Transfer of Affections

They may have missed out on Annenberg, but transfer students are doing fine

Most Harvard students assume that everyone around them has been a freshman. There are certain rites of passage that are taken for granted—making “insta-friends,” enduring awkward conversations at the Ice Cream Bash and suffering through expos.

But some students will leave Harvard having never had a meal at Annenberg. Every fall and spring 30 to 60 students from all over the country come to Harvard as transfer students. They have the wide-eyed optimism of freshmen without the oft-accompanying naivet.

Learning the Ropes

Week-long crash courses in all things Harvard helped turn the 35 fall transfers and 20 spring transers into tightly knit groups. Through organized dinners, movie nights and bowling trips, the transfers get to know each other and past transfers, or transfer links. Constantin C. Crachilov, one of the directors of this year’s program (and a fall ’02 transfer from Daytona Community College) says he’s pleased at how close the spring transfer class has become—about 16 of the 20 transfers showed up for most events. He says most transfers feel overwhelmed at first, but the program attempts to give them the “tools and courage” to become fully integrated into the Harvard community. Often those “tools” are just basic information about the core, concentrations and other Harvard peculiarities. But there’s one golden rule the transfers learn: “play the transfer card.” In other words, use their newly-minted status to get out of awkward situations—and to generate conversation.

Although their program serves as a mini-freshman year, it does not include a sojourn in the Yard. Instead, the students are randomly scattered into blocking groups throughout the Houses. Phil A. Ernst, a spring ’04 transfer from Caltech, lucked out—he was placed in the Adams Senior House as a sophomore. Ernst says he is happy with his living arrangements, but points out that some transfers end up in less than desirable housing because that’s all there is. Jukay Hsu, a spring ’04 transfer from Columbia, said that the late delivery of housing assignments made it tough to get ready for the move.

Aside from this, Hsu says he is optimistic about life in Winthrop House—one of his main complaints about Columbia was that it “didn’t foster a sense of community.”

All Smiles

Despite these kinds of challenges, the program works. Even after only two weeks at Harvard, spring transfers like Ernst already have an extensive list of extracurriculars—his includes membership in Alpha Epsilon Pi and Harvard Students for Israel. Transfers gush about how friendly, down-to-earth and welcoming Harvard students are and insist that Harvard is fun.

This gung-ho attitude doesn’t appear to fade after a few semesters at Harvard. Sure Leigh Enoch, a fall ’03 transfer from University of Virginia who is also a Crimson editor, may have a little bit of nostalgia for the University of Virginia’s notoriously wild social scene when faced with the prospect of a slightly more subdued Friday night in Cambridge. But she insists that the social life at UVA, complete with thriving Greek scene and all-night parties, “got old quickly.” Enoch has grown quite accustomed to the question “why would you ever leave?”

She swears that it has been one of the best decisions she has ever made, both academically and socially.

This sense of satisfaction extends beyond the social scene for most transfers. Both Hsu and Ruchi Saha, spring ’04 transfers from Columbia and Wellesley respectively, praise Harvard’s academic resources. While Saha is a little intimidated by Harvard class sizes, she says’s she’ll gladly adapt in order to take advantage of the clout that Harvard offers.

“Tomorrow I’m going to hear [economist] Stanley Fischer speak at Adams,” Saha said. “When would I have had the opportunity to do that at Wellesley?”

They insist that they are not here because of major problems with their former colleges. Saha speaks fondly of the close friendships she made at Wellesley and Hsu reminisces about a time when Thursday night was a part of the weekend. Most say that Harvard has simply proved to be a better fit, and has provided the kind of resources and environment that other universities can’t.

For Hsu, Ernst and Saha, who have only been at Harvard for two weeks, the novelty has, understandably, not worn off yet—but Enoch (a fall ’03 transer) and Crachilov (fall ’02) are every bit as cheery, optimistic and positive as the newest transfers.

One reason many are happy is because they actually had the motivation to get up and change schools. Enoch suggests it is because transfer students don’t have to speculate about what their life would be like if…

And can be confident that, at least for them, the grass is not greener elsewhere.