Amazingly, it has been 18 days since I came to the U.S., 15 days since I joined the incredible Freshman International Program (one of the five pre-orientation programs that Harvard offers), 11 days since I moved into my freshman dorm Canaday, four days since I officially became a Harvard alum during Convocation, and three days since classes started unofficially with Shopping Week — we have one week to literally “shop” for any class that we are interested in and we are free to leave in the middle of a class for another, no commitment required; this is perfect for undecided, lost people like me to figure out how to settle on a measly four courses out of a catalogue of thousands. It’s stressful to figure out what I want to actually study — so much autonomy over the cultivation of my own mind! — but I already think this is one of the best features of Harvard’s academics. I still have two more days of ‘shopping’ to go. At this point, I have sort of figured out three out of the four courses that I will be enrolling in this semester (Freshman Fall) which I will talk about in another post.
So, how exactly is seeing Harvard for the first time as a student?
As you can see from the interrogative ? in the title of this post, it’s hard to pin down the feeling and put it into words. There are moments when I get jaded and complain (I know, it has only been two weeks…) about the most minute of things (e.g. Annenberg food, Harvard’s social scene or lack thereof, the elusive iced tea in convenience stores), but more often there are moments when it just strikes me how incredibly blessed I am to simply be here. It’s surreal to walk on the historic campus on the way to class or socials, alongside throngs of tourists — as a freshman, there’s a taut duality to this experience because we can still acutely recall how we yearned as hard as these tourists to join this university not too long ago. Harvard, to me, is both far away AND right here, right now.
These past three days, as I went around to classes with the most off-the-charts course names, quirkiest descriptions and towering reputations, it sinks in that this is what I am here for — the intellectual challenge, diversity in thought, and most importantly the freedom to go in any direction my heart so desires and be equipped with the best resources to uncover the truths I seek.
In a few words, what I think about each class I have shopped so far:
ETHRSON 18: Classical Chinese Ethical and Political Theory
One of the largest classes at Harvard. Reminded me of everything I grew up reading as a child. I’m giving it a pass, but it’s very worth taking for those who have never been exposed to the Eastern tradition in philosophy.
PHIL 6: Ancient Ethics and Modern Morality
As always, arete (ἀρετή — virtue) and eudaemonia (εὐδαιμονία — flourishing/happiness)!
ECON 10A: Principles of Economics
Taught by Mankiw, who is arguably both famous (he writes the textbook) and infamous (the class is mostly taught by teaching fellows?), this class is HUGE. Honestly, half of the cohort will be taking it anyway regardless of whether it is good. I went for the experience but was once again proven right that not taking Economics in Junior College was a right choice. It just isn’t my thing. 😦
EMREAS 17: Logical Reasoning
On an island, there are only two types of people, Knights and Knaves. Knights can only tell the truth; Knaves can only tell the opposite of truth. You meet A and B. A says: “We are both knaves.” What is A, and what is B? (The answer is at the bottom of the post.)
Negotiation and Conflict Management: From the Interpersonal to the International
I stumbled into this by accident, but the room was filled to the brim — apparently, a very popular class. The professor, Daniel Shapiro, was electrifying. Definitely planning on taking this some time in my four years here. Best class I took on Day 1 of Shopping.
A Humanities Colloquium: From Homer to Garcia Marquez
The class I wanted to take the most — amazingly I got in! Taught by six professors across departments (Anthropology to Divinity to English to History to Philosophy), it’s an immersive experience of humanistic traditions and ideals. The information-cum-application session was already mind-blowing — two words: superstar faculty.
Freshman Seminar: To Far Places: Literature of Journey and Quest (you can only take this as a freshman, as the name suggests; each seminar is capped at 12-15)
This seminar was my first choice, but sadly, I have now changed to another due to scheduling conflicts. It was pretty interesting since I love travel writing (read: Macau & Bali). Guess what, we read The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost in the first class. I definitely had things to say.
It was a very small and engaged class. Might not take since I had already covered most of the syllabus in Singapore at HANOK. I’m very seriously considering a study abroad in Korea instead of using one of my course spots for this. T_T
COMPLIT 102: Comparing, Connecting, Compos(t)ing: Comparative Literature from Jules Verne to Slumdog Millionaire
I loved this!!! The professor was fantastic — she speaks more than six languages, I lost track — and the selection of texts is extremely compelling. Quoting the course description, “we will explore…the relation of literature to topics as diverse as the rise of new media, technological transformation and its relation to the humanities, the human-animal divide, medicine, sexuality, translation, space, gender, race, ecology, violence, and (post-)colonialism“. MY THING.
Lots of love,
(A is a knave; B is a knight)