Sunday, March 13, 2016

The time I visited Harvard University…

Friday, March 11, 2016
10:45 A.M.
I am sitting in a conference room in a hotel in Warsaw. I look around and I see other young people; around twenty-eight of them. They are as excited and nervous as I am. In the middle of the room, I can see both Polish and American flags placed next to the United States Embassy podium. This is it, our one chance. I am among mentees chosen for the U.S. Embassy and the Fulbright Commission’s EducationUSA mentoring program.  The best, and for many of us, the only opportunity to get help and important advice, when applying to American Colleges. Soon we will hear a welcoming speech by the. U.S. Embassy, Cultural Attaché Kenneth Wetzel. In a moment or two, each of us will come up to the podium and will be presented with a certificate that confirms our acceptance to the program.

Now, I think I have to explain some things. It is a very prestigious program for people who live outside of the United States. To get a spot we had to complete an application and win a competition. Apart from submitting our transcripts, we had to write an essay, give testimony of outside of school engagement and explain why we dream of studying in the United States. We were chosen from over 170 applicants. For all of us it is a great honor just to be in the program, and to be noticed by the U.S. Embassy, and the Fulbright Commission.  Even though, it does not grant us becoming a student of any U.S. college, it can help us a lot. Many of us have no idea about how to apply to American Colleges. We do not have college counseling in high school that can help us to find the perfect university. We do not have anyone who can explain to us how the SAT, the Common App, or The College Board work like. This opportunity given to us by this program is the one thing that can help us!
posing at the U.S. Embassy podium

For the past two days, I have learnt a lot about how to apply. We spent long hours listening to multiple presentations concerning topics like how to choose a perfect school, understanding Common App, writing your essay, financing your studies etc. It is not so easy to get a scholarship as a foreign student! Some of you might not know that there are only six colleges in the U.S. that offer need-blind admission for international applicants! Those are Harvard University, Princeton University, Yale University, Dartmouth College (which is said to be withdrawing from this policy in near future), Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Amherst College.

For those of you who do not know what a need-blind admission is, I’ll allow myself to quote Wikipedia’s definition;

Need-blind admission is a term used in the United States denoting a college admission policy in which the admitting institution does not consider an applicant’s financial situation when deciding admission.

For many of us that is the only way to be admitted into college. When one does not have enough money to pay for his or her studies, some colleges are more likely to reject application of this applicant. That is why applying to colleges with need-blind policy is a safer way, however not an easier one! Universities like Harvard, Princeton or Yale are not easy to get into at all! Apart from amazing SAT scored and perfect GPA, one has to have an outstanding personality. How to do that? I don’t know yet. I’ll explain you if I succeed! So far, I know it takes a lot of hard work and dedication.
Even though it is not easy to become a student at a great school, no one is going to be stopped from trying or dreaming about a school like that! I advise you to try to reach your dreams, because you’ll never know until you try. Those past two days, w got to meet some of Alumni of U.S. colleges. Talking to two Harvard Alumni, I remembered the time I visited Harvard University.

It was back in August 2014, during the orientation in Boston for my year in the States with ASSIST. Apart from being able to meet amazing people from all around the world, we got the chance to visit the world’s most known university.

Entering the campus of founded in 1636 university I had chills. Until that moment, I could even question the existence of this wonderful place. Looking at the buildings, I saw the centuries of tradition. Founded by vote of the Great and General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Harvad was originally called “New College”. Based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard is the oldest higher learning institution in the United States. I find it quite amusing that Harvard University is situated in a town called Cambridge, which always reminds me of Cambridge University in the United Kingdom.  Coincidence?
The Harvard Yard

Harvard University obtained his current name after clergyman John Harvard; who donated half of his estate and his books to the university upon his death in 1638. During our Harvard tour, we were able to see his statue that stands in Harvard Yard. He looks very majestic, sat in a chair, with American Flag waving above his head. Tour guides told us that we can rub his toe for luck. Some people believe that if you rub the toe of the statue it will not only bring you luck but also that you will return to Harvard as a student one day. That is probably why many people touch the shoe, polishing it every day.
John Harvard Statue

The Harvard Yard itself was full of colorful chairs and visitors. Walking around, I was reminded of the times I used to watch Legally Blonde a lot and I dreamt of studying at Harvard Law School. The campus was really picturesque and breathtaking. It was like walking around promise land. From my visit there I especially remember seeing the Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Library. It was founded by the mother of Harvard alumna Harry Elkins Widener who was a book lover and who died in the sinking of Titanic in April 1912. I think that the history of this building remains in my memory because I am fascinated by the tragic history of Titanic. Also it is simply impossible to forget the colossal size of the library and the way it makes you feel so small yet so eager to just walk inside and start reading. 
the Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Library
After the tour, filled with many new dreams and inspirations we went to a university store and bought a lot of Harvard souvenirs. And by saying a lot, I mean A LOT! Almost every out of 170 ASSIST scholars bought a Harvard sweater. We must have looked very funny or like real Harvard students. My friends and I were asked twice whether we were students of Harvard. Both situations were funny but at the same time a bit flattering. It was nice to hear that someone would think that we are students of Harvard University because going to Harvard was the ultimate dream for every single one of us. We would wear our sweaters a lot in the states as well as back home. To remind us of our goals, and our great plans for the future. To remember to never give up and always keep dreaming. Because our dreams are real and they are out there, waiting for us to reach out our hands and reach them!