Campus activities planned for winter break range from resume workshops to arts intensives, wellness seminars, and book talks.

Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer

Campus & Community

Winter bounty

6 min read

Wealth of opportunities for students to create, connect

It’s been a long semester for Ashin Shah ’12, whose last final exam falls at the very end of the term. He’s worked hard. And when winter break arrives on Dec. 22, he’s going to play hard.

“We’re renting a house in Virginia this Christmas for my whole family — all 40 of us,” he says. “Then I’m going to Washington, D.C., to see friends and cousins and work on my thesis. After that, I’m going to Costa Rica for two weeks, then to Killington, Vt., to ski with Harvard friends.”

As winter break approaches, Shah and many of his fellow undergraduates are mulling over how to spend a month free of term-time obligations. College officials strongly encourage students to spend time away from campus and to reconnect with friends and family. But those hungry for something to do can return on Jan. 13 for Wintersession 2012, 10 days of innovative programming for students interested in exploring a creative passion, developing a new skill, or delving into an extracurricular or career interest.

“We want students to decide what’s best for them,” says Lisa Boes, Allston Burr Resident Dean of Pforzheimer House and coordinator of Wintersession 2012. “They can come back and do something that they might not have the opportunity to do during the academic year, or spend the time at home — or at least off campus — getting re-energized for the spring semester. We want them to make a healthy choice based on their own goals.”

This year, winter break will be divided into three phases, the first beginning on Dec. 22 and running until Jan. 2. During this time, dining services, freshman dormitories, libraries, and all College administrative offices will be closed. The second phase kicks off on Jan. 3 and runs through Jan. 12. International students, artists and musicians, and thesis writers who have received approval to be in residence may return to campus, as well as undergraduates participating in Boston-based internships and students preparing for a graduate or professional school exam such as the GRE, MCAT, LSAT, or GMAT. Limited dining and shuttle services will be available during this time. Libraries will be open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

On Jan. 11, Harvard clubs and interest groups all over the world will host Global Networking Night, an opportunity for current students and alumni to connect. The immensely popular Harvardwood 101 career exploration will also take place in Los Angeles during the second phase of winter break. The program, now in its 10th year, allows students to explore careers in the entertainment industry.

All students may return to campus on Jan. 13 for Wintersession, an optional period of student- or faculty-led activities running the gamut from career treks and resume workshops to arts intensives, wellness seminars, and book talks.

Students looking to explore a creative passion during Wintersession may want to participate in one of the Office for the Arts’ (OFA) programs, including the “Silver Clay and Empty Bowls” ceramics workshop, the “Creative Edge: From Studio to Stage” dance program, and arts intensives at 29 Garden St. that explore the connection between the digital age and the arts. Faculty authors such as Steven Pinker and Theda Skocpol will discuss their most recent books at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. in Sever 113 each day from Jan. 16 through Jan. 20. Students can develop their executive skills Jan. 19-20, via the Program in Essentials of Leadership, a two-day course that will offer workshops in public speaking, team building, goal setting, and ethical leadership. Finally, undergraduates looking to explore a career interest can take advantage of offerings at the Office of Career Services, including treks to the Boston Center for the Arts, the law firm of Mintz Levin, Harvard Business School, and ESPN. They can also explore careers in the nonprofit sector and connect with alumni leaders at “Public Interested?,” a two-day event hosted by the Phillips Brooks House Association, the Harvard Alumni Association, and other groups at the Science Center, Jan. 20-21.

Suzanna Bobadilla ’13 says she will need some downtime over winter break to recuperate from having her wisdom teeth removed the day after Christmas. Nevertheless, she will return to campus early to join 49 other undergraduates in the Winter Writing Program, co-led by Walter Isaacson ’74, the former chairman of CNN and managing editor of Time magazine, and Evan Thomas ’73, Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton. In addition to attending daily sessions and workshops, Bobadilla will dine with Isaacson or Thomas in a group and also meet individually with them to work on the craft of nonfiction writing.

“It’s a great opportunity,” says the history and literature concentrator. “During the school year, I don’t have enough time to focus on the craft of writing. The writing program will give me the chance to reflect and to improve my writing at a time when I don’t have 20 other activities to do. This will be a huge help to me on my junior paper.”

Abigail Lipson, director of Harvard’s Bureau of Study Counsel, says that there’s no best or right way to spend Winter Break. Whether they ultimately choose to spend the time off campus, or to return for some or all of Wintersession, students should take their own temperature and make a decision based on what’s right for them.

“Students need to consider how it would make sense for them to spend the break,” she says. “For some it might be a great time to do paid work and sock away some savings for the spring; or an opportunity to develop existing skills or to try something quite new, such as in sports, science, art, languages, learning CPR, or swing dancing. For others, it could be a chance to travel, or an opportunity to spend time at home with family and friends.  It is important for students to remember that they have at least 11 winter, spring, and summer breaks during four years of college, so there’s time for more than one option.”