Clare Goslant was in the first week of her freshman year at Harvard, but she already knew her way around. She grew up 90 seconds away.
On the other hand, Colin Lu came from a city that is 10,522 air miles from Boston. Getting here from Melbourne, Australia, involved about 20 hours of flying, with stops along the way. It was his first trip to the United States.
Goslant and Lu represent the nearest and farthest distances traveled by new freshmen to start their academic careers at Harvard. In between those geographic extremes, there is nearly everything else, from Albania to Zimbabwe. The Class of 2016 represents 75 countries and every state except Wyoming.
There are freshmen from Texas and Puerto Rico, and from New Zealand, Vietnam, Japan, China, Nepal, Mongolia, and India. From Africa, there are freshmen from Nigeria, Gabon, Swaziland, Madagascar, Kenya, and Burundi. In the class of 1,600, there are freshmen from Yemen, Iran, and Iraq, as well as from Costa Rica, Colombia, Brazil, Peru, and Chile. There are freshmen from every continent except Antarctica, which is 98 percent ice. There are stateless freshmen.
Red-brick Cambridge looks different from home, said Lu, who spent his primary school years in the city of Traralgon, Australia, an expansive and flat region 100 miles from Melbourne. The city has a cricket team, a club for racing greyhounds, and a baseball team called the Redsox. (Yes, it’s one word.)
Still, the first thing Lu said about adjusting to the United States was that there wasn’t much to it. “On the cultural side,” he said, “the U.S. is not that different.” The Internet had provided an open window into America. Even New York City felt familiar. “We drove around,” he said proudly, despite the legendary crush of traffic, and the need to keep the family’s car on the right.
His first sight of Harvard Yard came with a little shock. “One thing that stands out to me is the number of tourists,” said Lu, one of 11 Australians in the Class of 2016. It was “quite impressive,” he said, compared with his trips to Stanford and Princeton universities. (Lu has a brother at Yale, and plans to travel there soon.)
American food prices took his family by surprise, because they’re about 20 percent cheaper than in Melbourne. And American portion sizes are larger. “It’s especially shocking when you order a small drink here,” said Lu, “and it’s the size of the Australian large drink.”
Lu plans a concentration in pure mathematics, because the University “has a really strong math faculty.” Besides, Harvard is “very good at everything else. I’d be perfectly fine if you banned me from math classes.” (Lu also likes philosophy.)
On the near end of the geographic spectrum, at least six admitted freshmen are from Harvard’s own ZIP code, 02138. And three are from Sherman Street, just a few house numbers apart.
“I am generally shocked to hear where people come from,” said Goslant, a 2011 graduate of Cambridge Rindge & Latin School, who can see Harvard from the second floor of her family house. She has met freshmen from Nigeria and Tanzania. She lives in the same Prescott Street dorm, Greenough Hall, that houses a freshman from the Occupied Palestinian Territories and another from Australia.
“The adjustment he had to make was far greater than the adjustment I had to make,” said Goslant of her new Aussie friend. But they had both rowed crew in high school, though half a world apart, and that made her realize that far can be nearer than you’d think. In the end, she said, “It doesn’t matter where you come from.”
It took Goslant longer to walk home from high school than it does to walk home from her Harvard dorm. While in secondary school, she walked through the main campus every day, past landmarks so familiar that they seemed like her own street. “I had to walk through Harvard Yard to get anywhere,” said Goslant.
Still, she has put some miles on her own life odometer. She took a gap year between high school and college, and spent part of it in Morocco learning Arabic and absorbing another culture. “The narrative of world history from the Western perspective seems so incredibly different,” said Goslant, who plans a concentration in Near Eastern languages and civilizations.
She almost crossed an ocean to go to college, too. She applied to the University of Oxford and got in, but the siren song of Harvard was just too sweet.
Harvard is “strong in all academics,” said Goslant, so she could try another concentration if her plans change. Then she paused, reflecting on the College near which she grew up. “There really is no other place in the world.”