This blog is a collaboration between HFGP coordinators Braeden Foldenauer ‘21 and Harpreet Singh ‘22. Both of us are from Mississippi, went to high school together, and are first-generation college students. As such, we’ve had similar journeys and experiences in college and wanted to reflect on our transition from Mississippi and the deep south to Harvard.
Far from Home
Obviously, one of the most daunting aspects of coming to Harvard from Mississippi was just how far from home we were going to be. We didn't have many connections at Harvard, and we felt uprooted from everything we had ever known. It was scary! But that said, we have both been blown away by the incredible communities we have found on campus.
For both of us, one of the most special families we have found on campus has been through Primus (the first-generation, low-income student union). Primus and our FGLI family have been the perfect support network as we have adjusted to life on our own and navigated the many different opportunities and obstacles of Harvard.
In addition, we both benefited from Harvard’s robust advising to help us along as we explored different opportunities on campus and over our various summer breaks. Despite our nervousness and the expectation that we would be navigating life at Harvard on our own, we have always felt well supported from different advisers such as our proctors, Peer Advising Fellows, concentration advisers, and the Center for Public Service & Engaged Scholarship, among many others!
One of the toughest adjustments for us was the weather. It is no secret that the northeast and the deep south have different climates. (To us, this is the understatement of the year!)
For one, we were struck by how short the fall season felt in Boston. Fall in Boston is beautiful, as the leaves and colors change around you. By the end of November, the first snowfall of winter occurs, taking away all the colors that fall brings and leaving everything covered in a blanket of white. Having never seen snow over an inch or two, it was a beautiful sight... at first!
In Mississippi, any snowfall melts within a day or two, but once snow falls in Cambridge, it refuses to melt. Over time, the snow compounds into thick, icy patches mixed in with sloshy sidewalks. And as two Mississippians, it seemed like no amount of layers could warm us up! An example of the tough transition was a spring break visit back home a couple of years ago. At the end of March, we experienced cozy, 70 degree weather in Mississippi. Imagine the rude awakening we had when we returned to the chilly 17 degree weather in Cambridge!
We like to joke that no one falls in love with Harvard for the weather, but we would be lying if we said we did not appreciate the break from Mississippi’s miserable summer heat. Harvard and Cambridge have a lot to offer! And while you can often catch us with teeth chattering throughout our winters at Harvard, we still cherish the memories we have been able to make and the wicked snowball fights with friends!
Opportunity for independence
While it was daunting to leave home and overcome the feeling of being uprooted, we both came to a place that we had visited only once before deciding to make it our home for the next four years. We came in not knowing anyone and being unsure if we’d find a place to fit in. Now that one of us is reaching the end of his Harvard journey (Braeden) and the other approaches his senior year, we can both say that we’ve come to find a sense of belonging and home at Harvard.
We’ve not only been able to explore the passions we came in with but also branch beyond our initial interests and study fields we’ve come to enjoy. Harvard College formalized a minor in Education Studies during my (Braeden's) sophomore year. I jumped in, discovering a passion for educational policy and school leadership. After graduation, I'll be participating in the Harvard Teacher Fellows program, where I'll obtain a masters degree in education while also teaching in local schools in the Boston/Cambridge area.
I (Harpreet) came in initially studying Government, only to find my inner STEM kid from high school pushing me to go beyond my Government major. Taking a little break from the Government course load, I stumbled upon Computer Science and decided to pursue it. I was always interested in doing policy work and, combining that with my newfound interest in Computer Science, I found myself interested in fields such as educational technologies and policy work surrounding internet accessibility and educational inequity.
Beyond our academic interests, we’ve both grown as individuals. Reflecting on the past few years, we recognize that we both came into Harvard being unsure of whether we belonged in such a place. Strangely enough, we’ve both ended up in spaces that allow us to tell students coming from similar backgrounds of being first-generation and low-income that they do belong and have a family waiting for them.
Deepening our Love for Home
One of the most significant and unexpected results of coming to Harvard has been a deepening love for Mississippi and the south. Something about spending most of the year away from Mississippi makes our time home feel even sweeter--literally, the sweet tea is overwhelming when we return home!
Having the opportunity to step away from Mississippi helped show us all of the beautiful aspects of our state and region that we had taken for granted. Mississippi’s nickname is the “Hospitality State,” and while we never took it too seriously, both of us joke that the first thing we notice when we come home is the chatter and small talk at the airport baggage claim! Studying far away, then, has made our time at home richer, as we take in the smiling faces that live up to the hospitality state namesake, as we enjoy mama’s home cooking, and as we soak up the warmth of Mississippi’s otherwise unbearable humidity.