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

1. Southern California trumps wherever you are – similarity

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

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

2. Priorities – similarity

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

Cosmetics, Chocolate, & …


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

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

3. All of the lights – similarity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Road Safety prevents Road Kill? – difference

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

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

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

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

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


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

7. The Health vs. Taste Controversy – undefined

Viet BLT, hold the L&T anyone?

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

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

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

8. You are what you eat – too many variables

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

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

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There are a lot of lies you’re told in life. Remember when you were told there are nine planets in the solar system? Well, there are actually eight planets now if you personally accept Pluto as a dwarf planet. Remember when you were told that after you memorize the symbols of the periodic table of elements, you’d get it over with and never have to do it again? Well, you’re going to need to do it three more times. Remember when you were told your teeth would fall out if you didn’t brush before bed? Well, the latter is actually true. But sometimes you want teeth to effortlessly fall out (like when your piggy bank feels a little empty). The weekend before Thanksgiving break was one of those times.

During the last few days of my previous summer vacation, I was informed that all four of my wisdom teeth needed to be removed as soon as possible. In an attempt to strategically plan an influx of parental pampering and special-sympathy treatment, I scheduled the surgery for winter break. As the development of my J-term plans incorporated international travel, however, I realized I would need to extract my wisdom teeth during the academic semester. In a fearful frenzy, I reached out to Harvard staff, proctors and residential advisers for referrals and was quickly comforted after speaking to Harvard University Health Services (UHS) which directed me to the Harvard Dental Center. The staff was SUPER friendly, polite, and patient! Not only did they answer my redundant questions, but they also referred me to local practices in addition to walking me through the procedure so I would know what to expect from a good oral surgeon. The pharmacy next to UHS also made sure I was equipped with pain killers going into the extraction as well as vaccines I needed for my J-term travel plans!! Talk about a full service.

After much planning and anxiety, my best friend graciously escorted me to the dentist the Monday before Thanksgiving. Within an hour and a half, I was back on campus with my precious roommates super willing to ice and hydrate me.


Within the next 48 hours, I had slept for 40 and spent my 8 conscious hours finishing a physics pset (problem set/homework), throwing up, and somewhat uneasily boarding a bus to New York City for Thanksgiving break. With an estimated negative caloric intake, I was feeble and just plain miserable.

Moral of the story: Get your wisdom teeth out before you go to college! There are literally 21 million things to think about and prep for before college. Not only can the application process be a nightmare, but you’re forced to mentally project your future and predict if a university can offer you happiness. Although you should prioritize focusing on academic concentrations and university curriculum, you can’t forget about logistics such as transferring to a more convenient bank…or getting your wisdom teeth out!!! Crush the boulders along your path to college into gravel by planning ahead, but don’t feel like you have to anticipate every challenge and circumstance because the university and its resources are definitely ready for your personal exploitation.

Also, the title of this blog entry wasn’t just another one of my cheesy attempts at a pun. A university-thought process drastically differs from that of (most American) high schools. In college, you’ll be trained to approach and resolve problems differently (more conceptually). That being said, don’t buy into the lie that high school is a waste of time. Without all my magical high school experiences and arsenal of knowledge, I can’t imagine ever grasping overarching concepts such as the cable theory and equation (in my class called Molecular and Cellular Biology 115 – Cellular Basis of Neuronal Function). Respecting high school is undeniably a fantastic way to prep for college.

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