Tuesday, February 17, 2015

HONY at Harvard!

Who hasn't yet heard about Humans of New York? (Note: My roommate asked me, "What's that? A game?" so you're off the hook if you don't know what I'm talking about!)

To give you the quick synopsis if your newsfeed hasn't already been filled with talk about the #HONY craze, Human of New York's creator and visionary Brandon Stanton started to post the now-famous incredibly raw portrait shots of the people of New York with accompanying quotes--oftentimes so very sobering, inspirational, and always real.

Harvard hosted Brandon for the day as he came to speak to students and answer questions at our school's John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum, held at the Institute of Politics. 

Ryley Reynolds ('15) & Vanessa Pham ('16) waiting for Brandon Stanton to arrive!

"This will be on my coffee table." - Brandon Stanton, creator of Humans of New York

We shared with Brandon a copy of Harvard Student Agencies' new coffee table publication, Life in Crimson (get it here!) a book that captures the Harvard spirit from a student perspective. Life in Crimson echoes the mission of HONY on Harvard's campus, and Brandon was ecstatic when he received a copy. "This will be on my coffee table," said Brandon. 

Brandon's warm demeanor and optimistic outlook shone through in all the comments he made and questions he asked. He encouraged all of the burgeoning artists in the crowd with his comment that "if you can appreciate beauty, you're an artist," and exhibited his incredible humility, admitting that he knows his photography isn't the best, but that he loves talking to people, hearing their stories, and sharing those snippets with HONY's supporters. 

HONY has become a cultural phenomenon, spawning several spin-off series including Humans of BostonPortraits of AmericaHumans of Dubai, and the like. Most recently, he collaborated with the United Nations to advocate for the Millennium Development Goals abroad and traveled across 10 different countries to do what he does best: listen to the voices of the people he meets.

But with that being said, Brandon's roots are back in the U.S., and has recently launched a successful new campaign in collaboration with Mott Hall Bridges Academy, an underprivileged middle school is Brownsville, Brooklyn. It all started with Vidal's story and the influence of his principal, Ms. Lopez. In a matter of days, the publicity had raised over a million dollars to fund summer programs and a trip to Harvard University for the next ten years, based on Ms. Lopez's belief that "“I want every child who enters my school to know that they can go anywhere, and that they will belong."

We're glad we can share in HONY's vision to give a voice to the people, and we're looking forward to welcoming the students of Mott Hall Bridges Academy to our campus for many years to come! 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Company Trip (& the novelty of being the only snowboarder in the group)

To celebrate the upcoming fiscal and academic year at Harvard and at Harvard Student Agencies, the team went on a trip to Nashoba Valley Ski Area, the perfect ski resort a couple hours outside of Boston.

I haven't been on the slopes this whole winter, so this trip was a much welcomed and much needed retreat to the mountains, where everything is just a bit simpler, easier, and exhilarating. There weren't many people on the slopes either, so the resort felt like it was reserved just for our team! 

Being from California, I have always been used to the ratio of about 8 snowboarders to every 1 skier, and that was on a good day. The mountains in California are pretty sweet, and yes, we get real snow in the mountains (sometimes). I instinctively picked up a snowboard 5 years ago, solely on account that everyone around me had one, and haven't put it down since. To reiterate, snowboarding in California is as commonplace as salmon colored shorts at Harvard in the springtime. 

SO, imagine my surprise when everyone but me gets on their skis! And imagine their surprise when I walk outside the lodge with my hunk of a board, without a helmet (seriously, nobody wears helmets in California...), and a huge smile on my face. 
I went from being one of the many to one in a million shredding down the New England slopes, a completely new territory for me. Upon reflection, I'm honestly so glad that I am able to be a bit different/an anomaly in the New England mixing pot. 

Anyways, it's always a good time with the team, and a day out on the slopes was a much needed breath of actual fresh air. Wishing I still had my snowboard as I watch the snow keep coming down. Seriously, 2 feet of snow? #snowpocalypse2015 is upon us.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Welcome to the spring semester!

Christmas may be long over, but it seems as though the winter gods are bestowing New England with enough snow to be a real-life everlasting snowglobe. I'm finding myself regularly checking my Weather app and cringing in anticipation of the cold, biting winds that swirl through Cambridge (the snowflake/rain icon on the app is my arch nemesis, no joke). 

We've been hit by yet again another snowstorm, and though I've mastered the art of layering and bundling to keep warm, I've yet to find a way to shield my face from the biting cold in a socially acceptable way. I've considered the ski mask, but needless to say, my roommates vetoed that option. Thus, my face is currently defrosting in front of the screen #yay.

It may definitely not feel like the spring yet, but we've teed off the spring semester and have started the second week of the semester. Time flies!

The first week of the semester is always set apart as "Shopping Week," a time for students at the College to sit in on any and all classes that they're interested in taking that semester. While some students know what four courses they are taking, others are weighed by the daunting task of choosing just four (or up to five, if you want the extra workload), classes out of thousands of incredible courses offered by world-renowned faculty. It's not easy trekking to 10+ classes that sound super cool, but its a luxury that Harvard gives its undergraduates to be indecisive for once. 

Happy second week of the semester, Harvard! Things haven't gotten too busy yet (knock on wood), so here's to building snowmen, making snow angels, and snowball fights galore in the new blanket of snow the storm has brought to campus!

Friday, January 30, 2015

Juno, the Blizzard

Dear Blizzard (affectionally known as Juno),

Thank you for the first official snow day that Harvard's had this year.

All 22,000 students at Harvard

P.S. Snowball fighting, fort making, snow angel making, sledding down Widener Library steps, and not having to go to school was the best "welcome back on campus for spring semester!" 

Thursday, January 29, 2015

What to do during Harvard's Winter Break: The Casual "Stay-at-home-and-Netflix"

I'll be the first to stand up and admit that any time I have a break, I pull up Netflix on my browser. It's even an app on my phone, and with the addition of ALL SEASONS OF my all-time favorite show Friends on the entertainment hosting site, I'm the happiest I've ever been (though my spring semester grades won't thank me come the full swing of classes). 

You may not think of Harvard students as being the types to just lounge around, but let me be the first to assure you that: YES, the majority of us loves to lay in our beds with our laptops propped up by a pillow in the throes of a Netflix-binge sesh (snacks are a must). I'm unashamed to say that days can go by without me noticing... ok, maybe I'm a little ashamed.

But really, I'm being absolutely serious! Today, we were doing class introductions in a circle for one of my Engineering Science classes (called Design Survivor, all about how to determine what is desirable in today's market), and honestly, 50% of the students said they were chillin' at home, cuddling, reading, hanging out with their family -- the most mundane, but honestly the most enjoyable activities.

So yes, we stay at home. And yes, that's perfectly acceptable--even noble. You don't have to be moving at 160 mph all the time to be successful. Sometimes, its nice to sit down and enjoy your cup of coffee and take a breather. 

Saturday, January 24, 2015

What to do during Harvard's Winter Break: Study Abroad (and fulfill your sense of wanderlust)

Time not doing homework means more time spent on Facebook, and I couldn't help but get lost in my own Parisian daydreams whilst looking through countless friends' photo albums filled with gorgeous photos detailing their incredible travels. 

The spring at Harvard is a time when most students jet-set to beautiful, foreign countries to spend their spring semester. Most students choose either their sophomore or junior spring to go abroad, but there is still a number that defy the norm and go in the fall. It's really up to the person and what they want to study. But really, a chance to live in a completely new country, meet new people...not to mention try all of the food... for a semester? Incredible!

My friend Sylvia is a Government concentrator, and is spending her spring exploring (and studying, of course!) in Paris, France. She's sharing her thoughts on her experience here!

Study abroad in Paris!
Guest post by Sylvia Marks
Harvard College, '17

The thing that struck me first in Paris was its vast metro system.  This could have had something to do with the fact that I had to take three trains with two suitcases and a backpack to get to my host family from the airport; I suppose I was pretty impressionable at that moment, physically taxed from the amount of luggage at my side, and mentally taxed from trying to not think about the fact that my seatmate on the plane had coughed on me for eight hours straight.  But in regards to the metro, I was pleasantly surprised with the ease at which one could get anywhere in Paris (and cheaply).  I’m here in Paris on Columbia’s program at Reid Hall to study political science and sociology.    I’m still in the midst of choosing my classes, but will likely end up taking two politics-oriented classes (one at the Sorbonne - like a Harvard class… but in French - oy vey), a sociology class on the city of Paris, and two mandatory seminars (one on grammar and one on academic writing).  Since the homework load has been fairly light so far, I’ve used the opportunity to go to all of the famous monuments such as the Eiffel Tower (at least three times), the Arc de Triomphe, and the Notre Dame.  Getting to these places and others (like numerous bakeries to satisfy my constant hunger for pain au chocolats) has depended entirely on the functionality of the metro, which in my mind, is what makes the entire city fit together, and I am glad to have met some extremely interesting people on my program from Harvard and other schools, with whom to experience life in Paris.  I have strolled along the Seine, seen an impressive amount of churches, wandered the Louvre, complimented my meals with a glass of wine (or a baguette, or both) religiously, and smiled every day about the fact that I have the opportunity to live in Paris, France, one of the most exquisite cities in the world, for five months.  Now all I’ve got to do is learn French.

Monday, January 19, 2015

What to do during Harvard's Winter Break: The Wintership

As I've mentioned before, Harvard's infamous for giving its students a much-needed month (and some change) long winter break. This goes for the undergraduates as well as the graduate students (cue the cheers!), and speaking from experience, its hard to avoid the antsy gotta-get-some-work-done inclinations that start creeping up on us after about 2 weeks lounging at home. Travis, my friend and fellow sophomore at Harvard, is sharing a few thoughts from how he spent his winter break. 

Reflecting on PIH Engage
Guest post by Travis Yeh
Harvard College, '17

This winter, I was an intern with the Engage team of Partners in Health, a Boston-based non-profit healthcare organization. The Engage team, a lively group of five full-time employees that coordinates the grassroots community organizing arm of PIH, welcomed four of us interns for the winter.

Winternships are a great way to explore different career paths and activities outside of your usual scope. For me, working at PIH was a step into thinking about global health, a field that has recently caught my interest after we had a module on it in SW47: Entrepreneurial Solutions to Intractable Social and Economic Problems in Contemporary South Asia. A mouthful of a course name, for sure, but the course and its guest lecturers from various Harvard schools gave me a window into a lot of the problems that we face around the world today. It’s sad to realize that we have a lot of the medicine and advancements needed to address many of these issues, but there are so many barriers to distributing this care to those who need it most that they end up never receiving it.

The Engage team of Partners in Health advocates for changes in policy to solve these problems, fundraises to support the efforts, and holds events to educate others about topics in global health, such as the recent Ebola outbreak, and make tackling these challenges an approachable task. My project this winter has been to help the Engage team figure out how to measure the “strength” of each chapter and write a midyear report examining how they performed this past semester and how they can improve. As the internship is only a little over two weeks, it’s been extremely fast-paced: just over a week ago, I had no idea how Engage worked; now, my fellow Harvard intern and I have just finished the midyear report and are beginning preparations for one that outlines strategy for the upcoming term.

The work has definitely been fascinating. However, what I’ve found most valuable is the opportunity to see how Partners in Health operates from an internal perspective. There is a marked humbleness in how PIH works, driven by a quiet, but determined, resolve to give people around the world the care that they deserve. They refuse to let any obstacle stop them, and they do their work without any pomp and circumstance. It’s been an inspiring lesson in humility and tenacity.  As J-term comes to a close and we return to classes soon, I take away with me a piece of this drive and an improved understanding of how, with the help of a little willpower, we can take steps to make this world a better place.