Before traveling to Russia over the summer, Sasha Shpitalnik ’19 feared that something might go wrong with her senior thesis research on nongovernmental organizations there, or with the trip in general. But it didn’t. After more than 100 interviews, lots of connections, and plenty of sightseeing in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Novosibirsk, Shpitalnik realized the trip had enhanced her research and changed her outlook on life.
“I was scared, but I had to force myself to push through and explore the unknown,” said Shpitalnik, a government and Slavic languages and literatures concentrator. “I spent many hours in Gorky Park thinking about my place in Russia and in the world. All the things I learned about myself in Russia will stay with me forever. They have shaped the way I see myself in the world.”
Shpitalnik was one of 12 students who spoke Monday evening during Destination: World, which helped kick off Worldwide Week at Harvard 2018, a program that highlights the University’s global impact.
Students shared stories about the lasting imprint their trips abroad had on their career paths, their world views, and the way they see themselves, and they encouraged other students to get out of their comfort zones, explore the world, and find their passions during their time at Harvard.
For Ellie Underwood ’19, a neurobiology concentrator, trips to Japan allowed her to reconnect with her family roots — her mother is from there — to learn Japanese and to start a journey of self-discovery.
“I had the desire to reconnect more deeply with my heritage while at the same time figuring out what it meant to be both Japanese and American and finding my own place between these two countries,” said Underwood. “I know that my journey of discovering my own relationship to Japan will continue for the rest of my life.”