Summer at Harvard: Apurva on ‘Living The Dream’

(Apurva Raghavan reflects on her summer at Harvard University where she spent the better part of the summer of 2012. )

Veritas, The Roman Goddess of Truth

In his bestseller ‘The Class’, Erich Segal wrote, “Quiet heroism or youthful idealism, or both? What do we know? That life without heroism and idealism is not worth living – or that either can be fatal?” This sentence has epitomised Harvard – a 375 year symbol of living for greatness. Those lines have been my driving force to attend summer school in one of the world’s finest universities.

I started looking for courses in some of the best universities across the United Kingdom and United States and decided to take up a course in Harvard University, one of America’s most stimulating academic environments for a productive and rewarding summer experience. From the awe inspiring view of the Charles River to some of the most hallowed halls of academia, Harvard University offers a unique summer experience for intellectual exploration and cultural enrichment through its remarkable resources to students from all over the world.

The breathtaking view of the Charles River

Of the several courses offered in the field of biotechnology, I applied for one on Stem Cells. The summer term at Harvard was spread over 7 weeks with classes conducted twice a week along with tutorial sessions. My professor was really inspiring and the classroom environment was very interactive. Being the only Indian in a class of fifty students, I was surprised yet amazed by how quickly friendships were made.

The course was very intense and challenging. An entire year’s syllabus covering stem cells was taught and assessed during the summer term. There were assignments to be submitted every week and three exams conducted over the summer term. Professors stressed on using key words to answer these questions and not write an essay. Students were expected to go through the lecture slides before the class and attend tutorial sessions to keep up with the pace of teaching.  The main objective of our professor was to push us to think: he did not believe in providing ready-made answers. The questions were more application based and use of Wikipedia was strongly discouraged. Group studying in the world’s largest university library system and reserving research publications were extremely beneficial.

Studying at the Widener Library

I stayed on campus in Eliot House, one of the twelve residential houses for the upper classmen at Harvard. Architecturally, Eliot house is an example of the typical residential college, modelled after the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge. Eliot’s notable former residents include Benazir Bhutto, Ben Bradlee and Jay Rockefeller.

Eliot House: where the magic happened

There were approximately 450-500 students in the House during the summer term. The main goal of the University is to forge a link between learning and living. Roommate requests are not entertained, helping to create a vibrant setting facilitating education and personal growth .This system cultivates an assortment of intellectual and cultural activities and traditions. Within campus residences, learning occurs all the time. Houses also maintained its unique academic and social traditions from dramatics’ groups to barbeques, weekly teas and study breaks with pizza and ice cream.

There is universal agreement that much of the value of a Harvard education lies in things learned outside the classroom and relationships established with others in the community especially with the fellow students. Weekends are meant to socialise at the Harvard Square and explore the city of Boston.

The Harvard Yard: a place to sit back and absorb Harvard in all its glory!

Like many people in the community, my Square experience has been mutli-faceted. I have witnessed student protests, street acrobatics and puppeteer’s toil. To some, the Square is a backdrop to their education, a brief stopover or their forever home. Harvard Square is big yet intimate enough to play a variety of roles in peoples’ lives. Music is an undeniable part of the history and allure of Harvard Square. Trends come and go, but the Square’s essence remains. For me, the Square has been a landmark, a spot to hang out, or a place to get that special book or gift or meal and to watch a street performance during an evening stroll.

The Harvard Square

The Boston area is often referred to as America’s premier college town with over 50 institutions including the MIT. Cosmopolitan and full of history and colonial charm, Boston is the best of both worlds: an old sea port town with efficient, world-class infrastructure. The city has a number of ornate theatres including the Cutler Majestic Theatre and the Boston Opera House. It is also a major centre for contemporary classical music with a number of performing groups, some of which are associated with the universities around. We took quick trips to Cape Cod beaches, Martha’s Vineyard, The Castle Island, The Quincy Market and Little Italy to enjoy the sights around the city.

The Quincy Market

Boston as a sea port town!

Of Boston Legal fame…! 🙂

I could go on talking about how wonderful this summer has been and how I’ve met so many amazing    people but words fall short in describing this experience. But the beauty of it is that we will always have people who know how it feels, all over the world. As I say goodbye to the best summer ever, I stand overlooking the sublime Charles make its way, wondering how long it will be before I come back to witness its glory. Throughout my life, at the centre, amid the passion, laughter, and glory, will stand Harvard. “Harvard people”, as Whitney Houston proclaimed, “I will always love you!” 

The Boston skyline from north of the Charles

(Apurva is a Masters student of Biotechnology from Mumbai.  Picture Courtest: Apurva, Google, Harvard University)