One of my first experiences at Harvard was being overwhelmed by the number of student organizations that were available. Luckily, I was able to find a few that really spoke to me and helped me feel more connected and fulfilled while at Harvard.
Early in the fall semester, Harvard Yard is taken over by table upon table of student organizations for the activities fair. Cultural affinity groups, pre-professional programs, religiously affiliated clubs, public-service opportunities: you name it, and there is probably a group on campus that does it, even if the group is small. I remember wandering the yard and reading all the posters, thinking, “you know, it might be fun to join [insert club name of choice]!” I gave several organizations my email, attended one or two meetings, but then realized that I had to narrow my focus: between classes, eating in the dining hall, exploring campus and Boston, and my fledgling social life, I just didn’t have the time to be a part of all these clubs without sacrificing something else. So, as most people do, I ended up narrowing my commitment to two or three student organizations. The one that I wanted to share a bit more about today is Harvard Model Congress (HMC).
Harvard Model Congress, or HMC (we love our acronyms here), is a student organization that centers around providing an in-depth, government simulation program for high school students. The largest conference and “parent organization” is HMC Boston, which occurs in February every year and brings 1,500+ students from across the country to Boston to participate in a government simulation. HMC also has several “traveling conferences” that take place over winter or spring break in locations across the globe, with a conference in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and San Francisco each year.
HMC is one of two clubs that I have consistently been involved in since the fall of my first year here. It is also one of the organizations that has provided me with the most diverse range of experiences during my time at Harvard. However, I didn’t know this was going to be the case when I first joined. As a first year, I was able to get a spot on the San Francisco Conference, but I showed up to “pre-con” (an organized get-together that happens a few days before the conference and gives the staff time to get to know each other and explore the city) knowing no one. I was worried I wasn’t going to bond with people and was honestly nervous to introduce myself to a bunch of (what seemed at the time) older and more put together students. Little did I know that a couple of hours after I showed up, I would be comfortably mocking The Bachelor and bonding with a group of four other first-year students who I am still very close with today.
That story speaks to my first big takeaway from HMC, which is community. By going to parties, attending conferences, and spending time with staffers outside of required meeting times, I’ve really grown to feel at home with other people from HMC. Lots of my best memories from Harvard and many of the people who I really consider to be my friends come from HMC. While HMC attracts a lot of “gov kids” (me included), there are also a lot of people from different concentrations, different backgrounds, and with different outlooks on life, making it a fun place to meet new people and interact with those who I otherwise might not have seen on campus.
A second takeaway from HMC that is related to community is travel. As I mentioned, there are several “traveling conferences” that allow us to host conferences across the globe. I should also mention that these conferences are (essentially) fully subsidized by HMC: while you may end up paying for a couple of meals, and then extra costs if you choose to stay in the area longer than the conference, flights, hotels, and most meals during the conference are entirely covered. As a low-income student who had never really done any traveling prior to starting college, this was an incredible perk. Through HMC I was able to spend Spring Break in Paris, Florence, and Rome, see Tokyo and Seoul in the winter, and even spend Thanksgiving in Delhi. These trips were phenomenal experiences that I absolutely would not have had the money to do on my own, but through HMC I have been able to see the world in ways that I never could have before, and with people that are amazing to be around.
Finally, while being personally advantageous, HMC has also given me the chance to give back and help students who are in the position I was in during high school: academically driven, but very low on resources. While it does differ from conference to conference, HMC usually has a robust scholarship program, and HMC Boston also has a mentorship program for underrepresented schools in the Boston area. Whether in a governing board position or just as a staffer, being able to help organize scholarship outreach has given me the chance to interact with outstanding high school students who may have otherwise missed out on opportunities like HMC because of financial constraints. Working with scholarship students has also helped me meet like-minded Harvard students who are passionate about increasing access for low-income students in spaces that traditionally exclude them.
Now, all of this isn’t to say that HMC is the perfect organization on campus, or that you should 100% join if you are on campus (although I do think you should give it a shot)- instead, I hope that this has shown the wonderful space that student organizations can be for you while at Harvard. I’ve been incredibly blessed by the student organizations I’ve joined, with HMC holding a special place in my heart after my four years here.