International opportunities

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

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

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

 

Sheryl Sandberg on leaning in

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

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

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

Mesmerizing!

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

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

 

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

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

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

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The end of every summer leaves me incredulous that my favorite season has passed by – and always too quickly! However, this summer, I’m even more shocked by how much I traveled in a whirlwind of 3 months. I feel like I gave the jet-setting Pitt-Jolie family a run for their money!!

Packing was the story of my summer!

In summary, I kicked off the summer by returning to my roots in Southern California with 2 incredible weeks at home. I was surrounded by the warmth and love of the constantly beautiful weather, but more importantly my family and friends. This home base was precisely what I needed before jumping on my first international solo flight to Europe. In a slur of YOLO moments last spring semester, my two sorority sisters and I planned a 2 week, fun-intensive Eurotrip to explore Paris, Venice, Florence, Rome, and Barcelona and visit Harvard Summer School Programs along the way. After experiencing my Advanced Placement European History (a class I took sophomore year of high school) textbook in person, I boarded my plane to Lima, Peru where I participated in an 8 week program by the David Rockefeller Center of Latin American Studies Summer Internship Program (DRCLAS SIP). Living with a family homestay, interning at a private clinic, and learning Spanish off the streets was the best way to prepare me to travel South America on my own. My next main destination was Bolivia, but I took a week to travel through Peru on my own to slowly and inexpensively make my way to Bolivia where I would meet with several other Harvard peers.

During my freshman fall semester, I quickly realized that the world is enormous, but I wanted to be involved with all of it. It’s difficult to think of global issues and international ideas during high school when it seems like your life will either make it or break it by college decisions. However, the undergraduates at Harvard are very globally-minded and I happily absorbed this perspective which catalyzed me to pursue a secondary in Global Health and Health Policy. If I were to accredit this pursuit to one source, it would be Refresh Bolivia.

Refresh Bolivia (RB) is a student group on campus, initiated one year before my enrollment at the college. My absolute favorite aspect of RB is that we put actions behind our words and research. Implementing plans is likely to be the most difficult step in every procedure, but the members of RB are determined and flexible enough to find a way. Essentially, we research Bolivian communities and clean water projects during the year and execute them during the summer. I wasn’t able to travel to Bolivia last summer so I definitely wanted to join the team this summer!

The team enjoying desserts on our half-day off! YUM

 The RB team stayed with a family in Cochabamba that mainly hosts volunteers. We had three simultaneous projects this summer, two of them being more labor intensive. RB built relations with an organization along the lines of a school district called UAINAS where we funded educational books directed towards personal hygiene like washing your hands regularly. In the future, RB is looking forward to giving presentations on sanitation routines to the children! In addition to this project, RB set ambitious goals of building water tanks in two different communities – Maria Auxiliadora and Alto Miraflores. These two communities are located about an hour outside of the city, are lucky to have electricity, and have water trucks that come by (hopefully) daily in order for the people to obtain safe drinking/cooking water. One of the water tanks would be above ground and the other would be below ground.

 

Living abroad – even if it’s just for a few weeks – allows you to wrap your mind around so many different perspectives that I honestly don’t think anyone could genuinely understand unless they experience it first hand. I had a few nights when I didn’t have electricity in Peru and didn’t mind it too much. On the other hand, the water shortage in Bolivia is a whole different story. Water tanks are very common in Bolivia which means that people have a limited amount of water to use at any given time. There were a few days when the water tank ran empty at our homestay which meant that people couldn’t shower, we couldn’t wash our dishes nor brush our teeth or have a cup of tea! This made our mission in Bolivia much more real and meaningful and personally, I appreciate so much more every time I turn on any faucet or even flush!

Water trucks usually come daily, but are not that reliable. Imagine going even one day without water!

Although it hardly rains, this is a collection of rain water that the community utilizes for quick showers and laundry.

So proud of our hole!

We were unable to finish the water tank below ground because as we were digging a hole in the dirt, the dirt quickly turned into rocks. This project, however, is part of a larger, on going project and will be eventually completed. RB can’t wait to see the progress next summer and continue our work in the community!

The concrete water tank above ground was finished and the team couldn’t have felt anymore accomplished!

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the main obstacles for RB is to build relations with the communities we work in. Since they are normally at least semi-isolated, the community members can be very mistrusting and skeptical of people who do not live there. Yet these obstacles made the work even more rewarding than they would be on their own, regardless of how cliche and corny that sounds!

My Spanish abilities skyrocketed in Peru and surprisingly continued to progress in Bolivia. I couldn’t believe I was attending successful business meetings conducted entirely in Spanish and I’m pretty sure the community members had a hard time believing this too! I can’t think of many moments where I’ve been prouder of myself. The whole process of building relationships with the community leaders from the ground up was phenomenal, especially because I definitely could not have accomplished this during any other time in my life. Harvard has equipped me both academically and financially through my Spanish and Global Health classes as well as the generous David Rockefeller International Experience grant to make a difference in Bolivia and hopefully more locations in the future. *knocks on wood

 

I had two goals this summer: 1) Stay alive and 2) Improve my Spanish. I confidently put a fat check mark next to them both. Do I feel accomplished? Yes – but mostly because I accomplished a goal that I didn’t know I had. I am completely refreshed and ready for school!!

I have a theory that all good things in life are bittersweet – one of them being the end of a summer break. It’s a given that I’m always excited to regularly see my friends, but the thought of school, exams, and the like are usually a damper. I haven’t been this excited for the academic rigors of school…in a while. I’m literally thinking of reading from a coursepack and taking notes on crisp printer paper and giggling from over-excitement! Disclaimer: I’ll probably take this wholeheartedly back during midterm season which runs from the third/fourth week of the semester until Reading Period.

But for now, my peppiness about school has radiated my new dorm room! Tuesday was the first day of class and the first week of every semester is termed “Shopping Week” because students get to try out any class before officially committing to it on paper. As a junior, I’m pretty much done with large concentration/premed requirements so I have a grand selection of upper level Neurobiology classes to take. This means I’m shopping about 15 classes and more than half of them happen at the same time. I’m going to have a better idea of what my schedule looks like hopefully by the end of this weekend so I’ll blog about my Shopping Week experiences soon!

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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 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?

Three.

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 @college.harvard.edu 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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Naa Ammah-Tagoe, Harvard College Class of 2010 and Harvard Graduate School of Education Class of 2013 (expected)

It’s been four months since you got into Harvard. Four months to scream, celebrate, pinch yourself, and practice dropping the H-bomb. In this foretaste of the next four years, you’ve done the research, made the visits, read the websites, and talked to students and alumni alike.

That thoughtfulness and attention to detail will still serve you well, but it’s time to take a deep breath. You will have time to take advantage of everything Harvard offers in Cambridge. But there’s a little secret that few people will come out and say: as a Harvard undergraduate you can’t afford not to study abroad. Here’s why:

Advantage #1. It will give you an edge over your peers.

Let’s be practical: that’s part of the reason you said yes to Harvard. You’re about to surround yourself with 6, 400 hard-working, brilliant, and unique peers, and studying abroad will help you distinguish yourself.

Office of International Education’s 2009-2010 student advisors

The Office of International Education’s 2009-2010 student advisors. These Harvard alums and travelers are working in graduate programs, embassies, consulting firms, schools, and businesses as far away as France and Singapore

At Harvard and beyond, people with significant international experience stand out. Whether you’re a U.S. citizen without a passport or an international student, a religion concentrator or premed, you will benefit from living abroad. Professors, future employers, grad school admissions officers, and even future friends appreciate the credibility earned only by spending time in another country. That’s because they know you’ll be an asset with advantage #2:

Advantage #2. You’ll gain valuable insight about your skills, desires, goals and yourself.

Cross-cultural immersion forces you to assess your abilities, knowledge, assumptions and lifestyle preferences in a way nothing else can. You’ll learn how to learn, analyze, and lead in a profoundly different way. My first three months in Paris did more good for my French than eight years of study could; by the time I left Sciences Po most of the French people would have sworn I was a native speaker. I encountered the best aspects of the French educational system, as well as top students from universities around the world. Upon my return, I was better practiced in building relationships with professors and experimenting with new coursework and extracurricular experiences; these newfound skills helped me enjoy my senior year.

When you think about studying abroad, consider semester or year-long experiences in addition to summer offerings. Not only will the additional time make you and your experiences more unique (hello, #1!), it will also allow you time to truly integrate into, not merely observe, the new culture. Believe me, four months is barely enough time as it is to grapple with everything you’ll learn, and…

Advantage #3. You will never regret the experience.

In fact, you’d more likely regret not going now. What better time to explore the world than when you’re young and relatively carefree, with teams of professionals offering guidance and a university supporting your experience? If those practical benefits don’t convince you, maybe the romance of it will. And with the bonds you’ll build, you’ll be in for lifelong friendships and adventures too.

Pigalle Group at La Petitie Hollande

The best exploits, finest foods, and even most memorable mistakes of my life involve the people I lived with and loved in Paris. Since we met in August 2008, we’ve traveled and reunited in Boston, Canada, France, Spain, England, Germany, Argentina, Thailand, and Singapore.

One last thing, be sure to check out the student videos on the Office of International Education website to hear directly from former students about their experiences abroad.

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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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Forming new friendships can be a nervously fun experience, but there’s something quite unsettling about throwing yourself in a situation where you not only have to make new friends to survive, but also a third party has hand selected the people you’re suppose to make nice with. (College orientation anyone?) However unsettling this situation may be, I apparently am drawn to it – especially during the summer.

When I reminisce on my previous summers, my science camp (yes, that was me and I’m not ashamed!!) months definitely sparkle brighter than the rest – even beating out summer days spent on beautiful (Southern) California beaches. This isn’t solely because of the sheep brain

Spinal cord, Lady & the Tramp style, anyone? She actually goes to MIT and is a Theta too! We make a point of catching up a few times every semester. Such a small world!

I got to dissect or the proteins I got to grow in tobacco leaves, but science camps were phenomenal because of the people I met and the friendships that still carry me forward to this day. Science camps, however, always had at least 40 other students; whereas, the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies (DRCLAS) Summer program only had 12 other participating students. Pressure? Atmospheric.

Yet, I’m more than happy to report that after one frighteningly quick month in Latin America, we’ve proclaimed ourselves as the most diverse Peruvian family you’ll ever know. The strength of our bond is measured by the camera lens of our fake-reality show called REAL LIFE DRCLAS. After a handful of polite wars

Tres leches is a traditional Peruvian dessert – it’s basically vanilla cake soaked in sugar milk…YUM

(No, you have the last french fry!), we’ve declared a truce and have gone to eating each other’s tres leches without both permission and hesitation. Having the term REAL LIFE DRCLAS  has really come in handy because it’s a great phrase to shout when you want to immediately suppress any tension because it’s a simple reminder that our “angry voices” aren’t personal attacks towards the person, just the frustrating situation. Our mutual understanding – that group activities, decisions, and agreements come concomitant with heated debates – is truly the glue holding us together in Peru (well, that and our love of manjar blanco).

Alfajor: a Peruvian delicacy where manjar blanco is generously wedged between 2 soft sugar cookies – my treat after work!

 

My situation is exactly where I want to be and how I want to live – that is, practicing Spanish and eating three times my weight at every meal.

 

DRCLAS is split into two groups: Summer Internship Program (SIP) & Spanish and Community Service (SCS). All participants live with a Peruvian host family who naturally have become our real family. (Future blog to come about living with a host family!) Note that DRCLAS structures and organization may change from year to year and may depend on location as well as popularity.

SIP kids are partnered with a Peruvian company and work Monday-Thursday. SCS kids alternate between taking a Spanish class and working with a local company for 4 days of the week as well. Fridays are usually Peruvian themed days with DRCLAS sponsored adventures and weekends (as well as weeknights after work) are typically free as we please. The inherent dichotomy of DRCLAS doesn’t lead to family feuds (SIP vs. SCS), but rather a constantly entertaining exchange of stories.

Since I’m personally participating in DRCLAS SIP, my adventures will be tinted as so.

 

Week One – Orientation

Sky somewhere between Barcelona and Lima

My flight from Barcelona landed in Lima at 5am, a mere 6 hours before our first official DRCLAS meeting. If there ever was a time I felt like a jet-setting business woman, it would have been that morning! Someone get me my pantsuit from the dry cleaners!!

I must have filled out the all-Spanish customs paperwork correctly because passing through security was a breeze. There was nothing for me to do except aimlessly wander the airport with an extremely public thought bubble that read: “I’M A FOREIGNER.”

Before my arrival in Lima, my host family and I had exchanged a handful of emails that included picture attachments so we could both know who to look for at the airport. A man, who I didn’t recognize, stood with a handheld whiteboard sign that read JEANIE NGUYEN in all caps.

Foreign strangers popped my personal bubble with the warmest hugs and kisses. My host family consists of grandparents (with the grandmother being my primary caretaker), a host mom, a 19 year old host sister and a 17 year old host brother. My room, with its blue-sponged painted walls and giant teddy bear, awaited me. My full sized bed called to me, but I had just enough time for a hot shower before being whisked away to a bus (locally known as combi) that would take me to the first DRCLAS meeting…the first of MANY meetings that week.

Orientation week felt a lot like Shopping Week (the first week of every semester where students noncommittally attend classes) because many Peruvian professors and outstanding members of the community kindly lectured about the country’s history, norms, economy, emergency procedures, and so on. These informational (overload?) lectures were well balanced with city tours and food tours! DRCLAS did a phenomenal job with organizing group activities this week! It would have been hard to rally the group especially when we didn’t know each other well. With the support of DRCLAS, we were able to tour the main plazas, eat at some well known restaurants with authentic cuisines (Pardo’s Chicken, Cucho la Rosa) as well as roam the Pachacamac ruins.

Pardo’s Chicken: known for their pollo a la brasa (slow cooked chicken)

 

 

Pardo’s pollo a la brasa (typically paired with fries) – Thank you DRCLAS!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A city tour isn’t right without churros from street vendors! (Note street vendors are not encouraged by DRCLAS or Harvard University Health Services…oops?)

A warm (llama) welcome to the Pachacamac ruins!!!

The end of orientation week (or Shopping Week) is like getting a pacifier ripped out of your little infant mouth. No more baby business nor monkey business – it was time for straight up business! Time for SCS kids to start class and SIP kids to enter the work force!

 

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Harvard’s love may not be as scandalous as Pitbull’s and Chris Brown’s love, but it definitely branches internationally.

I had a friend from back home who was admitted into Harvard College but was torn between another comparable (cough cough) university on the West Coast. She was interested in global health and political matters so my plan of attack was to emphasize Harvard’s presence on the global scale which a lot of domestically well known universities in the US lack.

One of the most influential factors that drove me to commit to Harvard was the fact that there are not only its graduate schools (and their resources!) nearby, but its resources range far and wide beyond national boundaries. It’s an understatement to say that I’ve been extremely lucky and blessed because I’ve benefited from both.

During term-time, I work as a paid research assistant at the Harvard Kennedy School Decision Science Laboratory. As for the majority of this summer, I’m currently participating in the DRCLAS: SIP (David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies: Summer Internship Program) in Peru. Allow me to backtrack to explain how I got myself in this delightful situation.

I started taking Spanish classes in 8th grade and completed all of my high school’s Spanish classes by the end of my junior year. I would have been able to take Spanish throughout my entire high school academic career, but I decided to skip a year and go into Advanced Placement (AP) Spanish Language as a high school junior. I didn’t really hesitate too much about this decision because with the advantage of growing up as a bilingual (Vietnamese and English) kid, Spanish had always come pretty easy for me.

However (cue horror music here), a burst of regret and tremendous trepidation overwhelmed me during my first week as a high school *junior (*edited 8 July 2012) when I couldn’t comprehend what was being said or anything I was reading in class. I admitted defeat after a short week and expressed my desires of transferring classes to my teacher who told me that the Spanish department extremely disliked students who went backwards due to all the trouble they go through to promote students forward. I didn’t know what to do – except to Google Translate everything in my workbook for hours each night.

 

The class, thankfully, got much easier after my diligence. In retrospect, I’m elated that I chickened out of chickening out!! AP Spanish – both the class and the exam structure – closely mirrors the Spanish Language and Literature classes that I have taken as an undergraduate student and undoubtedly prepared me well – but prepared me well in the classroom sense. Even after 4 more college semesters of intensive Spanish courses, I still struggle to completely understand Spanish and conjugate at a native speed…I’m working on it though!! The other day, I held a conversation with a taxi driver in Lima well enough that he believed I was from Mexico.

After so many years of Spanish classes, I became really frustrated about only seeing pictures of paella or gazpacho in textbooks and movies instead of actually seeing it in 3D for myself. Within the realm of science courses, I’m able to learn concepts and basically immediately apply them in lab that same week. However, Spanish started feeling like an abstract concept due to the fact that the language wasn’t applicable to my life outside of the narrow walls of the classroom. This frustration sparked my profound desires to study abroad during my college years because it’s an opportune time when you can drop all of your domestic responsibilities for new foreign ones!

My desires of studying abroad transformed into desires to work abroad – which I point out not to highlight how some of my desires may or may not be fickle, but rather to illuminate that changing your mind is perfectly acceptable. Harvard students are often epitomized as perfect students and although I don’t completely hate this reputation, it does indeed trigger tons and tons of pressure to feel like you always know what you’re doing to get to where you want. But as Natalie said in her post, indecision oftentimes unexpectedly leads you to where you want to be – and in my case, this was Peru!

After some online research, I quickly realized “studying” abroad wasn’t what I actually wanted to do. Whether the classroom was located in America or in a Spanish speaking country didn’t matter to me: I didn’t want to be in a classroom. I wanted to be spending all my time with locals and impressing myself by casually dropping the imperfect subjunctive whenever I could…go ahead and call me a nerd…my friends already do, haha

My obscure grammatical desires effortlessly intertwined with my premedically oriented personality and propelled me to apply to the DRCLAS SIP Peru Program to intern at a clinic. I can’t say I’m a huge fan of the website because it’s pretty vague. Not to worry though – you can quench your curiosity with my next, ambitious post where I hope to summarize everything the DRCLAS kids here in Peru have done during the past 3-4 weeks!

 

**Sorry folks! I accidentally left this post as a draft without posting last week 🙁 Please factor in Peruvian time 😉 I’ve updated since then though so please forgive me!

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