What they say is true. The portions are huge and there is sugar in everything. At some orientation events, we were offered pizza, doughnuts and popcorn. Can you imagine trying to hold an interesting conversation with new fellow graduate students whilst hugging a giant box of popcorn? In the interests of avoiding bias, we also had a delicious three course dinner one night and a few impressive brunches, so it’s not all bad.
One of these brunches was called ‘families brunch’, which I assumed was for everyone. It soon materialised that my assumption was wrong: I arrived to a room of parents and young children, many toys and a giant lion mascot running around taking photos with everyone. The brunch was in fact for graduate students who had moved to Boston with their partners and young children (hence all the advice about completing research whilst attending to young children). Thankfully, a Brazilian guy had made the same mistake, so we helped ourselves to brunch and sat on the grass outside; ‘families brunch’ is much more peaceful without young children.
The foods I had been most concerned about before my arrival were fruit and vegetables, cheese, milk and bread. Fruit and vegetables are the most expensive food items by far – does three dollars for a small bag of carrots sound reasonable? I had been warned about the ‘waxed’ apples, which illuminate the space around them. Sure as can be, as the apples glowed, I read on the packet that they had been covered in a chemical substance to extend shelf-life. I opted for organic apples, which came to over six dollars for four apples. No scholarship can sustain that level of apple extravagance.
In the dairy department, I didn’t even the risk the local cheese, which to my naive European eyes looks strange in colour, shape and texture. I found a cheese speciality shop and treated myself to a tasty slice of Spanish Manchego. Having tried one type of milk, which was not totally convincing, I am yet to figure out which one to go for. Watch this space.
Does a freshly-baked croissant from a French bakery count as bread? Perhaps not, so I’ll keep searching for that too. In the meantime, I have found delicious crackers and proper hummus to accompany them. Thank you Wholefoods, and please now proceed to cut your prices in half.
The most commonly seen coffee shops are Dunkin Doughnuts and Starbucks, naturally. However, here in the Harvard vicinity, there are also a healthy number of independent cafes, which offer great vibes and delicious coffee. I have learnt to always opt for a ‘small’ coffee; they are generally larger than the ‘large’ coffees in the UK.
It appears that my main concern in the first week has been food. When not avidly exploring my nutrition options, I also managed to purchase a number of room essentials, such as a peace lily, a fluffy throw and a large wooden spoon. I am now equipped with a local bank account, an American phone and a validated immigration status. Other highlights included figuring out what ‘Crimson Cash’ is (Harvard’s internal payment system) and dancing to nineties music at the graduate student welcome party. I have met people from Norway, Argentina, Israel, Italy, the UK, Germany, Russia, Egypt, Switzerland, India, New Zealand and beyond, although I would struggle to recount most of their names on request. It is so international here that my well-practised British accent is not as exotic as everyone thought it would be. In fact, the rare treat is meeting a real American!
Spot the Difference
- A single bed is called a twin bed in America. This inevitably caused confusion during my bed linen shopping adventures.
- Anything on the map that is called a square (e.g. Harvard Square) is actually a road intersection. Alas, my search for Spanish-style plazas was in vein.
- The green man on a pedestrian traffic light is actually white. On the plus side, the red man is still red.