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Hello! Welcome to my online travel-food-life journal/virtual scrapbook. I am a poet, playwright, journalist, editor and basic jack-of-all-trades writer. I was born in El Salvador and raised in Minnesota. I have just returned home from a year and a half in South Africa.

28 March 2013

Boston 4: My Harvard Experience


"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times ..."

Ah, Harvard!

So, as I mentioned in the first of these Boston posts, my feelings on Harvard are complicated.  It is an odd thing to have gone to school like Harvard, especially as an immigrant kid.  People hear the word "Harvard" and there are a whole list of assumptions that are made instantly.  They range from "smart and hard-working" to "box-checker" to "arrogant and privileged."

Harvard is a wonderful place, an amazing school, a resource beyond compare.  But it is also a very intense, competitive place.  You are surrounded by genius-level kids and their generations of preparation.  

At least for me, it just wasn't a friendly place.  And as a very shy, very unsure/insecure undergrad, I needed a little more friendly.  Partially my frustrations were with the school itself, its rigid and conservative views (at least at the time) on things like Ethnic Studies, professors you rarely met, impersonal advisers, etc.  I just didn't find a lot of encouragement.  I was told a couple of times that if I really wanted to study what I wanted to study (U.S. Latino literature) I'd have to transfer to a school out West.  It was very hard for me to find my place there.  I've come to realize that it's a phenomenon common to immigrant kids in higher education, but at the time, I just felt very isolated and scared.

Which is where the other part of my frustrations lay -- with myself.  I guess since I'm writing about this I might as well talk about something that I've referred to briefly before -- and that is my struggle with depression.  I did not know -- certainly did not recognize -- but I'm pretty sure I went through 2 if not 3 bouts of major depression while at Harvard.  For anyone who has never experienced depression, it is very difficult to describe what it is like, but let's just say that it made an intimidating place all the more intimidating.  I did not know I needed help, did not know how to ask for it.  Eventually I would.  Eventually I would tame my "black dog" as Winston Churchill called it.  But at the time I was just hanging on by my fingernails.  

Given all that, it's actually a miracle I finished, and with not-too-shabby grades either.  But for a long time, I never wanted to talk about having gone to Harvard.  I didn't want the assumptions made about me, didn't want to sound whiny and ungrateful, didn't want to relive what were some painful times.

But I've come to terms with it.  In the past few years I can honestly say I've reclaimed the title of Harvard alumna.  Do I wish some things had been different?  Of course.  But time gives perspective and now I can be proud of having gritted my teeth and gotten through it.  I can appreciate all the fun times and the good professors and the doors it has opened.  I can now more thoroughly elaborate when people ask, "What was Harvard like?"

What was it like?  It was beautiful and scary and wonderful and inspiring and crushing and I made life-long friends and some days I just wanted to run screaming.

And you thought I was just going to show you pretty pictures of the campus!

But really, this is how far I've come: I used to say I'd never want a kid of mine to go to Harvard.  Now I say, hell yes I'd want them to go (someone's gotta maintain my poet ass in my old age), I'd just try and prepare the daylights out of them.  And send them lots of care packages!

So there you go, a brief account of 4 of the most intense, most important years of my life.  Harvard, you kicked the crap out of me, but oddly, I still miss you.

It was great to visit my old house (Harvard upperclassmen live in one of 13 houses, this was mine, good ole Currier House!)

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