What I Learned from Harvard

A reflection on my return to Harvard after an 8 month semester break that I spent traveling the world, before I embark on the next adventure in beautiful Kiwi country: New Zealand.

I’m on a plane again, flying for the first time over my own vast country.  Most of my cross-country traveling in the states has been by car or van, when my parents would pack up our suitcases, occasionally a dog companion or two, my brother and I tucked in the back seat, as we pulled out of our drive way in the dark hours of early morning before the sun was a even a glimmer over the horizon. It’s been years since our last trip like that, but the feeling of those early morning departures is forever in my bones.


This morning was one of those early starts; my dad and I hit the road in the dark of the early morning, navigating south to Boston for my 8am flight to LA. I said good-bye to my dad and to Boston and I thanked this city, for which I have developed a new and deep fondness; there is nothing like leaving a place to realize what it has to offer you. The plane pulled onto the runway for takeoff, the water of Boston harbor gleaming below, especially blue under the bright morning sunlight contrasted by last night’s snowfall.  I watched as the rows of houses shrank away below me. Goodbye, goodbye.


It was six months earlier, though, and the ground I was landing on in this same northeastern city was much less firm. It was a return to civilization and structure; I'd been in freestyle mode for eight months and now it was time to come back to the bustle and grind of my undergrad life at Harvard.  Reintegration. New ideas meet old ideas. Work, write, work, read. Write. I hardly saw the time go by, swept up into the demanding academic curriculum. I regretted not having the time to spend on my personal, travel writing, but pouring myself into my refound academic life was its own reward. I studied all sorts of art forms that gush out of the wound that is the borderlands between the US and Mexico, thinking about the realities of immigration in France and its literary manifestations, learning about the many fetishes of consumer culture in America, and spending time on a research project, discovering the past, present and perhaps future of health care in Native America.  It has been quite the return indeed. Full of friends, food (and cooking!) in my first-ever apartment that I share with two of my best friends in the world.


From this vantage point,coming into my final year of studies, it is hard to imagine that time when I first came to Boston almost four years ago, an eighteen year old itching to start this next chapter of life, blissfully unaware pf what this place had in store for me, about all that I had ahead of me to learn, to grow and, of course, to struggle. That’s one thing that struck me in particular about this return to Harvard, it felt unexpectedly, and impossibly easy.  Defying all odds, I eased back into the pores of my old life, reclaiming my old studying haunts, filling my mind and soul with art and information, sorting through the academic experience with ease and confidence. I suppose after four years it should feel a bit familiar, after all. So I enjoyed this familiarity, enjoying old friends and remembering how to write academic papers after my semester long hiatus from textbooks and essays.


The return is a key element of any trip, regardless of its form. It is upon the return that the circle comes to a full close and you can begin to feel, in your core, the impact of the journey, the lines it has etched onto your inner being. All the time you have been elsewhere living and not really noticing that parts of you were being carved away, bringing others starkly to the surface. You come back and people notice these new contours; so do you, with a familiar backdrop, the contrast comes to stark focus. You process, you sort, you digest, and this process can go on.. and on. Sometimes it won’t be until years after the “return” that something will click into place for me, a lesson learned and dormant waiting to spring into my conscious mind after a long hibernation. Recently, I have realized how much Harvard has been a journey in and of itself and one that has taught me an incredible amount in four short years.


In this time, I have been afforded ample opportunities for esoteric learning, learning to critically analyze authors from Balzac to Borjes, in their native tongue.  But Harvard’s greatest challenge has not been deciphering the at-times incomprehensible jungle of Lacanian psychoanalytics or untangling the politics of medical bio-ethics. Harvard presented me with a bigger, at times scarier challenge when I arrived here, one that I have been grappling with ever since my wide-eyed arrival to these hallowed halls of higher education. If anything, my time here has made me look at myself and ask, in the core of my being: who am I? What do I stand for? Away from my family, in an institution that felt terribly intimidating and alienating at its (and my) worst, I had to answer this question over and over. And I had to come to peace with this answer that I was slowly piecing together. I have learned that this is a question that I can answer with pride. And maybe even more importantly, it has taught me that I can answer this question, honestly and truthfully, anywhere in the world. The answer may certainly change, but it is with excitement that I await my next answers. Until the next return.