Growing up in Boulder, CO, Ben S. Raderstorf ’14 was naturally a big mountaineer, he says, and trips with what he calls an eccentric family were as commonplace as the outdoors. But Raderstorf didn’t anticipate that his love of travel and the outdoors would play as large of a role on campus in Cambridge too.
The former President of the Harvard Outing Club and a First-Year Outdoor Program (FOP) leader, Raderstorf speaks excitedly about his “passion for getting people outside.” The Outing Club is larger than it’s ever been. He has also been working on a project developing adaptive hiking trips for children with developmental and physical disabilities.
Raderstorf says he’s learned to appreciate “the importance of the informal interaction and unstructured time” on campus, but recognizes that even he could have taken more time to do so. After joining “your standard extracurriculars” when he first got to campus, Raderstorf explains, he realized they weren’t making him happy; he felt the outdoors missing from Harvard’s culture. “People don’t have opportunities to get off campus,” he says, “and that’s something I really wanted to create here. It’s a really nice balance to the stress and rat-race of Harvard.”
Raderstorf’s decision to act on this realization has turned into advice he now offers his own FOPpers: “Everything you do should be something supporting and enriching for who you are and who you want to be.”
A Social Studies concentrator, Raderstorf is equally enthusiastic discussing comparative politics and Latin America: He has served as a program chair for the Harvard International Relations Council, is a board member for Harvard Association Cultivating Inter-American Democracy, participated in Model UN, and is writing his thesis on Argentinean politics.
In middle school, his parents took him and his two younger brothers out of school to travel the world for 6 months. Ben has since traveled to an array of Latin American countries: Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, Ecuador, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay (”I think just those,” he jokes as he lists them off).
This early exposure to Latin America developed into a passion on campus, where Raderstorf is working with government professor Steven R. Levitsky on his thesis examining clientelism in Argentina, or how parties buy votes or persuade voters, he explains, “a relatively new area in comparative politics.”
To students like Harleen Gambhir ’14, whose friendship with Raderstorf began in a discussion group on the first day of Freshman Urban Program, Ben’s thoughtfulness and maturity makes him stand out among his Harvard peers. “When we started school, he acted like he was much older than anyone else,” Gambhir says. “I used to call him ‘professor,’ because he would fall into this oratorical voice, and we’d have to poke him to remind him to act younger and do crazy stuff because we were in college.”
After graduation, Raderstorf hopes to spend time working or studying abroad. “The biggest lesson for me is that you don’t have to do one thing with your life, you can do many things,” he says. “I don’t ever want to do one singular thing with my life, and I don’t see any reason why I can’t at some point spend three months hiking the continental divide trail and then go off to work in Washington, D.C.”
His response to the question, “What do you see yourself doing in 15 years?” is in keeping with this vision. Raderstorf pauses before answering—a rare deceleration in thought—as if he doesn’t already know what to say. “Can I have multiple ones?” he asks after a moment. “Trekking the Andes or negotiating a trade summit. Is that ridiculous enough?”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
CORRECTION: December 7, 2013
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated Ben S. Raderstorf '14's leadership position in the Harvard Outing Club. In fact, Raderstorf is the club's former president, not its current one.