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Impressions of a Harvard Class by Amber V. '24

I’m taking Irish Folklore and a writing seminar on fairy tales!

As they said in the old, more hardkore days of MIT, you all might have heard of a liberal arts school down the road.

It’s got buildings of red brick and marble, Corinthian columns, old-style decor. T-shirts that bear its name are sold everywhere from the airport to Boston Commons. That name is Harvard.

Harvard has another feature, known as a wide variety of humanities classes. 

Don’t get me wrong, MIT has its share of humanities. I’ve taken classes from the history of the French Revolution, to Latinx studies, to a literature class on dystopian novels. However, looking through the Harvard catalog shows that Harvard has a greater volume of non-stem classes — there’s an entire department of folklore, for example, and another that covers “Ethnicity, Migration, Rights.” There are classes about the history of tattoos, and Yiddish politics, and ghost stories. 

Fortunately, MIT makes it quite easy to cross-register for up to two classes at Harvard. This semester, I took advantage of that for the first time, and cross-registered for two classes: one on Irish folklore, the other a writing seminar with a focus on re-telling fairy tales.

Want to cross-reg? Simply choose a class in the vast and expansive Harvard course catalog, then mosey over to wherever the add/drop forms exist on Websis, and type the Harvard course number into the form. MIT will magically convert it into an MIT course number (which, predictably, has more numbers and fewer letters), administrators at Harvard and MIT will approve it, and then voila! 

harvard yard with some buildings

Here’s my first impressions of those classes:

some preconceptions turned out to be totally true
  • the buildings have names, not numbers, and the courses are referred to by the material they cover, like ‘abstract algebra,’ so I know what major people are and what classes they’re taking. It’s actually a fairly efficient method of sharing information.
    • Harvard has its own jargon, too, though it doesn’t seem to have as much. On the first day, we introduced ourselves by class year (“junior”), concentration,01 I was too focused on not saying a number that I forgot this is Harvard's word for 'major' and dorm. I could not tell you what those dorms mean, which one is the equivalent of Baker or East Campus, if they have an equivalent of East Campus.
  • the architecture is so pretty. There’s something to be said for brutalism, and windows that are either very large or very small, and generally do not open. But back in high school, I’d pictured myself on a pretty green campus with historic architecture and libraries that smelled like old books. I enjoy how Harvard fills that for me now.
steps leading up to a building full of columns

steps of the fancy majestic Lamont library, where I used to eat boba with my housemates during the pandemic.

  • Liberal arts college fashion! I dressed well for my first day of Harvard classes — and spent about twice as much time doing so as I did for my first day of MIT classes. I take fashion inspo from my MIT peers all the time. I think that on the whole, however, Harvard tends to dress more colorfully. Less dyed hair, fewer grey or burgundy sweaters.
  • Harvard humanities courses are a bit more intense than MIT ones! My writing seminar assigned four novels, to be read in the first four weeks, with additional craft essays and commentaries as well. This is exactly what I was looking for. 
    • also, you tend to find people at Harvard who have chosen to dedicate a greater proportion of their lives to the arts. This makes sense, because at Harvard it is societally easier to major in a humanities field. For example, most people in my advanced fiction workshop at MIT wrote occasionally. Three of us had written novels, out of about fourteen. In my Harvard class, that number was somewhat higher, at least 5 out of fourteen — nearly twice as many. 
things which surprised me
  1. the commute is not terrible!bus stop
    1. The bus is late or crowded sometimes, but the ride doesn’t take long — about 20 minutes, including wait times, which is enough time to get from my Irish folklore class to a MechE class at MIT.
    2. I’m going to start biking, which will be glorious, I think, for at least two weeks. After that it will be cold and I will shiver and moan. 
  2. Harvard is an excellent study environment. I don’t mind working in corporate corners of brutalist buildings — and uh, if I did, tough luck — and some study areas in MIT are great. Lovingly, though, those teeny tiny desks in Hayden? The cold fluorescent light of Stud 5? Ech.
  3. there’s so much good ethnic food! I may have raved about Mexican fast food before, one of my favorite things about growing up in Tucson. Felipe’s and Jefe’s are among my  favorite restaurants in Boston, so I’m happy to be near them so frequently around lunch or dinner time. I’m excited to discover more restaurants around Harvard Square!
  4. getting off campus feels healthy
    1. I valued being away from the MIT bubble this summer — I remembered the parts of myself that I can neglect at MIT. I run to Harvard a few days each week and have done for the last two years, but that doesn’t count as getting off campus since I’m not interacting with society much while I’m running, apart from not running into people. Stepping off campus for greater chunks of time each week feels like coming up for air.

All this said, I’m glad I went to MIT — I love our culture and communities, our makerspaces and fancy tools, our tunnels and east side dorms (the ones that haven’t been axed02 also the ones that have been; viva senior haus and bexley ); and our free food events which fed me all day this random Friday. I would choose MIT again. And I would do so knowing I could take advantage of Harvard’s classes and campus. I am excited to spend this semester visiting Harvard. I doubt this is the last time I’ll cross-register. 

  1. I was too focused on not saying a number that I forgot this is Harvard's word for 'major back to text
  2. also the ones that have been; viva senior haus and bexley back to text