Office of International Programs

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I have a love-hate relationship with my lofty personal goals. I love overcoming (or at least enduring) the concomitant challenges and of course the hilariously adventurous journey of memories. I hate how you can always count on the presence of hurdles barricading the end goal. But there’s a reason why love, rather than hate initiates the phrase.

In high school, I set two seemingly impossible goals for myself: 1) Earn admission into a private university (because I had grown weary of the faults of my public high school) and 2) Go abroad during my four short undergraduate years. Words will never be able to sufficiently express how thankful I am that high school goal #1 worked out so well – not only because I’ve achieved a profound sense of happiness within the Harvard community, but also because accomplishing goal #1 gave me the smoothest segue into accomplishing goal #2.

I didn’t go abroad after my freshman year of college and as sophomore spring semester began (this is the popularly stressful time where the majority of students scramble to make plans for the upcoming summer), I knew I couldn’t stand another whole summer of Facebook updates from all my friends abroad. I know this may sound quite shallow, but hey I’ll take a little leverage for motivation from anywhere! So I spent tons of time scrolling through websites by the Office of International Program (OIP) that looked a lot like this: suggested programs for studying abroad and summer study abroad programs.

It was all pretty overwhelming – and I was just looking at Harvard programs even though you can participate in selected non-Harvard programs and still transfer credit. There were just so many (too many) places that I wanted to experience and only one summer ahead of me. I started to approach my abroad struggles by activity instead of location.

The thought of taking summer Spanish classes was completely unsettling for my mind, body AND soul. I had come to a point in my Spanish-learning academic career where I felt like I had just been reviewing the same grammar lessons time and time again. It was definitely time to take my Spanish knowledge to the streets – or at least to a clinic in a Spanish speaking country which would incorporate my premedical interests that developed my freshman spring semester.

My interests blended together in a (suspiciously) harmonious fashion as I continued researching the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies Summer Internship Program (DRCLAS SIP). Sorry, Harvard’s really big on acronyms.

I applied, interviewed, and received funding as the spring semester progressed.

Participating in DRCLAS SIP gives me an 8 week opportunity to ensure that I want to pursue the lengthy medical school path, practice my Spanish in a real world setting, as well as immerse myself in a completely different culture! That’s right, 8 weeks for academic clarity and cultural immersion. Thank goodness I have tons of support and guidance from the DRCLAS team, both on campus and in Peru!!

I’ll say this time and time again whether on this blog or in person: DRCLAS is a beautifully organized program. This fact is very apparent even in the application process as you see them handle paperwork, emails, interviews, etc. with the utmost promptness and professionalism. Although DRCLAS is a robot-like organized program, it’s also incredibly thoughtful of its students.

In the earlier weeks of this program, they definitely held our hands through orientation week which was pretty necessary as it is much easier for foreigners to run into dangers more prominent in South America than America. But with each day, the grasp on our hands have been slowly lightened and it’s full freedom ahead with two jazz hands. We were trained to call secure taxis rather than take ones off the street, to not flash our smartphones in public, and to generally stay low key.

However, no amount of training could have prevented a string of four muggings – in one night … on the same bridge. Yay for making DRCLAS Peru history for its first mugging ever. Nay for, well the muggings taking place.

It sounds worse than it was, I promise! The whole group gathered to celebrate a birthday. It was nighttime. There was a bridge necessary to cross on foot to arrive at the house. There were four men looking for trouble and found cash, a digital camera, and an iPhone. It was quite a large and unfortunate hit, but the event was nonviolent and the robbers even returned IDs and house keys.

At least there was cake waiting for everyone!

The consecutive muggings were truly a series of unfortunate events (tehe there was no resisting this one) that added some unnecessary stress, but really there was no way to prevent it – the buddy system was even in place! It opened our eyes and heightened our sense of awareness. Then we found comfort in food. Typical college student behavior?

Ceviche – my favorite famous Peruvian cuisine of deliciously seasoned raw fish. I’m so glad you can’t see me drooling right now.

 

 

Raw fish topped with Peruvian sauces – from flavorful to spicy! DRCLAS isn’t afraid to turn up the heat…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sometimes the comfort from food stems from the preparation process

Aligning with DRCLAS Friday culture day, the whole group headed to a well known, beach side culinary school. We spent most of the morning and afternoon working hard to earn our lunch, but boy was it worth it! I haven’t cooked in so long (or really ever) since the majority of undergraduate students are on the meal plan at school. We made a multiple course lunch with dessert and drinks – all the types of Peruvian cuisine we’ve been dreaming of. Then we took our food babies to the nearby beach to enjoy some surf and sun! Local roaming took us to the main square where the Peruvian equivalent of the White House stands. In front of the presidential palace are tons of guards…

…who may or may not be friendly to tourists

It can sometimes be annoying to feel that I’m experiencing Peru more than I’ve experienced America – I’ve never been to the White House! But remnants of annoyance are quickly fleeting because life abroad can be fast-paced and I’ll have more opportunities to explore the land of the free for the majority of the rest of my life.

At this point of my summer, I’ve been outside American boundaries for a personal record of time. This whole summer has been exhilarating, but with this excitement comes its evil twin: fear. Life abroad can easily feel like a perpetual seesaw between gleeful adventure and dangerous confusion which can take an exhausting toll on you. I can’t help but constantly fight sparks of homesickness for both Southern California and Cambridge while simultaneously throwing myself in new adventures in new places.

Lake Llanganuco

I left Lima for the weekend in hopes of returning homesick for Lima and my loving host family. All it took was an 8 hour bus ride to Huaraz: “the Switzerland of Peru.” This was our first student-led trip as DRCLAS had no part in planning it although they were ready to advise us on transportation, lodging, or anything else we needed.

With altitude pills (and llamas) on our side, we hiked around the Andes Mountains to discover beautiful lakes and majestic snow-capped mountains. The local cuisine (see below),

Cuy, otherwise known as guinea pig is a famous Peruvian dish. It tastes like a fusion of duck and chicken.

fresh air and sights were quite refreshing as Huaraz served as the much needed get-away from urban (and polluted) Lima.

Hiking the Andes (at 5am!) and seeing wild llamas bathing in a river are definitely once in a lifetime adventures that I’ll always cherish. However, I think the best part of the weekend Huaraz trip was staying in a dorm-like hostel where there were 7 beds in a room which accommodated everyone on this mini trip. The reflections and conversations right before peacefully falling asleep together will ALWAYS be remembered with a huge grin on my face.

Living with a host family is my ideal situation because I get to truly observe Peruvian lifestyles day in and day out, but falling asleep to the delirious thoughts of my friends abroad with me is definitely the next best thing!

 

Me getting cozy with a llama

The Huaraz group enjoying local ice cream flavors and meeting another American sporting a poncho!

Conquering our Andes trek

Peek a Boo in the Andes

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There’s an inexplicable, magical aura revolving around the number three.

Which numbered attempt is a charm? How many musketeers are there?

Three.

As week number three (out of eight) of my Summer Internship Program (SIP) through the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies (DRCLAS) came to a close, I noticed the semblance of routine formation. As foreigners to this Peruvian land, us thirteen students were getting use to certain cultural characteristics (i.e. HEAVY lunch and light, if any, dinner)

This is a story about me not only overcoming, but conquering misunderstandings in a foreign culture: One time at my homestay, at 8pm my family asked if I had eaten lunch. When I said yes, they didn’t make me dinner so I snooped in the kitchen and made myself a tomato and avocado sandwich! These are the ingredients to my happiness.

 as well as the ropes of our internships. One of the best parts about having the splendid opportunity to be abroad and in a family homestay is the cultural immersion – and the fact that this immersion is a seemingly endless adventure. Although I’m a fan of routine, I’m also a huge advocate of surprises so I’ve really been enjoying constantly learning new aspects of Peruvian culture and the Spanish language simply by being present in Peru.

Bringing a little Harvard flare and organization to Peru, the students have created and shared a communal Google document where  each student contributes by listing Peruvian customs we’ve observed that stand out compared to our American-tinted eyes.

Some of my favorite items are:

1. Eggs, butter, and water are not refrigerated.

2. Bedroom doors are kept open whenever possible so that if an earthquake occurs, people won’t be trapped inside their rooms. (Earthquakes are common in our area.)

3.  Fitting people in a taxi is like playing the ultimate game of Tetris.

I’m hoping Google has swept all universities as much as it has taken over Harvard because I feel like Google makes life easier. Within  this past year or so, Google has become the official @college.harvard.edu email domain which has catalyzed the skyrocketing of applications such as Google Documents (great for brainstorming with other students and even sharing Powerpoints!) and Google Voice. I’d highly recommend everyone getting a Google Voice Number because it’s a permanent phone number that you can forward to your cell phone which makes filling out paperwork less of a hassle since you won’t ever have to update your phone number again! Also, Google provides the option of having voicemails transcribed and emailed. I’m not even working for Google and I’m raving about them…

Coming back from my tangent (!), for the majority of my summer, I’m shadowing at a private clinic where I was promised freedom to roam and follow my interests as I wish. Although Spiderman claims that the best promises are the ones you can’t keep (the Amazing Spiderman movie is AWESOME and my obsession will be explained later), the promise of my liberties in the clinic have been one of the best kept promises.

I shadowed a brain surgery on my first day in the clinic last week and I’ve been making a home for myself in the operating rooms ever since. Watching surgery firsthand is light years better than what Noah Wyle and Patrick Dempsey could even portray combined on cable television! However, my supervisors, in their wise judgement, pressured me to rotate around the different departments. A part of me knew their aggressive suggestions had kind intentions and a bigger part of me didn’t want to argue in Spanish, so I rotated as they wished.

I requested Pediatrics and met some loves of my life:

I can’t help but to think newborns are so ugly-cute!! AHH little feet!!!!!!

In my short time at the clinic, I had already seen a handful of caesareans where a group of doctors whisk away the  baby while other doctors stitch up the mama. It was an enlightening experience to follow the baby this time as nurses cleaned him/her as well as performed basic medical check ups. My mind was blown to think that everyone starts off sooooo small and helpless (…and ugly-cute!)

The newborns department entrusted me with much more responsibility than the operating rooms did. My excitement climaxed – and with great responsibility comes profound fear! I was allowed to cradle some (crying) newborns in my arms, feed and weigh them, as well as collect their footprints. There was also a good 12 minutes when I was in the nursery without any other staff member, just sayin’. I’ve never carried a newborn before! I’m talking about new-newborns…like they’ve been breathing on their own for maybe 5 minutes. Although I felt really honored to be trusted so much, I felt like the H-bomb really helped me out here…I don’t hate it.

Chocoteja variety from Lunahuaná

Another thing that I’m far from hating are chocotejas – chocolate shells with manjar blanco (and usually another surprise like peanuts, pecans, etc.) filling. [Manjar blanco essentially tastes like caramel, but I've recently learned the sad, sad lesson that it's basically boiled condensed milk AKA a fatty death wish.] Simple, addictive, and delicious, I surrender to chocotejas.

My host family told me to keep an eye out for chocotejas  in Lunahuaná, a small town that DRCLAS planned a group trip to on the third Friday of the program. I’ve said before that DRCLAS SIP is the epitome of a perfect “summer internship” because it’s a harmonious balance between productivity and relaxation, but it also skillfully see-saws between structure and freedom! After orientation week, most days are free days except for the majority of Fridays where DRCLAS organized events take place with the purpose of catalyzing our cultural immersion while abroad. Oftentimes after work, a few students will meet up and explore, but Fridays are always so great because the whole group finally comes together.

Lunahuaná is also known for white water rafting which has been on my bucket list for quite some time now (since the summer of 2010 to be exact). I think the closest rafting location to Cambridge is in Maine, but it was SO much cheaper to do it in Peru! Checking off an activity on my bucket list while being abroad made me feel so productive, fulfilled, and accomplished!!

While abroad, I’ve had such a concentrated amount of new and once in a lifetime experiences that I’ve hardly had adequate time to reflect. But when I do take a few moments to evaluate my experiences, I’m overwhelmed with happiness because I know that everything I’ve done this summer – from roaming Paris alone for 36 scary hours to holding a living man’s colon – has been WORTH IT, regardless of the negative reflections on my bank account…

This week’s guest blog was one of the most eloquent and succinct arguments for going abroad ever. I think it has convinced me to go abroad again! There’s a reason why everyone you talk to who has been abroad raves about their experiences and memories as their face lightens up. There’s also a reason why Harvard College has teams on teams of professionals and (financial) resources to help students pursue their desires abroad (Office of Career Services & Office of International Programs to name the most prominent). And to these reasons, I know I’ll be forever thankful!!!

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This past week was phenomenal. I can say this fairly because bad events occurred as well, but ‘tis life – nay – ‘tis a great life because I’m perfectly ecstatic with how things unfolded.

As I’ve stated (desperately) before, my well being was basically dependent on whether I go abroad this summer. At this point, I truly can’t think of any better way to improve my Spanish proficiency other than forcing myself to think, breathe, speak, and eat Spanish. I’m more than happy to report I’ll be doing all of the above for 8+ weeks this summer!

I’ve been scrambling to research and apply to many summer opportunities (including research and interning abroad) ever since my return to campus after J-term (January break/winter break) – so much so that it felt like a fifth class! Being a research assistant at the Harvard Decision Science Laboratory, which is more of a social science lab, has really made me miss wet labs (pipettes, microscopes, etc.). This isn’t to say I don’t like my job there because I definitely do and intend on working there for many more semesters! Seeing the economics/psychology behind so many common, daily tasks (such as first impressions) has truly propelled my curiosity. Nonetheless, wet labs were my focal exploration point throughout high school and this is an area I feel like I’ve been failing to pursue during my precious and fleeting time as an undergraduate. Therefore, I applied to various REU (Research Experience for Undergraduates) programs at universities and companies as a Plan C.

Plan A and B were quickly formed after further investigation of the DRCLAS (pronounced Dr. Class, David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies) Summer Internship Program (SIP) as well as Sustainable Development Programs. I applied to work in Latin America and Mexico, and with luck on my side, I got accepted into both programs. My first choice is definitely interning in Latin America so that I can join my friends and teammates on Refresh Bolivia (a student run organization here at Harvard College) after my internship ends. Fun Fact: Refresh Bolivia was founded by a current senior who will be heading to Harvard Medical School this fall!! He’s been my friend since my freshman fall, but now I’m just star struck by him!!!!

Returning from my tangent, the real kicker is that my funding request was accepted as well! One of the main factors that initially attracted me to Harvard College was its incredibly generous financial support – both in and out of the classroom. Many have heard of Harvard’s renowned financial aid in the classroom, but during my first tour of the undergraduate campus, I was in shock that Harvard also financially supports its students in endeavors that make/keep us happy such as partying (safely of course!!!!) and working abroad!! I’m so beyond eternally grateful that my summer adventures will be partially funded so that I can avoid being an actual adult for that much longer by putting off organizing my finances.

The plot twist (cue scary music here) is that my funding request was approved for the Mexico Sustainable Development program when I prefer Latin America. When I spoke to a few friends, they only worried me by emphasizing how inflexible the protocol for summer funding is. Thank goodness they set my expectations low because that only set me up for a higher rise after I spoke to the faculty in the DRCLAS and OIP (Office of International Programs) offices who are currently working so that my funding can be transferrable in between the two DRCLAS programs. Everyone affiliated with Harvard University has been so kind and helpful that I doubt I could ever be thankful or appreciative enough!

I’ll definitely update when my summer plans are set in stone. For now, I can happily enjoy the present. Spring was here last week with temperatures in the high 60s(?), but now Spring is just near as everyone busts out their puffy jackets with a pout once again.

Things I’m looking forward to: my best friend from home visiting me this weekend!, catching up on sleep and classes (I feel guilty when I’m so behind on lectures!), my sorority’s (Kappa Alpha Theta) Spring formal, YardFest, Relay for Life, PreFrosh weekend … DUDE I LOVE SPRING

Also, HAPPY BIRTHDAY to our very own Jesse Sanchez!!!

Double also, best of luck to everyone waiting on decisions tomorrow. My judgement day was April 1st (April Fools Day – which is pretty cruel) so consider yourself lucky! Know that the Admissions staff is really in an unenviable position because there are SO many qualified applicants! Keep your heads up and whatever happens, happens for a reason!

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