Seven Second Semester Highlights

It’s crazy to think that second semester started all the way back in February. I don’t really think it’s flown by; I feel like I was well aware of the time as it passed, but it feels like it’s spread over so much time and so much has happened that I can’t remember it all. I really wish I could blog about each and every day of school, but seeing as I didn’t this year, I’m going to go back and recap some of the major highlights for me this semester.
7. Jet Lag

As I aimed to explicate in a past post, my trip to India this spring was refreshingly disorienting, and put my college experience in this strange sort of perspective I can’t quite explain. I sent back frequent messages to friends over the break saying that I was going to try to be more adventurous second semester, and do my best not to get sick all the time. I don’t know if I fulfilled these goals fully, but this start to the second segment of the second semester equipped me with a bit more of a “go hard” attitude. Well, at least in Ratna terms.

6. Not Being Sick

Apart from what may have been allergies, I don’t recall any long-lasting bouts of annoying Ratna sickness this semester! While this hardly seems to qualify as a “highlight,” it certainly allowed me to enjoy the second half of the year more wholly than even the first. 

5. Opportunes Spring Jam

Tuned and Toned” was the most high-energy, enjoyable performance I’ve ever been a part of. This occasion was also the first time, I think, that though I haven’t been fully satisfied with my own personal performance (solos, etc.) I was so utterly stoked to be a part of the whole that delivered a mind-blowing show that even my perfectionism couldn’t get in the way of the glow I felt after the show. 

4. Finals Period

I’m really happy with how my semester wrapped up academically. I didn’t get all As. I wrote three papers about things that I was really interested in and wanted to produce work on. I’m proudest of my final Latin paper, an analysis of a nerve-tinglingly beautiful poem written by Ovid as a missive addressed to Aeneas from Dido’s feminine perspective, which is part of a work called the Heroides that I may be interested in researching further in the future.

This semester’s reading period and finals week may have exemplified the strangest studying paradigm I’ve ever implemented. As usual, I started studying for exams and drafting papers quite far before the deadlines, but I also dropped studying to spend a beautiful amount of quality time doing random things with my amazing friends on campus. I went for a beautiful run along the Charles River with Sara and Sam. I cooked noodles for Javier and Reylon. I watched SNL with Brianna and Jordan. I chatted with Sophie and Allison. I packed with Eliza and Kirin. All the while, I churned out some decently high-level work, despite some major late-night distractions amidst my lucubration. Which brings me to my next highlight:

3. Reylon

Reylon became my best friend almost instantly upon our meeting at the beginning of the year. But his decision to take next semester off to explore the world brought a whole new dimension to our wonderful relationship: we spent many a late night telling one another our “life stories” in episodes. I feel like if I wrote down every anecdote I’ve shared with Reylon over these last few weeks about my time in middle and high school, I could have a short biography of my life. College is a very special time to meet new friends, and filling them in on the cast of characters in one’s life can be a wonderful opportunity for reflection at this important stage of one’s education. It has been extremely enjoyable and rewarding to remember with Reylon in this manner over the course of our second semester.

2. Math

Completely unexpectedly, I had a wildly enriching experience in math this year, and the Math M sequence was probably my favorite set of classes. For someone who always shies away from calculations, I felt remarkably confident and empowered with respect to calculus concepts this semester, and couldn’t have been more excited for my final exam (truly). Even more rewarding than the test itself (which was actually pretty rough) was reviewing it with my professor afterward, and having my understanding of the year’s material acknowledged. Obviously, the main contributor to this new level of comfort was my CA (course assistant) Ian, a sophomore in Adams House who is unbelievably dedicated to his students and friends. My only goal for the course was to feel more secure in my ability to grasp mathematical concepts (once and for all), and I am pleased to say that this goal was happily met.

1. Bridge Week

My favorite part of the semester actually took place after the semester was over. “Bridge Week,” the time after finals and before graduation, combined all of the beauty of Harvard’s campus with none of the stress of Harvard’s workload. I enjoyed lovely opportunities to spend “unmetered” time with my Greenough hallmates, Lowell blocking group, and the amazing Opportunes. I sit on the plane back home now basking in how awesome the end of this year has been -- I couldn’t have imagined more from my freshman year, and I am rearin’ to be back in the fall.

Today's Photo(s)

Toshio Shibata, Okawa Village, Kochi, 2007
This weekend has been spectacular. I'm just sitting down to dinner after a weekend of idyllic perfection with my high school biology teacher Mr. Chanania and his son Will in West Newbury, Massachusetts.

I took the T around noon yesterday to Wonderland, the last stop on the blue line, where Mr. Chanania was waiting to commence my tour of the North Shore. We drove north, stopping at Salem to explore the eclectic and exciting Peabody Essex Museum. This highly pleasant and uplifting museum hosts a number of rotating exhibits in addition to its permanent collections from around the world. Our favorite display was one by Japanese photographer Toshio Shibata called "Constructed Landscapes," which features the interaction between nature and man-made infrastructure while playing with size and scale.

After our visit and a lunch to catch up, we got back into the car, I eager to see the legendary new Chanania residence! I knew that 47 Coffin St. was going to be a very special place from what I'd heard, but it was even more magical than I could have imagined.

The first thing I noticed just after stepping into the mudroom was the amount of light in the house. And indeed, Mr. Chanania explained to me that they had remodeled the house with the principle that one should be exposed to natural light from three, if not four, directions when standing anywhere in the house. Naturally, I loved this.

A "small" cone of Almond Joy.
Will and "Mr. Fred" gave me the grand tour of the gloriously illuminated postcard-perfect house with its cozy spots to study, comfy corners to nap, third-level loft for children, and beautiful basement for me!

We then set out again to meet the Cutters, the Chananias' closest neighbors in the area. We spent time with their donkey, horse, two dogs, and them before returning home for an organic dinner and arresting documentary, followed up by homemade ice cream at Scoops just down the street!

When it was time to go to bed, I didn't feel like taking off my glasses because I wanted to take in the tree silhouettes lining the gray sky outside the room I was staying in, whose one entire wall was window.

I woke up to the same splendor and gazed longingly out the window for half an hour before consciously registering that something about outside was really different -- the sun was beaming after a rainy couple of days.

I ran upstairs to share this news with Mr. Chanania, who was buried in a crossword puzzle which he dropped to show me around his various impeccably-organized sheds, ending with the grande finale of the holy shed that houses Katy, Farmer Fred's sacred tractor. I was given his blessing and allowed to take Katy out for a ride, and then encouraged to try out her mowing faculty. I ended up mowing a few stripes with Mr. Chanania making me double back and clean up any areas I left stubbly -- his exacting nature in biology class apparently extends into garden-tending activities as well! I personally felt invincible on this magnificent machine, and wish I could always drive her instead of slogging further to pursue my driver's license.

Ratna takes Katy out for a ride.
After I lounged on the porch and soaked up the sun while Mr. Chanania finished mowing, we embarked on a trail that wraps around the back of the residence. We explored the lush Essex County Trail Association path before stepping out into the field that surrounds the house, enjoying a brilliant side view of the painting-like home.

While we were gone, Will had been commissioned with making eggs for us all, a task which he completed with flying culinary colors! After this snack and our walk, I was tired and wanted to sleep in my beautiful sun-box again, so I returned to the room I've now claimed in the basement and napped until it was time to leave.

We bade Will goodbye and headed north a few miles to Mr. Chanania's new favorite haunt, called the Herb Farmacy. We guffawed at the neatly labelled herbs and admired the adorable sprouts awhile, before setting off for Logan Airport. Who would have known on that first day of junior year bio when we walked around Flint Hill and identified trees that we would be embarking on such exciting horticultural adventures and have developed such an important relationship to my life just a few years later?

After a 50-minute car ride complete with Dunkin' Donuts, we arrived at the airport to welcome home Mrs. Chanania, who just spent a month in Montana to welcome their beautiful granddaughter Alder into the world!

I gave her a hug and gushed (briefly) about my weekend before wishing the Chananias "farewell until fall!" and catching my bus back to campus.

On the way back, I reflected on how the heartwarming views, clean air, and lovely company have been so refreshing to my consciousness over these two days. I had a marvelously enjoyable weekend and I can't wait to go back and visit again.

Dear Reylon

My best friend is taking next semester off to travel the world and learn to live, so I wanted to get down some words of advice before he takes off.

Read. You get to just READ. Don't read so you sound well-read. Don't read things every intellectual is supposed to have read. Read so your nerves tingle and you get that literature high that only the perfect book or poem or play for you can provide. Try to read a lot. Make lists of books you want to read and then keep track of what you've read, but permit yourself to get distracted. Taste the words.

Seek conversations. Make it a goal to sit down and listen to the life stories of everyone you meet, at internships or on the subway or in your family. Inspiration is everywhere. This is the most important thing you'll do all semester because at the end of it, your time off won't be a list of countries or facts or "work experience" -- it will be a series of people you met who will have changed your view. The people will become your lessons. When I share periods of my life with you, they invariably revolve around the people I interacted with daily during those times. Be able to summarize their lives, but also remember how you felt when you were talking with them. Let the humans you encounter overwhelm you.

Appreciate spaces. Physically stop and look at your surroundings so closely that someone watching you might think you were a nature freak or really, really weird. Just inspect things around you -- nature, art, architecture -- because those are the same things that you'll recognize in a busier time and whose beauty you'll remember then. Take a second to thank the sunshine. I lived in bustling city apartments during my gap year and spent time photographing fruit on a farm. I visited a glass house in the middle of a sunny field for a day and that's where my mind goes now when I want to picture a supremely exultant place.

Learn from every person and thing. Don't underestimate anything in its ability to be a source of knowledge. Read everything around you -- ads, pamphlets, newspapers -- and ask questions. I'm still struck by how pertinent some of the things I came across while traveling coincidentally became in my school life, and how if I had been paying just a little more attention I could have seemed less than completely ignorant in ESPP 10.

Record. I firmly believe that writing about your experiences is the best way to remember them. I often forget things even barely between the lines of what I wrote about my days, but I love remembering the order and timeline of my year through words. Your mode could be different -- photographs, videos, postcards -- but definitely do something to remember.

Think more. Question yourself. Interrogate yourself about what things make you happy, because these will become relevant questions later. Do I want to work in an office? Do I want to live in the United States? Do I like hammocks? You can't really "find yourself" in a year but you can certainly locate significant parts of you.

Don't think so much. And then just enjoy and experience because the whole idea is that you won't get to do this again, right? Shut your brain off and stop being a compulsive planner. Surround yourself with people who make you comfortable and curious and happy and engage your "live" mode. And then bring that attitude back to campus so you know you've really learned what you wanted to learn from your year.

Be present. We always say this to one another but truly, you're not taking time off to worry or regret or go on Facebook. You can meditate if you want but even if you don't, just be there. Every moment you will live this semester is a moment you chose to experience the way it chooses to unfold, so immerse yourself in every instant.

Erase your goals. You'll go in thinking you want to do certain things and visit certain places and answer certain questions and then in actuality you'll embark on entirely different journeys, around the world or in your mind, and they will be just the ones you were supposed to find.

Summer: Week 1

Harvard exists at a very different pace over the summer. People get lost in conversation waiting for the signal to change and forget to cross the street at crosswalks. Pedestrians make eye contact and smile at one another. The hustle and bustle of this college town slows down for these few weeks, and it's a very different environment than we're used to.

It's sad to see so many of the campus' student's gone, but my friends who are here have been finding new ways to spend time together and enjoy the sunshine and the end of a euphorically successful freshman year.

On Saturday night, a group of my favorite people gathered at Reylon's gorgeous new summer apartment (see above) to celebrate the completion of our exams! Eliza, Allison, Javier, and I headed over from Greenough to salsa / Bhangra / twerk with me as DJ. I very quickly realized that my iPod does not have much music that is in English.

It was lovely to finally spend some crazy time with the friends who have been imploring me to go to parties all year, and we all woke up happy and exhausted Sunday morning, just in time to be kicked out of our rooms at noon.

After a frantic morning of last minute packing and sweeping and lugging and locking, I turned in my freshman dorm keys just in time and said a protracted goodbye to Javier as he headed to the airport. Then it was time for a lunch with Dylan and our task of the afternoon: moving our things to summer housing.

After a marathon of a morning, Dylan and I called a very interesting taxi to move our things to the quad, where we'll be living as we record our CD with the Opportunes this summer. Each member of the group is assigned a studio slot this week, so I'll be recording for a while this Tuesday and Wednesday, and spending the rest of the time hanging out with the Opportunes and continuing to work on projects for Sense & Sustainability. In addition, I'm hoping to meet up with some of my professors this week to debrief on the semester, and possibly spend the weekend with Mr. Chanania at his beautiful home in West Newbury!

I'm spending today getting caught up on end-of-semester course evaluations, work for my internship, and the music I'll be recording tomorrow. This evening, I plan to attend a barbecue with Reylon, who cooked an incredible Chinese meal for me last night!

This new pace of life is refreshing but will take some getting used to after the rush of the semester. Maybe I should use this time to learn to cook from Reylon, as suggested by my mom...

PSYCHED for summer!

The last few days have been emotional with packing and moving and no more exams and lots more goodbyes. Wednesday night we threw a fabulous surprise farewell party for a very oblivious Reylon, with many of his closest friends and entrywaymates turning out to shower him with love, song, and pizza.

Yesterday came my last exam of the year, a truly tragic event -- I stayed in my Latin classroom until the very last possible moment, twiddling my thumbs and staring at my professor and trying to draw out my freshman year as long as possible. I cried when I turned in my test and left the room.

In the evening, the Opportunes had our last private gig of the season at the Faculty Club (throwback to our first gig this year!), where our beautiful seniors performed their last public rendering of "Midnight Train to Georgia" amidst laughs from the audience and tears from Bernie.

After a night of packing and snacking and New Girl, I fell asleep hoping to stay in bed for as much of today as possible to ignore the impending ending of my time at school (healthy, I know). But the sun came out this morning! And my roomie and I have spent the last hour freaking out about how beautifully our summers are falling into place.

Just as I got the news that the lovely Laurita Kambourian will be joining me at my internship in MEXICO CITY this summer, Eliza Chang received a call with the job offer of a lifetime: this ultimate girl will be working in Cambridge this summer as a research assistant for a project to design a groundbreaking online course aimed to purvey entrepreneurial skills to empower young, high-potential, under-resourced women. GO GIRL POWER!

I'm now even more pumped for my time in Mexico (if that were possible), where I'll be helping with a water/energy conservation project for the Centro Mario Molina while doing independent research on sustainable cities and designing and running a Sense & Sustainability internship for high school students. This will mean lots of researching and typing and blogging and Skyping, all in between day trips and heart-to-hearts with my dearest friend! I can't imagine a more idyllic month.

Before I leave for home, I'll be spending these last two weeks on campus recording with the Opportunes and squeezing in every second I can with other friends who are still here on campus. That's all for now -- off to the Charles River for an afternoon of kayaking...and then more packing. I'm SO psyched for summer.

Sitting near the dish line

Over the course of the year, I've observed a trend in my dining hall ways: I sit closer and closer each day to the conveyer that takes away our dirty dishes. It seems more convenient when picking a seat for a meal to keep an eye on your way out, so you can "beat the line" and get out of Annenberg in Harvard time for class or a nap or whatever before everyone else starts to queue up ahead of you.

Well, now my freshman year is ending and I kind of want to sit as far away from that exit point as possible. Because when I sit near the dish line it means I'm in too much of a hurry to talk to the people around me or look up at our stained glass wonderland or taste my Veritaffle. And now I wish I'd had more of those initially awkward Annenberg conversations where I eventually find out that the person across from me also took a gap year or is a Classics major or loves the Opportunes, instead of staring into my phone or pretending I was doing work during my meal.

I wasn't super social during Opening Days. I knew I was bound to find a close friends circle, and I did. And they're incredible. And I can't live without them. But also, it might be a bit late, but I want to introduce myself to you. I'm Ratna, the girl with the big glasses (yes, they're prescription) and the sweatshirt with my name misspelled on the back.

And I want to meet you. Because this isn't another week before the weekend, or school year before the summer, or high school before college, or something else we should want to be over. This is our undergrad experience, the best four years of our life, and it's one-fourth over. And I don't want to be saying "this week will be easier once Wednesday is over" because I don't want Wednesday to be over. I want to sit down, at a completely random table. And talk.