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Episode Notes | Episode Transcript | AskTheGuest

 Hi Fives (5 Highlights)  3-Minute Listen

Conor Walsh is a graduate of Harvard University with a Bachelor’s degree in Linguistics.

Conor likens going to Harvard to being at a “ginormous waterfall with a small bucket”. He majored in Linguistics with a thesis on Irish Language Policy, rolled up his sleeves at the Homeless Shelter, and tried his hand, maybe I should say feet, at South Asian dances.

Conor even managed to squeeze a trek through the Himalayas tracing Buddhist monasteries.

Hi-Fives from the Podcast are:

  1. “Ginormous Waterfall”
  2. Why Harvard?
  3. Transition to Harvard
  4. High Quality Profs
  5. Advice For Aspirants

Episode Notes

Episode Title: Conor Walsh on Harvard: Linguistics, Homeless Shelter, and Buddhist History Trek in the Himalayas.

Episode summary introduction: Conor studied French and Chinese in High School. He loved languages. Grammar, the sounds. Literature and culture. In College, he wanted more.

Conor Walsh is a graduate of Harvard University with a Bachelor’s degree in Linguistics.

In particular, we discuss the following with him:

  • Why Harvard?
  • Love for Languages
  • Homeless Shelter & Summer Academy
  • The Himalayan Trek
  • Advice to Applicants

Topics discussed in this episode:

  • Introduction to Conor Walsh, Harvard [0:53]
  • Hi Fives - Podcast Highlights [1:38]
  • Harvard - “Ginormous Waterfall” [5:12]
  • Why Harvard? [6:32]
  • High School Interests - Languages [8:35]
  • Transition to Harvard - Managing Choices [11:04]
  • Peers - “Prodigiously Intelligent” [15:07]
  • High Quality Profs [20:16]
  • Dorms - Powerful Social Experience [22:45]
  • Campus Life - Something for Everyone [27:12]
  • Homeless Shelter, Summer Academy, Freshman Pre-Orientation [30:52]
  • Summers - To the Himalayas and Chennai [36:55]
  • Passion for Linguistics [40:56]
  • Senior Thesis on Irish Language Policy [45:14]
  • Harvard’s Impact on Career [52:03]
  • Why MBA? [56:40]
  • Harvard Redo? [59:57]
  • Advice to Aspirants [1:01:42]
  • “Loud, Fun and Messy!” [1:06:20]

Our Guest: Conor Walsh is a graduate of Harvard University with a Bachelor’s degree in Linguistics. Conor went on to get his Master’s in Language Studies from the National University of Ireland, Galway. Conor subsequently got his MBA from Harvard Business School.

Memorable Quote: “And it's an absolute cacophony, which is just how I like my experience - loud, fun and messy.” Conor Walsh about the day Freshmen are told which Residential House they are placed into.

Episode Transcript: Please visit Episode’s Transcript.

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Episode Transcript

Transcript of the episode’s audio.

Conor Walsh  0:19

And what I got to do which was really, really fun, was do a summer abroad study program that was distributed across the Himalayas. So it was in, it wasn't the topic was Buddhist art history. I had not studied Buddhism or history. So I was wildly unqualified for the class. But we got to travel through the very top of northern India for weeks, kind of going from monastery to monastery.

Venkat  0:53  [Introduction to Conor Walsh, Harvard]

Conor Walsh is a graduate of Harvard University with a Bachelor’s degree in Linguistics.

Conor studied French and Chinese in High School. He loved languages. Grammar, the sounds. Literature and the culture.

So, it was no surprise that Conor wanted to go to a college that could further his love for languages.

At Harvard he got much more!

Conor is with us today to share his undergraduate journey through Harvard..

Before we jump into the podcast, here are the High-Fives,  Five Highlights from the podcast:

Conor  1:38  [Highlights - Hi Fives]

[“Ginormous Waterfall”]

The best way to describe Harvard, at least in my mind, is to imagine that you're standing under a ginormous waterfall, and you have a one small bucket. And that really kind of is how it feels when you're there that you're trying to, you know, capture, whether it's knowledge or experience relationships, you're trying to fit it all in one bucket, and there's just a deluge happening.

[Why Harvard]

And so first and foremost, Harvard was the cheapest option for me by far. So I was accepted to a number of universities, many of them kind of in the same tier and level of competitiveness, competitiveness as Harvard, but it costs me less to attend Harvard than it would have to attend, like the local state university, in Massachusetts.

[Transition to Harvard]

On academics, like I said, I was fortunate where kind of the core of the academic work felt right to me, after the high school experience. I had had. That those two things, figuring out how to how to really participate in these newer, smaller seminar settings, and then understanding, kind of the bureaucracy and the timeline of a lot of the academic system, they were both new for me.

 

[High Quality Profs]

I took a lot of classes in a very narrow context, specifically linguistics and Celtic languages and literature, both of which were wonderful. The teachers and the faculty there remain, remain a presence in my life, I'm still in touch with, you know, many of the folks who, who instructed me, and that's, that's a really important part I think of, of my experience there.

[Advice to Aspirants]

These institutions, are Yes, you know, they are important. I'm, like I said before, I'm very grateful that I got to attend Harvard. But it certainly wouldn't be worthwhile, if I felt like I had to bury who I was just to have the right application.

In fact, I tend to think that the applications that stand out and the profiles that stand out are the ones that are most authentic.

Venkat Raman  3:49  

Now, I'm sure you want to hear the entire podcast with Conor. So without further ado, over to Conor Walsh!

Conor  3:58

Hi, Venkat?

Venkat Raman  3:59

Hey, Connor.

Conor  4:01  

How’re you doing?

Venkat Raman  4:03  

Doing well, doing? Well, you?

Conor  4:06  

I'm doing great. I'm doing great. Is my audio and stuff okay?

Venkat Raman  4:11  

That sounds great. Sounds great.

So let me just start by welcoming you to our podcast, College Matters. Alma Matters. Thank you so much for making the time today.

Conor  4:22  

Thank you.

Venkat Raman  4:25  

So as we chatted, we want to kind of talk about your Harvard undergraduate experience and our audience is mainly, at this point, international students, hopefully looking to study in the US. And I think stories like these are extremely beneficial and useful for their preparation. So thank you again for doing this.

Conor  4:54

Yeah, happy to be here.

Venkat Raman  4:56

Very well!

So let's sort of jump in and maybe we can start with sort of your overall impressions, I know it's been a few years since you graduated from Harvard. But looking back, how did it feel overall?

Conor  5:12  [Harvard - “Ginormous Waterfall”]

Yeah, it's a great question. And also I graduated from Harvard College back in 2012. So it's, it's crazy to me how much time has gone by since then.

But um, you know, as I think back to, what, what those years were like, I mean, my overall impression, I think the best way to describe Harvard, at least in my mind, is to imagine that you're standing under a ginormous waterfall. And you have one small bucket. And that really kind of is how it feels when you're there that you're trying to, you know, capture, whether it's knowledge or experience, relationships, you're trying to fit it all in one bucket, and there's just a deluge happening. And so that's really exciting. There's so, there's so much to do, and so much to see.

And that also can have drawbacks, right. It can be an overwhelming, kind of completely enormous space to find yourself in. And I think I had moments where each of those things felt true, where I felt like there was an embarrassment of riches, and I felt totally overwhelmed by you know, all the things to do all the choices I could make.

Venkat Raman  6:16  

No, that's a great image. Never heard that before, but it is really apt.

Venkat Raman  6:25

So Connor, I assume you had a bunch of choices. So it'd be kind of interesting to hear why you picked Harvard.

Conor  6:32  [Why Harvard?]

Yeah, it’s a good question. I mean, for me, there were a few kind of intangibles. And then there were, there was a lot of tangible. So I'll start with the tangible.

First and foremost, Harvard was the cheapest option for me by far. So I was accepted to a number of universities, many of them kind of in the same tier and level of competitiveness, competitiveness as Harvard, but it cost me less to attend Harvard than it would have to attend, like the local state university, in Massachusetts.

And so from just a dollars and cents perspective, there was no there was no question that Harvard would be a great place to go. So that's kind of a tangible.

On the intangible side, though, there were so many compelling reasons to go. I mean, one, I knew I wanted to be in a larger kind of open ended environment. And, you know, compared to some smaller schools I had looked at, Harvard was a really good balance between not too, too big, not an overwhelming 30,000 plus undergraduate experience. But also much bigger than some of the smaller liberal arts colleges, I had looked at where classes are 400 per year. So I knew I wanted something in that, in that in between about Harvard, definitely check that off.

But I also wanted to go to a place that had resources where I, you know, would never question whether or not the things I wanted to explore the questions I wanted to ask, would have, you know, backing to them, where I'd be able to actually dig in and either find people find resources, find books, even to understand the questions I had.

And that's kind of the other piece that I knew even going into Harvard that I had some pretty targeted interests. And Harvard was one of the few places in the United States where I'd be able to even pursue those in the first place.

So that was kind of the last thing that made it really, really easy for me to decide to go.

Venkat Raman  8:27  

Maybe, let's talk a little bit about your high school interest. You mentioned some targeted interests. But what all did you do in high school?

Conor  8:35  [High School Interests - Languages]

Yeah so, I went to high school in Boston, actually, not too too far away from Harvard, just kind of down the subway line from where Harvard is. And so I kind of was in Boston was in the same environment as Harvard.

Um, the things that I like to study are the things that kind of compelled me when I was in school really circled around language. So I loved foreign languages in high school, I loved being exposed to them, I loved the grammar, I loved the sounds, I took both French and Chinese during high school. And when I was learning Chinese, I really enjoyed the writing system, and all the intricacies there with French I love literature and understanding more about French culture. So I got all of that in high school. And that was kind of my big, the big area of study that I cared a lot about.

I was also involved in, you know, a bunch of a bunch of different clubs, as many high school students are. But I think the things that really stood out, I was in our high school’s band, so I played at football games, and I played in the spring concerts and things like that, which was a lot of fun.

And then the other thing I was really interested in was Irish literature in my high school had a kind of particular focus on Irish literature and Irish writing. And I was really curious about that, as well. And so when I was thinking About Harvard, you know, I really kind of was making the jump and saying, okay, I want to study more about the Irish language, Irish culture. And I can do that at Harvard. But I also want to keep studying all the languages that I love so much. And I can do that there too.

And Irish in particular, as a language, I'm sure we'll touch upon this later, is not widely taught. Harvard is one of the few programs in the United States where you can study the language in any form. And most schools only have maybe a year of Irish Harvard at the time had three, I was able to go a lot deeper into that topic.

And that's kind of what brought me in when I was even, even in high school thinking about where I wanted to end up. I considered Harvard, in part because it had access to this language that I otherwise would have, I would have had a hard time studying.

Venkat Raman  10:48  

So now let's, let's sort of now actually get to Harvard. So you make your move from high school to Howard? How was that whole transition?

And maybe start with the academics and we can work our way through the rest?

Conor  11:04  [Transition to Harvard - Managing Choices]

Yeah, sure. I mean, of course, it's always a big transition, going from high school experience to a university experience. I mean, I think the things that I encountered will be pretty familiar to most people, one, learning how to manage my time, I suddenly had dramatically more time than I had had in high school, my high school experience was was very, very jam packed. And so days were highly, highly structured.

In college, I could set my schedule for myself, I could choose my hours, I could choose, you know, when I saw people what activities I did, and so I had to learn how to navigate all of that, and had a big transition.

Academically, of course, there's also a transition from high school to to university. And I think, for me, I was very fortunate, I went to a high school that in many ways prepared me very well, for the university setting and the university experience, but I still struggled, I had not spent a lot of time in really small seminar type classes.

And that is an environment that, you know, I really tend to associate it with, like very, very elite high schools. And so when you come to college, unless you haven't been part of that ecosystem, it can be really hard to learn how to participate. And so for me, that's something I really had to, to kind of come to terms with, what does it mean to be a good contributor in these smaller settings, where it isn't just a matter of knowing the information or knowing the fact but really synthesizing your learnings, synthesizing arguments, and in doing so in a way that brings your classmates into the discussion, that, for me was a was definitely a transition.

In many of my courses at Harvard throughout my years, there were in kind of smaller settings. And so, you know, having to figure that out, even from the very first day, it was a it was a good experience to have, because it, it set me up for the rest of my time.

So I think that's, that's one area where academics and was an interesting transition.

I think another was just figuring out, what are all the courses I should take, you know, when you're in high school, you know, even the best High School will have a relatively small number of available courses, but suddenly, sure, I could figure out, you know, I have my requirements, I don't yet have a major or at Harvard, we call it a concentration. I don't have a concentration yet. Um, so what exactly should I do?

And there were freshmen advisors who can help with that. But I'll be really honest, my mind was not very good. And if you think about it, you know, I think my freshman advisor had at least two or three other freshmen that they were working with, but they really didn't have the time to, to kind of get to know you and really understand where all your interests and motivations. And in many ways to when you're just coming up, coming into college, you don't really know yourself.

Um, yeah, so for me, I felt like I had to figure a lot of that out on my own. And where this became important was, you know, oftentimes, and I assume this is true beyond just Harvard, often, a class might not be offered, you know, for another year or another two years. And so for me, because I had these very different kind of targeted niche interests, I even from freshman year had to try to figure out okay, well, if I want to take these classes in the right sequence, should I take them this year? Or should I wait till next year? What should I do?

And so kind of navigating the bureaucracy of even figuring out what classes to take was, was an interesting challenge.

Yeah, I think those were kind of the big things that stood out on academics. Like I said, I was fortunate where the kind of core of the academic work felt right to me after the high school experience I had had. Those two things, figuring out how to, how to really participate in these newer smaller seminar settings. And then understanding, kind of the bureaucracy and timeline of a lot of the academic system was they were both new for me.

Venkat Raman  15:03  

How'd you feel about your classmates?

Conor  15:07  [Peers - “Prodigiously Intelligent”]

Yeah, I mean, it's, it's hard to, it's hard to make it concise. But I think that, your peers at Harvard, in the classroom and outside of the classroom are certainly what makes that experience as rich as it is.

And for me, you know, I was very fortunate that like I said, I was in a lot of these smaller classrooms, a lot of the classes I was in, I would have a lot of the same people in them. And so you got to know people pretty well. And I was always very humbled by how prodigiously intelligent my classmates were.

It was simultaneously amazing to be in their company, and often very, very intimidating and scary. And certainly a feeling that I've had at Harvard, and I'm sure many, many folks do when they're starting out, was, you know, a keen, a keen sense of imposter syndrome, right? You're in these classroom settings, the folks who are who are very, very talented and are many times right, confident in that talent.

And so kind of seeing that happen in real time debating with that learning when to jump in. Um, it can, it can be pretty scary.

But I think what's, what's great about the residential setting, the Harvard's in is that, okay, sure, those are my classmates in the classroom setting. But I'd see them outside of class, right, I'd see them and shift them in activities and clubs, in the hallways, in the laundry room even. And I felt like that, having both of those things, having kind of like the, the on version of people and the off version of people, it's really eye opening, you see, okay, this person is like, really, really good at, you know, physics, but they don't know how to do their laundry. And that I think I really gained an appreciation for okay, like, this is a multifaceted experience, where I will see people in a lot of different ways.

I mean, this was my first time, you know, living outside of my home. And so I haven't lived with, you know, a cohort of people before. And it was really, really fascinating to see that play out. And I think my peers, yes, always impressed me when it comes to, when it came to academics and their, their intelligence. But I think the thing that really gives me warm feelings about Harvard is how kind and thoughtful and, and really just generous so many of those people were with me and with the community at large.

So, you know, finding, okay, this person who might have seemed really intimidating, was actually really excited to help me or we can help each other or we can, you know, become friends, despite not really sharing many, many similarities. I think all of that is kind of core to that academic and collegiate experience at Harvard.

Venkat Raman  17:43  

So, how did you kind of overcome this imposter syndrome? Or did you, you know, how did you manage it, I guess?

Conor  17:53  

Does one ever fully overcome that? I'm not sure...

Venkat Raman  17:54  

I don't know...but

Conor  17:57  

I think I think what helped for me, and I can only speak to my, my own experience, but I think what helped would help me at Harvard in particular, was kind of investing very early and finding the communities that, that would really make me feel like a part of Harvard.

And so that took a couple different shapes, I think academically, as kind of alluded to, I was really curious about languages. And so I found my way to the linguistics department, I found my way to the Celtic languages and literature's departments at Harvard.

Those are two of the smallest departments at a very large university. And so I think, for me, without necessarily making a conscious decision, but just kind of following my interests, and following the questions that I had, I ended up in places that were a lot smaller than a large university would typically have. And so I was with the same faculty, I was with the same classmates. And I think that that helped me kind of experiment and learn and grow in an environment that felt a little bit more like home or a little bit safer than, you know, a large 800 person lecture hall. And so I think that was a big piece of it.

The other piece of it was finding mentors, right. So finding folks who had been through the same experiences I had, or who are interested in the same questions I had, that happened both academically, but also with my, you know, extracurricular activities.

I was really involved in some of the service work that Harvard does. And so I would talk to folks who had, maybe they'd gone to Harvard or they were working in the fields that I cared about, and we could, I could see, okay, this is what this is what it would look like to have your job or this is what it would look like to follow your your course of study. And I can take that and do with it what I want.

And if I have questions, or if I am unsure about something, I still can go to the small group setting where I feel very safe and where I trust everybody to start actually exploring those questions or asking, you know, asking for feedback even.

Um, so I think that was kind of my approach was like seeking out mentorship and finding communities that, that I felt mapped on to what I needed at the time.

Venkat Raman  20:07  

Very well. So how did you find the teaching in general, the professors? How were the classes?

Conor  20:16  [High Quality Profs]

Yeah, I mean, it really depends. There's a huge... it's a wide experience there. Right.

So like I said, I took a lot of classes in a very narrow context, specifically linguistics and Celtic languages. And literature's both of which were wonderful. The teachers and the faculty there remain, remain a presence in my life, I'm still in touch with many of the folks, who, who instructed me and that's, that's a really important part I think of, of my experience there.

But um, you know, there's, there's a huge range, right, your, your classes can take any number of shapes. And so, you know, I took a few really large lecture classes, often to fulfill a requirement for graduation. And the quality of that instruction could vary, right? I think often, lectures were very good, but, you know, everyone is learning. And so we had, you know, TAs, who would, you know, some were great, some were learning how to teach for the first time.

Um, but I think what I gravitated towards, and why the experience was really rich, were in these smaller seminar type classes where I would be in these small groups, and there you have instructors who are very passionate about the topic.

And to be totally honest, the kids who are showing up for obscure linguistics class or an even more, you know, in the weeds, Irish manuscript class, right? Those folks are, those students are also very engaged in these topics, they're not taking the class just to take a class. Right. And so I think that really built my kind of default experience as an undergrad was to be in a small classroom with a teacher who was very, very passionate about the topic that they were covering, and students who are also really, really passionate about that topic.

And honestly, I think that's a little atypical at Harvard, I don't think most people would have found themselves in such kind of concentrated, dense environments, where the academic experience was so central to people's kind of space at Harvard.

Um, so for me, you know, the class experience and the quality of instruction, it always felt very high. But I think that's because I was in these environments where my classes were very small, and the faculty were very, very focused on, on that specific field of study.

Venkat Raman  22:33  

Okay, so let's sort of move out of the classrooms and talk a little bit about the campus life. Maybe we could start with the residential and then talk about cultural, social.

Conor  22:45  [Dorms - Powerful Social Experience]

Yeah, for sure. I mean, I think, I think Harvard's residential system is one of the more unique aspects of the undergraduate experience.

So in your freshman year, you're put into a dorm in usually in Harvard Yard are kind of at the core main part of the campus. And I think for I wouldn't say this is true for everybody, but certainly this was true in my experience, that freshmen dorm can become a really powerful you know, social experience as well.

So you know, you have your roommates, you have usually like, the rooms are organized around an entryway system. So you'll have, you know, maybe five or 10 different rooms that are associated with an entryway and that entryway can sort of become a social unit. So freshman year, you know, the the residential system is one where you're very, very close with this with this group of people and maybe you bond with them, maybe you don't.

The standard of the dorms, I think we're pretty good. I was pretty happy with where I lived. And then of course, you have just one large dining hall for freshmen and freshmen only really.

So that kind of became a central place as well, where you would see everybody who wasn't in your your dorm room or your entryway, that was kind of the common place to find people.

Um, things get a lot different, and honestly, even more fun for the next few years. So after you are a freshman, you are placed into one of 12, I believe, undergraduate houses. And those houses are kind of self contained residential colleges. They have their own dining halls, they have their own, obviously their own dorm rooms and things but they have kind of all of their own, facilities. So they are independent. And you generally not everybody, but you generally stay in your house for the next three years for the remainder of your time at Harvard, and you can elect I think when I was an undergrad, it was up to eight people, but maybe that's wrong. Remember, but you could have like, I think up to eight people who you would join with from your freshman year. And then you would, you could ensure that you were all placed into the same house together.

I can't choose the house itself, but you could choose that group to have with you. Okay, um, and so what ends up happening is that, you know, not only does each house have its own, you know, facilities and independent kind of resources, it also is administered independently. So there are traditions that are unique to each house. There's like a social committee for each house. And you can take part in that and they throw parties and host events and have, you know, all kinds of clubs and speakers and any number of things. And I think for most people who attend Harvard for undergrad, their house experience becomes kind of synonymous with what it meant to attend Harvard.

So in my case, I was in a house called Cabot House, which was up at the top of campus, separated from some of the others. And the friends who I made in Cabot House continue to be kind of my core group, when I think of, you know, when I think of what it was like to go to Harvard, I really associate that time with being in Cabot House and with the people who lived in Cabot House with me, that's kind of the core experience.

And honestly, the facilities I think have been updated tremendously. Even since I was there, they've gone through and renovated. I think every house or maybe almost every house, I don't know. But even at the time, I thought the facilities were really excellent. You know, I think I only shared a room, my freshman year after that, I always had a single the quality of the space was was very good, the standard of the dining hall and stuff was all quite nice. And of course, the grounds are kept beautifully and whatnot.

So overall, you know, I think the residential experience I thought was, was quite positive. But you know, I know that not everybody I think feels at home in that house system. And I think it can be hard, if you don't feel at home in it to make it work, there are opportunities to transfer from one house to the other. And there's a couple other alternative living arrangements, as I recall.

But, you know, I think it's an experience where if it works for you, great. If it doesn't work for you, there's not a ton of recourse.

Venkat Raman  27:07  

How was the cultural scene, I mean, cultural activities and clubs and whatnot?

Conor  27:12  [Campus Life - Something for Everyone]

I mean, they're, it's an enormous I, like I said, Harvard is you running around with a bucket as a kind of ginormous waterfall, lands on top of it. So I couldn't even pretend to capture the whole spectrum of it.

But yeah, I have no idea how many clubs there are for students, it seemed like. If you had an interest, there was a club for it, or a team or a sport or group. And, you know, sky's the limit really on what you can do so like, you know, I think in terms of like cultural activities, what I liked about cultural activities at Harvard is that they always seemed really open.

So for example, there was like, a South Asian dance show that would happen every year. And, you know, obviously, a lot of kids from South Asian backgrounds, who had training, they were doing, what kind of drive it and really kind of lead it. But folks who didn't, like myself, were really encouraged to participate. And, you know, a lot of my friends did things like that, which I think kind of made their world a little bit bigger and open their eyes a bit, um, which is very, very exciting.

You know, I think, I think in terms of culture overall, like Harvard is this interesting space where there's definitely a sense of tradition, you know, Harvard's been around for a pretty long time. Yes, definitely an understanding that, you know, things can be done a certain way. And this really shows up around like, kind of the annual traditions that, that are kind of sequenced along the course of a year, whether it's the various, like formal events that would happen each year, whether it's kind of holiday parties and holiday traditions.

You know, I think one thing that matters to people at Harvard, a great deal is that it's not so much an adherence to tradition for tradition’s sake, but definitely an understanding that you're participating in a tradition. And I think that that can be both a space that feels inclusive for folks. But also definitely, in the case of Harvard, a space that can feel exclusive and hard to tap into.

A lot of these traditions come from a time where, you know, Harvard was a really different institution where many different types of people struggled to be admitted, successfully attend. And I think that that memory weighs on people a bit. And so I kind of when I think about the cultural scene at Harvard, I simultaneously think of one that's really open and really vibrant. And then there's always kind of this, this tension with these traditions that, you know, predate everybody at the university and yet seem to persist. And I know that that even shows up in different undergraduate organizations, I think most famously, and maybe most controversially, the Final Clubs. I was definitely not in a Final club. I'm really not part of that community whatsoever. But I know that that was something that was constantly being debated. And discussed and, and honestly, I think folks, you know, I think the university has stepped away even further from these final clubs, which I personally think was the right decision.

But you know, how you adjudicate those student experiences is really, really tricky at a space like Harvard where on the one hand, like I said, you know, folks are, it's an incredibly diverse environment in the 21st century, it's really different. It's, it's very large, but you have to balance this like weird, often very kind of conservative voice that upholds these traditions that don't necessarily make sense or are very exclusionary.

So I think Harvard has a bit of an identity crisis when it comes to that I'm not sure if they've ever resolved it, or if they ever will.

Venkat Raman  30:47  

What kind of things did you do? I mean, how did you spend your time outside of class?

Conor  30:52  [Homeless Shelter, Summer Academy, Freshman Pre-Orientation]

There were a few things that I spent the majority of my time doing.

So, I think what what happens, what happened to me is very similar, it happens to a lot of people where you start off trying a number of different activities, and kind of hone in on a couple that that you really care about.

And in my case, those were, I think, really like three, and probably first among them was working at the Harvard Square Homeless Shelter. So this was very cool. This is an entirely student run homeless shelter, in, in Harvard Square, where unsurprisingly, Harvard is looking at, but you get to really run all aspects of this homeless shelter.

And what that means is, yeah, sure, at the top figuring out, you know, what is the budget for the year? Or what do I need to do to be legally compliant? How do we serve as many homeless guests as we can? What what are our rules and policy, you get to kind of make all those decisions.

But then you also, you also get to see how that plays out in everyday practice, because you're saying, Okay, well, you know, we need to have a process for cleaning the bathrooms or doing all the laundry or organizing, you know, the entry to the homeless shelter. And I have to do that, too. And so, you know, for me, it was this really amazing experience of on the one hand, getting to do direct service. And on the other hand, really learning about the operation of an idea, like a homeless shelter.

And I think that this was particularly important, because, you know, one thing that really struck me and one of the reasons I was quite called to this as an undergrad, is that it it really seemed to me absolutely bizarre that a university like Harvard, which, I don't know what the endowment is now, but I think at the time, it was, you know, $35 billion, or some, you know, absolutely, obscene figure. You know, it struck me is absolutely unconscionable that an institution with so many resources and so much wealth, would allow people to sleep in its neighborhood outside.

And so for me, like the, the dissonance between this institution, and this reality, I think, really drew me to the homeless shelter. And it was a place where I needed, you know, a tremendous number of really, really close friends, really set the trajectory for how I think about work environments and the professional experiences I look out for.

And I think that's really interesting, because that wasn't on my mind as an undergrad. But I kind of come back and think about it from time to time, and I realized that it had a great impact. So that's one thing I did, I'm sure.

Another activity that I cared a great deal about actually mostly happened in the summer, but had a kind of term time component to it as well, which was a program called the Crimson Summer Academy, which partnered with local high schools, and basically worked with very talented folks from like high school students from the Boston and Cambridge areas. And we basically ran a summer school program for them with a very, very explicit goal of getting these students not only into a top university, or college, but also through, through a top university.

So not just getting you in, but getting you through and that required a great deal of mentorship, I got to work really closely with really inspiring high school students. I got to learn a lot about education, even in my own city, which I wasn't always familiar with. Um, so I love that.

The other thing I did, I worked quite closely and helped run a pre orientation program for freshmen, which I think is the program I did was called the first year urban program or FUP. There are several programs for incoming freshmen at Harvard that take place, usually the week or two before classes start.

This one was focused on community service, and you would bring freshmen together, you would place them at different nonprofits across the city for a week, or they would commit where they would complete service projects for those organizations. And so I because I did that program myself as a first year. And it was really wonderful. And so I wanted to kind of help, help that program continue. So did that. So those are kind of the activities I did.

But actually, I spent a lot of time and undergrad working. So I didn't, I didn't come to Harvard with too much money. My family I didn't grew up, you know, in particularly dire straits. But we definitely didn't have any extra spending money lying around. And even from a, from a pretty young age, I was very responsible for my own kind of financial decisions.

And so at Harvard, you know, I got there, and it's an institution where, honestly, at the time, I assume it's changed a bit, but I think 40% of students or some, some figure like that, you can, you can check me and leave it in the podcast notes. [60% of Harvard Students in 2010 got some form of Financial Aid]

At the time, I think like 40% of students received no financial aid to attend a university that cost well over, you know, $50,000 - 60,000 a year, I was not one of those.

So I need to work like several part time jobs. So I could feel like I could take part in kind of life on campus, whether that was going out to restaurants or going to concerts, or shows or traveling with friends. All of that took money. So I spent actually a fair bit of my time in a given week, at any number of jobs. And, you know, I did jobs that were very interesting. And I did jobs that were maybe less interesting, but I always kind of had one or two jobs running so that I could kind of finance my lifestyle, as impoverished as it was.

Venkat Raman  36:20  

No, I mean, sounds like you're super busy. At least just listening to, but, but I, but I find your your work with the homeless shelter, the urban program, and the summer act Academy, really, really, you know, very, uplifting and very positive. So those are fantastic things to be involved in.

Venkat Raman  36:45

Did you have time to do something different than summers are these programs couple of these, your summer sort of experiences?

Conor  36:55  [Summers - To the Himalayas and Chennai]

Yeah, I had three summers at Harvard, the first two, were very much taken up by those programs. I mentioned the Crimson Summer Academy and the last year urban program, I stayed on campus to help organize the first year urban program. But then I also in Summer Academy, like I said, ran throughout the summer. So that was kind of my main, my main activity for both the summer after my freshman year and the summer after my sophomore year, because in both cases, you know, you got to do this really cool work. But I also got paid for my work, which was great. And I got housing, which was great. And I got to take a free summer school class, which was great, because that saved me, credits for the time. So it was a really great opportunity. Like I said, the kids who were to take part in this program were absolutely inspiring, and I love I really loved the summers.

My last summer, the summer after my junior year, I knew I did not want to be in Boston for another summer. I knew I really wanted to travel, I hadn't really had a chance to study abroad all that much. And so I knew that that was something I very much wanted to do.

And to be super honest, I wanted to see like, what is the biggest trip I could get Harvard to pay for. I wish I had maybe a more high minded approach, but I was, I was pretty extracted I want I kind of asked myself, like, what, what is the craziest thing I could get away with.

Um, and what I got to do which was really, really fun, was do a summer abroad study program that was distributed across the Himalayas. So it was in, it wasn't the topic was Buddhist art history. I had not studied Buddhism or history. So I was wildly unqualified for the class. But we got to travel through the very top of northern India for weeks, kind of going from monastery to monastery up in the Ladakh.

And just like seeing this absolutely beautiful part of the world, learning about art and culture and religion of a region that I had never been exposed to. I'd never traveled to India before, let alone this very remote part of India. And then I also had took an internship in the second half of the summer. So I started, I spent most of my summer up at the very, very top of India. And then took a train all the way down to Chennai, which is pretty close to the bottom, where I had an internship there as well.

So for me, that was kind of my wild summer before my last year at Harvard. And I was very, very grateful I got to do it. It was a really, really wonderful experience. And again, I got Harvard to pay for it, which was the best part of it all.

Venkat Raman  39:42  

So what, what was this internship about? Oh, yeah,

Conor  39:45  

Oh yeah, I was working at a, like a human resources consulting firm, like a sort of skill development firm for Indian employees, who I think were interested in kind of either starting their own businesses or beginning kind of the journey to work with a Western company or to manage projects, kind of standards that that folks outside of India could relate to.

So, that was kind of interesting. I'll be very honest, it was not my focus for the summer. Yeah, pretty excited about being in Chennai, which is wonderful.

Um, and just seeing any part of India, but that was yes, I'll say that was my nominal internship.

Venkat Raman  40:29  

So let's come back to Harvard, and I'm really interested in talking a little bit about your interest in Linguistics. You know, how that came about. I know, you've studied two languages, two quite different languages in high school. And then, you know, at Harvard. So how did all that come about? And where that passion for languages came from, you think?

Conor  40:56  [Passion for Linguistics]

Yeah, that's a great question. Um, to take the second part of it first, I think, my interest in language, it's really hard to identify the, the moment where it begins. But if it was ever catalyzed in one place, it was definitely in high school, I was very fortunate to have really excellent language instruction in high school, and I got to really, for the first time in my life feel comfortable, not necessarily living my whole life through another language. But just having that experience of realizing that I could express myself in an entirely different system that was always really, really magical for me as a kid.

And then when I was in high school, my high school had this very, very cool study abroad program. And so I got to spend the summer when I was in high school, in, in China, in Beijing with a family.

And that was, you know, you talked about mind opening experiences, I think that was one of the most impactful things I've ever done. And maybe to this day, in my life was just to spend, you know, a time outside the country, I'd never been on a plane before, I'd never been outside the United States before. And so my, my kind of first experience internationally and was in China, which is about as different from the US as you can get.

 And so that, that was a really, really wild experience, and reinforced for me just how cool seeing the world through a different language could be.

So when I came to, when I went to Harvard, I didn't know that I wanted to do Linguistics, I actually thought that I was going to somehow, I was going to somehow double major in French, and Chinese, and I think I wanted to go home, my minor, which I think at Harvard is called the secondary field, and Celtic languages.

So I basically wanted to study all the languages I was interested in, and maybe more. And I very quickly realized that, yeah, doing a double major joint concentration at Harvard, is, I think, fairly challenging, especially if the, if the fields are not tightly related, but on top of that, so I kind of could not figure out how I was possibly going to make this all happen in a schedule that I was going to be able to survive.

But on top of all of that, I think what I realized when I came to university was that the things that I loved about French and Chinese and would come to love about Irish and some of the other languages I got the chance to study was not necessarily the languages themselves, specifically an only, but rather, I was really captivated by the idea of language as systems and language as a system for thought. And really like using language as a way to probe, you know, how does the human mind work? How does cog, what is cognition looked like?

And it very quickly became apparent that Linguistics was going to be a great way to satisfy that interest and to ask, not just the one, which I feel like a lot of times, language classes are like the what is this language? And how does it work? But rather, what is a language? What is the concept of language? How does that system work that for me was really, really captivating.

It didn't hurt that at least Harvard's program was also very flexible. So Linguistics Program, as you might expect, requires you to study multiple languages. But they're very agnostic about what those languages are. And so for me, that was just great. Because, you know, I could find a way to study languages to the depth and with, you know, amount of rigor that I wanted, but I wasn't locked into the rest of a major in that language.

So for example, you know, I really did love French literature. But I realized that I didn't want to only think about French literature, or I really loved, you know, Chinese grammar, but I only, I didn't want to only think about Chinese grammar. And so linguistics kind of gave me the flexibility to study all the different things I was interested in particularly that this interest in the Irish language, which really didn't have an undergraduate program that I could associate it with, there wasn't an undergraduate degree available and so Linguistics kind of became my vehicle to work on that issue as well.

Venkat Raman  45:03  

So you did a thesis at the end of it, which I don't, I cannot quite, sort of understand. So explain in layman terms what you did here...

Conor  45:14  [Senior Thesis on Irish Language Policy]

Sure. So yeah, I mean, my thesis kind of maps my relationship with Linguistics and actually my academic interests writ large and kind of where they started versus where they ended up.

Where they started. And what I've mostly talked about, you know, being really excited about French and Chinese and mentioning that also excited about this Irish language thing.

My thesis, which I'll see if I can remember the title off the top of my head, I think it was called, “A Theoretical critique of contemporary language policy in the Republic of Ireland”, something like that. Yes, close.

You know, how did, what, what is that about?

And so my thesis, so I guess the quick journey here is that as I studied the Irish language more and more, and for folks who are not familiar with the Irish language, you know, it's a Celtic language, it has a lot of really unique syntactic and morphological features, which makes it from a linguistics perspective, really, really interesting. It behaves in ways that are kind of unexpected, especially for languages that are centered in Europe, it's really, really kind of out there.

Um, and so that was kind of my first, the first kind of intellectual challenge of the Irish language was how does this language work? But what really started to captivate me after I kind of had the basics of Irish down was, who speaks Irish today? Why did they speak it, you know, a Irish language?

I'll spare you and everybody, the super long history of this, but the Irish language today is the official language of the Republic of Ireland. But there's only about 70,000 people who speak it as their first language. And Ireland's a small country, but it's got a lot more than 70,000 people in it. Yes, exactly. And so I was really curious as to you know, why was there an island off on its own in the ocean, Where language had progressively died out? What what and it hasn't died out yet? And I hope it certainly doesn't, but we're the overall number of speakers had really shrunk.

Yeah, and I was really, really curious about this. And so first, that took me into, you know, understanding colonialism and understanding the history of the language. And then Surprise, Surprise, the impact of English colonialism is kind of the key factor and changes to the linguistic landscape of Ireland.

No surprise, but, um, yeah, I got really interested in what, what, when we think about language, the Irish government had worked on reviving the use of Irish as a kind of language for for daily life for almost 90 years. You know, basically, since since the Irish Free State was established, there have been movements to revive this language. And I was curious, well, how come on, it hasn't worked yet.

Um, and that that kind of was the kernel that became this thesis. So what I ended up focusing on was specific legislation and policy that was in place in the Republic of Ireland to promote the Irish language.

And I sort of took that that policy and tried to figure out okay, what are the what, what theoretical perspective on language and language shift, Which is the kind of academic term for the movement of a group from one language to the other? What is going on here? Right?

Like, how, how did we come up with these policies in the first place? And if we're not happy with the policies, or we're not happy with the outcome of the policies, what are some of the alternatives we might suggest? And what body of knowledge do we even have as a, as a global community, who cares about this topic, what do we even know about effective language policy?

And, you know, for me, it was really notable that there are almost no examples of a successful language revitalization movement, there's maybe one, which is the revival of Hebrew, but there's a lot of, kind of very specific tactics and caveats that go with that.

And so I was kind of curious to know, the Irish example has is one of the most kind of studied and longitudinally, one of the most developed of these movements. And it also hasn't been particularly successful.

And so I got curious about that, and said, Well, I want to, you know, spend some time looking at the current state of things in the Republic of Ireland. And, you know, what do we know about what makes for good language policy? And where's there daylight between the current policy that exists and kind of the idealized policy that we think we understand? And that was my senior thesis.

Venkat Raman  49:50  

Sounds like a no, it sounds like a right question. So did you have any, was this a survey or did you have any takeaways or...

Conor  49:58  

Yeah, It's been a minute since I looked at that thesis.

But I think what I, one of the one of the kind of key takeaways that I took from, from really all of my study of endangered language policy, both at the undergraduate and graduate level, is that it takes a lot of resources. And it takes a lot of commitment at all levels of government and stakeholder to really effectively implement a language policy.

You know, there's a belief that some folks hope there's always an implicit language policy, right, we're speaking English on this call, because we have agreed that English is the language we're going to use.

Um, so that happens informally all the time. But when you're going to try to formalize it, you really need, you know, a tremendous degree of dedication to doing just that. So in Ireland, you know, constantly really good ideas. And really kind of well intentioned ideas have been waylaid by either a lack of resources, a lack of follow through, or just kind of an internalized inertia towards acting on this topic towards really taking the steps needed to, to protect this language and protect the communities that use it.

So, you know, it's, it's a complicated question and one that I think we could send certainly multiple podcasts on if you ever really want to.

But it's, it's something where getting the opportunity to look at that as an undergrad, really set me up to think about a lot of the choices I wanted to make later on in my career, which was actually very helpful. Yeah.

Venkat Raman  51:34  

We’re going to move forward a little bit. And just have you reflect on how you think Howard has shaped what you're doing now or shaped your after Howard life a half to Howard as an after undergrad life? I know, you went back through your MBA. We'll talk about that in a minute as well. So some general thoughts on how Harvard shaped your career?

Conor  52:03  [Harvard’s Impact on Career]

Yeah, yeah. I mean, I think it's, it's always hard to distill this experience, you know, it's really hard to kind of, in words, find where exactly does this institution, in my time in this institution? Where did it exactly lead me but there are a few things that I think really stand out.

I mean, I was very fortunate, and I think this will come as no surprise to many of you. I was very fortunate I graduated without debt from Harvard. As I mentioned, before, I got this really great, yeah, financial aid package, that probably is the biggest difference that going to Harvard made for me, I when I finished undergrad, I no longer had, I never had to worry about, you know, making a certain amount of money, so I can pay it back in the form of loans.

And that in and of itself was enormously freeing, and really created a space for me to take all different types of opportunities. So I think, for that I feel tremendously grateful and indebted to Harvard, I think that I didn't even appreciate as an undergrad, just how amazing that was, I always knew it was a really good thing. But I didn't really understand just how freeing that was.

Um, I think the other thing that Harvard gave me, and I, I'm reluctant to say this as I am about to. But I think it gave me a certain degree of confidence that, you know, especially after, right after undergrad, when you're still kind of exploring, you're exploring the ideas of careers, you're exploring what you're interested in, you're still exploring your values, I could kind of take different risks, and not worry as much that I was, you know, making a misstep, because even if I did take a misstep, you know, I wasn't worried that folks were going to somehow think that I had, but I wasn't, you know, capable, or I hadn't, you know, done the right things, I could always kind of fall back on the idea of saying, Okay, well, I just finished university, this is a well known University. You know, folks will understand that even if I'd done something a bit obscure, or something that didn't quite pan out, then things are going to be okay.

And so for me, that was really freeing as well. So I took kind of a pretty, pretty fun and unexpected turn right after undergrad I, I got a fellowship my senior year, as you study and move to Ireland, where I got to actually do a degree, a master's degree that was entirely taught through the Irish language and focused on the very questions that I had explored in my undergrad thesis. Right.

That's right, another thesis about that, which was great. But also just getting to live. I lived in rural Ireland for a while. I lived out in the Irish speaking community. I went to Irish speaking University. I just had a very kind of unexpected, very different from your standard Harvard undergrad, kind of post grad plans, just found myself in this really new world and spent, you know, almost a couple of years there.

Came back to the United States. Kind of was curious about a number of things were specifically curious about the relationship between language and technology. I felt like I had kind of answered the language questions, or at least gotten closer on them, but didn't really feel like I knew about technology yet. So was able to then, find a job that, honestly, you know how I had student loans, I wouldn't have been able to afford it. But a job kind of working early on, and the kind of intersection between advocacy and technology, which then took me back to Ireland. I worked in venture capital for a couple years, and then came back to Harvard for my MBA.

But in all of that might sound very linear, kind of when I describe it now, but it certainly didn't feel that way at the time. And I think, again, this freedom to feel like I could kind of fail safely made all of those different steps, I feel like they could happen, and I could take them and I was a lot less concerned about doing so.

So yeah, I don't know if that's a direct answer to how, how Harvard influenced my career, but it's certainly between undergrad and grad school, gave me you know, as a, as a institution that gave me incredible license to explore and to try new things and to make mistakes. And that was, was very freeing and very, very cool.

Venkat Raman  56:15  

Oh, that's that's tremendous, actually. I mean, just that ability to fail, you know, the, the license to fail, not not for the sake of failing, but for, you know, trying things that are maybe adventurous or risky.

Conor  56:33  

Yeah, yeah. And you, you learn so much from failure.

Venkat Raman  56:37

Absolutely.

Venkat Raman  56:40  [Why MBA?]

So, I do have a question about this. You know, I listened to you, and the passion meter goes up when you talk about languages and linguistics. And then I see that you went and did an MBA. Why did you think an MBA was important at that point?

Conor  56:57  

Yeah, this was, this was an interesting decision. And one that I, I have kind of, in 2021, I have some hindsight on but I'll tell you, where I was how I thought about when I was 24/25. So I had gone to grad school right after undergrad, and realized there that, you know, the next logical step, if I had wanted to stay strictly on the language side of things, would have been to do some form of a PhD.

But I honestly didn't feel like, financially, that was a good choice. For me. I didn't feel like that was an environment where I was going to really be challenged in the same way. And I felt like the questions that I was exploring in undergrad and grad school, I could keep exploring them as a PhD, but I actually got really curious about well, you know, I worked in a few other spaces, I like I said, I specifically worked in venture capital, where, um, you know, I was working with founders of startups, early, very early stage startups, and I was really blown away by just how impervious they were.

You know, they, they really, these folks were so educational for me, because they just refused to accept the status quo. And they just worked so hard at changing what the world looked like. I got really curious about the skills you need to do that. And I kind of compared that to what I saw happening in the language policy space where there was kind of a, it felt to me, I don't know, I'm sure folks who are more active in it would disagree, but it felt to me very paralyzed, where there was an academic world that kept looking into these topics, it was kind of ivory tower, the folks who were actually interested in preserving their language that belong to their community were often left out of those discussions.

And then there wasn't really the capacity in a lot of these different environments, both at the local level, and at the national level, there wasn't a great deal of capacity around this topic, focus didn't necessarily know how to plan or implement or execute. And I certainly didn't either.

But I felt like an MBA was going to be an interesting way to bridge the experiences I had had in venture capital. With, like I wanted to kind of take those lessons, systematize them formalize them, use front like develop frameworks that I could bring with me to then apply to these other questions, these questions of language, and language preservation.

And so that's what motivated me to do the MBA in the first place. I think I got to the MBA program and realized that was maybe a bit high minded for what your average MBA program is actually trying to achieve. But I got to learn that lesson in real time during the MBA.. That was very interesting.

And now, I think I think I would still make the same choice to go and do my MBA, but I would approach it probably a bit differently.

Venkat Raman  59:57  [Harvard Redo?]

If you were to go back to Harvard for the same four years, would you do it differently? Keep it the same?

Conor  1:00:07  

Yeah, I, I've been thinking about this a little bit as a lead up to this, this interview. And, you know, it feels very self absorbed to say I won’t change anything. And I'm, I'm sure if I was a bit closer to those four years than I am now, there would probably be some sore thumbs that stand out that I would remember, but honestly, you know, I think the only thing that I would do really differently, I think.

So I came to Harvard, and I was really focused on achieving certain outcomes. Most of them were academic, most of them were really tied to these specific interests that I already had. And honestly that, the ability to go so in depth on them, I found really, really rewarding. And I don't really regret that.

But the trade off, the trade off that I had to make was that I don't feel like I got to spend quite as much time exploring, especially academically, I felt like I explored in many other ways, but academically in particular, you know, I was so locked in to some of these very specific interests, and I really threw myself into them. But it didn't create a ton of opportunity for me to try out fields or questions or areas of interest, that I that I didn't, you know that I didn't get to follow up on those.

And so, I think if I could do something differently, I would have tried to protect more time for that exploration for kind of the open endedness of going to a class that you never thought you would take, but you end up loving, you know, I would have loved more experience like those as an undergrad.

Venkat Raman  1:01:42  [Advice to Aspirants]

Now, looking ahead, based on all the stuff you've talked about, and experiences that you've gone through, what would you tell a typical high schooler applying to college real soon? What kind of advice would you give them?

Conor  1:02:08  

Yeah, it's a great question. And I think, you know, if someone has their sights set on a school like Harvard, you know, I think it gets so complex. And folks have a tendency to really try to package and present themselves in a way that they think he's institutions will find appealing.

And I think my advice to the student who might feel like they're in that position of saying, okay, you know, I am, who I am, but I have to kind of present that in a really, really specific way that might feel, you know, inauthentic to who I am, I would say that life is very short. And these institutions are, Yes, you know, they're important. I'm, like I said before, I'm very grateful that I got to attend Harvard.

But it certainly wouldn't be worthwhile. If I felt like I had to bury who I was just to have the right application. In fact, I tend to think that the applications that stand out, and the the profiles that stand out, are the ones that are most authentic, right?

So, you know, if someone had, let's say, you have a super obscure niche interest in the Irish language, I don't think it's gonna hurt you to call that out, you know, or whatever school you're applying to, um, you know, I think, I think you owe it to yourself, to make the right out of this one life that you have this one opportunity to go to college for the first time, like, you might as well study the things that are going to make you excited, the things that you care about. So you owe it to yourself, but you also kind of owe it to these institutions. And what I mean by that is, I mean, you owe them nothing, they have more money than they ever need, but, but what you owe them is sort of the chance to be like a fully present, vibrant version of yourself.

You know, I think a lot of folks go to universities, feeling very pressured, maybe from society, maybe from their family, maybe from friends, to let's say, do, right, right, I'm just gonna throw out like the pre med, for example, or pre law or whatever. And that just doesn't actually map on to where they're at in their lives or what their interests are, what their passions are. And I think, honestly, you kind of tell that from students, right?

When you're, when you're sitting with someone who is in classes they hate working on questions they don't care about just because they think it's a stepping stone to this next state. And I have two thoughts about that one, you're miserable. Why are you so miserable?

You don't want to do this to yourself to, um, you know, like, it isn't a great experience for anybody. You're not going to make the friends you want. You're not going to like, ask the questions that you have. If you're if you're just focused on kind of the next stepping stone. You'll never actually feel like you've finished the stepping stones until you take time to kind of like sit down on one and actually think.

And so I think, you know, none of this advice is incredibly actionable for high school students applying. But I think I just want to underscore how important it is to kind of remain I hate the cliche, but remain true to yourself, or at least remain, keep that picture of what you're interested in in mind and try to skate towards that wherever possible. And gotten because you owe it to yourself, but also, because when you're at these institutions, you know, you're going to remember the people you're going to love the people that you spend time with. And it would be such a shame to go to these places and not fully inhabit yourself, so that those folks miss out on seeing you on what that's really you.

Venkat Raman  1:05:40  

That’s well said. Actually, there is always the risk of trying to be somebody else to get there. And that's not what you want.

Venkat Raman  1:05:53

Okay, so Conor, we are nearing the end of our podcast. And it's a time I'd really like to just ask if you want to say something more about some of the things we've talked about, or something we haven't covered, or some, you know, traditions that you want to highlight from your holidays.

Conor  1:06:20  [“Loud, Fun and Messy!”]

Yeah, I think I think my favorite memory, or one of my favorite memories from Harvard, kind of goes back to what I talked about earlier, when I was mentioning the housing system.

So every year their freshmen are told on the same day, all at the same time, what house they've been placed into. And you don't know until the morning that it kind of becomes officially announced.

What the various houses do is they organize committees that run through the freshmen dorms and announce to each dorm room and each student, what house they've been placed into.

And it's probably my favorite tradition at Harvard for so many reasons. One, it's incredibly joyful. It's an exciting day, if you're a freshman, it's a very fun day, if you're an upperclassmen, you know, this, the house experience is so, so vital. And so you will wake up at like six in the morning to hundreds of college students who have gathered, usually they're all wearing like matching Tshirts, and their faces might be painted.

And they, you know, there might be crazy costumes and things like that, making a tremendous ruckus, a tremendous ruckus in Harvard Yard, to wake up all of these very, very nervous freshmen where you run and you slam on their door, and like 50 people kind of jam into your, into your dorm room, all to tell you that you're now part of this house.

That's a totally random thing that you had no say in. But you can't help but get excited about it. And it's, you know, it's an absolutely electric day. And I think it's one of the days where Harvard feels the most open, the most excited, the most inclusive, that it ever feels. Because everyone's in a house, everybody gets put in a house, everybody, you know, has a chance to be welcomed into that house. And, you know, like I said, maybe down the road, you end up really feeling like you're part of that community or you don't but in that moment, you know, everyone has this shared unified experience.

And it's an absolute cacophony, which is just how I like my experiences, like loud, fun and messy, and that is entirely what it is. So I think that's probably my favorite. Harvard, we did it four times. And it was it was wonderful every time so I think that's my favorite part.

Venkat Raman  1:08:41  

Fantastic! So Conor, thank you so much for all the stories and the detail and the vividness and it's been truly a pleasure. And I love the passion with which you recounted all those stories. So thank you again, and I'm sure we'll want to talk more but for now, take care. Be safe. Thank you so much. Thanks.

Conor 1:09:08  

Bye. Thank you so much. Be well.

Venkat  1:09:15

Hi again!

Hope you enjoyed our podcast with Conor Walsh about Harvard.

Conor likens going to Harvard to being at a “ginormous waterfall with a small bucket”.

But Conor was able to pack quite a few things in that small bucket!

He stayed true to his love for languages and majored in Linguistics with a thesis on Irish Language Policy.

He rolled up his sleeves at the Homeless Shelter, tutored high school kids, tried his hand, maybe I should say feet, at South Asian dances.

He even managed to squeeze a trek through the Himalayas tracing Buddhist monasteries.

I hope Conor’s story details how he was able to tap Harvard’s enormous resources and convert them into opportunities.

For your questions or comments on this podcast, please email podcast at almamatters.io [podcast@almamatters.io].

Thank you all so much for listening to our podcast today.

Transcripts for this podcast and previous podcasts are on almamatters.io forward slash podcasts [almamatters.io/podcasts].

To stay connected with us, Subscribe to Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or Spotify or visit anchor.fm forward slash almamatters [anchor.fm/almamatters] to check us out.

Till we meet again, take care and be safe.

Thank you!

Summary Keywords

US Colleges, College Admissions, Harvard University, Study Abroad, India, Linguistics, Languages, Ladakh, Himalayas, Buddhist, Monastery, Chennai, Harvard Square, French, Chinese, Irish, Boston, Financial Aid, MBA, Undergraduate, UG, Summer Academy, Irish Language Policy.


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