lunch! One of the more difficult adjustments to Peruvian life is the late lunchtime! We hadn’t really eaten since breakfast at 5am and it was about 3pm which directly translates into a bunch of winey kids (if you catch my drift 🙂 !)

I’m so glad they captured my good side while sandboarding…

After lunch, most of us spent the best $8 of our lives. Literally right next to the lunch restaurant were miles and miles of seemingly endless Huacachina sand dunes where we sandboarded down steep, STEEP slopes!

Just a few hours ago, we were on a boat!

Once in a lifetime #fairytalelife


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This past week was phenomenal. I can say this fairly because bad events occurred as well, but ‘tis life – nay – ‘tis a great life because I’m perfectly ecstatic with how things unfolded.

As I’ve stated (desperately) before, my well being was basically dependent on whether I go abroad this summer. At this point, I truly can’t think of any better way to improve my Spanish proficiency other than forcing myself to think, breathe, speak, and eat Spanish. I’m more than happy to report I’ll be doing all of the above for 8+ weeks this summer!

I’ve been scrambling to research and apply to many summer opportunities (including research and interning abroad) ever since my return to campus after J-term (January break/winter break) – so much so that it felt like a fifth class! Being a research assistant at the Harvard Decision Science Laboratory, which is more of a social science lab, has really made me miss wet labs (pipettes, microscopes, etc.). This isn’t to say I don’t like my job there because I definitely do and intend on working there for many more semesters! Seeing the economics/psychology behind so many common, daily tasks (such as first impressions) has truly propelled my curiosity. Nonetheless, wet labs were my focal exploration point throughout high school and this is an area I feel like I’ve been failing to pursue during my precious and fleeting time as an undergraduate. Therefore, I applied to various REU (Research Experience for Undergraduates) programs at universities and companies as a Plan C.

Plan A and B were quickly formed after further investigation of the DRCLAS (pronounced Dr. Class, David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies) Summer Internship Program (SIP) as well as Sustainable Development Programs. I applied to work in Latin America and Mexico, and with luck on my side, I got accepted into both programs. My first choice is definitely interning in Latin America so that I can join my friends and teammates on Refresh Bolivia (a student run organization here at Harvard College) after my internship ends. Fun Fact: Refresh Bolivia was founded by a current senior who will be heading to Harvard Medical School this fall!! He’s been my friend since my freshman fall, but now I’m just star struck by him!!!!

Returning from my tangent, the real kicker is that my funding request was accepted as well! One of the main factors that initially attracted me to Harvard College was its incredibly generous financial support – both in and out of the classroom. Many have heard of Harvard’s renowned financial aid in the classroom, but during my first tour of the undergraduate campus, I was in shock that Harvard also financially supports its students in endeavors that make/keep us happy such as partying (safely of course!!!!) and working abroad!! I’m so beyond eternally grateful that my summer adventures will be partially funded so that I can avoid being an actual adult for that much longer by putting off organizing my finances.

The plot twist (cue scary music here) is that my funding request was approved for the Mexico Sustainable Development program when I prefer Latin America. When I spoke to a few friends, they only worried me by emphasizing how inflexible the protocol for summer funding is. Thank goodness they set my expectations low because that only set me up for a higher rise after I spoke to the faculty in the DRCLAS and OIP (Office of International Programs) offices who are currently working so that my funding can be transferrable in between the two DRCLAS programs. Everyone affiliated with Harvard University has been so kind and helpful that I doubt I could ever be thankful or appreciative enough!

I’ll definitely update when my summer plans are set in stone. For now, I can happily enjoy the present. Spring was here last week with temperatures in the high 60s(?), but now Spring is just near as everyone busts out their puffy jackets with a pout once again.

Things I’m looking forward to: my best friend from home visiting me this weekend!, catching up on sleep and classes (I feel guilty when I’m so behind on lectures!), my sorority’s (Kappa Alpha Theta) Spring formal, YardFest, Relay for Life, PreFrosh weekend … DUDE I LOVE SPRING

Also, HAPPY BIRTHDAY to our very own Jesse Sanchez!!!

Double also, best of luck to everyone waiting on decisions tomorrow. My judgement day was April 1st (April Fools Day – which is pretty cruel) so consider yourself lucky! Know that the Admissions staff is really in an unenviable position because there are SO many qualified applicants! Keep your heads up and whatever happens, happens for a reason!

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In sophisticated literature, the color white tends to symbolize kindness and purity – that’s why I’m so okay with telling myself white lies. Popular recent white lies to myself include (but are not limited to):

“Oh it’s just Shopping Week. I don’t have any work or books to even think about,”

“This is only the first actual week of school and Rush Week only comes once a year! There aren’t important psets (problem sets),”

and my personal favorite: “I promise this is my last dessert ever.”

                                                                     Going along with Scott’s dessert fantasies,

here are some homemade peanut butter cupcakes

crafty Thetas made in Mather’s (upperclassmen house) kitchen!

It’s pretty unfortunate that I forgot how easily the color white stains. These seemingly harmless white lies have darkened so much that they’ve almost cast a gloomy dark cloud following me everywhere…almost. Things have gotten real this week: my first 5 hour organic chemistry lab, my first frustrating physics pset, my first experiment at HDSL (Harvard Decision Science Lab). I really can’t solicit any sympathy because everyone else is at least just as busy. It’s during times like these (when I find myself doggy paddling just enough to stay afloat) that I think back to what a graduate student at the Harvard School of Public Health said to me: “There’s a difference between balancing and juggling.”

I think the main difference between these two activities is prioritization. When you’re physically balancing objects, you appear to be much calmer and poised. As impressive as juggling is, the image is definitely more hectic and things are much more easily dropped. I personally strive to achieve a balance where I’ll prioritize matters such as my interpersonal relationships with my family and friends, my academics, and my well-being over Facebook, Twitter, and scoring higher on Temple Run than all of my friends. Although the rankings of these priorities are flexible from hour to hour, the activities that have the most meaning in my life will never be dropped. Prioritization is also a great way to determine what is most important to you – in high school, I always did my chemistry homework first and that’s how I knew I liked moles more than beavers (#corny).

In my experiences at Harvard, I’ve heard many people declare that they’re too busy for X, Y & Z. To me, that’s just another way of indirectly saying X, Y & Z aren’t significant enough to prioritize for you. One thing that Harvard students definitely prioritize is breaks! The current hot topic on campus is activities during Spring Break and Summer Break. People are deciding where to go, what to do, and how to fund their interests/travels. There are TONS of options – i.e. study abroad and public interest internships. There’s also an amazing alumni networking tool called Crimson Compass if working in a specific location is of utmost importance to you. Navigating all the opportunities can most definitely be overwhelming so I must give a loud and proud shout out to the Office of Career Services (OCS) who holds frequent informational sessions and office-hour type drop-ins for students seeking guidance.

But for now, I’m prioritizing my organic chemistry pset. Cross your fingers for me and send some positive energy (in the form of protons??) my way! 😀

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Remember in elementary school when venn diagrams were all the rage? Let’s get back into that mentality.

1. Southern California trumps wherever you are – similarity

Sorry I’m not sorry for being born and raised in the best place on this and any other alternate universe. I may no longer technically live there or spend much time there, but I’ll always identify with its casual culture. And with regards to its endlessly sunny weather, ignorance is bliss. C’mon, where else can you surf to school?

Here’s a snapshot of my man Kobe at the Vietnam airport: another not so subtle reminder that SoCal runs the world.

2. Priorities – similarity

When it comes to the three C’s, you know …

Cosmetics, Chocolate, & …


the States and Vietnam have seriously got them on lock. The coffee is actually special coffee. It was one of those times when I was really glad my parents withheld information until after I tried and liked it! I hate to be living evidence that college catalyzes a caffeine addiction, but my affectionate feelings for coffee began this past summer due to the delectable and exquisite taste of Trader Joe’s coffee – so it doesn’t technically count, right??

Vietnamese coffee is practically a brand of its own though. Its power ingredient is condensed milk and it’s infamous for being really strong. Ease into this gateway drug, kids!

3. All of the lights – similarity

Thanksgiving 2011 was the first time I was in New York City during the holiday season. I got to watch the Thanksgiving Parade live and leisurely roam the lengthy avenues at my pleasure. Even with all the hype and high expectations about the city lights, it surely did not disappoint with its meticulous detail and ornate décor. 

Vietnam rings in 2012 with Tet about a month after the US does although they do not hesitate to celebrate with the States with their New Year as well. Downtown Saigon is currently resplendent with its various main roads and roundabouts brightly decorated. The main mode of transportation here in the city is by motorcycles, or as the locals call

them, ‘Hondas.’ Between my sister and me, it took about a week to pressure my parents into driving us around in Hondas even though rules of these Vietnamese roads are highly questionable. It’s so much easier to appreciate the lights on the back of a motorcycle (compared to a taxi) and I find it way more culturally immersive to have my mom lean over to a nearby biker at a red light to ask for directions.

But what is more culturally immersive is driving a motorcycle on my own! What up Asia

The topic of motorcycles brings us to our first few differences.

4. Tomato, potato; living room, garage – difference

Like New York City, Saigon’s real estate is limited, causing architects to exploit the third dimension of height. Most of the houses I’ve visited in Saigon have at least three and up to five floors! They remind me of Harvard entryways (which are like normal dormitory floors, but vertical and connected by a staircase). Due to the low supply of land, houses here don’t have garages! The Vietnamese with cars/Hondas use what Americans would call a living room as a garage. People just drive into the first room of their houses!! Most restaurants have valet parking, but some restaurants will let you drive right into the restaurants, which is actually the best kind of security for your car (in my opinion) +1 Vietnam.

5. Road Safety prevents Road Kill? – difference

As mentioned above, most Vietnamese people get around via Honda motorcycles. This method is not only more gas efficient, but also uses space more efficiently – I haven’t seen parking spaces for cars as of yet, unless of course you park on the side of the road, close your eyes, and hope that the other Hondas dodge it. All of these efficiency advantages fall to their death,

however, when you factor in travelling with your family. Kids can be seen wedged in between adults, which naturally seems like the least dangerous option, but standing up?? Also, here, plastic bags don’t seem to be too much of a safety hazard. I understand that you’re much more vulnerable to toxic gas emissions on a Honda compared to an enclosed vehicle, but using a plastic bag over the head as a preventative measure seems like risky business. I admire the Vietnamese for fearlessly confronting death, but not enough to let Vietnam win this one…+1 United States.

6. The FDA: The Food-Death Argument – difference

Go big or go home: why just confront death on the road when you can confront it at meal times too? I won’t believe you if you tell me this isn’t a question that’s been forever lingering in the back of your mind.

During my first night in Vietnam, I freaked out about seeing lizards chilling on the walls of restaurants. Good thing my aunt reassured me early on that lizards are seen as a “good intruder.” Lizards apparently eat ants, mosquitoes, and other gross things that are categorized as “bad intruders.” Now my scientific side would +1 Vietnam because major snaps for being green and exploiting the ecosystem but my leniency regarding cleanliness only goes so far.


I’m going to turn the other cheek and just blindly believe that the green liquid in the plastic bottles is soap that will be used to wash these dishes. I applaud your transparency Vietnam, but I do like the letter A’s not only on my report card, but also on the front windows of my favorite restaurants. Thus, +1 America.

7. The Health vs. Taste Controversy – undefined

Viet BLT, hold the L&T anyone?

A "bo bia ngot" street vendor: wrapped sugar sticks, shredded coconut & sesame seeds

Now I’m a level-headed, young woman of the Y2K+12, so I’ll compromise some cleanliness in order to please my taste buds. I’m an advocate for the growing popularity of food trucks in America so I’ll be a faithful advocate of street vendors here in Vietnam. I’m pretty confident when I say street vendors give you more bang for your buck and belly, but my confidence dwindles with regards to your digestive tract because no amounts of deliciousness validates an icky sicky day. Let’s just say my father will pay my tuition with less hesitation after some UHS (Harvard University Health Services) travelling sickness pills – two months ago when I went in to get vaccines in preparation for Vietnam, they helped me make sure that all my bases were covered!

As with most controversies, no clear winner is apparent at the moment, but bonus +1 UHS!

8. You are what you eat – too many variables

My mother openly voices that I’m approximately 3 magnitudes uglier when I’m tan. My determined endeavors to soak up the sun may seem like residual teen rebellion, but this recurring clash is truly a cultural one. Throughout history, Vietnamese people have appreciated lighter skin tones because it symbolized wealth since reduced sun exposure most likely meant you didn’t have to go outside and work. I, however, have adapted the more mainstream American way of thought that tan lines represent a sporty and adventurous personality. Even though some people have resorted to artificial means to imitate tans, surprise still struck me when the soap aisle at the supermarket could have been called the bleach aisle.

Although the featured ingredients of aloe vera, milk, and licorice extract seem to compose of a balanced diet, they also apparently help brighten your skin. This has made me weary every time I use unidentified soap to wash my hands. If only I packed a month long supply of Purell…

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My Boyfriend and I in Santa Barbara for Christmas

Nothin’ says California lovin’ like a day in the sun and luckily we’ve been getting a lot of that. It almost makes me forget the potential snow I may be coming back to.


So to enjoy the days outside while I can, my boyfriend and I took a trip up to Santa Barbara from Los Angeles for a day as a Christmas gift. We visited a number of beautiful, family-run, and even one biodynamic, vineyards in the area (never have I had the pleasure to sample so many delicious wines in one location), as well as enjoyed the picturesque beaches.


One of the quaint wine estates visited on our trip to Santa Barbara

Since then I’ve just been readjusting to reality, looking at potential jobs upon graduating—I’m currently in a restaurant management internship for Tremont 646 in Boston and the experience has been truly enlightening—, as well as outlining my class shopping list for next semester (both subjects that I will explore more in depth in the coming weeks). But all of this move towards planning after a week of mainly just sleep, food, and friends has got me thinking about the ability to push work ethic and determination.

Chef Andy Husband’s Restaurant on Tremont St. in Boston

I got a great comment from a reading about procrastination and how to deal. This, of any time of the year, is probably the worst. You get a break, but it goes by so fast after all the holiday cooking, shopping, cleaning, adjusting… the last thing you may want to do it prepare for summer internship applications or—like me—getting to work on your thesis.


But like anything in life, sometimes taking a real break and committing to it is what you need. Allowing myself the time to focus these last two weeks on family, old friends, getting back to hobbies like cooking and home gardening, all have allowed me to transition most easily into a work mindset feeling refreshed.


I suppose I’ll leave you with that as the New Year approaches and, as it does, I’ll be sure to fulfill that resolution of taking a deep breath, and break, often.


Happy soon to be 2012!



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Its winter break and with Christmas only but a few days away, this should be a time for everyone to curl up by the fire and take a moment to enjoy life with your loved ones.


Goodbye cold library—at least for now. I was one of the few students left on campus Monday, having my last final then, but at least the spaced out finals schedule allowed me ample time to prepare. And now I can relax (somewhat, there is still thesis writing to be done) for the next few weeks.


Speaking of classes, this is also my last blog post featuring my fall semester classes: the class this week is my “core” history course, “Slavery, Capitalism, and Imperialism” and actually was the last final I took.  “Core” is just the older version of Harvard’s now “General Education” system, where students have to opt to take a class from a certain number of general departmental requirements (history, physical science, literature, etc). The pictures inserted for this week are a sampling from all the documents we read through-out the semester.

For my History B Core I choose this class mostly because the material was very appealing to me as a Government concentrator, but also because the format of the class was quite unique. Don’t expect any white board outlines or fancy power-point presentations—Professor Walter Johnson has only himself and his voice as he lectures twice a week to his students on the imperial expansion of the U.S. against Native Americans, or the way slavery and anti-slavery movements were often more about class than sectionalism (Northern U.S. v. Southern U.S.).


You may be surprised for me to say, though, that there was never a dull moment in lectures. Never have I been so captivated before by a raw telling of history and unique appeal to historical documents—it really highlights the multitude of ways in which history can be understood and how we can even, hopefully, learn from it.

Like many Harvard classes though, it seems we were often assigned an untenable amount of reading each week.  However, one thing you learn is how to read “efficiently”, whether that be skimming or just knowing what to read for.


All that said, the joy of the class and format considered, I am more than happy for the semester to be over. I am very much looking forward to applications for summer and careering opportunities coming up, as well as spending quality time with family and friends.


I look forward to checking in with you as winter break continues, even if I’m at now is warm and sunny rather than snowy.



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During my freshman year, I NEVER went home.  I just loved Harvard too much.  I remember the first time I went home was for Thanksgiving – a whole four days – and it felt like the longest 5,760 minutes of my life (not that I was counting).  I wanted to be “back in the Pack” (or my freshman dorm Pennypacker) in my amazing room with all of my friends, and I never wanted to leave.  The five weeks of J-term seemed like five lifetimes (I returned to campus early to take cooking courses), and by the time Spring Break rolled around, I was desperately looking for other options.

My dad and I at a Pittsburgh Penguins game during last Spring Break

Now before you start thinking I have a terrible home life, I must assure you that nothing could be farther from the truth.  I am the oldest of five children, and no one in the world gives me more love and acceptance and happiness than my parents and those kids.  No matter what I am doing, I can always count on six fans that think I am the greatest thing since cooked meat.

Which is probably why after a year of seeing my family only intermittently, I came home from Barcelona and realized, “Hey wait.  I actually miss these people a lot.”  So when my mom called me a week ago and asked if I could fly home for a few days this weekend, my ready response was, “um… YES!”

So here I am in Pittsburgh on a Saturday night playing homebody, and taking a break from studying for midterms to write to you guys.  This morning, I was awoken by my two brothers jumping on me at the unnatural hour of 9:30 am, and I spent the majority of the day studying and catching up with my sisters.  This time last year I would probably be crying and texting my friends back at Harvard wondering what I was missing and what crazy adventures they were up to.  But right now, I don’t even know where my phone is (oh great… 24 hours at home, and I’ve already lost my phone), and I feel just dandy having had a fantastic home cooked meal.

When I left home for college a year ago, my greatest fear was not “will I be able to make friends?” or “what if the dining hall food is awful?” or “what if I come back to my dorm to find my roommates sticking a voodoo doll of me with a pin?”  My greatest fear was “what if after I leave, I come home and find that I can no longer integrate myself into my family?  What if my youngest brother who is 10 years younger than I am grows up feeling like I was never a part of his life?  What will happen when my sister starts Middle School, or my other sister gets her license, or my brother loses his first tooth, and I’m not there to be apart of it?”  Once I arrived at Harvard, I got so wrapped up in what I was doing, I momentarily forgot about these worries.

The truth is all of these things do happen.  It’s not like my family has stopped functioning because I’m not there – my sister still goes to school without me to drive her and my brothers still play hockey without me in the stands.  But what I have learned is that it’s not so hard to re-integrate yourself back into the family life.  The time you spend with your family just becomes that much more valuable.

Because life is so busy and exciting at Harvard, I don’t know when I’ll next be able to sneak away for a weekend at home (or if I’ll want to).  But I have really enjoyed my weekend home (which is all I was going to write before I started going off about family this and family that, and this post got so long).

Hope everyone else is having a great weekend!

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