Trip Start Jun 29, 2010
650Trip End Apr 07, 2012
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Our first stop of the day was Harvard, and our plan was to take the official free tour of the campus. But as soon as we emerged from the tube station, we were pounced on by a rather loud Bostonian wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with Hahvahd – we were not sure of this was a dyslexic student or part of a weird cult. Turns out she was a tour guide for the unofficial tour, also free but this one was leaving straight away
Some interesting facts we learnt from the tour;
- Harvard was established in 1636, though it didn’t start teaching classes until 1638 – when the University had only 10 students and 1 professor.
- Now there are 6500 undergrads and 12000 post grads
- It costs a cool $51,000 per year as an undergrad, but 60% of students are funded by the university support system, via grants. If a family earns less than $60,000 the tuition is free.
- Until WWII, Harvard was a male only institution, with the women studying at Radcliffe college, 20 minutes walk away. This came full circle when a female was made University President and the graduation class of 2010 had a larger percentage of women than men.
- It took its name from John Harvard a huge benefactor – whom upon his death donated 200 books which was the beginning of the library collection.
- Upon entering Harvard Yard we didn’t walk through the huge Johnston Gates, but the smaller side gate. We were told this was because there was a superstition that undergraduates are only allowed to go through the main gates twice, once when entering as a freshman and once when they leave as a graduate
- In the Yard, the buildings were built in a clockwise fashion, with the oldest now home to the offices to the President of the University and select freshman who are said to be the quiet studious types.
- Some famous faces to pass through the Harvard Experience are numerous US Presidents including J. F. Kennedy, US Politicians and some actors.
- We were told that when you are a freshman, you fill out a room application specifying the kind of person you want to share with, but ultimately it a game of chance. One famous pairing was Tommy Lee Jones (of Men in Black fame) and Al Gore (Politician). They roomed together for the full 4 years and apparently still friends now.
- Some famous people to drop out include Bill Gates and Matt Damon – a decision we’re sure neither regret.
- Last year the youngest undergrad was 14, whilst the oldest was 24.
- Harvard is also the second richest institution in the world, after the Roman Catholic Church. Apparently they like to joke that the only person richer than them is God.
We walked to the area where the Graduation ceremony takes place – it’s basically a large area of grass in a quad
The tour guide told us about the issues between Harvard and the city of Cambridge which surrounds it. There are political and economical issues that go back many man years. Back when the city of Cambridge wanted to built a fire department on Harvard’s land, Harvard set so many parameters on its size, appearance and ultimately made it very expensive and awkward. This however backfired when in 1956 a fire broke out in the clock tower of the huge, church like building next door to the fire station. It took the fire department over 30 minutes to start to tackle the fire. When they were ordered to explain themselves, the fire chief said the cost of the station had been so huge they couldn’t afford large enough ladders to tackle the blaze, therefore had to allow the fire to burn down to a manageable height. The clock tower was never replaced, and now the building is the memorial hall to students who died in conflict. In addition to this memorial, it s also home to the freshman dining hall – we didn’t get to see inside as only freshman are allowed to enter but the guide said it was really like the Great Hall in Hogwarts, minus the owls and cloaks.
We ended our tour at the John Harvard statue, which the students call the statue of three lies
The last story the guide told us was about Primal Scream. This takes place on the last night of Reading Week before finals. At this point everyone is tired, stressed, run down and generally not on form. Everyone meets in the Yard at 12am to release all the stress before their exams
As you can tell we were loving the Harvard vibe, ands a 1 hour tour wasn’t fulfilling our thirst for knowledge, we then went on the official Harvard Tour – which was another hour of the same information, but we enjoyed it all the same. $200 in the gift shop later, we were both kitted out in our Harvard apparel and needed a rest, so off to Peet’s Coffee and Tea for a well earned rest ... this education malarkey really takes it out of you!
4 hours of photo uploading and blog writing later – the sun had gone in and the cranks had come out. We were sat in Market Square a few blocks away from the Yard, where it seemed all the undesirables liked to congregate. When a woman started shouting at herself and throwing her arms in the air – we took that as a good indication it was time to move on. A quick stop at a lovely Indian take away shop for a nanini – chicken tikka in a nan cooked in a Panini oven – genius! Cheap and easy just how we like it!