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 “Breaking the fourth wall” is the least violent act ever – at least in thespian terms.

I learned this phrase in drama classes during my freshman and sophomore years of high school. I certainly knew I would never excel in any type of arts, but still chose to enroll in drama to fulfill the “performing arts” category of my high school’s General Education requirements (at Harvard, this is commonly referred to as GenEds; some schools just say GE’s).

I must admit that oftentimes I whine about GenEds since it forces me out of my math and science comfort zone but there are tons of subtle advantages from GenEd classes. With the liberal arts type of education that is pretty widespread in the United States, I’m able to participate in a broader spectrum of conversations…which basically makes me feel more relevant to society!

My overwhelming appreciation for GenEd classes came quite suddenly late at night this summer as I was (ashamedly?) reading Malibu Nanny by Pam Behan which is a story about the nanny who raised the Kardashians (proof that pop culture fans exist at Harvard too!). In the book, there was a random mentioning of lutefisk which I would have either skipped over in my ignorance or too quickly skimmed about on Wikipedia. HOWEVER, I enrolled in Culture and Belief 16: Folklore and Mythology during my freshman fall semester of college and therefore, understood the underlying connotations behind lutefisk. There’s certainly no way I would have enrolled in a course that covered subject matters such as witchcraft and Halloween if the Culture and Belief requirement didn’t exist as a required GenEd at Harvard – in other words, I would have been missing out. Not only did this class introduce me to a handful of wise upperclassmen who were ready to share their wisdom about study skills and time management, but the course also allowed me to understand the cultural significance behind lutefisk, the concomitant preparation and dance customs, as well as the associated disgust of the meal. Of course my background knowledge of lutefisk wasn’t at all imperative to my understanding of the nanny’s story, but my knowledge indubitably added an extra layer of significance to the story that I would have otherwise missed out on.

Besides being able to better understand the childhoods of the Kardashian children, I’m also able to speak, read, AND write in Spanish to the credit of the liberal arts educational system. Within the liberal arts education, I think it’s common for US high schools to mandate one year of a foreign language class and this same requirement exists at Harvard too. To fulfill this requirement both in high school and college, I’ve chosen to pursue the beautiful Romance language of Spanish.

Having a foreign language requirement embedded into the liberal arts educational system has provided me with the opportunity to immerse myself in both the Spanish language and Latin American culture. To prove to myself that my six years of classroom Spanish has been effective, I participated in DRCLAS SIP (David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies, Summer Internship Program) for 8 weeks this summer. It’s a wonderfully organized program (I can’t rave about its organization enough!) in which I was able to live comfortably with a Peruvian family homestay, explore my interests in the medical field by shadowing doctors in a private Peruvian clinic, and test my Spanish (survival) skills.

A lot of these tests were proctored by movie theaters.

We even got loyalty cards…

Peruvian movie theaters were also where my obsession (literally!) with The Amazing Spiderman developed. No, my obsession doesn’t stem from the presence of Andrew Garfield – who I didn’t even recognize until my friends reminded me of his role in The Social Network (NOT the most accurate portrayal of Harvard by the way) after The Amazing Spiderman experience ended – but rather stemmed from the fact that I completely understood the Spanish dubbed movie!

Back during sophomore fall semester (woah, a year ago!), I enrolled in Spanish 40: “Advanced Spanish Language II, Viewing the Hispanic World” which has the course description:

To this day, I tell all my friends seeking advice about Spanish classes that Spanish 40 has been one of the most time consuming Spanish classes I’ve ever taken. It’s a normal Spanish class in the sense that there are the expected papers, exams, and in-class participation. However, a large chunk of the homework entails watching movies on top of reading. The movies are all provided centrally on campus in the Lamont Library LRC (Language Resource Center) or if you’re one of those students living in the quad (the “quad” represents the three farthest upperclassmen houses from Harvard Yard; to be fair, what they lack in convenience, they make up for in house spirit), the movies are also available in the SOCH (Student Organization Center at Hilles, I’m pretty sure it’s pronounced like ‘sock’…). Realistically and logistically speaking, movies make the class more time consuming since I haven’t learned of a way to skim movies. At least I felt like the hours I dedicated to the class were worthwhile since films can be a great primary source into unique cultural customs that aren’t focused on in class such as slang phrases, style of dress, and food served. Yet I can still clearly remember my frustration whenever I was watching the movies. The majority of movies made me feel less confident in my Spanish abilities since my understanding wavered with all the characters speaking super quickly and using tons of new vocabulary.

Perhaps my obsession with the new Spiderman movie is positively correlated with the fact that it’s the first movie I’ve watched in Spanish that I’ve fully understood! Spiderman will most likely always represent the milestone I’ve reached with the Spanish language. Although it may seem crazy/nonsensical to measure my Spanish abilities with how much I understood The Amazing Spiderman movie, my friends and I all agreed that our Spanish has definitely come a loooong way in order for us to be able to laugh, cry, and be completely entertained throughout the incredible cinematic creation.

Making a habit of going to the movies during our 8 weeks in Peru may seem like a waste of time while in a foreign country, but after a long day of public transportation and interning, escaping the real world by breaking the fourth wall of a movie is as good (and cheaper!) as any spa day!

Even if you told me the day before I landed in Peru (can’t believe that was 2 months ago!!) that I would soon be able to pass off as a Peruvian through my ability to tan easily and my Spanish fluency, I would have told you to stop pulling my leg – and most likely in a mean tone since this is basically all I’ve ever wanted. But within two phenomenal months of participating in DRCLAS SIP, not only my abilities and confidence in my Spanish has improved, but also my perspectives about both my academic career and everyday amenities have completely transformed. There’s a reason why everyone I’ve talked to about going abroad raves about their experiences and many of those reasons are eloquently detailed on this previous guest blog.

From living in South America for 2 months with the support of DRCLAS SIP, I definitely feel like I have a genuine understanding of multiple aspects of their culture – how they cheek kiss when they meet/greet, polite phrases to exclaim when leaving a reunion, how to bargain for cheaper prices, and the list goes on forever. All of these items, listed and nonlisted, could never be learned outside of Peru. I’ve learned a whole new perspective to looking at situations abroad and perhaps have become more Peruvian than some of my Peruvian born and raised friends. Regardless, we both enjoy this South American dish called “choclo con queso”

No surprises with this dish…notice the huge kernels!

which directly translates into corn with cheese. Delicious and simple, this local cuisine delightfully sums of my abroad experience because as corny and cheesy as my excitement about being abroad is, I can’t wait to go back to the USA and apply what I’ve learned – from general safety precautions to slang phrases in Spanish. But first, I’ll travel to Bolivia to meet up with a group of friends from Harvard!

From now until about the weekend before school starts (Sept. 4), I’ll be working with others from the Refresh Bolivia team in communities just outside of Cochabamba. Here, the team will try to promote health through ways most people in the states take for granted such as using a restroom properly. However, many communities don’t have restrooms and/or running water. For this last chunk of summer, it’s up to Refresh Bolivia to put their sweat (literally) and soul into providing these health essentials to underdeveloped communities!

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The chances of a Harvard student completing a pset (local nickname for
problem set) during his/her undergraduate career are equal to the
chances of said student running into a tourist in Harvard Yard.

I spy…tourists in between Memorial Church and Widener Library.

The statistics get more complicated within the context of optional
psets. Yes, these little optional gremlins do exist with the apparent
purpose of guilting us. In my experience, optional psets at the
beginning of the semester exist to remind you of how forgetful and
rusty you are, whereas the (typically) nongraded optional psets
sprinkled in the midst of the hectic semester exist as exam
style/format hints. But what about the optional psets during the
summer??

I hope I didn’t scare anyone with the thought of “summer assignments.”
In my high school, a handful of classes required students intending to
enroll in the specific class to complete reading, writing, etc.
assignments during the summer which was the leading cause of
all-nighters before the first day of class. Thankfully, Harvard
College holds a Shopping Week – the first week of each semester where
students can drop by and even walk out of classes as they see fit.
Since our schedules aren’t finalized until Shopping Week is over and
our Study Cards (the list of normally 4 classes we’ve chosen to take
for the semester) are submitted to the registrar, it’s difficult to
assign “summer assignments.” (Note that there is also a grace period
of a few weeks after Study Card submission when you can add/drop
classes!) However, some outlier courses may require something along
the lines of a letter of intention – this is something I’ll have to
submit by August 21 for a Spanish class I’m SUPER interested in taking
this upcoming fall semester. Class policies vary widely but Harvard’s
been pretty good to me about providing me with the freedom to
personally design my own summer…independent of the presence of
psets!

I’m participating in a program called DRCLAS SIP (David Rockefeller
Center for Latin American Studies, Summer Internship Program). For 8
weeks, I’ll be living with a homestay family in Peru while I shadow at
a private clinic. Ever since I converted into a premed student
freshman spring semester, a trillion and a half decisions came before
me i.e. when to take certain prerequisites like physics and organic
chemistry, or if I want to pursue one or perhaps more gap years.
Shadowing and eventually becoming good friends with these doctors
during my summer internship has given me not only valuable, but also
realistic insight to what the journey to becoming a doctor is like. I
already feel more confident in my personal timeline of when and how to
approach my medical goals, although I’m still nervous about expressing
this openly in fear that if I change my mind, everyone will hate me.

But I find comfort in the fact that everyone hates optional psets more.

There definitely wasn’t an optional pset scheduled on the DRCLAS SIP
calendar. But the 13 participants rallied together and added a pset
session…at least this is what it felt like even though we were
meeting in a mall. We needed a secure public area to meet with free
wifi to plan a trip to Machu Picchu!

Girls pic near the entrance of Machu Picchu!

And in the shopping center’s cafeteria we sat with laptops out, shared
“Machu Picchu” titled Google Doc open, listening to each other
intently but also not afraid to cut each other off, compromising,
budgeting, and typing fleeting questions on our desktop’s Post-It app.
Passionate opinions were expressed and heated debates transpired, but
no personal feelings were affected. Planning an economically feasible
weekend trip to one of the few wonders of the modern world was exactly
like a pset – we were all there to do business and come out as a
better person in the end. Almost 3 hours later, we felt on top of the
world…or at least Machu Picchu!

 

We trekked up the adjacent mountain that overlooks Machu Picchu … breathtaking in multiple ways

Scurrying home, we were all ready to book buses, trains, planes and
hostels. Despite the unfortunate realization that the domestic trip
would cost much, much more than we all thought it would, it didn’t
make sense to live in Peru for 2 months without venturing to these
famous ruins. A trip to Machu Picchu with the entire group would be
the first non-DRCLAS-organized trip we would all take together.

Freezing cold in Cuzco, Peru even with all the body heat!

The whole process of Machu Picchu – from organization to execution –
was what made the glue holding us together become cement. Needless to
say, spending time together on a mini-vacation within summer vacation
doing once-in-a-lifetime activities is the secret element to
friendship. But I’d also like to attribute the pset session atmosphere
for our group bonding because this potentially intense, highly
productive environment truly fosters respect for your pset-mates.

You have to hold a person in high respect in order to collaborate on a
pset because it shows that you have trust in their intellectual
capacity – when was the last time you wanted to be lab partners with
someone you didn’t think highly of? You’ll also have to tolerate, if
not enjoy, their company since it’s at the very least a once a week
commitment. A lot of my close friends come from my pset groups
actually! Regardless of whether we were friends first or became
friends via psetting, it’s almost inevitable that pset groups grow
close as the night before a deadline gets later and later. To clear all the rumors about students being nerdy and antisocial, psets foster friendship.

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I’ve had the honor of speaking with a handful of prospective/admitted students curious about life at Harvard College. I really enjoy speaking to these students because I was definitely in their position – where I was just dying to know what Harvard life was like – and their intriguing questions allow me to adequately reflect on my time as an undergraduate – an activity I wish I did more of! #runonsentence

There’s a few questions – some that I didn’t anticipate – that seem to come up frequently so I wanted to dedicate a blog to share and perhaps even plant new seeds of thought! #ambitious

But before acting on this endeavor of answering popular questions, I wanted to preface with a mini autobiography to make all the bias that I weave into my answers really obvious.

My name is Jeanie Nguyen. I’m currently a rising Harvard undergraduate junior, 20 years old and I spent the first 18 years of my life mostly in Southern California. So yes, I love Avocado (like it’s a real person, hence the capitalization/personification) and I can be quite snobby about my Mexican food (but Taco Bell is totally legitimate and if you don’t think so, you obviously haven’t had a chalupa). Essentially, I talk about being from Southern California like it’s something to brag about. I’m that premedical student who carries band-aids, burn ointment, and eye drops wherever I travel; and I’m concentrating in Neurobiology (major), secondarying in Global Health and Health Policy (minor), and pursuing a Spanish Language citation. I’m pretty adventurous/spontaneous: I love trying new things whether that’s food or activities!

In addition to warning everyone of my incredible bias, I also need to have a length disclaimer. My answers are really long, ramble for an eternity, and are probably only partially applicable at best. I throw out tons of information that I would have appreciated someone else telling me, but I’m really random and minor-detail oriented. If you don’t hate it, keep the questions coming! 🙂

 

Question 1: What would you say is the “best” dorm around?

At Harvard College, the freshman live in the center of campus – called The Yard – and these buildings are colloquially termed “dorms.” Most people know about Harvard Yard because it’s the heart of campus and where the oh so popular John Harvard statue is. The Yard is always beautifully manicured – even after such wildly muddy events like Yardfest and Harvard’s 375thBirthday Party – so living here your first year is such a marvelous privilege!!

Harvard’s 375th Birthday Celebration = Tons of people in the Yard + Rain = Mud for days!

Since the university follows a residential college way of housing, after your freshman year, you move out of the yard (reluctantly?) and into upperclassman houses – or “Houses” for short. You stay in the same House for your remaining time as a student although you move in and out of different rooms within the same House. Dorm locations are definitely ideal, but the love and community concomitant to House life is worth the 15 minute walk in the morning!!

I lived in Wigglesworth as a freshman. A lot of my non-Harvard friends were genuinely upset with me that I didn’t immediately tell them that I lived in a building called Wigglesworth. The name is actually somewhat fitting as it lies above the subway (colloquially called the T) so when the subway trains pass, you can feel the floors of Wigglesworth (Wigg) tremble – not annoying as it sounds! But then again, I lived on the third floor so I felt less of the impact. My really good friends were on the first floor though and I was never bothered by it. I also studied a lot on the second floor so I feel like my opinion takes a lot of perspectives into account!

There’s this period of time during the summer – I think it begins after the day you commit to your college of choice – where your future fellow college peers start friending you on Facebook. Although I normally hate adding people I don’t know, I felt really obligated to accept because I just wanted to be accepted!! Haha you really don’t have to accept – and you really shouldn’t accept unless you’re comfortable with casually exclaiming “Oh yeah! I know you because we’re friends on Facebook!” in a lot of conversations. This Facebook thing is applicable to the questions because I remember a great deal of people posting about how they were hoping to get Wigglesworth so when my housing letter came in the mail, I was excited about the result!

Wigg is known for its hard wood floors (so much better than nasty carpet that can stain easily!) and fireplaces (although you can’t use them). I’m pretty sure all rooms in Wigg have a common room in addition to bedrooms although students always have the option of making their common room into a bedroom to maximize the number of available singles. Wigg also has the luxury of in-suite bathrooms so no yucky, typical college bathroom woes. We also have our own laundry room and trash room in the basement so we don’t need to go far to take care of these chores (unlike student in Grays dorm for example). There’s also a bigger common room in the basement with study tables, comfy couches and a big flat screen TV with cable for those dedicated to Grey’s Anatomy and Gossip Girl.

My room was the only room on the third floor and was super spacious. I loved it! And so did my three roommates! Every time I walk pass my old room, I definitely look at it fondly. Between the four of us, we had one double bedroom and two singles. To be fair, we switched rooming situations half way through the year.

Our common room at its messiest while switching rooms!

Don’t judge us!

Also, I lived in the smallest subsection of Wigglesworth (there are three subsections), fondly termed the Wigglet and since only about ~30 students are lucky enough to live here each year, the community can get pretty close and just as cute as its name!

Wigglet (2010-2011) – Convocation Day in the Fall … 10 points to whoever can spot the baseball player in the popular Call Me, Maybe parody

Since Wigg lies on the perimeter of the Yard, along Massachusetts Avenue AKA Mass Ave, it can be a trek to Annenberg/the Science Center which basically is on the opposite side of the Yard. However, there are many perks to being along a main road such as being < 3 minutes away from CVS (convenience store), JP Licks (dangerously delicious ice cream shop), and the T stop!

I can’t even really think of any common ways people bashed Wigg. When you tell people you’re from Wigg you generally get an excited response (since Wigg is a really large dorm and it’s likely that you’ll run into other Wigglers) or at least a nod of respectful approval. “Go Wigg or Go Home!” is a common phrase that should be chanted not only proudly, but frequently.

If you’re already tired of my bias, I can’t blame you. Here’s my apology, please accept:

http://talk.collegeconfidential.com/harvard-university/755111-wigglesworth-good-bad.html

http://www.epinions.com/review/educ-Colleges_and_Universities-All-Harvard_University/educ-review-10E4-319E6AB-39C555C4-prod5?sb=1

A more comprehensive overview (applicable to the unlucky ones 😉 )

http://fdo.fas.harvard.edu/icb/icb.do?keyword=k3806&pageid=icb.page346386&pageContentId=icb.pagecontent716927&view=view.do&viewParam_name=Dorms_Crimson.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Harvard_dormitories


Question 2: Any advice on packing stuff up/shipping stuff out east?

At the airport before my freshman year began, en route to moving in – I couldn’t pack light if my life depended on it 🙁

If you know my middle name, you would never ask me this question. A lot of people would consider me a bad packer. I can’t say that I completely disagree, especially after my catastrophe at the end of my sophomore year. However, my reputation is sort of like a misnomer! I tend to never schedule sufficient time to pack adequately, but I do pack smart!

My friends are most impressed by how meticulously I pack. I weave dryer sheets in between my clothes when I pack them, especially if the clothes will be packed for a long time, so they always come out smelling like I just washed them! Additionally, Instead of putting things straight into a cardboard box/suitcase, I generally like to put it in a trash bag first. This trash bag method is awesome because it serves as another bad odor prevention mechanism. I also found this method helpful while traveling Europe this summer because I stayed in dorm-like hostels where I shared bedrooms with strangers so I would be uneasy about the security of my belongings; but since any potential thief would have to go through my trash bag first, it would probably wake me up too!

I make tons of paper copies of my name and phone number that I put not only on the exterior of the box, but the interior too. This is an idiot proof method when storing boxes in a common area which is the kind of storage Harvard provides (to students outside a certain radius). If anyone accidentally/not-so-accidentally takes your box, there’s really no way to justify them playing dumb since my information is everywhere!

When storing my boxes in a common area, I also like to tape newspaper to the outer sides of my boxes for easy identification. Some people like to use wild duck tape, but these types of tape are commonly sold in stores so multiple people may have the same tape. No one really tapes newspaper and since the surface area of newspapers is larger than duck tape, it’s also easier to spot in a room that’s literally filled from floor to ceiling with boxes! Newspaper is also free!! Woo!

I also enjoy performing activities in an economic fashion. This is really just a fancy way of saying that I’m cheap. However, I’ll never be cheap with packing tape. You need to buy the good stuff and use tons of it because it’s not worth it ever if a box rips and your belongings become separated/lost! Friends also become eternally grateful for your extra tape.

Being cheap also means that I hate buying boxes too! I would much rather put money towards my churro funds rather than cardboard. Definitely ask stores for their cardboard boxes since most recycle them anyway. I tend to rely on my parents’ company for boxes when I’m at home.

As for physically relocating things to campus, make sure to triple check your baggage allowances on your mode of transportation and don’t be shy about asking for student discounts. It never hurts to try. Domestically, I usually fly with Southwest airlines because they allow 2 free checked bags and a carry on which is the most “free” I’ve ever experienced. Fortunately, my parents flew out to help me move in so I called dibs on their check ins!

I literally imagined myself dying in the cold from my first East Coast winter and thought I had to buy tons of coats before leaving, but this is definitely not something you have to do. It’s hard to find appropriate coats in Southern California anyways. I’ve conformed and have become a big fan of the Northface brand though. You may not want to admit this to your parents, but you really don’t need a new wardrobe!

Embracing the cold before Freshman Formal #YOLO

I still wear my SoCal tanks and tees under a big coat in the winter. Your coat just needs to be good enough to withstand the wind + rain + snow for your <15 minute walk to class because your classrooms will be waiting for you all warm and toasty! Note that umbrellas don’t help!! Buy a wonderfully comfortable coat with a hood to strut in because it’s typically too windy for umbrellas and you wouldn’t want to hold an umbrella anyways! All you want to do in the winter outside is to bury your hands in your pockets.

Rainboots are a separate case from coats though. It rained within the first three or four days of my arrival on campus and I’ve never regretted investing in some rainboots as a preemptive strike. Every time I walk in/through a puddle in rainboots, I’m still incredulous that my socks aren’t soaked!!

If you were spoiled with amazing weather all the time like me, don’t let the threat of East Coast winters scare you!! I love experiencing four seasons. In fact, it’s best to experience leafy autumns and snowy winters in college where you don’t have to rake or shovel anything yourself!!!

Definitely not raking anything…

                                                                                                                               Question 3: What are some of the must-sees/must-dos at Harvard?

This is one of the more difficult questions to answer because interests vary so widely. But I hate it when people use that as an answer to a question. I’m already incredibly biased and don’t want to be hypocritical too!

When I think back through my time as a Harvard College student, there are definitely some defining moments. I LOVED embracing the East Coast culture and being a coxswain for the Men’s Heavyweight Crew team! Definitely one of the best, once in a lifetime experiences!!

I’ve said it before and I won’t ever stop saying that one of my ultimate, favorite aspects of Harvard is the people! I’m obsessed with sitting around and doing absolutely nothing but getting to know my peers. Everyone is so freaking interesting and hilarious! We’ve also collectively racked up enough good stories for a lifetime. It’s come to that point where I’d say our lives are more interesting than TV – interesting, not dramatic!

Most of my greatest memories are on campus/campus events – like meeting celebrities!!! You’ll be on tons of email listservs as a student where the spam can be annoying but a lot of the pubbed events are super interesting/exciting opportunities!!

I believe in Harvey Dent!

 

 

Representing the Wigglet around Shaq!!! Casual run in…

                                                                                                                     I do really want to start taking even more advantage of my environment by completing everything on Natalie’s list though!

                                                                                                                     Question 4: Is there any advice you would offer your freshman self (or a lost freshman), knowing everything you know now?

Two prominent mistakes (one personal and one academic) come to mind when I think of my personal freshman year – although we all know there were several committed.

Most of my friends are surprised that I identify myself as an antisocial person. The beginning of freshman year is just super overwhelming because not only have you left all your family and friends, but you’re now in a whole new environment with thousands of strangers! Albeit the strangers are friendly, I had a hard time continuously meeting tons of people during the beginning days of freshman year because I always doubted whether we’d become actual friends or not. This negative mindset pushed me to rely on my high school friends. I Skyped (video chatted via internet) my high school friends a lot freshman year due to the fear that our friendship would become estranged. I definitely don’t regret staying in touch with my high school friends because the ones I Skyped all the time are the ones that give me a strong reason to come home; but, I do feel like the fear of losing my high school friends shouldn’t have been stimulating anxiety. It’s definitely a natural fear to have, but after becoming super busy sophomore year, we’ve kept in touch less throughout this past year. However, I still feel just as comfortable around my high school friends to this day as I did 2 years ago. In fact, thinking about them right now makes me feel simultaneously really lucky for having their continuous support and really stupid for ever fearing that our great friendships would diminish. Therefore, if I could reassure little, lost freshman Jeanie, I’d demand her to not worry so much about her loving connection with her friends and family back home.

After the emotional stabilization, I would definitely tell myself to not try to plan my life. College comes with waves of intense sensations of fear that you’ll fail at everything which will propel you to try to plan your life. This endeavor isn’t possible – at least not your freshman year; it becomes more of a likely possibility your sophomore year and that’s why you declare your concentration (major) your sophomore fall semester rather than during your freshman year which is what most other universities have students do. During your freshman year, it’s best to talk to upperclassmen, your assigned academic adviser, your PAF: Peer Advising Fellow community, faculty and etc. to learn all the classes that are truly geared towards your interests. You’ll learn so much your first year about the differences between class series and the importance of sections, so that the life plan you made freshman year will render itself useless in a matter of a few conversations! It’s best to wait until your sophomore year to start planning how all of your courses will fit in the short time you have as an undergraduate.

I am fully aware that I’m advising you to take your hands off the wheel during your entire first year and that this request is a horrifying one! But enjoy your time as a wide eyed freshman and feel free to be a little lost! Just don’t be so lost that you can’t give a tourist directions to Annenberg.

Holy smokes. My answers always turn out to be soooo much longer than anticipated!! I really hope that the information overflow isn’t overwhelming because that is definitely not its purpose!!!! You truly don’t need to know any of this information because I didn’t and I am (arguably) fine, I promise! AHHHH SORRY!

There are also tons of other resources for any burning questions you may or may not have! One of my favorite finds are Harvard Q&A groups on Facebook. We’re all guilty of wasting time on Facebook so you might as well satiate your curiosity that way! Most of the time it’s benevolent Harvard students answering questions – yay!

                                                                                                                                                                                        **Excuse any slang/improper English please! I’ve been speaking and thinking in Spanish so hard these days while living in Peru – and LOVING it!!!!!

***UPDATE (24 June 2012)

One thing to start thinking about is money on campus – meaning banks. I am no longer an advocate of the sock drawer so one thing I made sure to check for during prefrosh/Visitas weekend was nearby banks. I know of a handful of people who chose to keep their local, small town banks but I feel like the majority of students have local banks for convenience. Once you do your research and choose a bank, you can start thinking about credit cards. And just because you’re going to college doesn’t mean you can’t bring your parents in on this – they have much more experience than you! One additional thing to keep in mind is that many, many Harvard students travel abroad at some point during their undergraduate careers so if you like to plan super ahead, take into account international fees/cards/offers.

Random list of local banks from the top of my head: Harvard University Credit Union, Bank of America, Citizens Bank, TD Bank, Citi Bank

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On any given day of the year, I would take any pset (problem set, notorious in science classes) over any written assignments. Although I dread deriving equations that other, more brilliant scientists have already derived, I feel much more accomplished doing this compared to spending 10 minutes mentally drafting each meticulous sentence to eloquently express my semi-insightful ideas. However, if I swallow some of my scientific pride, I can definitely appreciate the beauty of the written word. No other class has catalyzed and reaffirmed this appreciation more than the Expository Writing 20 class I took last spring semester (2011).

The summer before your first semester at Harvard College, you take Placement Exams – I remember taking one for math, science (biology or something like that), a language one (if you’re interested in that), and a mandatory writing one. Although actual placement isn’t strictly forced (it’s just highly recommended by faculty, me and my peers!), the latter exam is suppose to determine your entrance into one of two essential Expository Writing classes.

Expository Writing 20 (colloquially termed Expos) is a mandatory class for all freshman and is definitely frequently spoken about. I’m truly being honest when I say most of my conversations about Expos are more like obsession-confessions since the classes are small and led my talented preceptors, but keep in mind that there will always be a handful of people that dislike Expos. The class serves to help transition students into writing in the college environment. There are many, MANY types of Expos 20 classes and this hefty selection not only makes it appealing to the normal student, but more so to students who aren’t inclined to writing (guilty). Students rank these Expos classes by interest and some fancy type of randomizing algorithm places students. Some classes may have multiple sections which increases your chances in the lottery process.

Last spring semester, one of my favorite things to boast about was my Expos 20 class. I was enrolled in Tales of Murder (my first choice was actually Darwinian Dating, but I’ve never been more happy to lose a lottery) and after announcing the title of my class, everyone becomes so intrigued!

The class was divided by three papers and each paper was devoted to a specific unit – this is a typical Expos 20 structure. Our first unit was murder ballads – the preceptor (Emily Shelton) provided a CD of old murder ballads with accompanying lyrics to analyze. The second unit (my absolute favorite unit in which I produced the best six pages I’ve ever (and will ever?) write!) was termed the “lens” unit because we read a variety of stories by Edgar Allan Poe along with literary critiques. We then had to synthesize these two sources to extract a theme about murder. My paper in the second unit argued that anyone who was literate was also capable of committing murder and getting away with it…a creepy thought considering my environment. Unit three was a film unit. I know this sounds like every student’s fantasy but I checked out one of the films from Lamont and since it was only loaned to me for ~5 hours, I returned it immediately after watching it. This means I walked ~1000 yards at like 4am in the dark right after a movie revolving around murder. Scariest thing ever! I had HUPD (Harvard University Police Department) pre-dialed on my phone just in case. Speaking of safety, there’s an escort service HUPD provides so you never have to walk alone if you feel even slightly uncomfortable. It’s always important to remember that Harvard is located in an urban environment; therefore, knowing both your surroundings and resources is crucial. Okay, the preaching is over.

Basically, Expos 20: Tales of Murder completely revamped my writing style. I remember in high school, for the most part, writing felt extremely formulaic. Your first sentence is a general statement, then you narrow your focus into your thesis which had to be the last sentence of your introductory paragraph or else it wasn’t really a thesis. Each body paragraph started with a supporting thesis, followed by a lead in to your quote/concrete evidence. I always felt so constrained and only started feeling like I was actually persuading my readers during my junior year of high school in Advanced Placement English Language (APEL) where my supporting theses didn’t have to be the first sentence of every body paragraph. My writing world really started rocking senior year of high school when a lot of the papers we wrote were promptless – my Advanced Placement English Literature (AP Lit) teacher would provide leading questions and ideas, but it was really up to us to extract an insightful message from the author. I guess you just have to earn freedom in your academic progression. This freedom was really epitomized in my Expos 20 class. When my preceptor told me that introductory paragraphs should really be introductory pages – this wasn’t just the best thing ever, but it just seemed too good to be real!!!!!

There were just so many revolutionary ideas about writing in Expos 20 that I still can’t hardly handle it. We talked about explaining motives which entails proving to readers why both the author and you as an author have a rhyme and reason to write. We talked about “standard readings” and although obvious, it’s important to include. More importantly, however, are the shocking twists and turns to these standard readings which drive the paper into its thesis.

The concepts I learned in Expos 20 still reverberate to this day. During Reading Period (when official classes stop for a week before Final Exams begin), I looked back through my Expos notes in preparation for my 12 page marathon paper for my Ethical Reasoning 24: Bioethics course. I know there are plenty of you out there that can crank out many more quality pages in a leisurely afternoon while dog-sitting, but I would literally rather run a marathon…twice.

That being said, Expos 20 was truly the arsenal of knowledge (and caffeine!) that got me through my final paper. I was so thankful that I even emailed my former preceptor to inform her of my boundless appreciation. I’m still stunned by her immediate (and of course eloquent) response where she basically summarized all three of my papers! Ah! She’s SO COOL! Is she still fair game to invite to my faculty dinners? TBD

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It’s that time of year…

 

When the seasons start changing and Mother Nature can’t make up her mind.  Case in point – early last week it was 80 degrees and sunny, then by mid-week it was in the 50s, then it went back up to the mid-70s, and now it’s back down to the 50s.  Hellooooo Boston.  The way I see it, though, there are two benefits to this kind of weather.  1) It never allows us to take the nice days for granted.  When it’s 75 and sunny, everyone is outside lounging away on beach towels in the Quad or down by the River.  2) It gives my sunburns a chance to heal… rough.

When classes start to wrap up.  Yes, that’s right, this coming Wednesday is our last day of class and then Harvard students around campus will enter Reading Period.  Reading Period can mean one of two things.  It can either mean a 10-day vacation if you’re something like a math or science concentrator, or it can mean a 10-day sleep strike if you’re a humanities concentrator and find yourself writing five papers.  Luckily, my schedule this year has offered me spread out Reading and Finals Periods.  I have a paper due this Tuesday, another paper due next week, and then two finals several days apart.

When stress and excitement levels run high.  There occurs this strange dichotomy where while I’m feeling incredibly stressed about major papers and finals, I am also feeling incredibly excited about the summer!!!  This summer I will be working for the Phillips Brooks House Association’s (PBHA’s) Summer Urban Program (or SUP).  SUP is a series of camps in neighboring communities throughout Boston that helps to fight summer learning loss in low-income children.  Just as PBHA is student-led, SUP is too, which means that Harvard students have been working their butts off all semester long getting ready for this summer.  I’ll be working Full Time SUPport (get it?), which means I’ll be behind the scenes helping out all of the camps.  Get ready for lots of blog posts in the coming months about SUP.  One final plug to the incoming freshmen – JOIN PBHA and then WORK SUP!!!!  I promise you it won’t be a decision you regret.

When I’m starting to dread the prospect of packing up all of my stuff.  It took me long enough to unpack and make my beautiful single look just the way I want, and now I’m going to have to find some way of packing all of this stuff back up and sticking it in Currier storage.  I really don’t want to write anymore about it, it’s all too painful to contemplate.

When I begin to desperately text friends to grab a final meal or coffee before everyone leaves campus!  It’s that time of year when I’m looking back and remembering all those times I ran into “this person from class” or “that person from my freshman dorm” or “the person that OMG I love but I haven’t seen in AGES” and I’m realizing that I only actually grabbed my promised meals with maybe half of them.  This means that I still have a lot of people to go, and not a lot of time left!  Ahhhh!

When House formals go on the calendar!  Each House has its own Spring Formal, which, depending on who you know in which Houses, can mean a lot of formals to go to.  So much fun!

 

That’s about all I got, folks!  I wish everyone a very happy end of April, and to all of the pre-frosh – COME TO HARVARD!

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Visitas Weekend has finally come! Every April, Harvard opens its gates to the admitted students for a jam-packed weekend full of diverse events, great food, and incredible conversations. This is an important weekend because the admitted students have to make the decision of where to spend their college careers. It’s an exciting time of college exploration and finding out if Harvard is right for you.

My favorite part about this weekend is meeting the Admitted Students- or as we call them at Harvard- the “Pre-Frosh.” Current students get the chance to host Pre-Frosh in their dorms during Visitas in order for a chance to see what it’s really like to go to Harvard. Hosts are also there to provide any kind of advice, guidance, or past experiences to help the Pre-Frosh make their decision. I signed up for 3 and I can’t wait to pick them up and show them around once they get here!

Another one of my favorite parts of this weekend is that Presencia Latina falls on the Friday of Visitas. Harvard’s Presencia Latina is a spectacular Latin Arts Showcase where groups from across the Harvard, Cambridge, and Boston communities can come together to celebrate the Latin culture. I really hope some of my Pre-Frosh can make it to the show! I was at Dress Rehearsal last night until the early morning so I know the show is going to be a great one, as always.

Another reason why this year is so special is because Presencia Latina has reached it’s 10th Year! That’s an entire decade of Latin Arts. I really appreciate that Harvard gives us the resources and space to celebrate a culture that means so much to me and I know that we’ll continue sharing this beautiful culture for years to come! That was one of my concerns about coming across the country to college- I thought I would lose my culture. Luckily, Harvard provides a ton of opportunities to celebrate the culture you grew up in as well as learn of the diverse set of cultures that make up Harvard’s student body. This weekend will be unforgettable.

To get a look in to what last year’s Presencia Latina looked like, check out this video!

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Some days are just great days.  But one thing I’ve discovered about great days is they often require some measure of set-up.

For example, last night I finished my homework around 11:30.  I could have stayed up into the wee hours of the morning studying for a midterm I have this week, but I decided to instead go to bed early (we’re talking about college time, where midnight is just when things are getting started and 9 am is an ungodly time to be awake).  Once my teeth were brushed and my face washed and I was tucked comfortably into bed, I allowed myself to watch two episodes of one of my new favorite shows – New Girl — before drifting off to sleep.

I awoke at 8:30 am to a new special treat.  Over the weekend I had found an alarm clock app on my phone that allows me to wake up to my favorite radio show from back home in Pittsburgh – the 96.1 KISS Morning Freak Show.  Nothing quite wakes me up like the familiar voices of Mikey and Big Bob and the ridiculously funny things they say.

Next, I made it to my 9 am class (remember what I said about college time…) ON TIME, which is a big deal for me.  After learning about IS-LM graphs in Macroeconomics, I got to return home to Currier House for the afternoon!  This never happens in my schedule.  Living in the Quad with the busy schedule that I have, I generally leave my room sometime between 9-10am and don’t return until between 9-10pm.  The time I spend in between classes and meetings I spend either in PBHA or my sorority house!  Meals are usually grabbed in other dining halls (or dhalls) on the River.

But Currier dhall is by far my favorite, and it is soooo nice when I get to come back to my house during the day.  Sure, some people may say it looks like a retirement home (and it really does), but Currier dhall boasts a super social environment where people eat, do work, and hang out all at once.  And what can I say, there’s just no place like home!

This is a picture of the Currier House dining hall — courtesy of my phone

So basically my day so far has been awesome, but it took a little bit of work.  I got myself to bed at a decent hour, got over eight hours of sleep, got myself out of bed this morning, etc.  And it was all SOOOOO worth it!

The rest of my day is not going to be quite as relaxing.  After dinner, I have meetings until 10pm.  Ugh.  And I have a midterm and pre-paper due on Wednesday.  But with the sun shining through the skylight in the middle of my dhall, I can’t bring myself to be stressed out about it.

Hope your lives are going well!  Happy Spring!

 

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Hi!

This week was a whirlwind, friends.  I’ve been brainstorming and trying to remember how I spent the last seven days, but for the most part all that I can recall is a haze of class, meals, and sleep.

The first week of class after shopping period is always a bit of a slap in the face.  After having a month off from school for break, it can be difficult adjusting to being back on campus.  Since the last week doesn’t really form a continuous narrative in my memory, here are a couple of random moments from the past few days that stood out to me for one reason or another.

Monday, January 30, 2012:

On Monday I had to wake up early to “poster” the yard, which really just means taping flyers to bulletin boards and kiosks.  Since I was already awake and out of the Quad, I enjoyed hot breakfast in Annenberg (the freshman dining hall) with some friends.  It might not sound like a significant moment to you, but hot breakfast is kind of a big deal around here.  Hot breakfast means eggs (any way you want them!), bacon, breakfast sandwiches, etc. as opposed to muffins and cereal. It was a superb way to jump-start my Manic Monday.

Annenberg Hall

Annenberg Hall (the freshman dining hall and proud provider of hot breakfast!)

Tuesday, January 31, 2012:

I had one hour of class.  I don’t think that I need to justify why this was a bright moment in my week.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012:

Wednesday afternoon I remembered that I had BoardPlus credit!  BoardPlus is essentially free money.  Every semester Harvard loads $65 of Board Plus on every student’s Harvard I.D.  You can use BoardPlus credit in place of cash/credit at certain locations on campus.  With the start of the new semester, I had $65 fresh dollars in my account, so I treated myself to a large FREE café americano at the Barker Center Café.

Thursday, February 2, 2012:

Thursday evening I had my first section meeting for my history class on the British Empire.  Section is basically an hour-long session during which a small group of students meets with a Teaching Fellow (TF) to further discuss the readings/lectures for classes with larger enrollments.   I don’t usually have a lot of sections because History and Literature courses tend to be offered as seminars.  Seminars usually have a maximum of 15 people, so there’s no need to breakdown into sections.

That being said, I was dreading having to add an extra hour of class to my schedule.  However, it turns out that section was actually a good time!  The TF is young, spunky, and easygoing.  She’s a History of Science grad student with a focus on madness and mental illness in Britain.  How cool is that? She’s also British, which is a nice touch considering the subject of the class.

Friday, February 3, 2012:

I don’t have class on Fridays, so that’s reason enough to celebrate.  I spent the entire day de-stressing and rewarding myself for surviving the first week of work.  I went to Newbury Street for a hair appointment, and then I wandered up and down Newbury Street and Boylston Street to explore the shops.  I cannot imagine a better way to end the week.  It’s great how it’s the little things that really stick with you when everything is said and done.

Newbury Street Boston by Celia Judge

An oil painting of Newbury Street by Celia Judge

Until next week!

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Sometimes optimization correlates with maximization. This was the principle I used when booking my flight back to Cambridge at the beginning of this Spring semester. After spending the majority of my J-term (January term/Winter Break) in Vietnam, I still wanted to be able to come back to campus and rub it in EVERYONE’S face that my break consisted of soaking up glorious California sunshine. That’s why I arrived the Sunday night before the first day of class. How did I have time to catch up with my ultimate bestie, unpack, and determine the future of my semester all while maintaining a low stress level??

Every semester begins with an angelic (or hectic!) week of Shopping, creatively termed Shopping Week, where students have the ultimate freedom to sit in – or walk out – of classes in order to evaluate courses as they see fit. Professors can’t assign homework and there aren’t any (discussion) sections or five hour labs to consume your evenings. It’s literally the perfect way to ease back into academics due to the lack of pressure to commit. In fact, the majority of kids on campus don’t know what classes they’ll be enrolling in for the semester. I’ve extrapolated this fact from the nifty course shopping tool that connects with students’ Facebook.

It definitely felt like everyone was shopping into the wee hours of the night – organizing, scheduling, and mapping the most efficient routes in order to snatch that golden seat! The hype is well deserved because there’s a plethora of engaging and wonderfully taught classes (don’t get me wrong – you’ll also run into a handful of classes you’ll dread with professors you don’t want at your birthday party) and only a handful of semesters to finesse them into.

I only had some light shopping to do since sophomores are required to declare their concentration (major) during their fall semester as well as organize a list of intended classes that will fulfill your requirements. I also anticipated my laziness and tried to counter it before I left for Vietnam 🙂

These are the classes I’ll be (most likely) taking this semester:

Spanish 50 – Writing and Performance: An advanced language course designed to strengthen and develop competence in written expression. Close reading of texts in literary and non-literary genres will help students refine personal style. The performance of short excerpts of plays, combined with advanced work on oral expression and phonetics, will help students increase their fluency and ease of expression.

Hopefully this will prepare me even more for my summer abroad…knock on wood…keep your fingers crossed!

Ethical Reasoning 24 – Bioethics: Bioethics is the study of ethical issues arising in efforts to maintain and restore health, and, more broadly, with charting humankind’s future in an era of both technological advances and unmet need. We will try to reason our way through moral dilemmas that pit health against freedom, prevention against rescue, and the claims of those with competing needs when life itself hangs in the balance. The course will emphasize ethical issues involving health that arise at the global and population levels, particularly those involving peoples and regions with the greatest burden of disease.

Although Gen-Eds are typically not respected by most students, I’m really glad Harvard’s liberal arts educational system gives me a little push out of my comfort zone and encourages me to take classes that I wouldn’t normally enroll in. Most of the fun facts I drop in conversation stem from these Gen-Ed gems!

Chemistry 27 – Organic Chemistry of Life: Chemical principles that govern the processes driving living systems are illustrated with examples drawn from biochemistry, cell biology, and medicine. The course deals with organic chemical reactivity (reaction mechanisms, structure-reactivity relationships), with matters specifically relevant to the life sciences (chemistry of proteins, nucleic acids, drugs, natural products, cofactors, signal transduction), and with applications of chemical biology to medicine and biotechnology.

Pushing through my second semester of orgo…wish me luck because I’ll need TONS of it!

Physical Science 3 – Electromagnetism, Circuits, Waves, Optics: This course is an introduction to electromagnetism, digital information, waves, optics and sound. Topics covered include: electric and magnetic fields, electrical potential, circuits, simple digital circuits, wave propagation in various media, microscopy, sound and hearing. The course will draw upon a variety of applications to the biological sciences and will use real-world examples to illustrate many of the physical principles described. This course is part of an integrated introduction to the physical sciences intended for students who plan to pursue a concentration in the life sciences and/or satisfy pre-medical requirements in Physics.

I absolutely avoided all physics in high school, but I found myself really enjoying Physical Science 2 so I’m really looking forward to this class! It’s VERY well organized and I’m obsessed with the professor (Logan McCarty). Here’s a student review on the Q guide of Physical Science 2: There’s a lot of infrastructure to help out if you’re having trouble, Logan is great, Melissa is hilarious, and the problem sets and midterms are manageable. The final was tougher than the midterms though so watch out.

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Greetings from Cambridge!

As you might know already, I am an Information Office tour guide through the Crimson Key Society (Key).  I just gave my first tour of the semester, and I have to admit that it got me really excited about the upcoming semester.  I’ve been basically bumming around campus since I flew back to Cambridge on Sunday, but now it’s time to start thinking about classes and activities for the spring.

Monday is the first day of Shopping Period, which is the week or so when students are allowed to sample the courses that they are considering for the semester.  I plan on taking four classes this semester, one of which will be my History and Literature tutorial for concentrators.  My tutorial will meet for three hours every Monday, which sounds painful but I actually think that it will be my favorite course this semester.  My field in History and Literature (or Hist and Lit) is America, and the seminar will focus on New York City.  I was checking out the syllabus earlier this week, and the readings are on point.  I’m genuinely excited to read and discuss The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald), The Age of Innocence (Edith Wharton), and Angels in America (Tony Kushner) to name a few.

Cugat's Cover Art for The Great Gatsby

Francis Cugat's cover art for The Great Gatsby.

Honestly, my biggest problem right now is figuring out where to put all of my books for the coming semester.  I didn’t sell any of my texts from the fall, and I couldn’t take them all home with me over break, so my bookshelf is kind of running low on space.  Aside from my tutorial, the rest of my schedule is up in the air, so this Shopping Period will be heavy on the shopping.  I’ll let you guys know what I decide in my next week or next.

My Book Shelf

Books on books on books.

Outside of the classroom I am looking forward to dedicating lots and lots of time to Crimson Key.  I can’t remember if I mentioned it in any of my posts last semester, but I ran and won a spot on the Crimson Key Board as a Tour Coordinator.  My job is basically to work with the Information Office to staff historic tours of Harvard Yard.  I love Key and I love tours (and I especially love a good e-mail) so it’s actually a match made in heaven.  Also, Crimson Key runs its comp* from February through April so that’s where I’ll be focusing a lot of my time and energy this semester.

Last but not least, I have some disappointing news to report.  Unfortunately, I have already failed to stick to one of my resolutions for 2012.  I’ve only been back at school for about 5 days, and I have already indulged in numerous non-HUDS (Harvard University Dining Services) treats.  In this short window of opportunity I have been basically hemorrhaging money thanks to two visits to Pinkberry, a stop at Broadway Market for Sushi, a soup and sandwich meal at Crema Café, a Boloco burrito dinner, and numerous mid-day Starbucks drinks.  I am a sham and a failure.  Hopefully I’ll show more discipline in regards to my other resolutions…

I’m looking forward to writing next week!  Hopefully you all have been stronger than I have been in the New Year.

*Comp, which is kind of short for “competency”, is the process of joining a student organization here on campus.  Some student groups have comps, some don’t.  Some comps are more competitive than others.  At the end of the day it is just another dimension of student life. (Paraphrased from Inside Harvard by the CKS)

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