Harvard housing program creates community

When Adam and Sarah Palmer, who are both from Australia, moved to the area so Adam could his pursue his Ph.D. at the Department of Systems Biology at Harvard Medical School (from which he graduated in 2013), Sarah didn’t anticipate the feeling of isolation she would experience.

It’s been eight years since the couple first called Harvard University Housing’s (HUH) Peabody Terrace home. Their three children, Lucinda, 6, Odessa, 4, and Everett, 20 months, were all born in Cambridge. Yet the memories of that first Boston winter still linger for Sarah.

“I actually had to go home to Australia because I was so depressed,” she said. “We didn’t know anyone here, and it was very difficult to go out and meet people. We didn’t know anyone past a ‘hello.’ It was just very difficult.”

While it’s not uncommon for international students and their spouses to struggle as they adapt and find community in university settings, HUH wanted to provide a supportive solution.


For the Palmers, it was the Graduate Commons Program (GCP) that turned things around.

“GCP transformed our lives,” said Adam, who is now a research fellow in the Harvard Program in Therapeutic Science. “Before, it was more or less like living in an apartment building close to campus; there just wasn’t much interaction between neighbors. It’s likely that the people living here will never again have such interesting neighbors, and there wasn’t really any use being made from that.”

The GCP worked to create communities within Harvard housing through scholarly lectures, yoga classes, networking events, even wine and coffee nights.

Piloted in HUH properties Akron and Cowperthwaite, GCP houses an international community of scholars, bringing together Ph.D., master’s degree, and postdoctoral students from around the world. Within the HUH setting, GCP offers diverse interdisciplinary programming to connect graduate students across programs and fields of study.

Events such as “Meet the Scholar,” a monthly gathering that brings visiting scholars to Peabody Terrace to share their work and research, provides an opportunity for students, their spouses, and children to connect, creating a community that likens itself to an extended, international family.


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