Sophia Sun attended the Secondary School Program in the summer of 2023, traveling all the way from Beijing to Boston.

As an assignment for her course “Anthropology of Food and Foodways” with Gavin Whitelaw, Sophia produced a podcast “SophEats.” The first episode focused on Americans’ love of Dunkin’ Donuts. She is continuing the podcast by exploring other food cultures around the world.

Sophia Sun.

Why did you choose to take “Anthropology of Food and Foodways”?

When I visited the States for the first time, I went to Boston and the first restaurant that I went to was a Dunkin’ Donuts; you can see a Dunkin’ like every block. I met someone who was an enthusiastic fan of doughnuts and he introduced me to how he and his family connect through doughnuts and movie nights as a Sunday routine. Because of that little spark, I became interested in the anthropology of food culture. 

Last winter, I was browsing through tons of summer schools from all different universities, and I found the course “Anthropology of Food and Foodways” and Harvard [Summer] School. When I saw that, HSS became my first choice.

What was the class like? What was one of the most interesting things that you learned? 

It was really intense. I actually did learn a lot about anthropology at a college level, but the overall coursework was really intense. All my roommates had the same perception as me about the workload, even though we weren’t taking the same classes. 

Sophia with roommates.
Sophia with her Holworthy Hall roommates.

The course was extremely fun. The students’ ages ranged from me — the youngest — all the way to a mom of an 18-year-old. I’m not even 18 years old right now! 

But the professor maintained a good balance in how his students participated in the class discussions. He constantly divided people into different groups to talk about each other’s opinions. After I communicated with other students, I felt like my perception of certain topics became clearer and easier for me to understand.

It’s also interesting to hear different students’ experiences. For example, there was a graduate student who completed his diploma at Cambridge University and he studied anthropology like I want to do in the future. There were so many perspectives offered by people from various cultures and backgrounds. 

We also visited museums and exhibitions at Harvard. We even planted vegetable seeds at the Cabot House Garden and we used the vegetables to make a pizza at the end of the course. 

What support did you receive from Harvard Summer School during your summer?

I assume that the level and amount of readings would be a hundred times easier for native English speakers, but for me, I was in a really anxious mental state at first.

I reached out to the Student Learning Center and told them my situation and some of the problems I was facing. They gave me a precise and clear guide that I could follow, which helped me to read the assignments and books in an organized way and understand the material. I also reached out to my teaching assistant and my professor, who were really supportive of the whole process during the course. 

Study materials from Anthropology of Food and Foodways, taught by Gavin Whitelaw (right).

What other topics are you looking forward to exploring on your podcast? 

I have an interview scheduled with a friend of mine about Kurdish food culture. He mentioned in one of our conversations that he is not that comfortable with the food his school provided. Kurdish cultures are from a mountainous climate, so the way they eat and the foods they eat are different. 

For the last episode, I chose Jamaican food culture, which was inspired by the fabulous performance of Jamaican athletes at the Olympics, like Usain Bolt. I’m also looking forward to exploring places like Kenya and Niger because I want to explore food cultures on the other side of the world. 

What was something unexpected that you learned about Harvard while you were at Harvard Summer School?

I thought that students at Harvard are hardworking and dedicated to their studies 24/7. But my proctor at the time was a biochemistry student and she was balancing her schoolwork and her life. That’s the model I want to have and the lifestyle approach I want to take. 

I also didn’t expect that there would be a cat at Harvard! He came to my dorm.

Sophia also shared her HSS experience via vlogs.

How has your experience at Harvard Summer School impacted you since you attended? 

This year, when I was looking for a summer school for myself, I couldn’t find another summer school that provides courses I’m interested in and has the same quality as Harvard’s Secondary School Program. In terms of academics, summer school helped me to determine what my major will be in the future. That’s especially critical for me because right now I’m going to begin my college applications.

The knowledge I gained at HSS continues to be useful now, like for my podcast and my current studies. My professor said that anthropology is all about discipline and I didn’t get it at the time, but now I clearly get the underlying meaning of discipline.

I had the most fabulous experience I could have for summer school.