Discovering Community on the Harvard Campus
A Vancouver native, Sidney began her college education as an online student at Queens University but found she was missing a sense of community.
After transferring to Harvard Extension School—where she could combine online study with time on campus—she found a welcoming, stimulating environment for completing her undergraduate degree.
Here she reflects on her experience.
The Thrill of the Harvard Campus Experience
My first on-campus experience at Harvard was in the summer of 2013, when I came to attend Harvard Summer School. I remember walking into the center of Harvard Yard for the first time and seeing Memorial Church and Widener Library. It was such a surreal moment. It felt like such a rarified atmosphere.
When you’re a long-distance student, it’s such a luxury to be on campus with your fellow students: you feel not only a sense of privilege, but of responsibility. It was that on-campus time that made my Harvard experience for me. That came through for me during Commencement, too, when I was standing in the Yard: I felt a sense of responsibility to carry the Harvard tradition with me … that really never left me, from the very first day.
Encountering the Unexpected
Before I began at Harvard Extension School, I didn’t expect the faculty to be so welcoming and down to earth. And I didn’t anticipate there would be such a strong sense of community. When you’re a long-distance student, you can feel a little isolated. But when I came here, I realized that everyone here—from students to professors—is so committed to continuing their scholarship.
My classes met for three hours twice a week, and that’s really where my sense of community grew. Of course each had a syllabus, but I found my professors were so open to widening up the conversation. They also realized that so many of us came from all over the world with different backgrounds, and they wanted to bring those voices into the discussion. I had so much respect for them.
The Value of Extension Students
My professors told me they love working with Extension School students because we have such a strong commitment to being in the classroom. It’s true—we all do see it as a real privilege to be in the classroom, whether that’s online or on campus. We want to contribute to conversations, to hear what other students have to say. And working with these professors gives you the sense that you can rise to this storied atmosphere, that you really are a part of One Harvard.
There’s a TED talk I like titled Power Posing by Harvard Business School associate professor Amy J.C. Cuddy. The Extension School experience is somewhat like that: you sit down in the classroom, the professor wants to know what you have to say, so you respond to that, and then you’re really engaging in that intellectual conversation. It just opens you up to a whole new world of academic possibilities.
I was in quite small classes, and in each class, I made connections with someone I would never meet otherwise. In that small room, in that heat, during those three hours, we created an atmosphere that I’ve never experienced and I’ll never forget.
There’s nothing like that conversation, and the confidence you feel after leaving that classroom. It can’t be replicated.