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Brits in America: ‘Look, it’s Bernie Sanders!’

This month, Raphaëlle speaks about the inspirational speakers and lecturers she encounters while studying at Harvard University 

  • Student life
  • Study abroad
Raphaëlle Soffe's avatar

Raphaëlle Soffe

November 7 2017
Brits in America - prominent speakers


On a typical Wednesday morning I emerged from my dorm, after a long night of studying. I was jarred out of my sleepiness by a chorus of shouts sounding across the yard: “It’s Bernie Sanders!”

There was a sudden rush of tourists and students towards the west side of campus. There in the distance I could see the outline of an older man making his way past the student dorms. If I hadn't had class that morning, I may have joined the people to pursue the famous politician. Instead, I spent the rest of my day wondering why Harvard attracted so many prominent figures from a national and international stage.

Harvard University as an institution is seen as the pinnacle of academia and research. To receive an invitation to speak there, to attend a conference or teach a class, is seen as a great honour and can be a career goal in itself. 

As a member of the Institute of Politics, I have been lucky to have access to countless events with politicians, civil servants and economists on a weekly basis.

Read more about Raphaëlle's journey here

Brits in America: a day in the life of a Harvard student

Just this semester I have attended a meeting with the campaign manager for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, eaten pizza with the former director of the National Economic Council for President Obama, and discussed security in the Middle East with a former Israeli prime minister.

Large numbers of high-achieving people regularly visit the campus. They impart knowledge and help to motivate us. Seeing these people in the flesh reminds us that they are human like the rest of us. 

However, this experience is not just limited to the occasional visit or meeting with a prominent figure. My economics lecturer, Greg Mankiw, was the key economic advisor to George Bush and my government lecturer, Steven Levitsky, is a leading comparative political scientist.

Both wrote books that we study in our classes and both lecture with real expertise and are willing to meet with students to discuss ideas and theories. 

It can be quite overwhelming, and at first I shied away from interactions with my professors. However, now that I have settled in, I feel more confident to attend a personal one-on-one meeting with Levitsky, discussing his book and the research that I am currently undertaking.

I assumed that professors would be more concerned with undertaking their own research as opposed to working with the students. I realise now that the reason why Mankiw and Levitsky are at Harvard moves beyond the resources or prestige attached to the university; it’s because they can engage with hardworking and able students, and potentially educate the future leaders, politicians, entrepreneurs and scientists. 

Read more:  Best universities in the United States

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