Jun 26, 2021 By : Samantha, Grade 10 Cambridge Learner

Harvard Youth Lead the Change – The Big Red Group: A Learner’s Journal

Online programs were the definition of monotony and boredom for me. It’s just how they are. It’s always the same formula, the host/teacher of the meeting explains endlessly, also while desperately trying to engage the audience to keep their video on. It’s either a chaotic mess of so-called “internet problems” or an awkward silence that fills every nook and cranny of the virtual room. Although I do know that the pandemic had challenged all the educational institutions, most of them struggled to keep their creative teaching afloat. Although the ‘Harvard YLC Program’ was different from all the online webinars and programs I have attended. It was different and unique. A rare and bright gem in a sea of worn-out jewels.

When I first came across the program, it was an email sent by Sameer sir, as an opportunity for -developing the right leadership skills. The name Harvard was one of the factors that interested me to partake in it. It may sound pretentious to join a program only because it has the name of a well-established University, but I just went with it thinking this would be a great addition to my resume. When I heard that I was selected among 3500 students all around the globe, it was pure ecstasy -. The first day was nerve-racking, I was meeting around 100+ students from all over the world, even though it was online; the nervousness didn’t seem to waver. Our mentors all were from Harvard -University, all were partaking in a variety of courses. We got background information on all our mentors, who were going to guide us throughout the program. What caught my attention was that, even before the program officially started, the host group expressed great interest to know us as individuals and sent us personal emails to describe ourselves. (Side-note: The program used gender-neutral language throughout the program, they even asked us to put our preferred pronouns on our zoom profiles) 

Beyond the conventions of classroom experience.

The first day was the most crucial, it is the day for first impressions. In my mind, if you have to stand out there are two things you need to follow: One- Be confident. Confidence is key, it makes you the most approachable and sought-out person in the room. Two- Have opinions. Being over-opinionated can be quite a turn-off, but having strong, valid opinions makes you stand out. However, all my ideas and plans were crushed on the first day. The minute I entered the zoom meeting, I could tell the aura was different from a conventional classroom -. It was lively, It had background music, all of the students were alert, awake and all their eyes glowed. What? How can all of you look like that when everything outside is crumbling down? It was contagious, I wanted to follow the same vibe. If I were to describe my first day at Harvard YLC it would be welcoming and something close to a mother’s hug. Everyone was comfortable with themselves and open. I didn’t need to change myself or adhere to anything, they were ready to accept and influence me as I came. That was my main highlight of this program, it is online and this inclusive. Everyone talked, shared, and critiqued each other. This level of synergy would take a lot of time to be attained, but YLC indulged in a healthy environment early on. I figured it was the mentors not bringing any of their own beliefs on the table that allowed us to express ourselves. I heaved a sigh of relief, since it allowed me to leave my awkwardness and inhibitions behind.

Failure is underrated 

Throughout the program, we learned and communicated effectively, no one was left behind. I noticed that communication and dialogue were highly prioritized. The mentors always asked for our opinions and judgments. This was a perfect democracy. Most of the online discussions are either autocratic in nature or clash with the other party too often. Although the mentors were just 4-8 years older than us, handled all our questions and enquiries professionally and with no judgment. 

It amazed me, wow, is this what Harvard students are like?

At that moment I aspired to be one.

I learned about failure in a very new light. One of the mentors described failure as flexible. That struck me. All those times when I would beat myself up for low grades, not understanding how to integrate a function, get my desired marks, or not giving out a perfect dance piece, I now realized that it is part of the process to achieve greatness. Failure comes in all types of forms, it is salient that you acknowledge it, cry and sob over it and finally look forward. 

That’s easier said than done, but the program made me believe that I can come to terms with failure. 

One of my mentors worked on a project for a month, but she still got a bad grade. No matter how hard they worked or the time they put into it, it still failed. Disheartening right? However, she told us that, due to her getting a bad grade she was able to recognize her weakness and build upon it. The following semester she got the best grade. This anecdote allowed me to come to terms with failure and not always look at it negatively. None of the mentors were preachy or came off as those fake inspirational idols. They were normal people, sharing their experiences, reflecting constantly to recognize their strengths and weaknesses. 

Lead self before your lead others 

Leaders are not authoritative figures with a set of followers or a fanbase. Leaders are risk-takers  -, who are ready to shout out their voices. Leaders don’t have a set personality, everyone can be the leader, despite their limitations. That’s the definition of a leader told by our mentors. I now understand to lead others, we need to develop our ability to lead.

3 reasons to attend YLC

  • It’s different, it’s unconventional, and doesn’t conform to anything. 
  • It’s diverse. The platform was open to everybody, this was a global course with students from Nigeria, Japan, Singapore, India, America, London, and many other ethnicities. Not only is it great for network building but an opportunity to develop a multitude of perspectives through your interactions with our peers.
  • It’s inclusive. The program focuses on being introspective, reflective, and realistic. 

The programme prioritizes the ideas of the youth more than the ideals and beliefs of the mentors or the organization. It made me think how important it is to listen deeply and respect everyone’s perspective even if you don’t ascribe to their school of thought. It taught me to be more open-minded. Everyone had a say, and the students who may otherwise would have been shy to speak their mind, could do it with ease in a safe environment.

I was more open to online programs after attending Harvard YLC, I thought more about the pros they brought. I realized that the reason I was probably able to communicate with my mentors and peers in the program could have been that it was an online platform. – It was way easier on an online platform and the technology allowed an organized meeting for each day. It helped me to express myself better and gave a voice to all, even those who thought they were socially inept. 

It’s also kind to mother earth, YLC being a global program needed multiple peers and mentors to travel to the host destination. Online programs don’t only save a lot of time for preparation and accommodation, it decreases carbon footprint or usage of non-renewable resources. Maybe, the definition of online programs might change.

So if you as a reader would want to partake in the program, you have my word for it and judgment. YLC changed the way I think, believe in myself, look at the world around me, and today I can say I am ready to be a part of the global community of changemakers.  


About the Author:

Intelligence only comes with an open mind. Hi! I am Samantha, a Grade 10 Cambridge learner who indulges in the depths of learning. I love to dance, write, document, experiment, introspect and learn multiple languages. All of these elements ground and define me as a persona. Through blog writing, I can discuss and project feelings and ideologies in written form. Blogs are captivating pieces of work and I enjoy reading and writing them. I hope to post more blogs and riveting pieces of work!