End of the Semester! YES!

Hi there! Sorry it’s taken me a while to post. These last few weeks have been a little hectic what with final papers. It’s that time of the year when I continuously vocalize that college is really hard…and receive absolutely no sympathy. That’s probably because when I say college is really hard, I actually mean having so much fun is super exhausting

May 1st marked the last day of official classes and the beginning of Reading Period which is a whole week of unstructured studying time for students to prepare for Final Exams. A lot of final papers and projects have deadlines during Reading Period – so much so that students can even finish all their classes before the official week of exams begin! I am always actively grateful for this week because a lot of universities have classes up until exams which I think is completely ludicrous, unreasonable, and pretty much sets you up for tons of stress eating. Good thing Harvard cares about us  But don’t think Reading Period is a like a week on the beach!! Depending on your schedule, you’re probably living in the library and attending review sessions like it’s your day job. The great part is that by night, there are tons of activities lined up!

This awkward 2-week period when you get to louse around, do nothing, and get really sick of school. So, naturally, when summer comes around, you’re ready for it. In college in general it’s just not like that. You have all your finals in a flurry and you hastily pack and… you leave. Just like that a really great semester comes to an end and you bask in how much you’ve grown and how fast it all went. Reading Period is a blessing in disguise. For five or so days before finals, Harvard gives us a reading period so that we can drill down, write our papers, and prepare for finals. It’s a blessing because not many college students get one. It’s not so much a blessing because, let’s face it, preparing for finals is not always so fun. BUT reading periods are actually one of my favorite weeks because it always affords me the chance to do a little more exploring– nothing motivates me to go outside my usual “Harvard spaces” than the need to study.

Not very many kids complain about classes ending for Reading Period, but this isn’t to say that we don’t appreciate class. The semester definitely reliably blends unpredictable events into everyone’s life which can make attending every single lecture and (discussion/problem solving) section difficult. Most lectures, however, are recorded so if you absolutely can’t go to class, you can always watch the video at your own leisure. There are even tools out there that allow you to watch videos 1.5x to 3x faster – talk out upping your efficiency, though it can be hard to understand someone talking that fast. These technological advances can make life easier, but there are invaluable perks about attending lectures.

Soledad O’ Brien will grill you, as I unceremoniously found out during an impromptu Q&A after the forum. She had come to the Institute of Politics to talk to a group of about 40 undergraduates about politics and public service in a more casual setting. She came in, stood at the podium, and instead of launching into the banal stump speech glittered with inspirational stories and encouraging mantras, fired a question at us: Why do you want to go into this field (politics)? It seems to me that there are a lot more effective ways to affect change, she challenged us. She stood defiant. No one answered her at first. “Well this is going to be a pretty short meeting,” she chuckled. She wasn’t there to inspire us, she was there to make us think. Seeing her at the last JFK Junior Forum was more than just a treat. Part of what is so unique about the Harvard experience is the opportunity to not just hear from and sit in the room with amazing people who do incredible work, but too to talk to them, to ask them questions, to learn from them. These experiences give Harvard students a most special outlook on the world and, at least my case and in the case of this forum, the opportunity to figure out what it is that they want.

There are moments when I am really proud of my school. Like the weekend after the bombings at the Boston Marathon. One of the really cool things going on at Harvard this semester was the construction of a new Science Center Plaza. The Plaza– which is this awesome new common space!) It was to be unveiled on Friday, the day that we were on lockdown as the police tried to find the suspect. And so, unfortunately, the big unveiling ceremony Harvard had scheduled was postponed and Visitas was cancelled. But the Harvard community turned right back around and the very next Friday, yellow flowers lined the plaza. They were free for all community members and students. More than that, boards with well wishes for the victims of the attack lined our plaza. It was so heartening to see such warmth in those yellow flowers after such a tumultuous and chaotic few days. It was a strong reminder of the common spaces that are slowly bridging together our community and keeping us forever more #BostonStrong.

It’s inevitable that the end of the semester brings a lot of stress with final papers, but it’s important to realize that we have a lot of accomplishments to celebrate as well!  The end of every semester calls for a celebration honoring our hard work. This semester is a bit special because in light of recent tragic events in Boston, it also seems imperative to celebrate Boston. I have mentioned before that’s it’s a tad difficult to motivate Harvard students to get off campus because there’s always so much to do on campus and because it’s like we’re constantly living in a time crunch. Remember that fun is exhausting too, so it’s also critical to balance with work. Kind of a lie, since my work thus far has been pretty fun.

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Week from Hell

I think it’s safe to say that it’s been the last week was one of the longest weeks of my life. Yet I’m glad that I can sit here and say that it has been a week in my life. I sit here reflecting on last week and tearing up, and fighting back these tears. But these tears during my reflection are much different from those earlier on in the week. These current ones have sentiments of gratefulness and warmth.Image

Last Monday was Marathon Monday for Boston. An annual day that is supposed to be conceptually amazing, but I haven’t grasped onto this concept yet. Mostly because Harvard is probably the only school in the area that still holds classes on Marathon Monday. [MIT has both Marathon Monday AND the Tuesday after off! WHAT.] I was complaining TONS last weekend about how disrespectful it is to hold classes on such a glorious day. Living near Boston, we Harvard students have the right to partake in the festivities and excitement of Marathon Monday, but classes crush all the hopes of potential community building.

Minutes after settling in an area in the Kennedy Library, my friends and I heard the loudest and unexpected boom made us jump. I initially thought there were celebratory fireworks at the marathon a mile away across the Charles River. When I looked over, I couldn’t help but squint from the massive clouds of smoke and gasp at the sight of chunks of building falling onto the street. I felt fear for the people at the marathon, and before I could really process anything else, another boom reverberated AGAIN. My friends and I decided to run across the bridge and head over to the race to check out what was going on.

As I looked around myself, I only saw chaotic crowds of people and tall buildings that all could have very well exploded too. I didn’t know where to go, no one knew what was going on. A woman beside me started crying and that’s when it hit me that something was terribly wrong. My first instinct was to call my parents. As I thanked God my Dad picked up the phone, my voice trembled as I quickly explained to him I was at the Boston Marathon and I think 2 bombs just went off…I’m okay…and I’ll call you back as soon as I can…but I’m okay. I sent a quick text to everyone who I knew was at the marathon as I tried to gather sensory information about where people were going and how they were reacting. But as police and ambulances instantaneously responded, crowds were encouraged to go home. Public transportation had stopped, there was already heavy congestion due to road blockage from the marathon, and it just seemed like the only way home was to walk.

As we collected our thoughts and senses, the officers at the scene shouted at us imploring to head over to the hospital to donate blood. The scene at the hospital is what is going to last forever engrave in my memory. The pools of blood, along with limbs hanging by a tendon were all sights that were common within the 45 minutes I spent at the hospital. When we were finished donating blood, we made our way back over the bridge, only to find out that our building was being evacuated due to a bomb threat. At this point the only thought in my mind was THIS DAY SUCKS AND IT KEEPS ON GETTING WORSE. 

Everything was cancelled for the rest of the day as the news caught on. I had been through so much in a matter of just a few hours. I may or may not have shamelessly, hysterically cried when reunited with the friends I was worrying about.

 There’s only really one good thing I can extract from this experience, but this one thing is beyond profound. Everyone and their mothers (literally) called, texted, emailed, Facebook’d, etc. to try to contact me to check and see if I was okay. Family members and friends that I consider family from college to high school reached out and the sense of community grew stronger than my fear. I’m the kind of person who is pretty confident in my relationships with people, but the reaffirmation of everyone’s support is truly touching and I can’t thank everyone enough!!

And when we thought the worst was over, we were hit with the unfortunate and unnecessary events at MIT, Watertown, and other areas surrounding Boston. The city was on lock down and the unknown future became that much more frightening and threatening. Harvard tried to keep students updated through their emergency system, that sends texts and emails (and they might have more options I have yet to subscribe to!).


4/19/13 was a very surreal experience. They have already covered the day in detail, so I won’t repeat myself for the sake of doing so, but it was a great relief on Friday evening to receive the news that the dramatic events starting Thursday night had come to an end. Once again the reaction of everyone from the various police forces to students on all campuses was truly inspiring, and although they attempted to blow us apart, the past week has only brought Boston closer together. My thoughts and condolences of course go out to the family of Sean Collier.


I’m beyond thankful the horrible situation is over. And I can never sufficiently express my infinite thank yous to all the ridiculously loving people in my life. It’s definitely been one of the hardest and most enduring week of my life. Harvard has definitely thrown me some of the most challenging, even life-challenging but Harvard has also, no doubt, prepped me for these challenges and hard times 

It was nice to get away from Boston for the weekend after the events of last week, and has helped me to come back fully focused on school work again: having been away all weekend, and now approaching this week of lectures, its starting to pile up I can tell you! Spring term in particular seems to have flown by.

However, as is the nature of time, life continues, and while it is imperative that we remember the events and those who we tragically lost, it’s just as important that we keep moving and ensure we seek to make the most of the time we have. These past few days have, aside from the events of Friday, turned out of be one of the standout weekends of my time at Harvard.

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Hello all!! Im back! After a month of not blogging, I’m happy to report being back on my normal routine! Its been a crazy month, but happy to be back! Losing an hour may not seem much, but 60 minutes is huge when I think about all the sleep I didn’t get last week. Between midterms, papers, and that activity called eating on top of attending classes and lab, I’ve been beyond swamped – not only this week but the 2 previous weeks before too, preparing for Pope Shenouda’s one year memorial. I’m back on campus now from a delightful Spring Break and am no longer in travel mode – still working on getting off of vacation mode though! I am blogging from a much better mental mindset now compared to where I was a week ago. 

So spring break is over, and strangely, it’s actually quite nice. I would love to say the reason for this is because I adore my classes and cannot wait to get back to them, but I would be lying. Don’t get me wrong, I really like the classes I’m taking, but at the end of the day work is work. No, what’s nice is that everyone is back on campus. The weather is also starting to brighten up, and is hinting, just hinting, that spring may be around the corner. We did end up with 40+ inches of snow again over the last couple of months, much of which is still dotted around, but I and the rest of us here in Cambridge are hoping that it will be winter’s final farewell.

 I’m definitely enjoying all my classes again and that includes both required and non-required/elective classes. Having the freedom for elective classes is a perk of being an upperclassman; but I’m taking 3 required Government/Research requirements that people normally take their second year that I’m really enjoying too! It’s funny watching other students Facebook or nod off during lecture because as an upperclassman (I’m guilty of all above too), I am much more cognizant of my ticking time as a former stupid student myself and really appreciate the great lecturers that are available to me. I literally sit in class, really excited about having the opportunity to sit there. I’m just happy to be taught by professors who are excited about the material they’re teaching because back at my public high school, this was not the case.

One of my goals for this blog is to show prospective students that Harvard College students are of course academically focused, but that this studious rigor also applies to outside of the classroom as well. I’d be comfortable saying that all students have at least one activity they are 200% committed to outside of class.

My main highlight of this week beyond the classroom is the Faculty Dinner I attended. Basically, the dining halls host these faculty dinners at least once a semester. It’s a casual setting over delicious food where students can invite a professor or teaching fellow (aka TF, usually a graduate student) so both parties can get to know each other better. Although nerve wracking, it’s a great opportunity that most university students don’t get, so I try to take advantage of it every chance I get. I had such a great time and definitely walked away from dinner knowing I will always find a friend in my professor!

 Other than this, life has pretty much returned to normal. So as I said, I will keep you guys updated and hope you all have a great week!

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Week 4 and 5 Update! President’s Day weekend!

Greetings Everyone! Sorry for the late post, but its been a crazy couple of weeks!

Presidents Day weekend was incredible! I spent a much-needed break at home spending time with family and friends! Its crazy spending time with friends that I haven’t seen for a full month, when you used to see those same friends twice a day! As much as it was a fun filled break, I did complete a good bulk of my school work!

While the large majority of my time at Harvard is spent maintaining a healthy balance between work time and fun time, I must confess that there are weeks where I find that I really just have to buckle down and get things done. Last week was definitely one of those weeks, where I felt like every time I sat down to take a break (or more likely, try to take a nap) I would remember something I needed to do or add to my ever-growing to do list. Another confession though: I kind of think I thrive during weeks like this, and find that it’s when I’m at my most productive – though the days themselves might be stressful, there’s a strange sense of satisfaction to get to the end of it all and realize how much I got done. Admittedly, the upcoming week is pretty crazy soooo that sense of accomplishment won’t be happening for a few days, but I’m looking forward to that feeling nonetheless.

A handful of things that managed to spring up this week:

Thesis: This was probably the most exciting part of my week – I finally figured out who my thesis advisor is going to be!! Since the beginning of the semester of searching and a dozen conversations with different faculty members, I feel like the pieces are finally starting to fall into place. Finally finding an advisor means that I know have to turn to the more involved question of exactly what I’m going to ask as my research question. I settled on Social Movements in Egypt as a general topic, but am in the process of determining my exact focus, which takes a lot of reading… Add to that the problem of having to apply for human subjects approval and the puzzle of figuring out my methodology and it turns out I have a LOT to think about. The deadlines are coming up much sooner than I thought!

School:  This upcoming week is simultaneously my “wow, I have three papers due on Monday and Tuesday” weekend where I write all day, all weekend AND the turning point in my semester when I have to start looking ahead to the big final projects, and papers. I’ll have to start dealing with over the next few weeks. I find that this part of the semester can be the hardest to deal with, because I simultaneously have to keep my head in the “midterm game” while keeping an eye to the finals that I have just on the horizon. It’s seriously crazy to realize how fast the semester has flown by!

Over the past two weeks, I’ve been getting to know my professors as well through office hours and coffee meetings. I remember having questions on this myself before coming to Harvard, having heard both sides of the debate then. Thus, I thought I’d provide my perspective on the question, “Do Harvard students and faculty interact?”

The Good:

There are plenty of opportunities for student-faculty interaction, hands down Beyond faculty office hours, dinners, and coffee there are also plenty of opportunities to get to know faculty members. We can take any faculty member to the dining hall at no charge for any meal. Almost all hold office hours just for students to get to know them. There are plenty of small classes after the introductory courses, which give you more opportunities to meet faculty; my research tutorial this semester has just ten students. Of course not all course are small, but there are plenty to choose from for those who are interests including plenty taught by senior faculty. Research and departmental jobs on campus also provide opportunities to interact with faculty in an alternate setting. And finally, every senior is offered the opportunity to write a thesis of original research (or creative work in some departments) under the close supervision of a faculty members.

The Challenge:

Coming from Rutgers University, where a class was about 40-50 students, it was hard to get to know the faculty members just because of the large environment. Harvard, like any university of its size, is certainly different.

Instead of having teachers come to me, at Harvard I had to take the initiative to go seek out professors during their office hours or make a consorted effort to get to know them. As a grad student, this was certainly intimidating; it’s natural to question why someone who won a Nobel Prize or who worked as the President’s top economic adviser would want to take time to speak to an grad who certainly knows information but not too much on their subject of expertise. But once I realized that they’re at here in part because they want to work with students and it’s part of their job, it became easier. I met the professor for lunch a few times, went to his office hours, asked for his advice on my post-graduation plans and on research, and right now, I feel we got to know each other. I would feel comfortable going to his office hours in the future to just chat, and I could say this for all the professors I’ve had for larger lecture courses where I made an effort to meet them outside of class and for all the professors I’ve had for smaller courses and seminars.

Certainly, it’s hard to meet every single one of your professors between course work, extracurricular activities, and other time constraints; not all students necessarily see this as a priority amongst the other on-campus opportunities. However, if you make an effort to get to know at least one or two faculty members a semester, you have the opportunity to see inside some of the brightest minds and gain access to ideas, opportunities, and friendship from a set of people who really care about students.

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Week 3! Superbowl Edition! GREAT week!

Greetings all and welcome to Week 3-Superbowl edition!

The weeks leading up to the Superbowl, I thought home sickness was going to hit me. But I was completely wrong. My New England neighbor Mike Georgi, third year law student at Roger Williams Law School, and a fellow 433 brother came up to visit on Superbowl Sunday. As much as we both missed being with our larger family at home, we had a great time at Fire and Ice in Harvard Square.

Fire and Ice provides you with an endless array of fresh food combinations. It was mind-boggling. “The magic performed by the chefs around the world’s largest Mongolian grill DID delight and excite our senses.” Surpsingly, Fire and Ice was not packed at all. Mike and I made a couple of new friends throughout the night. The first gentleman provided live, derogatory, provocative commentary through the third quarter of the game. The other gentleman was more of a referee that pretended to know every rule in the book. Overall, it was a great night, with great food, and most importantly, great company. As far as the game was concerned, I couldn’t careless who won or lost. The Giants weren’t in it, so didn’t really care much. Glad the Baltimore Ravens won though because of its closeness to Washington DC, my second home.


photo 3 photo 4

As far as school is concerned, I’ve been trying to get a lot busier with non-academic activities, and I think it’s taken me a while to realize that I really love doing my extracurricular…more than my academics. Therefore I will be dropping out. Just kidding! I love being in such a vibrant community and mostly have to strike a better balance during semester.

I am totally done with organizing my exams and papers and projects for the rest of the semester! The good news about it is- I HAVE NO EXAMS! Only term papers! I much rather write papers than being under the pressure of exams. Even though my term papers are nothing less than 30-40 pages. I still haven’t figured out the best studying techniques, as undergrad was a breeze, but I’m getting closer to the best method, and will certainly publish it once I’ve discovered it.

Overall, its been a good couple of weeks. As most of you know, I started researching my first paper before the semester started, due to the overwhelming amount of reading and prep that I needed to begin prior to the semester starting.

I am happy to blog that I earned my first A on my first Harvard paper this week along with my three term paper proposals APPROVED! YEAAAA. From the onset of things, I hadn’t understood what a thesis argument was (a graduate level), or that it should shape your whole paper. I tended to think of my writing as something magical that happened unintentionally; I had never learned to consciously shape argument and fit evidence to it. THANKFULLY the start of the process went smoothly. I started going to my professors’ office hours ahead of time. They all helped me develop an interesting question, and together we crafted a well-worded argument to answer that question (the thesis!). I learned to make each part of the paper relate to that central thesis.

The difference between undergrad and grad, for me, was that undergrad is about critical thinking, not just description and memorization. You demonstrate critical thinking through argument. Each paper needs to have a central argument, and everything in the paper should help you make, explain, and prove that thesis. It’s the same process I use now, as an academic-in-training; learning what a thesis was, and how to argue well, set me on my eventual career path.

As Harvard students, our obsession with perfection drives us; it can also prevent us from approaching learning with humility and grace. One wise professor once said “If all of my students were perfect when they entered my class, why would they need to take it? A good class is not actually about the substance of the material; it’s about teaching you how to think and write well.”

I’m beginning to write a 30 page paper/thesis proposal on Social movements in Egypt and how the Egyptian Revolution has failed. My second paper’s topic is whether or not the War in Afghanistan is considered a “just war.” None of that was particularly fun, although I didn’t mind writing while listening to Abouna Bishoy’s liturgies from back in the day! February officially marks the beginning of HegBD month! Credits to Andrew Lotfalla to coming up with it. Follow @Lotfallaandrew for weekly facts on Fr. Bishoy Demetrious!


Noteworthy dates:

  • Coming home tomorrow, Thursday for Abouna Bishoy’s Fourth year commemoration
  • Possibly going to Art in Heaven this week to support St. George and St. Shenouda church building
  • State of the Union address in Washington DC on Tuesday 2/12 9PM eastern time
  • Coming home again on Thursday 2/14 for President’s Day weekend.
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Greetings Everyone!!

This marks week 2 of 13 on this once in a lifetime journey. Events of this week include the tragic loss of Safe Saleh, my first visitor, and the start of classes.

Tragic Loss of Safe Saleh:

The congregation of St. Mary in East Brunswick has unfortunately been hit with tragic news of Safe Saleh losing his life to sickness. Safe was a high school freshman and considered one of the funniest youth at the church. Homesickness definitely hit me when I heard the news, and I was not able to be home for the services. His memory lives on forever.

 First Visitor:

Last Saturday, I was honored to host Augustine Tawadros and his family to Cambridge, Massachusetts. He and his family came up to visit his sister, Nardine at MCAPH across town. I gave the Harvard tour during the visit, where I was doing a little bit of exploring myself. (I haven’t been in half of the building we went into). We then went to Cambridge Galleria, the local mall. Great time away from the library! First Visitor Award goes to Augi!

Boston and Home Life:

I made a joke over the weekend about how I couldn’t make my bed because I’m really busy as a full time student (AND I AM OCD WHEN IT COMES TO BEDROOM CLEANLINESS). My snide elicited pity laughter at the very least, but it got me thinking about how being a student has been my job day in and day out for the last 15 years of my life…and I’m not at all sick of it! Wouldn’t it be the best if students got pensions??While I definitely have spent a LOT of time in the library over the past two weeks, I’ve also been busy getting myself organized in my own room at the house, SO THANK GOODNESS that’s over.

First Impressions of Classes and the Future:

With all humility, getting into Harvard University is a huge accomplishment by itself; the school had a record-low 5.9 percent admission rate last year. But the greater challenge is learning how to stand out among the thousands of stellar students. These kids have made breakthroughs in scientific research, fought for social justice, and created a better community at Harvard. Despite the fact that everyone on campus looks like Harry Potter characters, it is truly an honor to be among my colleagues.

With regards to the first week of classes, I internally overdramatized how difficult it was really going to be. I am taking three courses: Graduate Research Designs and Methods, Cycles of War and Peace, and Human Rights and International Politics. Two of the three classes are seminar-based classes, meaning: 12 people per class, and the professor serves as the facilitator to all the conversation we hold together. All in all, despite having 2 papers, and three presentations due next week, (this was the first week of classes)- the classes and the professors are GREAT! Enjoyable, engaging, and all appealing to my line of work.

Believe it or not, I had to start looking at the courses I am supposed to take in the summer starting this week. The schedule was just released! As far as class selection goes, I’m still definitely in the throes of shopping week – for once, I don’t have any requirements to fulfill the following semester, which leaves me the challenge of finding awesome electives. It’s both exciting and a bit overwhelming to head into course shopping with little definition of what I’ll be taking, but I’m eager to see what I come up with at the end of the week!


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Harvard Week 1

Where do I begin?? Despite the challenges set before me in the first couple of days of moving to Boston, such as: spending 3 hours building a dresser, getting on the wrong bus going in the wrong direction for 20 minutes, walking around town for 45 minutes looking for the grocery shop- forgetting my gloves at home when the temperature was -4, and finally spending almost $600 on books for classes, I think I’m going to like it up here!

Getting into Harvard was one of the best feelings in my life. Harvard is an awesome place, regardless of how rough the start of the journey is, the rewards gained after this experience are definitely something to look forward to. Sometimes I find that I get so caught up in everything I left back home, that I forget how truly blessed I am to attend such a fantastic institution, one that offers me every opportunity if I only look for it.  But the beginning of the year is certainly an excellent reminder.

Even though this is my first semester as a grad student at Harvard, there is something distinctly magical about Harvard at the beginning of the school year.  The air turns crisp, the sun is bright, and there is a charged atmosphere of excitement as new friends are made, old friends are reacquainted, classes are chosen, extracurriculars are comped, and things are just GREAT!

On a really gloomy note, I am beginning to study for exams, papers and projects for the semester, and classes didn’t even start yet! I still haven’t figured out the best studying techniques, as high school and undergrad were a breeze, but I’m getting closer to the best method, and will certainly publish it once I’ve discovered it  We have a nice set-up at Harvard where we have a week for studying, called ‘Reading Period,’ and at the end of the semester, we start our exam period.

Thankfully, tons of my worries and questions regarding school and have been addressed yesterday by multiple student and faculty advisers. I never realized how much grad students have it worse than undergrad students. Advisors expect you knowing EVERY, little thing about the program, so my suggestion to anyone wanting to pursue higher education, READ AND ASK everything and anything in the very beginning. The best part is that my advisors- advise from not books and movies, but rather from their personal experiences. For example, pretty much all the government advisors were students at the Kennedy School, a couple of years ago so I often feel like I’m in the best hands. Yet this doesn’t mean that it completely prevents my hands from trembling when I think about the future!

Until next time! Wish me luck, CLASSES START MONDAY!

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Hello WORLD!!!

Andrew Abdou’s blog is back in business!! Stay tuned for biweekly updates from my journey through Boston/Harvard throughout the next year!!! First post should be up tomorrow afternoon!!!

Cheers from frigid -3F Boston!


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