Although my Boston stories have been published as slowly as winter days at school go by, I still want to tell you how one of my bucket list dreams came true. So while spending my summer in Boston, I was lucky enough to visit Harvard rather often. Probably every young academician goes through the stage of dreaming of Harvard University, the universal symbol of education and elitism. It was definitely the dream of 15-year old Susanna and let’s be honest, it’s still the dream of 25-year old Susanna.
Technically Harvard’s main campus is not in Boston, but in Cambridge instead. Boston and Cambridge are separated by Charles river, which takes around 5 minutes to cross via public transportation and 15 minutes on foot. Thus the cities are truly intertwined - the first time I went to Cambridge, I didn’t even realise I had left Boston and entered another city! But for me, Cambridge was a lot more cosy and vibrant than Boston. Very generally speaking, the city practically consists of two universities, MIT and Harvard in particular, and the supporting infrastructure around them. The campuses are humongous. If I was already surprised about the size of UMASS and its special in-campus bus lines, then it wouldn’t even compare to what Cambridge had to offer.
Since I don’t have any special ambitions in any technical field, MIT did not bring up particularly grand emotions in me; despite the fact that my colleagues from the SUSI summer program were almost shaking at the thought of MIT. I mean, it is officially the world’s best university, so… Yet we surely got a lump in our throats the first time we got half a day off and walked up the metro stairs in front of Harvard’s main campus… Red brick campus surrounded by tall iron gates, dedicated to the brightest minds of the world; to the scientists, future politicians, world changers. The first step through Harvard gates felt so iconic that we decided to record our presence in Harvard’s sacred ground.
So what’s the university like? Well I could tell you that it’s just a normal university campus with slightly more tourists, but that wouldn’t be true. The university has an incredibly rich history which has been successfully captured in the visual appearances of the campus as well. For me, Harvard and especially its courtyard were a place for rest. My soul was at ease, being surrounded by who were pretty much the smartest students of the world, right? And I wasn’t the only one at rest. People were laying down on the grass, eating ice cream, reading books, chatting with family members, taking a nap. The stairs leading to Harvard’s library, across the campus church bell, became my favourite reading spot in the whole city — how many times did I drive from Boston to Cambridge just to read about Turkish history or Greek philosophy on the library steps! (It’s a rhetorical question — I never really counted the times, but most of my free moments were spent in Cambridge.)
However most of the university buildings were closed for visitors. The only publicly open building was the Chemistry Faculty, which looked like a Soviet high school — long yellow hallways and very little natural light. Yet what was interesting, there was an exhibit of one of the world’s first computers, IBM’s automatic sequence controlled calculator.It was so huge in measurements that hardly even fit on the photos. There was a small street food park in front of the Chemistry Faculty, full of fascinating food trucks. My eyes lit up to the sight of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream truck which was such a blessing while sitting by the water fountain on hot summer days.
Although the rest of the building were technically closed for visitors, we still managed to visit a few residence halls, the drama building and the grand dinner hall. The latter two were i-n-c-r-e-d-i-b-l-e, real Harry Potter styled buildings with chandeliers and coloured stained glasses. Sadly I don’t have many pictures, as we had to keep extra low profile.
As part of our SUSI summer program, we also had a study visit to Harvard’s medical faculty, located in Boston. We met a few PhD students and got acquainted with the lab work. The scientists told us some crazy stories: how they once found an unlabelled contagious infection in the fridge and nobody knew how it got there…
Though first it seemed like Harvard’s main campus was separated from the rest of Cambridge with an iron fence, then I quickly found out that it wasn’t nearly as simple. University building were spread out for several blocks around the area — we could easily walk around in Cambridge for half an hour and still be in Harvard! Since it’s an insanely huge university, the housing units by themselves (not just dorms, but also legit apartment houses hosting families working in Harvard) occupied a good share of the city. Thus the university campus itself was like a whole city itself, with grocery stores, restaurants, bars, museums, sports clubs. Visiting Harvard’s bars were also a whole different experience in itself, since, well, Harvard and bars…
Additionally, Harvard had magnificent book stores, surrounding the university on every side. Sadly I had to let my common sense take over when visiting the book stores, my wallet and my luggage allowance just couldn’t take everything I wanted to get. Eventually I only brought a few books and board games back from Harvard’s campus. And some from my own university and some from Amazon and some from museums and some…
All in all, having Harvard University and global educational elite in my proximity was an important part of my scholarship program - to analyse world's best examples of higher education and then go and read in Harvard was a match made in heaven.