A Cam­bridge clas­sics grad­u­ate, who won a cov­eted schol­ar­ship to study in the US, de­scribes her first semester at Har­vard


LAST AU­GUST, af­ter much an­tic­i­pa­tion and a very long wait in Bos­ton Lo­gan air­port immigration, I fi­nally stepped onto Amer­i­can soil, ready for a year as a Kennedy Scholar at Har­vard Uni­ver­sity.

I was guided out of the air­port by English sig­nage, im­me­di­ately greeted by com­fort­ingly fa­mil­iar lev­els of pol­lu­tion and swept off by an Uber driver called Abdul.

Be­fore my de­par­ture, friends, col­leagues and other well-wish­ers had noted how “Euro­pean” Bos­ton is and for those first bliss­ful 10 min­utes I could have sworn I was in Lon­don.

‘You’ve got an ac­cent…you’re Bri­tish!’ ex­claimed Abdul. “How’s the Queen?”

I ad­mit­ted to not know­ing Her Majesty per­son­ally. We both laughed. Lit­tle did I know that this would form the tem­plate of many con­ver­sa­tions I would have with 70 per cent of the Amer­i­cans over the age of 45 who I would en­counter.

Next morn­ing in Har­vard Yard the uni­ver­sity was buzzing with tourists shep­herded around the grounds by stu­dent guides.

On the steps of the Wi­dener Li­brary I heard one guide proudly point out the spot where Face­book founder Mark Zucker­berg gave the 2017 com­mence­ment speech.

Mr Zucker­berg dropped out of Har­vard. Hope­fully I will last longer than he did.

My first week ad­just­ing to Amer­i­can aca­demic life was spent rush­ing around cam­pus “shop­ping for classes” from a cat­a­logue of over 10,000 op­tions. Un­like UK uni­ver­si­ties, choice is the cen­tre­piece of aca­demic pro­gram­ming at Har­vard. Try­ing to pick from the cour­ses on of­fer was al­most as tricky as try­ing to nav­i­gate the famed Har­vard Kennedy School of Gov­ern­ment. The el­e­va­tor of­fered floor 1 (not the first floor but the ground floor) and went up in half in­cre­ments to floor 5½. I knew many Amer­i­cans ad­mired the English, but I hadn’t ex­pected them to take Plat­form 9¾ se­ri­ously.

In­side the class­room there was no short­age of cul­ture shocks. On my first day at Har­vard Busi­ness School I ar­rived just in time to get the last seat in a class­room with more fa­cil­i­ties than an en­tire UK sec­ondary school. I sat down in the front row, opened up my pink lap­top and started typ­ing vig­or­ously, not want­ing to miss a word.

Af­ter an hour and 40 min­utes of in­tense note-tak­ing, a kind class­mate in­formed me that lap­tops are not al­lowed in the class­room. I as­sume that no one else had let me know be­cause they were get­ting much too much en­joy­ment from my Legally Blonde mo­ment.

Pro­fes­sors are a very dif­fer­ent breed, state­side. Un­like in the UK where the ti­tle is given as one of the high­est aca­demic ranks, in Amer­ica “Pro­fes­sor” is the term used to re­fer to the per­son stand­ing at the front of the lec­ture theatre.

Con­se­quently the fac­ulty glit­ters with TV pre­sen­ters, politi­cians, CEOs and news­pa­per ed­i­tors, sprin­kled with the odd aca­demic or two.

In­sights are there­fore many and var­ied. One pro­fes­sor help­fully of­fered up ad­vice on choos­ing the cor­rect life part­ner — cur­rently re­mar­ried to one of his pre­vi­ous ex-wives, he as­sured us he was most qual­i­fied in this depart­ment.

Ad­just­ing to life in a new coun­try is chal­leng­ing, but jokes aside, there is much to of­fer here. The range of aca­demic op­por­tu­ni­ties is un­par­al­leled and the teach­ing meth­ods are ex­per­i­men­tal and en­gag­ing. Stu­dents and aca­demics are talk­a­tive, friendly and up­beat (as long as you steer clear of talk­ing about Trump). And al­most ev­ery­one has wished me mazel­tov on the royal en­gage­ment.

Stephanie Posner in Bos­ton out­side the Har­vard Club for uni­ver­sity alumni

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