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[Guest Post] Down the River by Abby H. '20

Sharon L. '21 talks Harvard and life paths

Read another post by Sharon here.

 

That’s right, I’m talking about the H-word, Harvard University. I’ve found myself going to Harvard Square a lot more than usual this past semester. Despite not dual-enrolling in a class, I did have the chance to take a class (D-Lab: Development!) with several Harvard University students this fall semester, learning a lot more about Harvard’s various academic and social scenes.

Some initial reactions I had: Harvard academic interests are FAR more diverse (social studies majors, anyone?). As a result, there are far more policy and politics-oriented clubs, as well as a lot more political activism and general awareness on campus. A lot of campus politics seem to have more student-driven input than at MIT (though there has been a history of MIT students clashing with administration, these instances are rarely met with as much protest as Harvard has had over, say, the HUDS cafeteria workers, single-gender social clubs, or affirmative action).

Harvard Square has a lot more family-owned businesses and trendy food destinations in general. I mean, Shake Shack, Bonchon, Santouka, Border Cafe, Pokeworks, and Boston Burger Company all in the same square? It’s hardly fair. There is a visible trend of overpriced food around Kendall and Central due to the proximity of biotech companies to MIT campus (possibly for recruiting reasons or close relationships with MIT research facilities) that drives out smaller businesses. Then again, Crema Cafe recently closed to open Blue Bottle, and Momofuku Milk Bar just had their grand opening, so there’s definitely a movement of even more stores out of the Cambridge area, probably due to the cost of rent. It’s really unfortunate, and I’m crossing my fingers that local support will allow a lot more of the stores to stay open.

Harvard’s architecture is objectively very pretty. It’s really nice to wander around Harvard Yard when it’s snowy out,01 My friend and I did this during WECode and launched into a debate about the economics of having a Harvard student hold a sign in the cold for an hour vs. purchasing a sign holder. when the leaves turn colors in the fall, or honestly in any season.

 

On top of all that, here are a few more reasons why visiting Harvard can be a wonderful experience:

  • Harvard Square events: Harvard Square (as an organization!) hosts events throughout the year, from an annual free chocolate festival to free concerts and poetry slams. There are also free talks at the Harvard Book Store that are advertised every so often.
  • Museums: There are so many awesome museums, including the Harvard Museum of Natural History (SO MANY BIRDS and cute animals) and the Mineralogical & Geological Museum, which features one of the largest collections of rocks and gemstones I’ve ever seen. Some cost money, some are free, and some are free on certain occasions.02 Over the summer, there were free museum hours during the Summer Solstice Festival at Harvard.
  • Social events (???): Harvard parties are a thing that exists. I usually hear more about Harvard students coming to MIT parties than vice versa, but a change of scenery is nice and meeting different people (and checking out different dorms/clubs) is also a cool experience.
  • Free transportation: MIT students get free access to the M2 bus with a Harvard ID card! These can be obtained by signing up at one of the Harvard libraries (and apparently they’re available to a pretty large number of local and non-local universities.) Say goodbye to the $5.50 round-trip T fare!
  • Libraries (as study spots): Even without a Harvard ID card, MIT students are free to use the libraries with a day-pass. 
  • Cheaper food: For the price of going out in Boston, Harvard Square has a lot of cheap food. It also helps that there’s a bunch of apps like Snackpass and Food for All that offer student discounts and special deals. $5 poke bowls, anyone?
  • Interesting classes: The Harvard QGuide is only open to Harvard students, but a bunch of students recently released the QGuide Plus, which was originally made for the intention of finding gems, Harvard-speak for easy and fun classes. I was able to find some interesting gen-eds, a quilt-making class, a food writing class, an intro to Thai class,03 Fun fact: Harvard offers over 40 languages. and a class on sexuality and the brain.
  • Cool slang: Apparently economics is “Eck” at Harvard, presumably because the class names are “EC101” and so forth, and also probably because of how many students declare themselves as Economics concentrators. It’s incredibly different from MIT, where we usually just shorten economics to “econ” and have an undergraduate department of <100 students. There a bunch of other things Harvard students will say that can seem unfamiliar: comp, secondary, concentration, TF, Berg, etc.
  • Different burritos: MIT students tend to have a weird craving for Anna’s – Harvard students are more into Jose’s or Felipe’s. (Apart from that sentence being inherently funny because of my friends’ names, I have heard that Harvard’s burritos are better.)

Sometimes, it’s even just nice to be able to get out of the MIT STEM bubble for a bit, and realize that being hardc0re at engineering isn’t the most important thing in the world. Between career fairs oozing with tech, finance, and big pharma money to the plethora of students planning on having careers in research and academia, remembering that careers like public service or social entrepreneurship are options can be difficult.

Even just being somewhere where humanities classes aren’t regarded as a burden is like a breath of fresh air. It’s far too often that I hear comment about why humanities classes are relevant, or how people will take a HASS just for the HASS credit, and not to explore their interests. There’s far more of a genuine interest for subjects that are generally underappreciated at MIT, like anthropology, sociology, and history.

 

It’s also just nice to get thrown back into that freshman year excitement for a bit whenever I visit somewhere new. Getting familiar with the way people act in front of each other, how they speak, what interests them, the dynamics of different groups on campus – everything is so different each time you visit a different university. It’s like you’ve been living lives in parallel, with a few parameters changed, and that’s made all of the difference.

Sometimes, I wonder about how different my life would have been if I’d gone to a different university. There’s just so much you can’t predict about how individuals can drastically influence the direction you take your life, how a single professor can change what you want to do for the rest of your career, how an experience can alter the way you prioritize your values. At this point, it’s no longer something I think about with any sort of regret, but much more so with a sense of intrigue. I don’t think I would have fundamentally changed, to be honest, and I feel like that’s generally the case for most people. Sure, I’d learn different things, make different friends, join different clubs and opportunities, but the driving forces that made me who I am would have still been there, and I think in the end that’s what would’ve been the strongest factor to determining who I ultimately would have become.

 

Of course, it’s impossible to discount the fact that the culture of the place you’re at can also affect you greatly. I’ve heard about professionals feeling stuck at their trading desks or law firms, feeling as though they can’t escape from their company’s culture. While your actions may be in one direction, in these cases your fundamental beliefs are probably still present, and thus even if you’re not in an environment that fits you well, you’ll probably still at least recognize this fact and be able to take the steps needed to move to an environment that’s more fulfilling or better at catering to your specific goals and values.

 

At the end of the day, I’m a student at MIT, and through a lot of self-exploration this past semester and IAP, I’ve determined that while MIT has given me lots of room to explore, I’m still the same person at my core, and there’s something oddly reassuring about that. Even more reassuring than knowing that Harvard Square Korean food is a free 10-minute bus ride away. ;)

  1. My friend and I did this during WECode and launched into a debate about the economics of having a Harvard student hold a sign in the cold for an hour vs. purchasing a sign holder. back to text
  2. Over the summer, there were free museum hours during the Summer Solstice Festival at Harvard. back to text
  3. Fun fact: Harvard offers over 40 languages. back to text