US Master’s Degree Tour 2011: Not So Easy Road to Harvard Kennedy School (Master of Public Policy)

In early 2011, I took my first graduate-school trip along East coast of USA. This blog post is a series of this amazing intelligent journey. Enjoy!

The snow still fell heavily in Boston and i could see ice marks on the window. From my bedroom, i was displeased to see piles of snow covering the Berkeley road. Still was not covered from yesterday’s nervous of meeting with Professor Gallagher at Fletcher, Sigvart told me to get shower quickly if I didn’t want to be late for first time in Harvard. To be honest, there was a bit of whisper which told me that probably i should just skip today’s interview, more because yesterday’s downer, but of course i suddenly eluded that feeling away, thinking that things I had done until this second was “Too Big Too Fail” (quoting Stiglitz’s most famous book with the same title). I had interview with two Harvard’s admission people from Master of Public Administration/ International Development (MPA/ID) and Master of Public Policy (MPP), and both were belong to the same school, Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

Mean Lady at Harvard Law School

Harvard University is located in Harvard, Masachussettes, about 20 minutes by subway from the Back Bay station, Boston. This time, Sigvart did not escorted me like he did yesterday to Fletcher, so i got a little nervous as I am a bad map reader (read: disoriented) and I depend a lot on asking people about direction. I reached Harvard station (on the red line) by 8.20 AM and with my still wet boots, I started to looking around the area which I had never been in my life, besides these neighborhood was really hard to be case-placed as everything was almost covered by snow. I began to ask the address’ location of Harvard Kennedy School to a guy, who seemed to be a city official whose duty was to shovel up the snow on the road. He was nice and pointed me the way to go: “just go straight, turn left and follow the alley, and you will find this building’s number” Part of the turn left was easy until I ended up on the edge of the alley; was a big road with lots of buildings. I started to path along number by number, but the number I tried to find was somewhat skipped between a house and an intersection; it was not exist. Almost at the same time, my cellphone’s battery was empty, and the map that become the only visual direction and address recorded in it were disappeared in sudden. Praying and freezing, my eyes stopped at Harvard’s sign on the other part of the road and that sign brought me to another alley and a small condos’ lobby: Harvard Law School. Nice! Maybe I could just go inside and ask the front office if she knew the building of Harvard Kennedy School. The lady was African-American and i could guessed that she was both front officer and also a security officer.

Me: “Good morning, Mam. I am looking for Harvard Kennedy School, but the building’s number that I was searching was not located along this road, though the address said it was here.”

HLS’ officer: “Excuse me young lady. This is Harvard Law School. This is not Harvard Kennedy School!”

Me: “Yes…I am aware of that, but perhaps you know where Harvard Kennedy School is. I got the number and road, but since my cellphone is dead, I could not see the details of the building much more”

HLS’ officer: “Listen to me young lady (with elevated tone), it’s heavy snow out there and you look around the building which you ain’t have any idea the address is. You gotta be kidding me. The building that you entered is Harvard Law School and this is Harvard; we’re really big and you can’t just wondering around where one building is. (she kept continue advising me)”

My god. I did had appointment at 9 AM and it was 8.45 already. She was not helpful, but spending her time to speak to me as if I was her subordinate?? Hands-off…I was sorry. I did understood that it was my fault that my battery run off and did not have much time to fly from Asia a little earlier so that I could case the place, but I certainly did not want to waste my time listening to this mean and cocky security lady at Harvard Law School. Then I decided to leave the building when I heard she yelled, “Close the door, please!”. What was the problem of that lady…and I just didn’t get why expensive school like Harvard Law placed a woman like that which was totally not suitable to be a frontliner for guest. No manner at all.

Kennedy School has Two Buildings?

After being freed from that mean woman at Harvard Law School, I fortunately met a woman about my age who showed that the building I was looking for was right in front of me, in front of Harvard Law School. She assumed it has no sign of number because she knew some people from many Harvard departments went to this building for various reasons; thus this building was not necessarily handled Kennedy School only.

As I stepped in, I could feel the atmosphere of high-end from the classical golden polished railings. The rooms located inside did showed that this building was not a university building, more like administration and conference. I approached student service room for Kennedy School; it was a room where counselors did their jobs. The woman in the front desk told me that the woman who I looked for interview session (for MPP) didn’t stay in this building and I needed to walk some blocks more to get to Harvard Kennedy School building. She also said that after confirmation, my interviewer had been waiting since.  What? It was 9.00 AM already, I did not want to be late, this building was not Kennedy School and I still needed to walk some more (pitying my wet boots). Well…I guessed I had to RUN!

The MPP’s Interview

The road to Harvard Kennedy School indeed was not easy and after one more lost, because I mistakenly walked to the wrong intersection, I finally reached Harvard Kennedy School by the help of an old lady who was going to walk over there. Thank you angel! You just came in the right time. 🙂 I was ended up on the outer door closed to the road and next to Dunkin Donuts (OMG! I can’t even mention the map position; north, west, south? Can’t believe I am so bad in direction). Plus the snow did hide many of school sign, like this:

Harvard Kennedy School had a very complicated construction of rooms, with garden in the middle of its rectangular building. It has three main castles in each corner which serves different program’s center. The building along these castles connected one castle to another and served as classrooms as well as faculty member’s room. It layered so intense which even I could see level 3.5! Yes, 3.5 floor and it reminded me with Harry Potter’s platform 9 3/4 King’s Cross station. By the time I met my interviewer on MPP, i was already exhausted and in sweat.

Harvard MPP open cafeteria


The reason I learned about Master’s of Public Policy at Kennedy School was because I have been so much interesting with international studies, since 5th grade in elementary I know what I wanted: being a Secretary General of United Nation (current SG of UN, Ban Ki-Moon came from Harvard Kennedy School too), and this school has a perfect program which matched all of these reasons: International and Global Affairs program under MPP. Ok, just jump to the main questions:


1. Q: How is the MPP program different with the other MPP program?

A: It focuses on governmental issues which affect American-International policy.

2. Q: Do you required students to take research in the end of the program? How important is research for your program?

A: Our students do not graduate by doing research. Prior to graduation, they will work in a client-basis like government or multigovernment institutions to help them solving the problem.

3. Q: I am still in college and did have few working experiences? Do you take that as sufficient?

A: Most of our students here are already in professional jobs, both related or not directly related to the government field. I do suggest you to work first and gained some experiences. So, by the time you graduate, let me know what have you been working, before hopefully coming here in 2012.

Sadly, they didn’t really have certainty about possible full scholarship for international students. 😦

She seemed busy though, as I also came late, she already had guest waiting outside her room, but she was nice as she assigned me to sit in one of International & Global Affairs classes. She also recommended me to come back at late afternoon after finishing the class.

Precious Class with Nicholas Burns, a Former Ambassador of NATO

So I chose to sit in at Modern Diplomacy: Peace and War in the 21st Century class, taught by R. Nicholas Burns. The other options I had were American Warfare and Humanitarian Ethic: Law, Norms, and Practice class, and Civil Wars: Theory and Policy. Of course I chose the Modern Diplomacy one as it sounded suit my interest well in international affairs and the time fit me as I had another class of Advance Macroeconomic II for MPA/ID program at earlier time.

I was sitting closed by the room and decided not hassle in as I noticed long line of students trying to get inside that class. One fine man who looked so charming was surrounded by many students; I thought he was a professor from earlier class that just went out from that room before being used by Professor Burns, but he was not; he was Professor Nicholas Burns. I could tell he was prominent man, but at that time I had no idea who he was. While waiting for his room to be ready, I decided to look on interesting objects on the wall: Kennedy’s merchandise displayed in a glass bulletin board, resembling the name and icon of the school; take a look:


The class had begun and the room was seriously full. The shape of the room was half circle Roman theater and many students even sat on the floor. His class should be very interesting. It was his first session in the semester and I always excited for first session class.

Professor Burns began the class by introducing himself and his students’ assistance and finally, I understood why his class was so full, when professor burns started to ask “So, raise your hands if you’re not coming from Kennedy School?”; “Fletcher?”; “Harvard Business School?”; MIT?”. Higher education system in Boston worked based on cross-register system and as Boston was kind of its own industry of universities, cross-register system allowed students from different universities and different backgrounds in the area to expand knowledge by learning to each other through cross-register system. What a  wonderful system! Effective and provide beyond opportunities.


Professor Burns delivered first materials about good diplomacy and good leadership. He repetitively named Kennedy as the greatest leader on his version because he thought that Kennedy was the one that stopped the nuclear war from happening in the 1960s during the cold war. “If Kennedy did not pull back, the world would probably in the aftermath of nuclear war”, Burns said. I did not entirely agree with it was Kennedy and Kruschev who were come up with competition in nuclear power during the cold war, so it did not really made him suddenly angelic when he decided to pull back this dangerous weapons. Furthermore, I extremely enjoyed his class. His opinions challenged my criticism. Besides his strong side to the white house, he was always humble by saying “to me personally” and followed by throwing opinions and questions to his students to make the class totally alive and challenging. His class was full of wonderful students from different parts of the world: Iraq, Afghanistan, The Netherland, France, South Africa, England, China, and what’s more? these students were the ones that capable of digesting political issues because they already had certain backgrounds that supports their studies, from army to NGOs. Together with Professor Burns, they made the most vigorous debate I had ever experienced. One things that made Burns stood out as an educator was his request to meet his students, one by one, personally, during his super busy time, for intensive talks because he wanted to know the backgrounds of his students which perhaps could become a mutual follow-ups between the students and the professor for later project studies. No wonder, even after class, long line of students already formed, waiting for the next inspiring teachings from Nicholas Burns.

p.s. I just knew that Professor Burns was a former ambassador of NATO a week after I had his class. I was sitting in waiting gate of New Jersey airport with my boyfriend, ready to fly to Oslo, Norway, when I suddenly glared to the TV screen seeing a familiar face being interviewed by CNN about recent security issues in Egypt. The running text mentioned “Nicholas Burns. Former ambassador of NATO”, and I was instantly called my boyfriend and says, “Hey, look! He taught me at Harvard”.

I am super glad for having chance to visit MPP and especially attended Burns’ class. I wished I could learn more from him. And I hope one day, after I gain some significant works in government, policy, and international fields, I can study here.

Alright, this is the end of story about MPP and I’ll be posting the next story on my US Master’s Degree Tour Series 2011 about MPA/International Development, still at Harvard Kennedy School.

Keep fight chasing your dream 🙂


  • At the end of the day, I met again the person who interviewed me in the morning and she said, “So, what do you think about our school? Too government?” ehh….
  • Last summer 2011, I met one alumni from MPP program at Harvard Kennedy School. She is smart and a scholarship recipient at the program, unfortunately she explained that she was disappointed to the school that she thought that people didn’t go to Harvard for study, they go there for people/network. She also admitted that student didn’t have to study that hard, and they still received A or at least B.

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