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School, Interrupted

When I was looking at colleges, the one thing I knew was that I wanted a school with a campus.

The idea of a city school just didn’t make much sense to me. My older sister went to a large, urban college for one year, and I couldn’t wrap my head around the concept that one couldn’t tell where the school ends and the city begins.

Harvard, of course, isn’t like that. While we don’t have a sprawling campus and Harvard Square is surely a busy urban center of a larger city, when you’re in the immediate area, it never feels like you’ve left school. A trip to CVS or Panera Bread doesn’t truly take you off-campus; Harvard dominates this part of town.

And that can make all the difference. My initial instinct for and interest in a campus school came from a desire to be absorbed by a college community. In a non-campus, big-city school, it would be easy to feel like the college experience consists primarily of going to class, while most other aspects of life are pushed into the surrounding city. A campus has the power to create a sense of community.

Sometimes, however, things aren’t all they’re chalked up to be. That very community can very quickly turn into a bubble that is hard to escape and all too easy to be consumed by. The irony is that because Harvard so overwhelms us, self-awareness is often the first casualty.

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Taking a step back becomes a healthy and vital thing to do. As a freshman, I rarely left the Harvard Square area except to catch a train home for holiday breaks. In theory, everything you need is right here—both academics and social life can usually be found somewhere between the Charles River and the Yard.

But in practice, we need more than this small area can provide. A separation is sometimes necessary. Even the commute to the where I live in the Quad, which promised a barrier between work and home, doesn’t really remove you from campus. You walk through residential parts of Cambridge to return to an area that is very much part of Harvard.

This past weekend, some friends and I biked to a diner in Allston for breakfast. It wasn’t far away geographically—you could still see the Business School from the window next to our booth—but mentally it was a different world. Most of us enjoy being surrounded by Harvard students and taking part in House life, but too often that becomes the default. Removing yourself from campus once in a while not only gives you a break from that routine, but is also makes you appreciate it more. The things that unintentionally become habits are more meaningful when you realize that there are alternatives to them.

Breaking the routine is hard. There are so many reasons why staying on campus makes sense: It’s familiar and it saves us time when our schedules become packed with school and work and club commitments. It is very easy to comp groups and join circles of friends during freshman year, establishing the spaces and people that will define our social experiences.

Some of us are comfortable with that. Over time, I found that interrupting the routine is one of the most important things to do. This starts with small things: Study in a different space, join groups after freshman year if they interest you, and quit them if they bore you. And, when you get the chance, pop the Harvard bubble every now and then.

After breakfast in Allston, some of us doubled back to Alewife and got on the Minuteman Bikeway, taking it a couple miles out and ending up outside a coffee shop somewhere in Arlington. We sat for hours and for one of the first times since I’ve been here, I had an afternoon uninfluenced by school and unworried by work or commitments.

Leaving campus does not mean abandoning Harvard. To be sure, school is perhaps the most defining aspect of our lives as students. Harvard will always be there in one way or another. But that doesn’t mean it has to stop you from hopping on a bike or a train and taking it until you hit a coffee shop you never knew existed.

Gregory A. Briker ’17 is a Crimson editorial writer in Currier House.

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