Take a Chance: Advice for Future Harvard Summer School Students

Guest post by Hanne Twedt Berli, 2013 and 2014 Summer School student

Hanne Berli

Once upon a time, in a place far, far away from Cambridge, Massachusetts, there was a girl named Hanne—a positive, adventurous, outgoing 23-year-old Norwegian graduate student with a taste for the US. She didn’t think she would ever be in a position where Harvard University would be an option for her, but then she discovered Harvard Summer School, and everything changed.

The girl is me, Hanne Twedt Berli. I have a bachelor’s degree in arts and management from BI Norwegian Business School, and I have started on a master’s program in political communication and management at Copenhagen Business School. In 2013, I attended Harvard Summer School, taking two graduate courses: The Art of Communication and Multimedia Communication: Introduction to Digital Storytelling.

Taking a chance on Summer School

I stumbled upon the Summer School on the Harvard University website by a coincidence. I had never been to summer school before, so it wasn’t something I was really looking for, but, for the first time in years, I didn’t have any work to do in July, and the more I read about the Summer School, the more intrigued I got!

So, why did I decide to register? First of all, when I realized that I could experience Harvard and take part in such an incredible academic community and environment, I just “had to” register! Living in a dorm, eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner in Harry Potter-like surroundings, and making new friends from all over the world—in 30 degrees Celsius, in a foreign language I can master and learn more about at the same time, in a country I find fascinating—sounded absolutely perfect to me!

To be able to combine summer fun and studies at one of the leading universities in the world, with so much history and so many possibilities attached was a real draw. Both personally and career-wise, it’s all about taking the chances life hands you. I think it’s better to take a chance and possibly regret it than not take the chance and never know what it could have turned out to be.

And, it turns out, dreams do come true!

Adjusting to American university academics

Studying in Scandinavia is quite different from “the American way.” During my bachelor’s degree program, I studied multiple subjects during the semester that usually consisted of one or two lectures per week, which were not mandatory, and the semester (and my grade) was completely dependent on one final exam.

Based on my experiences at the Summer School, the American system gave me a much fairer chance of proving what I know and what I learned in the course. I received constant feedback from the professors, as well as the opportunity to get better at the things I did not understand.

The professors offered valuable tips and encouragement throughout the course. I was not used to having professors who knew every student’s name and backgrounds, but the professors I had at Harvard (Mimi Goss and Marlon Kuzmick) truly made an effort to get to know all of us. They were positive, welcoming, and inspiring, and they made us feel comfortable, even though the topics and tasks were sometimes outside of our comfort zones.

For each class, it was important to read the syllabus, be enthusiastic, and contribute. In addition to the midterm and final exams, there were assignments due almost every week. These included individual and group projects, oral and written speeches, press conferences, product launches, essays, presentations, and case analyses.

Socializing, exploring, and making new friends

Before leaving for Harvard, I wondered about the social aspect: would it be difficult to get to know other students? Would I be the only one who came to Cambridge by my self, without having anyone else there to rely on?

It turned out to be easier than I could have dreamt of—I got to know people at the airport on the way to Harvard! Most of the students came on their own and were interested in getting to know other students and making new friends. I loved how I was never alone on campus except when I wanted to be. Having my own room made it possible to be by myself, and just on the other side of the bedroom wall were new friends. If you want to be alone and concentrate on the academics, you can go to your room, out in Harvard Yard, or to one of the many libraries. And if you want to make new acquaintances, you can just sit down at a table in the dining hall and introduce yourself!

Besides studying, I explored Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and Montreal (Canada), went to a Red Sox baseball game and outdoor concerts, and experienced a lot of what Boston has to offer—Newbury Street, the Prudential Center, The Freedom Trail, Boston Common, Beacon Hill, and Faneuil Hall, to name a few. Many of students also went to New York City, which is just a four-hour bus ride away, some went to a nearby outlet mall to shop, and a few students even went skydiving!

I came to Cambridge without knowing anyone, and thanks to living on campus and taking part in a lot of the social activities the school offered, I left with new friends from all over the world. Who knows, next time I might be travelling to Sydney, Paris, Montreal, Vienna, or Aarhus—all thanks to Harvard Summer School! It’s an excellent place to combine studying, experiencing new things, and making new friends.

Financing your Harvard Summer School experience

Another important aspect for prospective students is the financial situation. I come from a country where education is free, and Harvard is not. I paid approximately $10,500 for two courses, room, and board. The cost of room and board was about the same cost as the tuition for the two courses. Most students had saved money or taken out loans to afford the tuition, while others were supported by their family or employer.

It was a huge amount of money to spend on seven weeks, but I worked hard to realize and accomplish it. It was an experience of a lifetime. I learned so much from professors and fellow students, established new networks, and gained new friendships. It is not necessary to live on campus, but I wanted to gain the “on-campus” feel and experience dorm living.

An amazing experience worth the investment

This experience gave me so much personally, academically, and career-wise. The seven weeks went by so fast, and it felt like it was over before it even began.

If you are considering Harvard Summer School, I would definitely, without hesitation, recommend it! I had the most amazing summer. There is no doubt in my mind that it is worth the investment—in time, effort, and money.

If you have any questions or feedback, don’t hesitate to contact me on Twitter @htberli

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