The corner of JFK and Mass Ave is exotic enough for this Cantabridgian.
My younger brother isn’t mean about it.
There are no sarcastic e-mails from Dublin, surprisingly, and no arrogant text messages from the Tuscan coast. As soon as Boston thermometers dipped below 40, I was half-expecting a “Wish You Were Here” postcard from Valencia. Instead, I didn’t get so much as voicemail.
As it happens—due to chronic jetlag and the menacing complexity of foreign keyboards, one must assume—I have been reduced to piecing together the details from secondary sources (aka, Facebook.com and my mother).
So here is what I know: Peter, a 19-year-old sophomore at New York University, is about to complete his fall semester in Florence. He loves Italy. He often raves to my family about the places he and his classmates have seen on weekends. His online status, for a while, was simply “Peter is in Paris.”
And—according to our older, wiser sister—I evidently should have followed suit.
Against the advice of the Office of International Programs, my parents, Dean of the College Benedict H. Gross ’71, friendly strangers from a wide variety of nations, and a few blockmates, I have never studied abroad. I voluntarily remained here in Cambridge: a city which once alternated between rain, hail, and sunshine in the time it took me to walk from Quincy House to William James Hall.
It’s not that I’m enamored with the local topography; far from it. After four academic years, I’d probably be hard-pressed to locate any streets beyond Mass. Avenue, Mount Auburn, Plympton, and JFK (hint: There is an eponymous school of government sitting on it).
Harvard Square, admittedly, has its share of warts, as well—here’s looking at you, Inexplicably Popular Spray Paint Art Guy—but to be perfectly honest, the thing is fundamentally this:
I’ve never really felt the desire to leave.
I came close, once. In an attempt to have my Ranger Cookie and eat it too, I registered to study at the London School of Economics and Political Science for a summer term.
The morning of my flight to Gatwick Airport—July 21, 2005—terrorists attempted to bomb the London public transportation system. I wound up never leaving New York, never enrolling in “Development in the International Political Economy,” and I accepted it all as divine, terrifying providence.
Certainly, the idea of a true semester abroad has crossed my mind. Every time I debated it, though, I always reached the same conclusions, with the scale tipping the same way towards extracurricular commitments, classmates, and convenience.
I figured that I was already at arguably the best college in the universe—a university I’d worked pretty hard to get into—and wanted to maximize an ID card students across the globe would have loved to own. Most importantly, I tremendously enjoyed my time here in the first place.
You might deem this ignorance, or even arrogance. But I wouldn’t guilt you into thinking similarly. Whether you are at Harvard, Ohio State, or that coastal idyll we Cantabridgians call Stanford, I admit that now is the only time we have to pursue something like study abroad.
Soon, my older sister intones, we won’t have the youth, free time, or benefit of counting travel towards a diploma.
Peter, to his credit, has heeded that advice. And he, like countless others I know, legitimately seems to have reaped the benefits as advertised. In his online photo albums, he smiles from Elba to Pompeii, echoing every blissful—and more substantive—e-mail I’ve gotten from friends in cities from Paris, to Siena, to Cape Town.
Come to think of it, I have actually never heard of a single mediocre semester abroad.
But we must remember that such an impressive sample is also a self-selecting one. While I undoubtedly enjoy travel—and have luckily seen a lot of Europe, on top of slices of Asia and South America—I prize Harvard even more.
I am regularly impressed by my peers, my professors, my House, and—in spite of what has apparently metastasized into conventional wisdom—the fun I have on weekends and weekdays alike. I may not be able to run up the Duomo and submerge myself in a foreign way of life, but there’s a lot of good here, too. I’ll decline to wax poetic about friendship and the Charles River, but I will observe that we only get four years to experience it all before it’s gone.
Recently, Peter finally e-mailed me to confirm an anecdote my mother had relayed. In the past week, apparently, he had visited the Sistine Chapel, attended a hilarious Italian heavy metal concert, and found himself singing onstage with a local band in Ireland.
Over that same time span at Harvard, I replied, a Japanese lady had asked me to locate “Linden Street” and I awkwardly stared at her like she’d just invited me into Narnia.
So: All things considered, am I at least somewhat jealous of my little brother?
Of course. Thanks to all these second-hand snippets I’ve already pieced together, I’ve fantasized about racing Venetian gondolas on weekends, staging a performance of “Little Town” in France, and tranquilly reading Hemingway in a sunny Pamplona café.
But, in the end, I don’t think Peter knows this.
Maybe—just maybe—all he sees is me genuinely enjoying myself as a student at Harvard College. You never know. Some of these kids could be envious, too.
—Pablo S. Torre ’07, a Crimson sports editor, is a sociology concentrator in Quincy House. He thought about going to England with one of his roommates for a postgraduate degree, but his spirit animal instructed him to become some kind of journalist.