SAN FRANCISCO, CA—I sat awkwardly, trying to think of an answer to a question I had now been asked one too many times: “How are you going to integrate your summer experience into your life at Harvard and beyond?”
It was my last week in Santiago, Chile, and I—along with several other students in my summer program—was meeting with representatives from Harvard’s David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies to talk about how we were going to apply what we’d learned in the past eight weeks. When it was my turn to speak, I quickly mumbled something about looking into some history classes on Latin America and sighed in relief when they nodded and moved on to the next student.
Even now that I’m back home in sunny California, scanning through the course catalogue and making impressively vague plans for the future like “spend some time in China, doing something,” I still can’t come up with a good answer to that question.
I landed in South America on a whim, deciding to intern at an English-language news agency in Chile only after other summer plans fell through. I didn’t know a thing about the country before I arrived, except that it once had a dictatorship, it produced wine that had its own section at Whole Foods, and it was on the other side of Argentina.
I learned a great deal over the course of two months. I followed political developments in Chile, I researched inter-state tensions between it and its Latin American neighbors, and I became well acquainted with issues like income inequality, classism, and the legacy of human rights violations. Oh, and I now speak conversational Spanish with Chilean slang.
Has any of this influenced my “personal, academic, and/or professional goals?” asks the summer funding questionnaire I’m supposed to fill out by Aug. 27.
Well, not really. And is that a bad thing?
On one hand, I understand where these kinds of inquiries are coming from. My interrogators want to make sure they haven’t thrown money at me to go live and work in Chile just to have me continue on with my life as if nothing happened.
On the other hand, I’m constantly frustrated by the narrowness with which Harvard defines how experiences “impact” students. There may be no direct connection between what I did this summer and what I do this semester, or next year, or after I graduate. At this point in my life, this summer isn’t specifically contributing to some kind of bigger picture for my future.
All I can say is that this summer was amazing and fulfilling, and that it was valuable for those reasons alone. I’d be surprised if it doesn’t have some kind of effect on my life, even if I can’t put a finger on it yet.
The penultimate item on the questionnaire says, “Comment on how this experience will influence the remainder of your time at Harvard.”
My answer: I don’t know. But I know it will!
Adrienne Y. Lee ’12, a Crimson associate editorial editor, is a history concentrator in Quincy House.