What I learned from my first semester (and wish I’d figured out earlier)

It’s difficult to believe, but I’m in Week 4 of my second and final semester. Whoa.

My courses this semester differ from last semester largely because the way I chose those courses was also different. For the first semester, I was awed by the place. I was excited to be a student. And, I was trying to figure out how I could get settled as quickly as possible.

I loved all of my professors last semester. They were at the top of their games and posed problems and questions to my classmates and I in ways that were new and encouraged the plasticity of my brain.

All of this is true, and yet…

If I had it to do over again, I would have asked myself what kind of student I wanted to be at the top of course shopping.

What does that mean?

I got midway through the first semester and realized I’d chosen courses that asked me to write essays. Creative and thoughtful essays that synthesized my thinking with my readings, but essays nonetheless.

I love writing. I was an English major in undergrad and an English teacher for 8 years. As a student, I needed to make things. The thing was, I didn’t pick my courses based on that need.

This semester, I have chosen four courses that are about the building of ideas in the real world. From the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, I’m taking a course called Digital Humanities 2.0 in which we propose projects we’re interested in and jump in and build them throughout the semester.

I’m in a joint Kennedy School/Ed School course called Sparking Social Change which will ask me to choose a social problem and draw up a plan for real-world social entrepreneurship. Later in the semester, we’ll have the chance to participate in an optional module for the class in Harvard’s iLab and build out an actual plan for implementation.

I won’t go through all of my courses. Suffice it to say, they follow the theme of building.

It’s a semester of doing. Sure, there’s writing, but it’s not all I’ll be doing.

Really, it comes down to me taking better advantage of the affordances of learning here. It meant questioning what kind of student I needed and wanted to be.

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