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My Adventure at Harvard

Harvard University has always been a symbol of excellence and high quality teaching. This is the place where the brightest students and the greatest minds of the world meet. This is the place where you can attend a lecture by a Noble Prize winner or meet world authorities in politics or science. According to the Academic Ranking of World Universities (2007) Harvard is the No. 1 University in the world as well as the richest one whose fixed capital is estimated to be 22.6 billion dollars. This is no surprise especially if you take into consideration that there are about 20,000 students who have to pay roughly $45,000 a year each. Harvard is situated in Cambridge, across the Charles River from Boston, Massachusetts. Cambridge also hosts another world-famous school, MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) that is considered to be the best technical school in the USA.

Harvard College was established by a vote of the Great and General Court of Massachusetts Bay Colony, and was named for its first benefactor, John Harvard of Charlestown, a young minister who dying in 1638, left his library and half his estate to the new institution. One of the Harvard landmarks is The John Harvard Statue located in front of University Hall on the famous Harvard Square (the oldest part of the University) and is known as “The Statue of Three Lies.” Although the inscription reads “John Harvard, Founder, 1638,” none of these three statements is actually true. Firstly, the seated figure is not really John Harvard, since no authentic pictures of Mr. Harvard are known. Secondly, John Harvard was not the founder of Harvard College and, lastly, the College was founded in 1636. The statue is an extremely popular draw for tourists, and thousands of visitors a year rub John Harvard’s shoe for good luck (and so did I).

If you have ever wondered what a typical Harvard student looks like then I must disappoint you as there is no such image. The reason being each student is a unique individual, and the student body is incredibly diverse. The students of Harvard represent an array of ethnic groups, religious traditions, and political persuasions. They come from every region of the United States and more than 100 other countries. They include undergraduates and graduates, continuing education, and Summer School students. They range from preteens to octogenarians (people who are between 80 and 89 years old). An interesting fact is that in 1997, Mary Fasano became the oldest person to ever earned a Harvard degree. When she graduated from the Extension School she was at the age of 89! As you can see, it is never to late to sign up for studies.

My adventure at Harvard University started with my arrival in the Boston area in September 2006. I was participating in a cultural- exchange programme (Au- Pair) and had to go to a college to fulfill the cultural component of the exchange. For nine months I lived in Wellesley, a lovely town, about 13 miles (approx. 21 km) from Boston, which is considered one of the most wealthy and important suburbs of the metropolis. According to Boston Magazine’s yearly Best Places to Live, Wellesley is number one in the United States in percentage of adults who hold at least one college degree. Wellesley is also famous for Wellesley College, a prestigious school whose mission is to provide an excellent liberal arts education for women who will make a difference in the world. The college’s motto, NON MINISTRARI SED MINISTRARE (not to be ministered unto but to minister), illustrates the spirit in which the students are educated. One of the best-known graduates of Wellesley College is Hilary Clinton, wife of former US President Bill Clinton, who is running for the presidency herself in 2008.

Coming back, however, to the main topic of the article, I want to present a few facts connected with admission to Harvard Extension School in the Department of Continuing Education of Harvard University where I studied. First of all, before you register for a course you must obtain a student ID number and take the English language placement test. You have to make an on-line reservation for the test and take it on campus. The exam is divided into two parts. The first part is listening comprehension during which you have to respond to ten short situations played over the loudspeakers. The second one tests your command of grammar, vocabulary, reading comprehension as well as your writing skills. The whole exam is quite demanding and tiring because it takes about two and a half hours altogether and is pretty nerve-wracking as all the other candidates around you want to do their best as well so you must try really hard.

At Harvard Extension School there are different courses at different language levels so the kind of course you are allowed to take depends on your score on the placement test. There are five levels, from A to E, where E is proficiency. You can check the results on your student account and then pick the course you like. Bear in mind that you need to hurry as the courses fill up pretty quickly. My subject was Communication in Business and we were taught how to write professional documents used in business communication. My group was small–there were only 10 students, the others all Americans, mostly adult working professionals who wanted to acquire some new skills. Our professor, a professional editor, was very demanding. For example, we started every classes with WOD (Writing On Demand): the professor on entering the classroom gave us a topic, e.g., What nickname do people call you and why? We were expected to write about it for six minutes sharp and then discuss it. Each of us in the group had to put in a lot of heart and effort to succeed in the course but eventually we had the satisfaction that we managed to complete it, because not everybody did. For me it was a really rewarding experience especially in that the article I wrote at the end of the course got positive feedback and was published here in Poland in a national magazine devoted to English Language Teaching.

Apart from classes there are lots of other things you can do at Harvard. There are various kinds of meetings and lectures given by famous scientists, writers or thinkers that you are welcome to attend. Personally, I enjoyed going to the Veritas Forum at which famous professors from the best universities from across the USA discuss fascinating subjects such as ‘Telling the Truth in the Business World,’ ‘The Language of God: A Believer Looks at the Human Genome’ and ‘Are Science and Christian Faith at Odds?’ Harvard, however, is not only lectures but lots of fun as well! There is an endless variety of pubs, restaurants, cafes where you can enjoy a jazz concert or a stunning show right in the street. Moreover, the mixture of races and nationalities makes Cambridge a unique melting pot. It takes 15 minutes to get from Cambridge to the centre of Boston by subway (RED line). This is another fantastic place to visit, but it could be a topic for another article.

To conclude, the year in Boston as well as all my previous visits to the USA were an adventure that has made it possible for me to get to know the world and better understand other people and other points of view. If you read this article I assume that you understand how important a good command of English is in today’s world and how many new doors and opportunities it opens before you. Felberg, as a Language School, with all its professional teachers and office staff, gives you a chance to experience the great adventure that learning English is and makes you confident that if you work hard enough the schools of your dreams can be within your reach. It is only up to you how you will use the opportunity. Please, don’t waste it…

Mariusz Bolewicz

 

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