Why did you decide to earn a degree at Harvard Extension?
I was initially aiming to earn a doctoral degree but realized that I couldn’t invest the time required to complete it since at this stage of my life, studying for five years or more just didn’t feel like a practical choice for me. I also found myself itching to get back to work because working in the development sector gives you the opportunity to create a tangible impact in the world even in a small way. Harvard Extension allowed me to do that. I still got my master’s degree regardless of where I was based and the flexibility the program offered was really ideal, especially in the middle of a pandemic.
How has/will this experience help you in your career or personal development?
It’s definitely opened more doors for me. After earning my degree, I became more qualified for the kind of jobs I wanted to be doing in the next phase of my career. It also allowed me to move more freely across the different thematic issues under the sustainable development framework, which I couldn’t do before. I would’ve never thought, for example, that I could be working on the gender and climate change nexus because I’ve had no prior experience related to it, but here I am doing exactly that.
What was the most challenging aspect of your time at Extension? What was the most rewarding?
Studying in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic was definitely the most challenging aspect of my Harvard Extension experience. My parents and boyfriend are medical frontliners so there was a very real feeling of helplessness that overwhelmed me, especially during those times they were exposed to COVID-19. In the middle of all that anxiety, I was staying up all hours of the night to be able to attend classes and submit requirements. That was just a really stressful situation to be in.
In what ways did the COVID-19 pandemic affect you over the past year? How did you manage those challenges?
I’ve always considered myself a very emotionally stable person but the uncertainty that came with COVID-19 showed me a side of myself that I never knew before. After the first three months of being under total lockdown, I was going stir-crazy. I wanted so much to be useful in some way but there were a lot of constraints. I had to find new ways to be able to help in my own capacity.
It was a real saving grace that I became a part of a group that started raising funds to provide meals and PPEs to our frontliners in the Philippines. Then I started working for UNICEF, which was what really turned things around for me. I finally felt like I could focus my efforts on being a part of the emergency response.
What types of student resources and special options did you take advantage of as a student at Harvard? How did they help?
The access to the online libraries of Harvard is such a huge benefit that I don’t know many people really appreciate. It’s just this amazing repository of information across so many different subject areas that’s very useful for doing research. I’m a big fan of the scan and deliver service too.
Do you have any advice for new students?
Don’t be afraid to take courses that you have zero expertise in. Those are probably the ones that you’ll learn from the most.
Describe your Extension School experience in one word.
This Q&A has been edited for clarity and length.