What it’s like for Milagros Costabel to live the Harvard dream

It is four in the afternoon and it is cold, although for those who live in Harvard those 10 degrees Celsius are good news. The movement is intense, spring break begins and what you see most are students walking with suitcases. Stopping at the door of his residence, a few meters from the statue of John Harvard, Miracles Costabel he smiles: he also has plans, in a few hours he will leave for Spain.

When he tells it, he not only smiles but laughs. And she will do it several times during the two hours that she will talk about her life in Harvard. When she will say that she is “a little proud of myself” for having obtained a scholarship to study there, a place as far away for her as a story from a movie, so much so that she did not even dream of being able to visit it . “It seems very strange to me because this is not where I expected to be,” she says. Perhaps because the odds were too much against: it is blind born, self-taught in learning English who studied with Youtube, daughter of a working family where neither of her parents finished high school. “Nobody expected it, who would have thought that she was going to get here? No one, not even me.”

The days of Miracles go by without stopping to think much about what is going on. Harvard. If he does, he feels that he is “too crazy”. And maybe he’s right. She is in many years the first student blind of the prestigious university —there were people with very low vision— which implied challenges for her and for the institution. “They didn’t know what to do about a lot of things and the first few months were very difficult for me,” she admits. She not only faced being alone in another country, dealing with another language, but also that, even at Harvard, not everything is perfect. She knew it from the first day of school when there was no system in place for her to get to the classroom.
“And what did you do?”
“I sent a message to a chat group. “I said, ‘I have to go to class, I have no idea what to do, I don’t see anything, does anyone want to walk me to my class?’
“Did someone do it?”
—Yes, of course, the little ones do, zero problem, after that I adapted.

miracles he remembers those first days as difficult, but he prefers to talk about how he feels now. “Happy”, is the first word that she answers, while she has a coffee a few blocks from the University. Blocks that he walks with familiarity, streets that he recognizes by the sound of traffic, although he also recounts some practical difficulties. As an example, two are enough: knowing if there is a place to sit in a bar or serving food in a dining room for 1,300 students.
Her ease in finding allies —such as the dining room staff who, in addition to helping her on a daily basis, brought her food to her residence three times a day when she had coronavirus— intermingle with his tenacity, intelligence and desire to be as independent as possible.

A few days ago you were informed of a change of classroom for a course. Asked for help? Not this time. She had some time so one not too cold night she searched the internet, planned a route and practiced it five times until he managed to do it. So he was able to go without difficulty. “I prefer to stop asking for help if I really want to get somewhere really fast or I’m in trouble.”
With that attitude he feels that he grows, that he gains independence. She knows that if she wants to get to the other side of the city she should be able to do it alone. She achieves it, and when she tells it, she returns that smile and that pride in herself, which is pride, joy and security. And that is inspiring.

College life

miracles She tries to think that she is studying at a university like any other, but reality immediately brings her to the fact that she is in the best in the world. She reminds him when she comes across a prize laureate or with a former president or in interactions with their peers. “It is very crazy to see that each person who is here has a special story to tell, I have people who have worked with the POTone of my best friends graduated at the age of 15 from high school in Afghanistan”.

“That’s where you fit in too.”
—I think so, I don’t know what I would think if I heard my story, He says. And she laughs again.
Harvard it is also life with other students. miracles She shares an apartment at the university with four other students and occupies one of the two single rooms. Coexistence was not entirely easy, especially due to a cultural issue: her companions are American and Muslim, with customs and ways of relating that were not easy to reconcile. For the next semester the panorama will change, because she was able to choose with whom she will share the residence: it will be her friend from Afghanistan and three students from Turkey.

Miracles Costabel
Milagros Costabel at the door of the apartment she shares with four other students.

If he has to cross the line, he talks about how different we are Uruguayans of the Americans. It has nothing to do with disability, she remarks, but with not greeting each other with a kiss, not hugging, practically not touching. “People are very different, very superficial,” she summarizes. And he adds: “It’s all very joy-joy, but you never really know what’s going through that head, they’re not direct at all and they’re politically correct, they’re never going to say anything bad to you, they’re going to tell you between the lines.”

Reading between the lines and the unwritten rules are part of the learning of these months. Being in a university where there are students from families with high purchasing power, which involves issues that are already incorporated and that Milagros had to learn. For example, how do club finals, super private and secret spaces or what some dress codes mean to you. “Beyond that, I think I was lucky, I met a lot of really good people, I have many friends and I always eat and go out with someone,” he says.

Between the pressure and the fear of missing out

“There is also a lot of pressure here, and that is something that nobody talks about in Harvard and this type of environment. One of my roommates left due to mental health,” says Milagros. She talks about the academic pressure and that those who are there are people who always want to go further. “And if you suddenly put all the people who always wanted to be more and more and more in one place, it is a problem, because you do more, you see that the person next to you is doing more and the other is doing twice as much. And that gets to you,” she admits. There is also a social component, he says, and names the so-called FOMO (“fear of missing out”, in Spanish “fear of missing something”) and the fear of whether he did enough, if he has enough friends, if he is taking advantage of everything he should take advantage of.

When studying, Harvard It provides many possibilities for students to explore. As an example, miracles She says that although she applied as a Political Science student, she is not taking any courses in that area this semester. She does, she studies science and Gender, Sociology and the Holocaust. In the next one, which is the third, he will have to define the emphasis that he will give to his career.

She had an excellent experience with the teachers, with teachers who surprised her because they were “on top of everything”. In high school, she remembers, she was in charge of accessible materials and here that ceased to be a problem. She even hesitated to take the Sociology course because the program included developing a visual timeline. “I told myself ‘we wouldn’t be able to’, but I signed up anyway. We set up a meeting with the accessibility office and the teacher and handled it super well. Today is my favorite subject,” she says.

Another fundamental aspect of her university life is the clubs, a difficult choice since there are more than 500. Milagros chose Science Fiction because she wanted to meet people and the subject interested her. “They are weekly meetings, we eat cookies, we talk about stories.” He is also part of the club that publishes the university newspaper. “There are 10 thousand things to do. You always have the opportunity to try new things and be doing things that are out of the ordinary. For the summer, for example, I applied for a program that if I stay I will be able to teach a seminar for high school students in China”, she says.

What there is not in Harvard is a day like the next. Something new and “random” always comes up. Milagros usually gets up around 9 in the morning and takes the opportunity to keep her room in order or do last-minute homework. Because he says, and laughs, despite the “very pure” image he usually gives, he likes to leave tasks to do them under pressure, which is when he feels that it works best.
With one foot in the present, Milagros is already thinking about the future.
—My dream of life is to work in a multilateral organization like the United Nations, but it is impossible.
“Why is it impossible?” If you are already here.
—Yes, I am not aware in my day to day, but I am.
And if Miracles knows something, it is to achieve the impossible.

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What it’s like for Milagros Costabel to live the Harvard dream