How to live near Cambridge MA

Three-month research stay at Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts

1. Preparation:
Since I had already applied for a J1 visa for the U.S.A., I already knew what to expect when I asked again: A long and arduous start-up time and a very complex and not always completely understandable process. It is advisable to answer all points on the consulate's online platform and not to question them. The documents that were decisive for me were the DS2019 and proof of the host institution (The advice from the International Office in Harvard was very good and they helped me a lot in getting everything right, after my arrival it was also a very guided path through the administrative procedures) for the Visa, as well as the DS160 for Homeland Security. It is advisable to start applying for the visa as soon as possible, as this usually takes the longest.

You must first register on the embassy website, along with a few questions and templates that must be answered and uploaded in advance, before you can then register online for the actual interview at the embassy. Another important piece of information: In the Berlin U.S. Embassy no cell phones are allowed! (As well as no lighters and the like, it is best to print out the directions and leave everything else at home except for a document folder; there is also the option to leave a locker at the nearest subway station, each one his own.) And don't forget: health insurance, Activate your debit / credit card for foreign countries and, ideally, open a PayPal account, as the costs of transferring money with online banking already exceed small amounts (it should be mentioned that there is NO IBAN system in the USA, but a wire- Transfer system, i.e. an independent number for transferring money and checks are still widespread. If you don't want to pay your rent in cash like me, you should keep this in mind!)

Since I had already organized my last stay in the USA on my own, I did not attend the information event of the International Office after a short time, but I recommend EVERYONE to visit it, even if it is only for the additional information there, they help you a checklist again to prepare and to obtain general information.

2. Life:
Adjacent to Boston Downtown are the partly independent places Cambridge and Somerville, in which it is very good to live (in terms of security and proximity to the host institution as well as leisure activities). It must be clearly understood that the public transport system, with the exception of the metro, leaves something to be desired or is not reliable, as well as the distances in the U.S.A. that cannot be compared with those in Europe! A bike is highly recommended or looking for accommodation near the red metro line. Rental costs averaged $ 1000 and housing is in great demand as academic life thrives! It's best to organize accommodation beforehand, I personally took the risk and after my first arrival at Airbnb at the end of June I found a room to sublet until mid-August, followed by two further changes of apartment, so I lived in a total of 4 different apartments. That makes it very exciting, because you experience a lot, but it is also very exhausting to look for further advertisements every day after getting up or to live with the constant pressure of looking for an apartment. It was a very educational experience for me, but it is certainly not for everyone.

A work colleague who was there with me for the same time found something for the entire 3 months before the arrival, so that is also possible. There is no cafeteria on campus, but there are food trucks and other snack bars (Clover is highly recommended!), Which sell hot food from $ 8-10 (upwards) until 9 p.m., otherwise Harvard Square is (you can also play chess until late at night !!!) not far away and still offers some (more expensive) alternatives. It is best if you have time to cook and take away with you, even if shopping (like everything else) is very expensive. Chains like Star-Market are recommended, but you should be careful (if you value it) to buy products that have not been hormonally treated or genetically modified, this is very common and you have to assume that all foods are affected by it that do not have an extra label for it. With the Harvard ID you can also get to the nearby Harvard Pub "Queens Head", where you can get discounted drinks, as well as a "Chicken Wings Wednesday" for all those concerned. The mentality that I experienced in Boston is very European compared to the rest of the USA, there is a “large” vegetarian menu, Massachusetts describes itself as the “Spirit of America”, the Freedom Trail testifies to the independence of the USA and you can feel the spirit of the large research institutions that shape the cityscape. Small talk is possible with pretty much anyone, an experience that a European should have.

3. Host institution
I think that everyone has a certain idea about Harvard, be it from the movies or just the name itself, which makes you feel a bit. In addition to all the shine, it should not be forgotten that they only boil with water. During the summer months, the institute was very deserted compared to the weeks of the current semester, which I still noticed, and so was the campus. However, since I did not take part in the normal semester, but spent most of the time in the laboratory, I can unfortunately not say much about it. However, there are a lot of offers, be it sporting or cultural in nature; The university card, which must be applied for at the nearby International Office, includes free admission to the Harvard museums and offers other discounts (I received free tickets from a colleague for the Aquarium in Boston, as well as for other external museums However, due to lack of time, they do exist. The Boston Marathon also exudes his spirit and you see a lot of joggers (it's quite contagious). Harvard also offers its own apartment search platform (Campus Housing, access only if a connection with Harvard exists, otherwise best Craig List or Facebook: "Harvard / MIT-housing" pages, beware of scams!), where rooms are offered for sublet directly on campus, are priced in the range of $ 1200 (but there are also cheaper ones Options, generally around $ 800, you just have to search for them and then follow the rules of the "speed meeting" throw and be very persistent).

4. Others
Life in the U.S. is characterized by rules and prohibitions. In general, it is highly recommended not to question certain things, but simply to accept them!

If you want to explore the surrounding area a bit, be it Massachusetts or nearby New Hampshire or Main, you can borrow a car and head out (you usually need to be over 25 years old!). It is important to note that since almost every country in America is privately owned, you can only enter lakes or the beach for a fee at beaches that are open to the public. Camping just like that in nature is not officially allowed, but I got the impression that everything can be allowed as long as nobody is looking, everything at your own risk! Otherwise you can sleep well in the car if you happen to find a free spot, apart from Airbnb the prices for motels are very high; Anyone who thinks they have to do the same as the films and would like to find something in the evening with good luck is strongly advised not to do so (it is better to always plan ahead).

New York City is a little over 4 hours away from Boston by bus (the Peter Pan & Greyhound bus routes are highly recommended) and is definitely worth a long weekend (tip: Airbnb in Queens or Bushwick close to the M-metro line, which brings you directly to Manhattan and you save a lot of costs if you get a week ticket for the metro instead of an expensive hostel in Manhattan; Bushwick is the spirit of old New York compared to sterile Manhattan still rather noticeable). If you are happy to be asked how you are by everyone, you should bear in mind that this is just an empty phrase and that no one seriously expects the question to be answered more than "Good, thank you, you". Funnily enough, if you have a not so good day and respond with a “not so good” and expect a longer conversation, it almost causes confusion in the other person who was not prepared for it. There are also very interesting combinations of these greeting phrases, some of which are somewhat absurd. Best of all: just smile and nod!

5. Conclusion
The stay brought me a lot personally, the immersion in another culture, the hectic life of hardcore capitalism that was very far ahead of us, the lack of a social system, with all its social consequences and the political madness with its, to put it mildly, sometimes incomprehensible pages. It's definitely a different world, a world of unlimited possibilities as soon as you know how to do it (At this point I would like to recommend everyone to start with the book "Brave New World" by Aldous Huxley after arriving and work a little to compare).

Harvard itself is amazing! You feel carried by the spirit of science, inspired by the possibilities and everyone who is there takes in the surroundings. It is a true place of knowledge (and power) and you get the feeling of becoming part of a larger whole, on an intellectual and emotional level. The number of international students, the free small talk that allows you to easily get into conversation with many (also here: at your own discretion) and the resulting environment enable a creative and extremely open atmosphere in which everything seems possible, innovative and Hands-on.

I think that this stay also brought me a lot in terms of professional considerations, as it showed me once again that I can very well imagine a life in and for research. I can only recommend it to everyone, although I am not exactly sure how I got my luck, so unfortunately I cannot give precise tips on how to be accepted, but just appeal to never miss a chance, to be open and timely touch your own dreams and work hard on them. Luck, meeting deadlines and taking care of funding and other things independently, as well as doing scientific preparatory work, was my ticket, hard work the price and a self-discovery trip with all its ups and downs was my reward, for which I am very grateful and which I never miss (Not even the hard work, because in the end the laboratory work I did there was just a taste of what would one day be expected in research and it pushed me to my limits; however, this was the only way I was able to grow in myself and I am infinitely grateful for that).

It is clear to me that I got a chance that is certainly not given to everyone and therefore treat every memory with the greatest respect and hereby would like to encourage everyone to reach for the stars and not set any limits for themselves. The only limits, and I learned that there, are the limits in our head, everything else can be worked out if you use the opportunities that are given to you and stay behind!