study abroad

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On my way to the library a few weeks ago during Reading Period, I ran into one of my friends – this adorably small freshman girl struggling with her packing boxes. Wanting to be the hero, I graciously offered to help. She kindly refused both me and my muscles as she had already called one of her peer-freshman friends to come help her. As I waited with her in the generous springtime breeze, it warmed my heart at the thought of how one year can build insanely close friendships. In an incredibly stressful time of final examination preparations, there are still helping hands left and right if you ever need anything!

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Packing is always a struggle as Inesha and Rob mentioned because of the time crunch – you have to pack and furiously study/cram for finals! Harvard tries to smooth the chaos concomitant to the end of the semester as much as possible though by offering students free summer storage. A few of the upperclassman houses are undergoing construction during this summer which means the usual storage rooms in the houses are unavailable due to renovations; but students still get storage! The houses contract off-campus storage for us and although our storage limitations become much, much narrower (normally 10 boxes, now down to 4), it’s definitely better than nothing! I remember my family and friends at other universities scrambling for summer storage and I’m really glad that’s not an additional concern I have to worry about!

Anyways, my friend’s friend arrived promptly to help her with her boxes and we introduced ourselves to each other. He surprisingly recognized me from this blog and told me that he thought my last summer in South America was awesome. I’m still feeling all warm and fuzzy from my 45 seconds of fame, but I do feel a little bad because I definitely grilled him with questions like if my narrative of my Harvard experiences was an accurate depiction of undergraduate life here. He told me that reading this blog got him really excited for the opportunities and that he was not disappointed at all with his first year. That’s definitely what I like to hear! But that being said, there are comment sections on this blog for a reason, so definitely let any one of us know if we can speak about something of your interest because we’d be more than happy to blog about requested topics! I’m not done with my shameless plug until I pressure everyone into following us on Twitter 🙂

I continued blogging throughout last summer (2012) during my first abroad adventure in Europe (France, Italy, and Spain) and South America (Peru and Bolivia). Blogs from last summer are a great alternative to Facebook stalking myself and I hope to continue blogging this summer as well! I’ll be participating in the iSURF (international Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship) program through the Global Health Institute.

The application process for my summer ventures was grueling to say the least. I knew I definitely wanted to be abroad more than anything so I applied to a handful of programs abroad which also meant that I needed to apply for funding/grants as well. Since I was fortunate enough to have Harvard fund my last summer abroad, I wasn’t eligible for a lot of funding sources this year which means I had to get a little creative and apply to some obscure programs as well as outside-Harvard funding. I wasn’t willing to bank on getting both an acceptance into an abroad program and funding so I applied to a ton of domestic programs as well. Not only was I writing personal statements like it was my day job, I was reaching out to a bunch of previous professors/TFs (Teaching Fellows: normally graduate students who lead discussion/problem solving sections that usually supplement lectures/lab) for recommendation letters. Although it was a stressful process on top of my normal class, volunteering, and lab schedules, I think it was a really good practice run for when I apply to medical school next year!

I’m striving for a secondary field (Harvard’s term for a minor) in Global Health and Health Policy and am beyond elated to be researching through the Global Health Institute this summer!! The Institute offers amazing summer programs both domestic and abroad (details can be found here) and also guarantees funding which is every student’s dream come true! In researching the programs, I became really interested in nutrition because it’s a topic I’ve yet to explore in any of my classes, but it’s also a topic that I think about every time I eat (which roughly translates into 6x/day)! I applied to the abroad programs that revolved around nutrition (i.e. Barbados, Brazil, India, and Tanzania). After submitting an online application, students interview with the program coordinators who then pass your application along to the appropriate researchers. Second round interviews then take place with the researchers- at least theoretically (I didn’t have a second round interview).

Around the same time as the  online application deadline for international program applicants, the Institute organizes modules that are designed to help you prepare for your abroad experience. These modules try to jump start your way of thinking to be more open and inclusive as well as prepare you for the inevitable dangers of being in an unfamiliar location. Professors as well as students who participated in past years run the module to speak/preach about their experiences. There are three modules in the spring semester before the international internship begins and then one more follow-up module the following fall semester. The modules last anywhere from 2-4(?) hours and take place on pretty arbitrary nights. For students, this is a huge block of time for either class or homework so it can be really difficult to attend. The Institute nudges attendance by advertising that applicants who attend are more likely to be selected to participate in the program. Plus, the event is catered and they give out fancy folders and notebooks! These modules aren’t mandatory until they extend you an offer and you accept the summer internship. Make-up modules were also held on a Saturday during Reading Period for students who couldn’t attend the regular sessions, only going to show the program’s flexibility and how willing they are to work around students’ needs.

In all honesty, these modules sounded like a waste of my time because I can be unjustifiably arrogant about my traveling skills. I think that since I’ve roughly traveled in Vietnam, Peru, and Bolivia, I’ll be able to survive in any other (developing) country. I’d like to think I’m a good level of paranoid about my sense of security abroad, but there were a lot of tips that I haven’t considered (i.e. checking the tires before entering vehicles). All in all, the program does a great job with availing students resources in order to prepare for our trip abroad. They make sure we make health clinic appointments so that all our vaccinations are up to date, help us schedule meetings with our mentors, as well as print out personalized articles about our destinations! I openly complimented the project coordinators about this because I was super appreciative of being babied while I was prepping for finals!

My destination is Tanzania! I’ll be researching maternal health and nutrition within the context of malaria and its connection with iron and vitamin A deficiency. I. am. so. excited! The principle investigator, PI, of the studies is Wafaie Fawzi. We tried to schedule a meeting before I left for Tanzania, but our schedules unfortunately conflicted too much. He’ll be coming  to visit sometime in June though so I’m excited to meet the face behind the Skype calls – every Thursday, we Skype call Wafaie to give him a weekly report and discuss timelines of the study.

I’m not exactly sure how SURF works, but with regards to iSURF, there are always at least 2 students sent per destination so no one is traveling alone for the summer. My program partner is Leanna, also a member of the class of 2014, a proud resident of Lowell House, and a Human Evolutionary Biology concentrator (major). We didn’t know each other before being paired in the program so I reached out to her to meet up on campus so we would at least know what each other looked like before arriving in Tanzania. She’s a pretty seasoned traveler in Africa – having studied in Ghana and Kenya in different programs. I was excited about the expertise she was bringing to the table, especially since it’s my first time on the continent! Having the opportunity to participate in iSURF was as exciting as making a new friend! Depending on my internet resources abroad, I’ll be updating weekly 🙂


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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!


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 last time I posted, I’d just returned from an incredible weekend in Nice, but I’ve been working away busily in Paris since then in the Harvard Summer in Paris program. Today was our last formal class, and something similar to Reading Period begins now so that we can have time to really crack down on our final projects. The projects themselves must be based around the idea of Revolutions, have a similar theme to one of our lessons, and of course be situated in Paris; as I love food, people, and history, I decided to focus on the open-air food markets of the city. I’ll be making a short film (around 15 minutes) on the lighter side of the market economy, using lots of vibrant colors and rich sounds from the incredibly varied markets, and will also have to write a lengthy research paper. (Mine will probably be 15-25 pages, depending on all of the historical information I find in the various libraries of Paris.) The real work starts now, and I have to motivate myself! This is the hardest part of any assignment…the daunting part. However, I’ve made myself some deadlines and checklists, so hopefully I’ll be all set come presentation time. Then, back to the States 🙁 / 🙂 …I want to go home, but summer is too short!

Back to Paris: what have I been up to, you may ask? I could tell you…but I’d rather show you. Check out some pictures below, with very descriptive captions.


I happened to catch the Tour de France, which was a total blast. It was a gorgeous day (rare for this summer), the crowd was wild, the racers were fast, and my man Wiggins won! It really was an experience that I’ll never forget.


My friend from Harvard/Germany, Jan, came to visit! Anneli (left) and Mandi (center) hung out with us during the beautiful few days in Paris.


I took Europe’s fastest elevator to the top of Tour de Montparnasse, the only skyscraper in Paris proper. There, you can see the Eiffel Tower, which I have yet to climb, and in the distance, La Defense, a district right on the other side of Paris’s border.

I ate Berthillon ice-cream! It’s the same price as all of the other [incredibly expensive] glace in Paris, but tastes so much better. Here we have Cassis, my favorite flavor.

I made it to Versailles with my friend, Anneli! It was a gorgeous excursion, and we decided not to go inside the Château, preferring to explore the sprawling grounds, which included a farm (much to my delight). It rained a bit, but hey, it’s Paris.


My friends and I spent the evening at “Au Lapin Agile,” a very famous cabaret in Montmartre. Picasso used to hang out there, at the very same tables as us!


For my project (and my pleasure) I went to the Marché Bio des Batignolles, an organic market near me. Check out this CHEESE!


So, I don’t exactly know these people, but they were my neighbors during one night’s screening of the Olympic Games. A giant screen and beanbag chairs were set up at Hôtel de Ville in the center of Paris, and we got to watch some swimming and handball for free! (Although I much prefer Equestrian.)


We went to La Maison La Rocher, an incredibly well-known modernist house created by Le Corbusier; little did we know, this amazing architect had built the Carpenter Center, which houses much of Harvard’s Visual and Environmental Studies building, and is the only North American building by Le Corbusier!


Mandi and I went kayaking at Paris Plages on the Canal St. Martin, in the 11th district. Though we ended up playing kayak-polo instead of going for a leisurely outing, it was really fun and worth the price…that is, it was free!


I went to Le Musée d’Orsay for the second time this summer. It used to be a train-station, hence the giant clock. As a student, we get free admission, so I am able to spend as little or as much time as I want per visit. I was only there for an hour and a half, and will go again to explore the 5th floor.


Okay, so this is the Musée d’Orsay again, but it’s my absolute favorite piece in the WORLD: the model of l’Opéra Garnier. Note the size (enormous) and the sign in the corner saying no pictures…whoops! (Also, this is where the Phantom of the Opera took place.)


While walking through the center of Paris, I heard the familiar sound of bagpipes (cornemuse in French). I happen to play the same instrument as these old fellows from Ontario, so we had a great little conversation about the lovely instrument.


In true Parisian fashion, I sported a black blazer and walked 400 steps to the top of Nôtre Dame Cathedral; sadly, I did not become a hunchback nor Victor Hugo.


Yes, I ate éscargots for dinner. No, they weren’t expensive; in fact, a supermarket that sells only frozen food is known for having the best snails in Paris! (Cross my heart.)


Though this may appear to be in the middle of a jungle, it’s actually at Buttes Chaumont, a park in the 19th arrondissement of Paris. The giant caves were a really cool surprise, and a lovely way to wrap up our final afternoon visit.


Well, that’s all about Paris. Although I’ve been mostly in the French mindset, I’ve started shopping {translation: looking for} courses for the fall, using this amazing website called Harvard Class. (Nope, I don’t know the people who made it, but I do know that it’s a heck of a lot prettier to look at than the my.harvard tool or the CS-50 standard tool.) I’m trying to figure out my concentration, which means I want to take 7+ classes, as my interests are very varied (hehehe say that outloud). It will take me a bit longer to decide, but it’s so exciting; this time last year, I was doing the exact same thing, obsessing over the coolest thing ever: school. (Synonym, Harvard.) So, incoming Freshmen, if you find yourself doing the same thing, be proud. Go onto your rooftops and sing your love of LS1B. Text your best friend the truth: that no, you’re not really going to Mike’s party tonight, but rather cozying up in your bed and making sure you have the prerequisites to take that Physics of Sailing freshmen seminar. (But go out eventually, please. And take a fun freshmen seminar, one that has no homework, or coursework for that matter.) Freshmen, GET PUMPED. Harvard is as overwhelming as it is amazing, and that’s saying something, as I slept for 3 days when I came home from my first semester. Congratulations again, and can’t wait to meet you once we get back on campus!

À plus tard!




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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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Hello again!

I can’t believe it, I’ve been in Paris for 4 weeks already! I’m halfway through my Study Abroad program, which you can check out here; it’s wonderful, and the weather has finally brightened up in time for Paris Plages, where the city creates artificial beaches along the banks of the Seine. However, Paris has nothing on Nice when it comes to the beach…I would know, as I just returned from my amazing weekend in the South of France. As a bit of an update, here are some stories and pictures of one of the best weekends in my life.

My friend Anneli and I had decided a while ago that we wanted to go to the south of France, and chose Nice because her host family knew some people there with whom we could stay. The tickets were cheap (EasyJet) and the plane didn’t even remotely crash during our 1h10 flight, which left around 9pm from Orly. Nice by night is oh so much like California, along le Promenade d’Anglais with all the lights, palm trees, and new-ish hôtels lining the beach. Rollerbladers and cyclists oozed down their lane of the promenade, passing piétons as they strolled in the light of the humming lampposts. The air was warm and thicker than Paris, whose air is crisp and spoiled with pockets of cigarette smoke or exhaust. Our view from our room, above the bed (we thought we were going to sleep on the ground) and through the shuttered windows, breathed out onto the bay, which was lit by the colorful night hues, illuminating the neat lines and sailboats below. Panicky joy ensued.

The view from our window, Nice Harbor


In the morning,  we packed our daybags and walked out into Vielle Nice. My, how lovely it is. Imagine the streets of Boston, or of Paris. Not of New York, erase all of those grids from your mind. Now, cut each block in half with a road. And another, at a different angle. Sprinkle dead end alleyways where you wish. Alternatively, imagine the most rustic Italian quarter with burnt orange walls, which meander up towards terracotta roofs as they slide into open windows, flaking blue shutters thrown wide, inviting in an even brighter azure sky. The roads cut sharply at acute angles, creating houses as skinny as a cabinet that widen out to twenty times that size. Around the corner is a baby-pink church, its belltower peeking out over the surrounding buildings, as if it wished to glimpse the sea that it heard so often. The smell of bread and oregano wafts through an open window. And, somewhere, a thousand tourists fall in love with a city for the first time in their lives.

Vielle Nice

The majority of them can be found on the beach, where we happened to spend most of our day. It is incredibly crowded, incredibly sunny, and incredibly beautiful. Les cailloux are smooth, grey, and warm, not scalding like sand, nor are they as comfortable as their counterpart. They become smaller as they reach towards the water, where they dip, and rise, and dip again before plunging into the sea. It is deep almost immediately, a light salty blue closer to the shore and a brighter hue further out. The perfect temperature, it stretches on forever, embraced by Nice Côte d’Azur airport on one side and la colline, a fortressed hill, on the other. Nice-ville stretches in between, connected by the Promenade. After buying strawberries from an old lady who closely resembled a dandelion, and ice cream from a dim man on the street, Anneli and I walked back to the sea. I slurped up the fast-melting passionfruit scoop, took a lick of coffee, and finished by dipping my strawberries into the rich dark chocolate of my final scoop— and all for 4€. The sun was strong; we bought some sunscreen from a para-pharmacie. Eventually, we figured out how to use the VéloBlue, and spent the next two hours biking around, returning the creaky blue bikes to their stations before the 30 minutes were up and re-renting them to avoid any charge at all. After biking all the way to the airport, we decided that we’d bike to catch our flight at 5 am. Only then did I realize how burned I was, and after another swim in the evening with bronzed Russian children, we rinsed in the beach showers and returned back home to change, taking the long route via climbing the stairs of the fortified hill and weaving through the paths up there. It was silent, and for around 3 minutes I heard nothing but nature, something we both needed dearly. We gazed out at this marvelous town, thanking Harvard for all of the gifts it’s given us.

Nice Beach, one side of the hill

Me chillin’ on the other side of the hill


We finished our first day with smiles plastered onto our faces, and on Saturday  evening we decided to splurge on some dinner. Walking around Nice with the fantastic light charmed us until we returned to Place Girabaldi, where a restaurant with the same name awaited us. The catch? It had fresh pasta. Anneli ordered pesto gnocchi, and I ordered black truffle risotto. Both came with parmesan. Our waiter was terribly bizarre, but the food was phenomenal. I mourned the half of the risotto that I couldn’t eat, knowing that now, as I write this, I would be (and am) craving the delicious earthy flavor and richness of that plate. After eating, Anneli realized that all of the tables around us were full of Swedish people. She is Swedish, after all, and so a lengthy discussion with the portly man and his wife next to us ensued. I loved listening to it, but found myself automatically wanting to speak Italian afterwards, as Swedish is about as sing-songy as the other language I know, and is very different from French. It was hilarious to hear, and we eventually left after Anneli had had her heritage-full, spending the rest of the night on the beach in between tight circles of boys and night-fishermen, who actually caught fish in the warm Mediterranean.

My Risotto…dying

Now that I’m back, I can tell you that it was the best two-day vacation ever. Seriously. The Mediterranean has officially become my favorite ocean, and I know I must return to Nice. You know you’re spoiled when you don’t want to go back to Paris (:

Have a lovely summer, and incoming Freshmen, get excited!!! Harvard is the BEST!

Ciao begli!


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Hello everyone!

I hope you are all enjoying your summers thoroughly, and that the lovely [scary hot] weather at home is giving you all great tans and instilling a bit of fear…it’s quite the opposite across the pond, where the weather for Paris is always predicted at 70 degrees with 60% chance of showers. Fortunately, the rain rarely comes and falls for about 5 minutes, the wind blows, the clouds move a tad, and suddenly there is sun, until the wind blows again and the weather changes. It seems that everywhere I live has mercurial weather, but that’s perhaps because I haven’t lived in California or Antarctica. Hélas.

Besides the weather, which I kind of like but kind of hate passionately, Paris is wonderful. The limestone buildings glow in the evening light, contrasting against the grey sky, and the language rolls into my ears like rivulets twisting over slippery rocks. My words aren’t quite as beautiful; were they rivulets, they would pool in shallow depressions and eventually gain enough momentum to run onwards, creating an almost-constant sound. But that is how language goes, n’est pas?

And now I’d like to share a few moments from Paris with you, if you don’t mind.


The Phone

“But, only Asians live on the sixth and seventh floor. Are you sure you’re in the right house?” she asked, perched in her doorway, her face a mix of confusion and worry. I wasn’t sure. I had no idea, in fact, if I was in the right building, because apartments 40-47 were all built by the same architect in 1914 and were like six peas in a pod, neatly lining the street near Pont de Versailles station. “Non, madame, je suis super desolée mais je sais pas, est-ce que je peux utiliser votre téléphone, s’il vous plaît? J’ai pas assez de crédit, et ….” The woman whose home I’d entered handed me her phone with concern, and I dialed Anneli’s number for the sixteenth time, my fingers shaking and my eyes blurring with prickling tears. I turned away from the woman for a moment, waited, and heard nothing but faint clicking. Anneli’s phone wasn’t working, and neither was Mandi’s. I called Steven again, and for some reason, it went through, again; the only problem was that his calls weren’t connecting to either of the girls, and we were both about to run out of credit. It was already 9:00, and I’d been trying to get into Anneli’s house for exactly an hour to eat dinner and plan our evening. Obviously, it wasn’t working. Distressed, I thanked the woman and left the apartment building, knowing I was in the wrong place and that there was no way Anneli could see me from her 7th story window. I walked to the métro, defeated, and was letting line 12 rock me to sleep when my Bollywood-esque ringtone jolted me upright. It was Mandi, who said that her phone wasn’t working and that she couldn’t get through to Anneli either, and that she had just failed to enter her building. I told her I was going to meet Steven instead, as I hadn’t eaten, and she said she’d probably do something else and maybe I’d see her later. Our hopes lowered, we ended the call and I sunk back into my chair, my eyes closed, counting the 15 stops until my next transfer.




Puma Social

It’s a’ one two three take my hand and come with me cause you look so fine that I really wanna make you mine. His eyes were more than halfway closed, his shirt buttoned incorrectly, but his feet grooved to the driving beat. We threw our heads up and down, tasting the humid air with our hanging tongues as if to quench our wild thirst, but only succeeding in looking absolutely insane. To put it frankly, I didn’t give a care; I was on a perfectly-crowded, perfectly-lit dance floor in Paris with two awesome girls and thirty-odd French guys just off of Rue Oberkampf at 3 in the morning.  I swung my wet hair out of my face, singing the words to Jet’s best song along with the rest of the club, the only difference being that mine were correct and not tilted sideways with the smooth French accent. The music went on. I was so glad to be wearing sneakers instead of flats. I could dance forever, and had been dancing for at least two hours among well-dressed, kind of skinny, faintly cigarette-smelling men and my ladies, stopping to refuel on cold water and ice cubes snatched from champagne buckets. Mandi and I had gone to the bathroom a few songs ago, which was a thin corridor of black-lights and white writing, contrasting slightly from the higher-lit rest of the club; I was glad that I only looked relatively insane (maybe just suffering from a personality disorder). Now, however, I could be sure of nothing about my appearance except for the fact that it felt like I’d been swimming in the tropics for the past twenty songs and that the guys here were pretty good dancers and, if they weren’t, they were at least fun to watch. Four five six come on and get your kicks now you don’t need money with a face like that do you honey? Nope. I don’t. Which is good, because I don’t have any more cash.



My iPhone charger wasn’t plugged in so there was no alarm, but it’s a good thing I am fast at getting dressed, because I’m already a half-hour late to meet Anneli for brunch and I haven’t even left my flat. Exactly twenty-seven minutes later, I’m at Bastille again, this time for the pleasures of Sunday morning, also known as brunch and less tourists in the Marais. I see Anneli (orange dress, grey sweater) before she sees me (orange shirt, blue pants). We embrace in our démi-français half-english way, hugging and cheek-kissing all at once, and decide on Fontaine Café for the morning special of croissants, coffee, and wifi. As expected, all are slow, but we have plenty of time to spare and it’s best spent together before the afternoon clouds roll in. Over buttery, feathery pastries and café allongé (luckily not the expected tiny cup of espresso) we let delicate French words roll off our ever-studious tongues, weaving stories of childhood and countrysides that bind our friendship tighter. A firetruck passes by, the siren tearing at my eardrums, the contents of the packed-vehicle eyeing us like we’d just eyed our croissants. A little boy in a red striped shirt and mussed hair reminds us of Hanna Anderson, yet another thing we had in common growing up, and more stories fill up the hours of the morning. By the time the waiter comes with the check, it’s hard to stop talking and stand up. It’ll be even harder to cease speaking French and leave Paris, but I suppose we have some time.


Les Étrangers

There’s little else cooler than seeing someone you haven’t seen in more than a year pop out of the métro via the escalator, and Tess was no exception. Our roles had changed, she no longer a foreigner in my state, me no longer the one speaking a native tongue. Tess and I had graduated high school together last June and by some twist of fate I’d ended up in Paris for summer school when she’d just completed her Baccalauréat in the same city, with high honors nonetheless. She leaves tomorrow for the south of France, to Montpellier, and I come the center of Vermont, just near the capital with the same name. But today, we were having coffee and catching up. As she smoked her skinny Vogues and talked about her upcoming years of preparatory school for Les Grandes Écoles, I couldn’t help but feel excited and bizarre; this encounter reaffirmed how intertwined our lives become as get older and meet more people. I used to be afraid of growing up, but at least for now, I’m liking it.



About class, if you want to know:

I love class but hate how people slip into English so easily. We are only in Paris for 6 more weeks, babes. Let’s stick to the nation’s tongue like taste buds. The readings for class are kind of a lot, but really interesting, so I don’t mind reading them. I haven’t been able to always get through the readings, but I find that we discuss a variety of things throughout class and so it doesn’t always matter that much. Class is kind of like this:

  • Sprint to school (fast-walk, at least). Jiyae (my roommate) forgets where to turn which always makes me laugh, but Reid Hall is across from the cool hotel with painted tree shadows on its façade.
  • Go over les actualités, from newspapers such as Le Monde, Le Figaro, and Le New York Times/International Tribune.
  • Brief history and summary of the arrondissement we visited the day before. (Side note: I thought this was going to be a stupid order, because I like learning about things and then going out and visiting them, but this works really well because our discussions are more grounded in experience.)
  • Discussion of parts of the texts we read.
  • Launching of the broad philosophical questions of the day, also prepared by the students responsible for the arrondissement of the day before.
  • 10 minute break, where most people buy 45¢ espresso. (I finally bought some yesterday, and met these awesome girls from Barnard and Hamilton who showed me how to use the supah-high-tech machine. Coffee wasn’t strong but tasted really nice, even though there was slightly too muchsucre.)
  • Discussion of parts of the text within the context of philosophical questions.
  • Done at 13h00.
  • Lunch until 14h00
  • Afternoon excursions until 16h00 or later, frequently with theatre or movies or supplemental activities after the excursions. (I tend to go home unless it’s mandatory, as I want to rid myself of my backpack and take off my shoes.)


How does this relate to Harvard? Well, Harvard made it possible for me to go, from offering the program in the first place to graciously giving me funds once I’d applied for them. If you have any questions about Study Abroad, especially summer, let me know!

À bientôt!


Just doing some learnin’ near the Pantheon, sporting my future University’s hat — La Sorbonne


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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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It has been a good minute since my last post, so I am really excited to check in and update you on my status this summer.   I didn’t have the chance to share my summer plans with you all before I went on hiatus in the spring, but I am happy to share that I am spending the summer in Cambridge and working at the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau until August.  I could not be happier with my decision to stay close to campus.  Cambridge is my home away from my real home (Fairfax, Virginia) so for me, Summer 2012 is all about embracing the familiar.

Embracing the familiar is a far cry from last year’s summer break.  Instead of staying close to home or on-campus, last summer I participated in the Harvard Summer School Study Abroad Program in Barcelona.  It was my first time spending any substantial amount of time in Europe, and I am so appreciative of the experience.  Even though it was a Harvard program, I met a lot of new people and formed lasting friendships.  As a group, we really took advantage of our weekends and used the time outside of class to travel.  I experienced a lot of previously unfamiliar cities (Madrid, Granada, and Seville to name a few) and took in some truly amazing sights.  Just as importantly, I became more comfortable communicating in Spanish in the classroom, and the street signs and side conversations throughout the city served as my (brief and superficial) introduction to Catalan.  All in all, last summer was a stimulating adventure.  Looking back on it now, I would not change a thing, but leading up to this summer I was definitely looking forward to something different.

The Barcelona Program on the last day of class

That being said, living in on-campus for the summer does not mean that I am not experiencing new things.  As I’ve mentioned a couple of times in the past, during the school year I live in Pforzheimer House, which is one of the three houses that are located in the Radcliffe Quad.  As a Quadling, I am used to having some distance between my home and the hustle and bustle of Harvard Square and the center of campus, but this summer I’m getting a taste of life on the (Charles) River.  I have summer housing in Adams House, and right now, I am loving the convenience.  I can walk out of my room and have a Dunkin Donuts iced coffee in my hand in less than 5 minutes.  The Quad commute is not as big of a deal during the school year, but during the summer the central location of Adams saves me from the oppressive heat and humidity.

From the Quad to the River

As I am writing this entry, I am realizing that even though I am in Cambridge at the moment, elements of my Barcelona Summer are still present.  At the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau (HLAB), part of my work is to serve as a translator for Spanish-speaking clients.  The lectures and assignments for the course I took in Barcelona were entirely in Spanish, and I am not sure that I would feel comfortable in this position, if I didn’t have last summer’s experience to assure me of my capability.  On top of that, I met my summer roommate, Tessa, when I was in Barcelona last summer.  Tessa wasn’t in the same program as me, but she was working in a lab in the city so we got to know each other really well.  Tessa and I are also in the Crimson Key Society together, but we became good friends in Barcelona.  In the name of platitudes, I guess you could say that the more things seem to change, the more they stay the same.  No need to roll your eyes at me, because I already beat you to it.


Me and Tessa in Gerona last summer

Nothing concludes a post like a cheesy saying, so that’s all I have to say for today.  I hope that everyone is looking forward to a relaxing Fourth of July!

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I’ve been in Paris for two whole days, preparing for the start of the Harvard Summer in Paris program, and am ready to fill everyone in about my trip! Yesterday was, how do you say, long. After the uneventful plane ride, during which I missed dinner but woke up 4 hours later for breakfast (you can’t trick me, Corsair), I decided it would be best to take a cab. I exchanged my money, hopped in a Peugeot cab with “Grenade” by Bruno Mars bumping on the radio, and peaced out of Orly, heading to Paris. I glimpsed the Tour D’Eiffel on my right, in between some graffitied concrete dividers, and 35€  later, I was at Rue de Printemps, valise in hand.


Salut, Tour D’Eiffel!



I met up with a neighbor of my host family, and he crammed me into the elevator, pressed 5, and up I went. Dominique, my host mom, met me at the door, as did Jiyae, another student in my program. They led me to my room, which Dominique explained as being mine only for this week, because two other girls (whom I have yet to see) are living in the other room across the hall, and when they leave I’ll be taking over their room with a German girl, apparently. However, I have fallen in love with this room (my single), and will be sad to leave.

After I put down my luggage, Jiyae and I walked over to Phonestore/house/something, a tiny tabac, and asked for Farid. He sold Jiyae a phone, but didn’t have the one I wanted, so I told him I’d go to Orange (the bigger store) to buy my mobile. He quickly phoned a friend and said it’d arrive by dix-sept heures (5 pm), and I waved him goodbye, excited to find the phone that I desired. (Cheap, keyboard, conversation-based texting.) We went back to the apartment, Jiyae went to sleep, and I connected to the internet in order to tell everyone I was safe and to find Mandi, my lovely friend who is working in a Neuro lab this summer. We decided on meeting at the Tuileries because it was a nice day, and I hopped on the métro, got off at l’Opéra, and proceeded to literally walk in a circle for 10-odd minutes until I finally found Rue de Paix, the last road around Place d’Opéra which I’d checked.

Rue de Paix wasn’t exactly as peaceful as its name suggests, and as I weaved my way through the throngs of tourists and locals, high-fashion names such as Dior and Chanel jumped out at me. A couple buzzed their way into a secure jeweler’s, which had the most beautiful display of watches and necklaces I’d ever seen. I walked past a store devoted solely to polo wear, with a saddle slung atop the dressing room and white jeans galore. Shortly, I was at Les Jardins, and passed through a carnival (see the photos) in order to get to the Obelisk at the entrance, where I said I’d meet Mandi. I spotted her from afar, we laughed, and then walked over to a bench behind a statue of a curvaceous lady. We talked for a while, and I ate some of Mandi’s delicious sandwich and drank the RedBull that she had so kindly thought to bring me (I’d probably be really awful company without it). After we toured the garden a bit, we walked around Place D’Opéra and were awestruck by the crazy shops again. We then made our way to the Seine and sat down, only to be swarmed by these odd girls who said they were from the Blind and Deaf department; it’s a weird, common scam where they get you to donate money and sign their petition. Deciding it was best to leave, we walked back to Place D’Opéra, decided to go to my house, and took the 3 back to Villiers, one of my Métro stops.


17ième Arrondissement, where I live


It was around 5 when Mandi and I got back, and so we walked to Phonehouse/store/truc (truc=thingy), waited in line, and eventually I bought my phone! YAY. Luckily, as we waited, we were savoring the delicious pastries from the Patisserie across the way, me a Paris-Brest (not too sweet, super creamy, and full of almond paste) and Mandi a crème brulée…or two, as it turned out to be. Later, I introduced Mandi to Dominique (who has a cat!) and we met up with Jiyae and went out to dinner at this incredible Lebanese place near St. Germain. I had the most tendre poulet that I have ever eaten, died a little bit of salt-shock, and had my iPhone stolen as a joke by the waiter…oops. (He gave it back.) Jiyae said goodbye, needing sleep, and we parted ways. We cruised around for a bit on the quest for Wifi, and found it hours later, at a Starbucks. I then contacted Anneli and Anna, my two other Harvard friends who are in Paris, and we met up at Pont St. Louis, the bridge in between the two islands in the center of Paris. It was lovely seeing them, and we walked around to Nôtre Dame, watched a fire-poi dancer, and pushed our way through the fourth quarter. As it was getting rather late, we said bonne nuit and took our trains into the night. When I returned, sleep came easily, golden buildings still etched beneath my eyelids.


That’s all for now…the internet is slow and I can’t put up any more photos.



Carnival at the Tuileries


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Now that I’ve finished my school year, I am on to my next endeavor: Dorm Crew. I’ll be working on campus in a different way than what I’ve been doing these past two semesters, sweeping rooms instead of brushing up on my education. (In all fairness, I’m going to continue studying French throughout the summer, so I’ll never really stop my traditional learning.) These past few days I’ve been working as a storage monitor in Lowell House, one of the prettiest houses on campus. However, the basement storage rooms lack that same aesthetic appeal, and spending three hours a day in a cold basement before the big storage rush is 100% the most boring job I have ever had in my life. But it is also the easiest job I have ever had, and I am making a ridiculous chunk of money from monitoring an empty room.


Next week, the real work begins. I’ll start working Dorm Crew, cleaning out the rooms (in preparation for summer term students/reunions) that I cleaned way  back in August (in preparation for the academic year), and I’ll continue that job until June 1st, when I’ll be free and with a full wallet. I’ve completely emptied my room, hiking up to the Quad with my boxes and the help of my generous friend Parul, packing the rest of it into my dad’s car on Wednesday afternoon, and leaving a bag and my linens to hold me over during the month I’ll be living on campus. I get my temporary housing assignment on Saturday night, and have to evacuate my room by noon on Sunday; according to the Reunion jobs (for whom I’m working the second week), I will most likely live in the Quad, and according to Dorm Crew, I’ll most likely be in the River housing, so we’ll see where I end up. Setting up house for a little bit will be nice, especially if I live in a dorm that I’ve not yet inhabited. (Hopefully not Canaday or Currier!)


In preparation for my difficult 3 weeks ahead, I’ve been sleeping a whole lot and hanging out with my friends around campus. Last week, I helped a friend with their final project for a Civil War class, so we held a Gettysburg reenactment in Cambridge Common. Before, I took a nice shot of the Common, showing how green everything’s become these past few weeks, due to the rain and random days of sunshine.


Cambridge Common


A Resident of Cambridge Common


Also, before my tough work, I’m having a little vacation. I’m with my dad in NYC today! We’re about to go to B&H, my favorite electronic store, and are going to snoop around looking for cameras. I really want a video capable camera, and am thinking about getting a Nikon 7000, if I can afford it! (Is this my motivation to do Dorm Crew? Hm…only time will tell.)


PEACE! Happy end of my school year!


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