Looking Back on Orientation

I don’t recall the exact moment when I realized I wanted to come to the Harvard Graduate School of Education. It was hardly a natural decision: I had already been in the workforce for well over a decade, had a wife and daughter, and had no reason to believe that additional time as a formal student would benefit me in a material manner.

Maybe it was the fact that I had made some impromptu visits to campus while traveling from Pakistan over the years and started thinking about what it would be like to be immersed there. Maybe it was interacting with young people, including many of my own recent students, who were thriving in their own educational experience. Or maybe it was just that I had become a strong believer in the concept of life-long learning. In any case, once I got that acceptance in March, I started the planning that would bring me to campus bright-eyed and bushy-tailed just a few months later.

Orientation is where it all began. There were inspirational speeches exhorting us to think about what it meant for our dreams to come true: were we looking to just fulfill our own needs or those of others as well? Even the faculty involved in senior administrative capacities talked about how they were ‘first and foremost teachers’ and that is why they had made careers in education. We were told to use the year to cultivate our joy. And the chord that resonated most with me: ‘The more education you have, the more comfortable you are with not knowing things.’ Perhaps that was the universal spirit that had drawn me back to school at this point.

Orientation brought back the youthful excitement of meeting new people. My first friend was from Afghanistan, and in fact he’s the only person I’ve ever met from there, even though Afghanistan is my neighboring country! I learned that out of the several hundred students joining the Graduate School of Education this year, 25% came from 56 different countries. We represented an age span of 21 to 61 showing just how universal is the urge to learn more about the field of education. Our orientation activities included profound reflections on topics like ethnicity and harassment and lots of practical tips on everything from managing finances to approaching academics in graduate school.

And there were so many more highlights during orientation that I fondly recall:

  • Several faculty members gave TED-style talks on their research. In fact, there was a whole day of academic talks by faculty just to expose us to the richness of the School of Education. I don’t expect to take any formal courses on the American Educational system but that one hour with Martin West taught me all about its intricacies. And I may have been studying statistics all my life, but I’ll never forget the simulations that Andrew Ho performed in front of me.
  • My cohort (Technology, Innovation and Education program) was taken on an incredible tour of Harvard Yard by our awesome Program Administrator Rilda Kissel. She told  us the truth about the John Harvard statue (look it up!), the minutest details about Widener Library, and exactly which celebrity had lived in which house.
  • There were several sessions with recent alums that gave us a chance to start networking and get first-hand feedback on choices of classes and activities

A dizzying array of opportunities was presented during orientation and I think one of our panelists summed it up best when she said, ‘You can do anything, but you can’t do everything’. I realized then that within this luxury of choices, orientation was really a time to reflect and sort out my priorities for the year.

The TIE Cohort outside of Gutman library

Written by Jazib Zahir. Photos provided by Jazib Zahir

Author Jazib Zahir
My name is Jazib Zahir and I’m doing an M.Ed. in TIE. I studied undergraduate engineering at Stanford and have been working in my home country of Pakistan since then. I’ve been managing a software studio where we do app development and taught courses related to communication, entrepreneurship and education at my local Lahore University of Management Sciences.