winter break

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Junior year of college has been all about future planning. It’s been pretty hard for me to live junior year in the present.


Freshman year, you have the total right and responsibility to be a wide-eyed, deer-in-headlights type of student who explores classes, student organizations, perhaps even jobs and (dorm) entryways, and maybe even persuade some initially unwilling strangers to be your new best friend.

Sophomore year, you have a better handle on campus life as you really begin leaving your mark – you’ve narrowed your potential concentrations (majors), acclimated to the hectic schedule, reached an ideal (burping) comfort level among your friends, and not only have grown accustom to but also miss your school routine and campus duties while you’re away. You’re no longer lost around campus – or at least have the online and peer resources to reach out to when in need. You have your head on a little straighter and the whole small fish in a big pond feeling is (hopefully!) fading away.

I don’t really have a generic (cheesy? overly expected?) summary of junior year (yet!), but I do feel like I’ve definitely spent a larger amount of my time thinking about senior year and beyond. Maybe it’s because half of my (older) friends have graduated, entering graduate school or the real (scary) world of jobs, and by keeping in touch with them and listening to their current priorities, there’s a strong influence for me to put myself in their shoes and project what my concerns will be like in a few years. Or maybe my futuristic mindset stems from how the summer of 2012 (shadowing at a clinic in Peru through DRCLAS – David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies) has catalyzed both my desire and certainty to pursue medical school.

Thinking about medical school, for me, is super intimidating. As I follow the steps to try and set myself up for a bright future in medical school and beyond, I feel like I’m walking through the darkest haunted hallway where I’m scared of everything whether I should be or not.

I was pretty hesitant to prance along and identify myself as a premed student. And if I were being completely honest, I’d have to admit that I sometimes revert back to that annoying hesitation. Especially right now during winter break (J-term, January term) as I study for the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test). I sit here staring at the mitosis chapter wondering what other careers that could possibly interest me even the slightest. Brainstorming to no avail, I continue on with my cell division review.

Thankfully, tons of my worries and questions regarding medical school and its application process has been addressed by multiple premed tutors (advisers) – some of them even live like 21 stair steps from me! After freshman year, students are assigned to an upperclassman house for their remaining time as an undergraduate. Each upperclassman house has both resident and non-resident tutors specializing in popular career areas (i.e. medicine, business, law, etc.). The best part is that these tutors advise from not books and movies, but rather from their personal experiences. For example, pretty much all the premed tutors are students at Harvard Medical School so I often feel like I’m in the best hands. Yet this doesn’t mean that it completely prevents my hands from trembling when I think about the future!

Perhaps my world has a little blast-to-the-future flavor because I fast-forwarded my life a year or two. Initially, I planned on taking at least one gap year between undergrad and med school so I could live out the whole young-adult-seeks-identity chapter of my life. However, as any great outline thrives on a little flexibility, I found myself editing that chapter out after this past summer. Thus, I began my junior year moving forward with plans to apply to medical school straight through which means thinking about serious things like the MCAT! Eeeek! T minus 11 days. Oh man, I definitely should not have just counted the days. The looming of this test has been such a heavy weight on my shoulders, but with my studying and practice, I hope to train so that it’ll soon dissolve!!! Just think in 11 and a half days, I can breathe effortlessly again, that is if I’m not crying from the cruelties of the test.

So as I sit at home with my nose in a review book, my friends are traveling the world, tanning, and catching up on some quality television. Just kidding…well kind of kidding; I’ve made some time to live a little too:

Today, the Harvard Club on San Diego is hosting a celebratory dim sum brunch for the early admits in the area. I’m crazy excited…and not just for the free food. Ever since the spring of 2010, I swear the Club has only held events when I’m out of town!! So this will be my first time meeting some locals. More about this brunch soon! I’ll check back in once the spring semester starts 🙂

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It’s officially been seven days into winter break (aka J-term) and it’s been a beautiful string of seven days! After surviving/conquering another semester of college, everyone truly deserves a relaxing break – the sad part is I’m already kind of itching to get back … SLIGHTLY.

Last Friday (Dec. 21st) was the last day of final exams. I had a final in the morning despite it being my 21st birthday. Although this has been my #1 complaint since the Final Exam schedule was published from the registrar, the brightest side is that it forced me to stay on campus until my birthday which granted me the pleasure of celebrating with my college friends!

The way finals work at Harvard is that the majority of classes will hold exams in the span of one week and on any given day, there are 2 exam slots (1 exam at 9 am and another exam at 2 pm). Therefore you can have a maximum of 2 finals per day. Exams are not proctored on Sundays and some classes may not have final exams but rather a final paper/project instead (these final-alternatives tend to be due during Reading Period, the week before official Final Exams, also known as Dead Week at other universities). Some classes also may proctor a final test earlier than the university’s official exam week (this most commonly happens for language classes…I think). One of my ultimate goals is to never have 2 finals on one day. I’ve been successful so far, but some of my friends have had 4 finals (one for every class) on the last 2 Final Exam days – pretty much as cruel as academic torture gets.

Home is not just where the heart is, but it’s also where I can take a postcard picture with my phone. SUP SAN DIEGO

My birthday final went pretty well and my friends super skillfully utilized the 4 hours between the end of my final and my flight home to celebrate my birthday. I flew to back home to California, regaining the 3 hours of my birthday I had lost from the final. My family received me better than I could ever ask for and I definitely milked my birthday for every free item I could 🙂 I literally kept this 21st birthday celebration so strong that I think my birthday was a bigger deal than Christmas. I have tons of family in Vegas so I’m spending the holidays here.

HEY VEGAS, you look better with the lights off

At school, I definitely feel like my circle of friends has easily become like a new family to me. Some people say you’ll never make friends like your college friends, while others simply say you’ll never make friends after college. Although I can not personally definitively confirm any statements, I can contest to the intensity of my college friendships in terms of their strength and pace! I’m lucky to say that my friends at school have definitely hindered me from feeling homesick often. As terrible as this sounds, it makes it hard to remember what being around family feels like – especially since I was only with my family for less than 2 weeks this past summer! Being home now, for the entirety of J-term feels so, SO great! There’s nothing like family and the instant connection I feel with them. I’m cherishing the time I’m spending with my 18 month old niece and the hours of algebra and Spanish tutoring with my cousin who’s a freshman in high school. I’ll be spending the rest of break studying for the MCAT and running like a wannabe beast in preparation for the Boston Marathon.

More on my MCAT preparation and premed lifestyle in my next post!

I’ve been vacationing so hard this past week that I’m itching to get into a routine. Sleeping cycle-lessly and eating nonstop may or may not be taking its toll on me :p I guess moral of the story is that you’ll make great friends in college but the relationships you’ll leave behind will be met again! So to all you high school seniors nervous about moving away for college, try to leverage your anxiety and use this time to enjoy the holidays!! Yes, this is easier said than done. I know my senior year of high school was probably the most emotional year of my life with my future so close yet profoundly unknown – but once all your applications are in, then it’s out of your hands so there’s no use in worrying. Good luck to all you still working on those applications too! The process sucks, but it’s an investment worth making for your near future! I’m keeping my fingers crossed for all of you!

Cheers from Vegas!

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

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

Monday, January 30, 2012:

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

Annenberg Hall

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

Tuesday, January 31, 2012:

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

Wednesday, February 1, 2012:

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

Thursday, February 2, 2012:

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

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

Friday, February 3, 2012:

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

Newbury Street Boston by Celia Judge

An oil painting of Newbury Street by Celia Judge

Until next week!

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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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Hello, everyone! I am back on campus for Wintersession, writing to you all from the comfort of my dorm room! Wintersession (formerly called “Optional Winter Activities Week” or “OWAW” — I actually like this better than what they renamed it to, just because I liked to pronounce it as “Oh, wow!”) is the week before spring classes start, filled with College and student-led programming everyday, all funded by the University. It’s supposed to be a time for fun and exploration, to do things that you can’t really do during the normal semester just because there’s such a focus on academics and other extracurriculars. For example, many students are going on a ski and tubing trip, as well as a Boston Celtics basketball game. There are also some cool classes that are being offered, including a music workshop, a DJ-ing class, among many others. Last year, I was on campus recording a charity song I wrote with two friends in a local recording studio. The song, called “Going Up”, was written in response to the tragic earthquake that hit Haiti in January of 2010. We wanted to raise relief funds and awareness through our project. With Harvard’s help, we ended up recording, releasing, and performing the song at the end of the week, and it was one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had here. Check it out below:


Starting tomorrow, I’m participating in a special engineering course called “Sustainable Materials as Biomedical Materials” where we’ll be exploring different paths in biochemical and biomedical engineering, including industry and research. Here’s a glimpse at our schedule:

Tuesday, January 17, 2012:  International Symposium on Bio-Inspired Engineering
Wednesday, January 18, 2012: Introduction to Biomedical Engineering, Biomaterials, and Drug Delivery; Biocompatibility Testing of Biomaterials
Thursday, January 19, 2012: Introduction to Biochemical Engineering and Metabolic Engineering
Friday, January 20, 2012: Biochemical Engineering meets Biomedical Engineering – Polysaccharide-Based Tissue Glues; Biochemical Engineering meets Biomedical Engineering – Clinical Trials

Today, I went to a book talk, jointly sponsored by the Undergraduate Council and Harvard Alumni Association. These two groups have come together to bring alumni and faculty authors to campus all week to speak about their books, experiences, etc. The awesome part about these book talk events is that not only do you hear from some interesting people, there’s a raffle that gives away 50 copies of the author’s book.

This afternoon’s guest was Joanne Chang ’91, a pastry chef who owns both Boston’s Flour bakery and Myers + Chang Asian cuisine restaurant. She was an Applied Mathematics/Economics concentrator (our word for major) here, but left a career in management consulting after two years to follow her passion of baking. She told us the entire story of how she got to where she is today. Her talk was very inspiring because she was super real and candid with us, and she’s found both success and happiness after following a very untraditional path. Joanne has even been on The Food Network’s Throwdown! with Bobby Flay. We had the opportunity to talk to her briefly afterwards, and she was extremely down to earth. She signed my book, and we even got a picture with her!

Us with pastry chef and Harvard alum, Joanne Chang!

Us with pastry chef and Harvard alum, Joanne Chang! Her book got cut off at the bottom there…

Joanne's recipe book, "Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston's Flour Bakery + Cafe"

Joanne's recipe book, "Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston's Flour Bakery + Cafe"

This evening, there was an ice skating event at the Bright Hockey Center, home to the Men’s and Women’s Varsity Hockey teams. Now, I’m not the best skater, and was a bit hesitant to go, but my friends convinced me and I’m really glad I did. It was definitely a lot of fun, and there were so many more people than I was expecting. I didn’t fall, either! Wintersession has been great thus far, and I’m definitely looking forward to the rest of the week!


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My first formal exposure to the Spanish language (not counting Dora the Explorer) was in 8th grade where Introductory Spanish was a 6-week course offered as part of the Exploratory Wheel elective. Spanish class soon became a year-long course for me every year since then – even now in college!

I clearly remember the day in 8th grade when I became determined to acquire Spanish fluency. One of my good friends – endearingly nicknamed Briana Banana – raised her hand in the midst of silence during a writing exercise. She inquired about one of the new infinitives we just learned meaning “to play” which evoked an alarmed and confused countenance by the teacher who repeated back: “soufflé?!” It was one of those unexpected misunderstandings that provoked our endless giggling – we literally hysterically laughed about this for weeks. If I were to ever write a memoir, this moment wouldn’t only be noted as a randomly hilarious event, but also as a turning point when I decided it would be way more than awesome to be fluent in Spanish so that I could translate words like “soufflé.”

I’ve been learning Spanish for almost 5 years now (didn’t enroll in a Spanish class senior year of high school after taking AP Spanish my junior year, highly recommended class by the way!) and recently, I’ve been feeling that the steep slopes of my learning curve have started their inevitable plateau. This is not to say that Harvard language classes aren’t fulfilling – I definitely feel like I have more mastery with regards to grammatical points such as compound verb phrases and my most recent class (see description below) incorporated Spanish cinema which naturally gave me more of a sense of Spanish history and culture.

[Spanish 40: An advanced language and culture class that further develops linguistic competence using regions of the Hispanic world as a focus for class discussion, grammar review, and an introduction to Hispanic social contexts and texts. Course materials may also include films, interviews, painting, photography, music, selections from the press, as well as literary or historical readings. Frequent written and oral assignments, and a thorough review of grammar.]

I think my lack of complete satisfaction stems from the fact that my Spanish acquisition has been contained within the four walls of a classroom. Ever since high school, most of my time outside the classroom has been dedicated to furthering my scientific interests in order to narrow my future career path. However, I’m pretty confident that I need to either volunteer or study abroad in Spain, Latin America, or any other Spanish-speaking region so that my Spanish learning is concomitant to my personal growth (as corny as that may sound) because studying abroad offers a harmonious combination of formal learning in the classroom and informal learning via outdoor adventures and interpersonal interactions. My adventures in Vietnam this J-term have really cemented my desires to pursue being active abroad in the near future.

As a first generation Vietnamese-American, I simultaneously learned Vietnamese and English growing up. I’ve never received any formal Vietnamese instruction, but I can listen and speak just as well as I can butcher words when I read them. I couldn’t write Vietnamese if my life depended on it and my reading abilities are fairly limited to restaurant menus. Therefore, I depend on my listening comprehension and speaking skills for communication. My parents’ friends are generally impressed with my fluent façade because most Vietnamese kids born in the US have English-dominated language skills. I believe my bilingual language advantage stems from the fact that I grew up living with my grandparents so the demand for Vietnamese was higher. However, this advantage no longer applies in college where I no longer reside with anyone who pressures me to speak Vietnamese. My desire to maintain my Vietnamese in college led me to volunteer in Dorchester, a heavily Vietnamese populated community near Cambridge. These efforts haven’t been too helpful since the PBHA BRYE (Boston Refugee Youth Enrichment) program aims to tutor struggling Vietnamese teens in English. I’ve also sought out various ways to enhance the Vietnamese half of my Vietnamese-American identity such as participating in Len Duong Camp last summer and traveling to Vietnam this J-term.

I’ve been in Vietnam almost two weeks now and my parents who once use to mercilessly describe my Vietnamese abilities as pathetic, now just tell friends and relatives that I’m indeed capable of speaking Vietnamese. I’ve learned much more slang as well as new vocabulary – specifically for all the new fruits and cuisines that aren’t readily available in the United States.


I think the most convincing proof of my Vietnamese acquisition has been my improved abilities to make jokes and puns in Vietnamese!!

I’m not even sure if Charles Dickens has enough words to describe how fulfilling my first (and hopefully not last!) trip to Vietnam has been. Everything from meeting all the relatives who I have and haven’t heard about to seeing where my parents were married and where they use to hang out afterschool has not only been a culturally immersive experience, but also a personally fulfilling one.

A man playing the recorder…with his nose!!

I intend on using this family trip to Vietnam as a catalyst for studying abroad because I am SO ready to collect some stamps in my passport!

A street sign in Saigon – I guess rockets are allowed on this street?? 😉

This restaurant had a special vomit section in the bathroom and we still ate there.

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Back to campus in 7 days. Normally, I hit this wall where I don’t feel like being home on break any longer, simply out of boredom, and am itching to get back to my dorm in Quincy House. However, I haven’t quite made it to that point yet. I think it’s because I’ve been doing a lot of reading, as well as summer internship applications. J-Term (what we call our winter break) has been very busy for me, despite having a lot more free time than during the semester. It’s not a bad kind of busy, but definitely not crazy enough that I’m dying to get back just yet. Last year, I was on campus already at this time in January, training for my upcoming volleyball season. I walked on to my team halfway through freshman year, and after being a varsity athlete as a freshman and sophomore, I decided to “retire” as a junior after realizing I wanted to pursue other opportunities during my career here. I’ve always loved volleyball, and it was my life all throughout high school. But being an NCAA Division I athlete at Harvard requires a lot of discipline and time management skills. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve made some lifelong friendships through my teammates (that’s how I met one of my roommates), and got to travel to some great places when I was in season and while training. My favorite memory was playing against the University of Southern California Trojans during our spring break trip to California last year. They were the defending national champions and to even step foot on the Galen Center‘s court was a dream come true. However, Harvard has so much to offer, and there’s only so many hours in a day. Between training, practices, games, and traveling, I felt like I wanted to move on to other things and focus my energy elsewhere for my last two years here.

Harvard NCAA Division I Men's Varsity Volleyball, 2010-2011

Harvard NCAA Division I Men's Varsity Volleyball, 2010-2011

It’s definitely different not being a part of an organized team, but I don’t think it’ll fully hit me until my former teammates have their first game of the 2012 season on January 24th. I haven’t actually experienced a spring semester here while not being in season, so I’m looking forward to what other things I’ll get involved with. When people find out I left my team, the question they ask me most frequently is why I quit. I then correct them using the word “retire” and proceed to explain. The next question I’m usually asked is whether or not I’m happy with my choice. Yes. I am incredibly happy with my decision. However, I do miss many aspects of being an athlete, and do not regret investing the past two years into volleyball. I’ve learned time management skills, teamwork, leadership, so much about myself, and met some of my best friends.

Harvard Men's Volleyball

My team — can you spot me? (Hint: I'm the shortest!)

For those of you who are considering applying to Harvard and playing a sport here, I encourage you to do it. If you don’t, though, it’s not the end of the world. As a 3-sport athlete in high school, not being able to play sports was one of my biggest fears coming into college. There are so many levels of athletics here, from pick-up games to intramurals to club to varsity–there’s a level of skill and commitment for everyone. If it’s meant to be, it’ll happen (how cliche of me…). I didn’t plan on pursuing volleyball in college, but things just fell into place halfway through freshman year. Of course, you need to do what’s right for you, but having athletics as part of my undergraduate experience was definitely one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It’s true that everyone, athletes included, are held to the same academic standards here. But Harvard professors and teaching fellows are normally understanding and willing to help make sure you have a positive experience, athlete or not. I had a great experience as a student-athlete. I will admit that I still need to get used to my roommate, Derek, running out of the room to go to practice without me, but I’ll definitely be in the stands supporting my team this spring.

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Happy New Year! I can’t believe 2012 is already here. It is unbelievable how time flies, and it definitely doesn’t feel like I’ve been at Harvard for two and a half years already. I told you all I would keep you updated on how my planning for the spring semester is going, and it looks like I’ve decided on only one course so far: “Engineering Sciences 123: Introduction to Fluid Mechanics and Transport Processes.” Okay…so from the title alone, this class isn’t exactly one that I’ve been dying to take since declaring my concentration (major) as Biomedical Engineering. It sounds like there is going to be a lot of physics and applied math involved. I love the latter, but can’t say the same about physics. While I’m not a physics person by any means, I’m open-minded, and this is indeed a concentration requirement.

As far as the other courses in my schedule go, there are a bunch I am looking at.

  • “Computer Science 51: Introduction to Computer Science II”
  • “Government 1093: Ethics, Biotechnology, and the Future of Human Nature”
  • “Societies of the World 24: Global Health Challenges: Complexities of Evidence-Based Policy”
  • “Engineering Sciences 91r: Supervised Reading and Research”
  • “Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality 1266: Gender and Sports”

OFF ON A TANGENT: You’ll notice that I’m considering many courses that don’t have to do with engineering. When I applied to Harvard, I indicated on my application that I intended to pursue engineering and stuck with it. No one actually declares a concentration until his or her sophomore fall. However, applying as an engineer, I was conscious of the fact that Harvard isn’t a traditional engineering school, but that’s what was really attractive to me. I liked the idea of being a “Renaissance Engineer” because I have many eclectic interests. Sure, I love math and science and those are the two subjects I focused on in high school. But I have a great appreciation for English literature (Shakespeare’s King Lear, anyone??), ethnic studies, technology, and global health, to name a few. I knew that Harvard would be able to offer me opportunities in engineering in the context of a liberal arts education, which set it apart from many other, solely technical universities that I was considering.

There are actually several other courses I’m looking at, but these really stood out to me. Selecting courses is extremely difficult, because there are thousands to choose from, and only so much time in one semester. On top of deciding between which subjects I’m most interested in, finalizing my schedule also comes down to logistics, including requirements, class meetings, exam dates, etc. In addition, I haven’t spoken to any friends about classes yet. At least one person usually ends up finding a gem that I didn’t. With so many courses, it’s easy to overlook many of them, let alone one. It usually all ends up working out some way or another, though. When it’s shopping week (check out Jeanie’s post if you aren’t familiar) towards the end of the month, I’ll post a screenshot of my final shopping schedule–I’m sure it’ll look crazy hectic with all of the aforementioned courses and then some. New semester, new courses, new year…I’m really looking forward to 2012 and new challenges, ups, downs, and memories in general!

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Greetings from the endless haze of naping, reading, and snacking that is otherwise known as my life during J-term (winter break)!

Since New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day are fast approaching, I thought it would be fun to share some of my Harvard/Cambridge related resolutions with you all.  I’m usually not very good about sticking to my resolutions past the first week of the New Year, but maybe sharing this list in a public forum will help hold me accountable.

Happy New Year!

1. Stop buying food in Harvard Square during dining hall hours.

I made a nasty habit of eating non-HUDS (Harvard University Dining Services) meals last semester, and it really took a toll on my bank account balance.  In the beginning it was harmless.  I started off with a mini cup of frozen yogurt from Pinkberry (coconut yogurt with granola and honey, if you please) here and there, but the next thing I knew it had escalated to a regular sized burrito (buffalo chicken!) from Boloco’s with a nutella milkshake multiple times a week.

I love the food in the Square, and I’m not willing to sacrifice all of my little indulgences.  As a compromise, I think that I could stand to stay away from these treats when the dining halls are open.  Especially since eating in the dining hall is free, so it’s a money-saving alternative.

2. Spend more time in Widener.

I love a good study space.  Freshman year I lived in Canaday, so I was all about getting my work done in the Canaday basement, Cabot Science Library in the Science Center, and Lamont Library.

This year (my sophomore year) I decided to switch things up.  Since I live in Pforzheimer House (Pfoho) in the Quad, it doesn’t really make sense for me to study in the Canaday basement or Cabot Library anymore.  Last semester I went to Lamont whenever I wanted to get work done on the River, and I would go to the Pfoho Library (Pflibrary) when I wanted to be productive in the Quad.

However, towards the middle of the semester I stumbled into the Loker Reading Room (and the Atkins Reference Room) in Widener Library, and it was a total game changer.  Widener is a striking building from the outside, but the interior is absolutely stunning.   Plus, people that go to Widener generally mean business so there’s this peer pressure to be productive.

The Loker Reading Room and the Atkins Reference Room

3. Take the time to explore Boston.

Whenever I am home and catching up with my friends and family, people always ask me, “How’s Boston?” and I am never able to give them a legitimate answer.  I tell them that Cambridge is amazing, but I can’t tell them anything about Boston-proper because I rarely venture out of the Harvard bubble.  In fact, the only time that I step outside of Cambridge is when I feel the need to hit the shops on Newbury Street.

It’s a shame that I haven’t taken the leap, because there are some things that I am dying to do in the city.  Here are a few:

a. Have a picnic in the Common, the city’s oldest public park, on a sunny afternoon.

b. Spend an afternoon in the Museum of Fine Arts (especially to view van Gogh’s Houses at Auvers).  I’m not actually that much of a visual arts enthusiast, but after I spent last summer in Barcelona I came to appreciate the calm of a good museum visit.  I especially want to take a look at Houses at Auvers because I visited the Museum of Modern Art in New York last year and saw The Starry Night. I just thought the texture of the painting in person was the coolest thing, and so I want to take a look at another van Gogh.

The Starry Night

The Starry Night

House at Auvers

House at Auvers

c. Visit the Massachusetts State House.  My favorite part about the tours that I give (as a member of the Crimson Key Society) is learning about the architecture and the history of the buildings on campus.  I really want to get a good look at the Massachusetts State House because Charles Bulfinch designed it.  He’s the same architect responsible for University Hall in Harvard Yard.  He’s also a Harvard graduate!


Massachusetts State House

Massachusetts State House

University Hall

University Hall

d. Take the time to visit the New England Aquarium.  I don’t have any pets or anything, but for some reason I love zoos and aquariums.  Since I’m from Northern Virginia, I visit the National Zoo in D.C. and the National Aquarium in Baltimore a lot.  I’m ready for something new!

Honestly, the list could just go on, and on, and on.  The point is that there are a million and one things to do around campus, but I need to make a conscious effort to see what Boston has to offer as well.

4. Go to office hours.  Undergraduate professors and teaching fellows hold regular “office hours”, during which students are welcome to stop by and get to know their professors.  The idea is to make the faculty accessible so that students and faculty members can build strong relationships outside of lecture and section.  I’ve never really taken advantage of office hours.

Every semester, I tell myself that I will go, but the second that I get busy I use my schoolwork and other commitments as an excuse to opt out.  It’s really a shame and a waste of a great opportunity.  This spring I intend on attending at least one office hour session for each of my classes.

5. Take a class pass/fail.  This is probably the trickiest resolution, and I’ll most likely put it off until next fall. There’s no sound reasoning behind this one.  I’m really just curious to see how it would effect the way I learn and treat my assignment.

I think that’s just about it.  Those are my Harvard-related resolutions for 2012! Hopefully posting them to this blog will keep me honest in the coming year.  Wish me luck and discipline!  Hopefully you’ve had the opportunity to reflect on 2011 and come up with some resolutions of your own.  Here’s to an exciting new year!


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When I said that there’s nothing like stepping out of the exam room after your last final in my blog post from last week, I forgot to mention that there’s (also) nothing like the break time between semesters. I usually don’t like to use the same phrase twice, and I realize this makes me sound like a monster of an exaggerator. Hmm, what other feeling or event would Monster Exaggerator Scott preface with “there’s nothing like”?!? But it’s true. There’s really nothing like it. Really. I’ve only been on break for about a week, and I’ve had lots of family and leisure time. Of course, there are things I should be doing, but everything is subject to a very, very soft deadline on my own time. I think breaks in between semesters (we call winter break “J-Term”) are one of my most favorite parts about being in college. Not only are they incredibly rejuvenating, but you realize how much you take for granted because you’re only home for so long. Between free laundry, being able to sleep in, and my umma‘s (“mom” in Korean) delicious home-cooked meals, you gain a whole new appreciation for everything you don’t have access to while on campus.

At the end of every semester, students are asked to fill out evaluations for each of their courses, which are then compiled and summarized in the “Q Guide.” The Q Guide is a collection of a course’s semesterly evaluations. Students use it when choosing classes for the upcoming semester, and teaching staff use it to get feedback from their students. Some people take it more seriously than others–I always make sure I submit honest and thoughtful comments that I think would help other students, as well as constructive criticism for faculty and teaching fellows. It’s anonymous, so nothing will ever be traced back to your name. However, I always find it super helpful when I’m planning my schedule to read candid feedback from other students, so I try to be as detailed and real as possible.

As I was completing my evaluations, I started to reflect on my junior fall. Studying and doing the assignments for Computer Science 50 and Organic Chemistry alone could have been a separate semester in itself. Students here normally enroll in 4 courses a semester, so considering my other 2 (a statistics course and an elective about childbirth), I realized that I had a very tough workload. I’ve always challenged myself since I was a freshman, but when compared to the others, this semester in particular had its fair share of long and stressful nights. I think that’s why I felt so accomplished and satisfied with the past four months. I started to think about the spring, and there are way too many courses I want to take. It hit me that I only have 3 semesters left, which means that realistically, there are a limited number of classes I can take with way too many to choose from. In the grand scheme of things, I’m very lucky to have this problem. However, I want to take public speaking, do research, and, of course, I have to finish my concentration (major) requirements. I have 3 left! My list is still nearly double the size of a typical schedule, so I’m going to read up on the Q Guide and try to narrow it down. I’ll keep you all updated.

Aside from that, I’ve just been trying to relax! I hope you’re all doing the same and enjoying this time of year, regardless of what your holiday preferences are. I’ll post again next year. (Get it?? In 2012?? What a corny joke…I’ve always loved it, though…) Happy New Year!

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