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Don’t Forget Where You Belong

By Labiba Uddin, Contributing Opinion Writer
Labiba Uddin ’25 lives in Canaday Hall. Her column “BeLonging” appears on alternate Tuesdays.

The Arabic word for human, Insaan, comes from “forgetful.” I cannot think of a more fitting root.

The school year always seems to go by too quickly and not quickly enough all at once. Regardless of the relative speed one feels on any given day, however, there is no doubt that the routine can very quickly feel like a black hole. I have noticed especially in the college environment that it is so easy to get warped into a cycle that blocks out every other aspect of life. It becomes almost impossible to escape the Harvard bubble and soon, you can forget that there was ever a world outside of campus.

In these first few months of my freshman year, I have devoted a lot of time to getting my bearings. Unfortunately, that means a lot of time dissecting assignments and managing classes and extracurriculars within the confines of Harvard’s campus. Sometimes, when the weekend rolls around, I don’t even register it — so consumed by this tunnel vision, I can easily lose track of time and forget the days of the week.

Even on days that I have chosen to step away for a study break, I find myself still surrounded by the pressure of being “at school” in a sense. My days off are usually spent at venues in the Square itself and every once in a while when I do venture into greater Cambridge or Boston, I still feel bombarded by college logos and familiar faces on the trip with me. I am almost afraid that I will forget what a normal, non-college city looks and feels like.

A few weeks ago, I took the weekend for a hike in New Hampshire with some friends. It is astonishing what a single excursion can do. Stepping away from the land of cellular service for just a handful of hours can only be described as refreshing. For the first hour, my fingers twitched to check my email or text my pset group, as the day went on, I found myself flushed of any school-related thoughts for the first time in over two months. Instead, I was able to take time to truly observe the world around me with a clear head.

Seeing the undisturbed world was like stepping out of the fog. It is hard to put into words the connection I felt with nature in a way that I never have before. Something inside me came awake and screamed at me to drop my trivial worries and escape to this world, the real and raw and unfiltered world that we were meant to be in. I felt a surge in me that this was the place we all truly belong in, the world without the obstructions and distractions of our modern world.

When we reached the end of our hike, we took a moment to share our reflections. We all shared how mentally revitalized we felt. One individual pointed out that it is easy on campus to lose track of time with schoolwork — we don’t even blink when four or five hours have passed on a lab or pset but it seems that we are rationing time when it comes to personal health and spiritual recharge. We forget that we are human beings and not just robots that can perform the same task every day without a break to appreciate the simpler things in life.

I have realized since then how important — necessary, even — it is to take healthy doses of breaks to the outside world. These breaks don’t have to be elaborate: When my parents visited for First-Year Family Weekend, we ran mundane errands together. Our Saturday morning TJ Maxx and McDonald’s run felt more fulfilling than another hour of studying in a campus cafe. While we shopped a half hour away from Cambridge, I watched regular families go about their day and thought to myself how real those lives appeared.

In my head, I calculated that while our lives at Harvard right now feel like our end-all-be-all, there will soon come a moment where we have to step out of the bustling Harvard bubble with our experiences and actually use them in the world. It’s hard to remember that while we are at Harvard now, it is only a tiny window of the broader world we are a part of.

I sometimes feel like a pantomime going about the motions of a Harvard student day in and day out. I stick with the status quo so tightly that it slips my mind to ever make time for myself. I believe it’s important for all of us to internalize the potentially suffocating nature of a college environment and, more than that, the necessity to periodically step away from it. Some days, it is in fact more beneficial to step away from our screens than to crank out another hour in front of our iPads.

It’s wonderful to be surrounded by the colorful Harvard life but we must also remember that there is a real world out there, the world we truly belong in and will have to return to once this four-year dream is over.

As Insaan, it is inevitable that we will from time to time forget what day it is, or that there is a world outside our campus microcosm. It’s important to take a breath and remember that we belong to something bigger.

Labiba Uddin ’25 lives in Canaday Hall. Her column “BeLonging” appears on alternate Tuesdays.

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