Harvard Power Trips

FM investigates world-class field trips

Better than a class outing to the city zoo, better than even a trip to Six Flags—Harvard’s souped-up field trips make a day at the science museum in grade school seem like child’s play. Lucky students have traveled all over the globe with their classes, from the Canadian Rockies to Japan.

In September, students from the Earth and Planetary Sciences department (EPS) jetted out to Calgary for an all-expenses-paid week in the Canadian Rockies. The participants in the trip—over 40 in all—learned how to analyze rock formations and identify thrust faults while getting to do some hands-on work with their EPS professors. “When you’re hiking up a mountain and think you’re not going to make it, you bond,” says Yi-chen Huang ’06, an EPS concentrator. In addition to extolling the trip’s educational merits, Huang mentions that Harvard bought the group plenty of good pizza and even beer—the drinking age in the province of Alberta age is 18.

When Erika T. Hamden ’06 signed up for Assistant Professor of Japanese History Mikael Adolphson’s freshman seminar on Kyoto, Japan, she took note of the words “possibility of a trip included” tucked away at the end of the course description. As it turned out, she and the other 11 seminar students were treated to a week in Japan over spring break. The students and Adolphson stayed at a Zen temple in Kyoto, and visited Osaka. Each student was responsible for giving the group a brief rundown on a particular site or activity.

Despite the academic focus, “the trip was pretty relaxed,” according to Hamden. Adolphson gave the students free rein to enjoy Kyoto at night—within reason, of course. The only rule was “if you go out late, don’t wake up the monk,” recalls Hamden.

Mika C. Morse ’05 spent eight days in Nicaragua with her freshman seminar, “The Latin American Political and Economic Landscape,” taught by Sylvia Maxfield, a visiting professor. But their trip was hardly handed to them on a silver platter. Morse took the lead in seeking out funding sources and applying for grants to pay for travel expenses for the entire class, while other students oversaw the logistical issues of the trip. Eventually Morse was able to secure funds, primarily from the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American studies.

Although Morse describes the task as “daunting,” the students’ careful planning paid off. “Everyone played a really huge role in making sure it happened,” says Morse. Once in Nicaragua, the group had discussions with an astonishing array of political figures, including Violeta Chamorro, Nicaragua’s first democratically elected president. Each night, the students would gather to discuss the day’s events and formulate questions for the following day.

Morse believes that immersive learning experiences are available at Harvard—to those who are willing to seek them out. “There’s a lot of encouragement at Harvard for kids to do this sort of thing, says Morse. “It’s one of Harvard’s hidden assets.”