I arrived at the last minute, nervous and excited at the same time. It was just two days before orientation and I had left my job as a commercial airline pilot only one month before arriving in Cambridge. I had left my former decade-long life in Abu Dhabi and moved back to my home country in Sri Lanka for two weeks. I was now on the other side of the globe, jet lagged and with my head spinning. I had just moved into an Airbnb and did not even have a mattress in my new apartment. Worst of all, I had missed all the emails that HGSE administrative staff had sent me over the summer as I had only checked my Harvard email account a few days before arrival. This was not typical of me, but was a result of being overwhelmed with all the changes in my life. Furthermore, I was not going is to just any educational institution; I was going to Harvard! This made me even more nervous. In my mind, people at Harvard were smart and arrogant. Thus, I had to bring my A-game. With all the organizing I had to do, I was adamant that I attend all the social events during our induction program. The first event was the international student’s orientation day. The most striking thing to me during the orientation day was how much support you get when you are a student at HGSE. Every person was just like me, nervous as ever but willing to make new friends. The staff at the Student Affairs office gave us a long but fun presentation and made us feel much welcome. They also reassured us that they were all there to help. This was the opposite of what I expected. My nerves now slowly started to ease.
The next social event I attended was a dinner hosted by our program coordinator, Eileen McGowan. It was held at her beautiful personal residence, outside in the garden, during a beautiful summer’s day in Cambridge. Most of all, it is there that I met my totally amazing Specialized Studies Program (SSP) cohort. After introducing myself to Eileen McGowan and having a quick chat, I started to meet my new colleagues. Sam Kennedy was the first person I met. A young man with a strikingly powerful voice, he had a tech background, working for a VC firm investing in startup tech companies. He was leaving the VC industry to join his family business that was running educational summer camps for kids. Sam felt that he wanted to make an impact in the lives of kids as these summer camps had made an impact on his. He wanted to do something meaningful and more fulfilling. By now, I was already feeling right at home. Then I met the wonderful Sarah, an ENT surgeon who wanted to change the way doctors are trained. Then came Gideon, the elementary school teacher from New York who wanted to run a community center in New York City. Gideon even offered me a place to stay, if I did not get my apartment situation sorted out soon. I felt at home straight away, and all my nerves seemed to dissipate into thin air. I can go on and on about the intellectual and cultural diversity of this cohort, but I think I will just run out of space on this blog. Although everyone in specialized studies came from a diverse background, they had one thing in common—they were a highly-motivated cohort who knew exactly what they wanted out of their Harvard experience, and they all wanted to make an impact in the vast educational landscape. I think this diversity and commonality in tandem created a special bond between us.
The Specialized Studies Program is truly special. Your only requirement is to take half of your classes from HGSE; the remainder can be taken from any other Harvard school. I took all my classes in the first semester from HGSE, and plan to branch out to Harvard Business School and the Kennedy School of Government in the second semester. All the classes I have taken this semester have been of high quality. However, a couple of them truly stand out. Leadership, Entrepreneurship and Learning by Professor Monica Higgins has totally blown my mind. The class has transformed my perspective on leadership and entrepreneurship and has made me truly self-reflect on my approach to leadership. To top it all off, Professor Higgins has been so engaging with her case method style teaching, and gets the most out of the diverse experience of the different cohorts in class. Another class “Art of Communications for Educators” by Professor Tim McCarthy is a public speaking class where you get to craft your own style of speaking and test it out with your classmates. Feedback in this class is not only given by your lecturers but also by your fellow classmates. The availability of such rich courses and the flexibility offered to me by my Specialized Studies Program, in conjunction with a culturally and intellectually diverse cohort, makes SSP an amazing choice for any motivated student with a clear set of goals.
Blog written by Suvin Wettimuny, photo provided by Suvin Wettimuny
Suvin Wettimuny is an Ed.M candidate in the Specialized Studies Program. Born and raised in Sri Lanka, Suvin spent the last 9 years of living in the UAE working as a commercial airline captain. He aspires to be an education entrepreneur back home in Sri Lanka, and is at HGSE educating himself on the complex education landscape.