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Visiting Students Reflect on Strange Year at Harvard

Ariane Litalien

It was an unusual year at Harvard, marked by three University closures, two major scandals, and an act of terrorism just miles away.

When she first came to Harvard last fall as a visiting student from the Federal University of São Carlos in Brazil, Lígia S. Barbosa was expecting “a pretty exciting” experience in Cambridge.

She was not, however, expecting to witness a massive cheating investigation, two University-wide closures resulting from the weather, an email search scandal, or a deadly act of terrorism.

On April 15, standing one mile away from the scene of carnage at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, Barbosa felt “a little overwhelmed” as she approached the end of a year that was peppered with dismal and unusual events for Harvard and the larger community.

Yet looking back at her year in Cambridge, Barbosa pointed to interactive classroom environments and a wealth of extracurricular opportunities as the things she will remember most about her time here.

She and others in the Visiting Undergraduate Student Program, who are now preparing to return home after one or two semesters at Harvard, say that the abnormal events of the year, while disruptive, did not spoil their overall experience.

CHEATING IN THE SPOTLIGHT

Marco C. Y. Chu, who is visiting from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, had heard many stories about cheating rings in Hong Kong universities.

Back home, these cases typically involved no more than a dozen students who were often overcommitted to extracurricular activities.

So when he first learned of Harvard’s investigation into approximately 125 cases of alleged cheating in Government 1310 at the start of the fall semester, he was taken aback.

But while he called the scale of the scandal “astounding,” he said that upon further reflection, he was not surprised that it had happened at Harvard.

“Harvard students have a lot of ties [with one another],” he said.

“The fact that people are so tightly linked together contributes to the possibility that more people are likely to be involved.”

Chu was one of several visiting students who downplayed the cheating scandal even as it garnered international media attention.

Daniel Themessl-Huber, a visiting student whose home institution is the University of Vienna, said the scandal had “not changed” his impression of Harvard.

“Students are sometimes under pressure, and I think it could have happened anywhere,” Themessl-Huber said.

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