Currently viewing the tag: "Somerville"

Though I fully acknowledge that these lists can get silly, I’m still proud to report that our own Somerville, MA, just across Fletcher Field from where I’m sitting (Fletcher being situated, as it is, near the border between Somerville and Medford), was included among Lonely Planet‘s “Best in the U.S.” spots for 2016!  That’s nice recognition for a town on the move.

For those readers from large cities, it can be hard to capture the relationship between Boston and its near neighbors.  Boston itself (that is, the city as incorporated) is a pretty compact place.  Though it wriggles in multiple directions (the neighborhood of Allston over here, Jamaica Plain over there), it’s an old city and the lines were tightly drawn.  Wikipedia tells me that Boston covers 48 square miles (124 square kilometers), compared to New York’s 468 square miles (1214 square kilometers).  The resulting effect is that some of the neighboring towns are really (regardless of what Lonely Planet might say) not suburbs in the traditional American sense.  Cambridge, Somerville, Brookline — they’re all neighboring cities, not the leafy towns that “suburb” usually connotes.  Or, as Wikipedia goes on to say, there’s the City of Boston (24th largest in the U.S.), the Greater Boston area (tenth largest in the U.S.), or the Greater Boston commuting region (sixth largest in the U.S.).  Somerville is squarely in Greater Boston.

Anyway, that little digression aside, there are a lot of reasons why Somerville is receiving recognition at this time.  Suffice it to say that the city has truly evolved over recent years into a great location for folks in the Fletcher demographic.  (Note its #6 spot on a 2015 list of Top Cities for Hipsters.)  From Davis Square to Assembly Square, Somerville has lots to offer, whether for two years in graduate school or for the long term.

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As a native New Yorker and an occasional visitor to Washington, DC, I can appreciate the charms of both places.  That said, I’ve lived in the Boston area for a long time now, and I really love it here.  But at this time of year, newly admitted students still ask us about Fletcher’s location.

As far as I’m concerned, the blog has put to rest all questions about whether students find the internships or post-graduation jobs that they want.  And I do my best during slow news stretches to talk about our lovely neighborhood.  But I can hardly expect prospective students to depend on my opinion.  They will want to hear the opinions of their peers.  So I turned to the Social List with a simple question:  What do you like about attending graduate school in Medford/Somerville/the Boston area?  The answers fell into two broad categories: related to students’ academic work; and related to other aspects of their lives.  Here are their answers:

Related to their academic work:

Boston is the hub of American academia!  Living within such close proximity to so many students studying anything you can imagine makes for a unique social experience.  Not only are there a multitude of schools within Tufts with which we regularly interact, but we are able to make friends with everybody from chemistry PhD candidates at MIT, to Harvard Law students, and everything in between.  Furthermore, Fletcher students have the opportunity to cross-register for courses at Harvard and vice versa.

Boston is a student town.  You are not going to find any other place that is as intellectually stimulating.  On top of the amazing atmosphere at Fletcher, unique opportunities to get involved in events and conferences at Harvard, MIT, and BU, and working with professors and research groups at those universities, come up as a positive consequence of being based so close by.

I love the collaboration between different universities in the area.  It increases the opportunities to find events, classes, and people interested in your field of study.

An unmatched intellectual community in the greater area, and the ability to use other schools’ resources, such as libraries.  Lots of networking opportunities between classmates and contacts at other schools, and ability to get involved in other groups/institutes connected to those institutions.

When speakers come to campus, the distance from Washington, DC/New York encourages candid thoughtful commentary in a way I didn’t anticipate.

And the other aspects:

With easy access to the Red Line, the entire city of Boston is at your feet.  That means plenty of great studying locations around the city (the Boston Public Library is a personal favorite), and an endless list of fun things to do with new Fletcher friends on the weekends.  A group of us got together at the Frog Pond for an experiment in skating, something quite new for international students (and a few American students as well).  We have museums, fascinating historical neighborhoods, restaurants, and shopping areas nearby if we want to take advantage of them — as a local Bostonian I certainly do — but Medford is quiet enough that you do not get lost in the hustle and bustle of a big city.  That is a huge advantage when midterms and finals come around.  In short, I love it here.  Many of us will most likely live in larger cities later on in life, so I am happy to stay in Boston as long as I can.

I’ve found that most employers have been flexible about agreeing to do interviews (both informational and for specific jobs/internships) over the phone or Skype.  I’ve done interviews with people in Canada, Mexico, New York, DC, and other locations without having to leave Boston.  You just have to be flexible and creative about scheduling them.  Also, after taking DC Metro pretty much every single day for the past seven years, not having to take Metro anymore is BLISS!  I very much needed a break from the DC bubble, and living in Boston has been a wonderful experience.

Boston has all the benefits of a big city in a small city.  The food in the area is fantastic.  Lots of industries have sites in Boston, and people are friendly (don’t be scared away by rumors of gruffness!).  Shorter flight times to Europe.  Road trips to Canada, skiing in Maine, visiting the Ben & Jerry’s factory in Vermont, fresh lobster in Maine.  You can easily drive to see the fall leaves.  Who wouldn’t want to go to Salem around Halloween?  Public transportation is good.  Can get to the airport on public transport in 45 minutes.

The calm environment in which to focus on studies, with the knowledge that a big city is just minutes away on the T, allowing for great nighttime and weekend fun.

There are so many events, organizations, activities, etc. if leaving campus in the direction of Somerville/Cambridge/Boston, yet it’s easy to go trail running, biking, hiking, and so forth within minutes in the Medford direction.

Access to Boston, while also being in the Davis Square area (similar to the Williamsburg area of Brooklyn).  There are many unique neighborhoods in this area including Inman Square, Porter Square, Harvard Square, and all of Boston!

A real campus where you can focus and study but with a real city close by.

Easy weekend getaways to New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, Cape Cod, Berkshires, etc.  –Convenient and relatively inexpensive airport for travel (i.e. frequent flights to DC).  –Easy area to bike around.  –Close to outdoors/outdoor activities.

Great neighborhood with much happening nearby!  It’s a suburb: living costs are comparatively very reasonable and being away from the din of the city is perfect for research/study!  Boston has consistently been rated amongst the top cities in the world for students, based on quality of living, employer activity, and affordability.

Proximity to Somerville gems like Highland Kitchen, 3 Little Figs, Backbar, Sarma, and more; the Boston area’s student-friendly nature (especially when it comes to café options and museum/movie/symphony discount pricing); the opportunity to live in a part of the U.S. your career may not otherwise let you experience; proximity and access to courses, speakers, and other opportunities at other Boston area schools.

I love DC, but I know it’s only a matter of time before my career will take me there.  Boston, on the other hand, is a wonderful, complex, historic, and culturally rich city where I’ve never before lived and might never get the chance to live again.  Location was one of the many reasons I chose Fletcher, and I’ve never regretted it.

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I hear a lot of chatter from admitted students that they will be kicking off an apartment hunt during their spring visit to campus.  Ariel is here to help you start your search.  If you have questions about local housing, please leave a comment below, and Ariel will respond!

Dear Ariel:  I just submitted my confirmation that I will be attending Fletcher in the Fall!  I would like to live off campus.  How did you find an apartment?

Most Fletcher students live off campus in the Medford/Somerville area during their two years at Fletcher.  My first step was to find my roommates, which I did through the Fletcher admitted students portal.  We were all first-years — two MIBs and two MALDs.  Then, because none of us were based in Boston, one of my future roommates took a trip up to Boston from DC to search for apartments.  After visiting several apartments she saw listed on Craigslist, she was eventually led to a realty company.  (In starting your search for an off-campus apartment, Craigslist will become your best friend.)  Through the realty company we located an apartment about a 10-minute walk from Fletcher between the campus and Teele Square.  Our four bedroom, one bathroom apartment is $550 per month per person, not including utilities. We signed the lease in mid-June for an August 1st start date and had to pay half of the broker’s fee.

Keep in mind: Living close to Fletcher is a great option for your studies.  It cuts down on your commute and can make life easier, especially when group meetings or study sessions run late into the night.  Some students do live in Boston proper, but not many.  Also, expect rent prices to run anywhere from $550 – $800 per month.  One-bedroom apartments are typically significantly more expensive.  If you have Fletcher friends who are second years, reach out to them to see if their apartments are available for the fall.

Some other things to keep in mind when looking for an apartment in this area:

  1. Is there a broker’s fee?  Some landlords will waive the fee or split the fee with you. It can save you a lot of money if your landlord agrees, because generally the broker’s fee is equivalent to one month’s rent.
  2. Is there a security deposit?  Generally, you will need to pay the first month’s rent and a security deposit at the time of signing.
  3. Does your apartment have oil or gas heat?  Oil heat is extremely expensive during Boston’s cold winters.  If you find an apartment that has gas heat, it might be worth paying a little extra in rent each month, compared to paying a cheaper monthly rent in an apartment with oil heating.
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Is it possible that I have not yet waxed rhapsodic about the farmers’ market this year?  I went, as I always do, to the Davis Square market yesterday and there was a real August-worthy bounty awaiting me.  The piles and variety of produce increase week-by-week until there is truly more variety than a shopper could need.  The market is located close to campus but, more to the point, convenient to the parts of West Somerville/North Cambridge where students tend to live.  For those in other neighborhoods, there are markets all over the area.  In fact, there are several other markets that I could (and sometimes do) shop at, but the one at Davis is my favorite.

The vegetation wasn’t the only highlight yesterday.  I also ran into two Fletcher friends — Elke, a PhD candidate, and Lauren, a recent MALD graduate.  Such a treat to catch up in my favorite Wednesday location!

Because I haven’t managed to post earlier this week, and prospects aren’t looking good for tomorrow, either, I’ll run through a quick update.

♦The Admissions Office will soon be back to full staffing.  We have spent a lot of time interviewing jobs candidates and I look forward to introducing blog readers to our newest colleagues soon!

♦The pre-session starts Monday!  Required for incoming MIB students but available to interested students in other programs, the two weeks of the pre-session are filled with serious study in a somewhat relaxed summer atmosphere.  Here’s the description of their course:

The pre-session folks tend to cross through the Hall of Flags without drawing much attention, but we know they’re there — and that the full crop of incoming students will follow only two weeks later.

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As someone who can fall victim to distractions, I’ve always valued the slightly-out-of-the-center-of-things location of Tufts.  Students can focus on student life while on campus.  Or they can wander a short distance from campus to surrounding neighborhoods with food, services, and fun.  A short distance further off, they’re in the broader academic community of Cambridge.  Or, with little fuss, they can take advantage of all that Boston has to offer.  For starters, from Fletcher, it’s about a 15-minute walk to the subway (which we all call “the T”).  Bus lines broaden the territory covered by mass transit (and make it easy for students to find housing with easy access to campus).  Here’s what our options look like:

Buses 80, 94, and 96 actually come onto the campus, and the 87, 88 have stops five minutes from Fletcher.   (Curtis Street and Packard Avenue bracket Fletcher on the Tufts campus.  You can find the full map here.)  So transportation links are pretty easy.

But what if all these multicolored noodles of bus and subway lines make it seem that traveling to Boston is a major expedition?  Well, if you have a little time, you can always choose to walk or bike.  Here’s one suggested route, for a day when you want to ice skate at the Boston Common (or, in summer, join the crowd of children splashing in the spray pool):


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Sure, it’s five miles, but five miles seems like a nice balance — a quiet campus that’s only a long walk from everything.

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No, this isn’t a case of Admissions staff amnesia.  Many admitted students, waitlisted applicants, and prospective applicants will pass through our neighborhood in the coming months, and you may be wondering just where, exactly, I am (or, more generally, Fletcher is).

Fletcher is on the Tufts University campus in Medford/Somerville.  Medford and Somerville are two of the small cities ringing the bigger city of Boston, and the border separating them runs right through Fletcher.  Though a lot of students live in Medford (and I have my hair cut there), I think it’s fair to say that for social activities, students are oriented toward Somerville and beyond.  Here’s how it looks on a map:

The marker is pointed at Fletcher, and you can see all the different towns that surround us.  Notice that a little map like this one can also include Logan Airport, as well as Mystic Lake (convenient for biking, swimming, etc.).  So I’m not going to argue that Fletcher sits in the center of a giant metropolitan area, but I can tell you that there’s a fantastic variety of easily accessed spots.  You want to shop for local produce at a farm, hang out at a beach, and dine downtown in a single day.  Go ahead and make your plans — it’s all doable!

When people talk about Boston, they sometimes mean the city alone, but they’re often referring to a broader area, which could include the inner-most neighbors or more.  The population of Boston proper is just under 600,000, about 20th by size in the U.S.  The population of Boston plus its nearest neighbors (including Medford and Somerville) is about a million, and “Greater Boston,” stretching out a little further but still within easy commuting distance, is about 5 million.  For a small city, we’re rich with universities, museums, theaters, restaurants, and all the trappings of urban life.  But being a small city, it’s also easy to head out of town and hike, bike, and otherwise recreate.

We’re often asked what it’s like to be a student here.  Personally, I think there’s a great balance between the opportunity to focus on student life on a leafy campus and access to those urban trappings only a short subway ride away.  The best of both worlds!

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We have Norway maples around our house that provide wonderful shade in the summer, and hours of leaf raking in the fall.  Bagging leaves was, therefore, high on the agenda for the weekend, along with cheering on Kayla’s soccer team during the final game of the season, and doling out candy to trick-or-treaters for Halloween.

But between those activities, we still managed to squeeze in a few unplanned extras.  On Saturday, Paul and I decided to check out a new restaurant in Davis Square on our way to the movies.  We had barely walked through the door when we saw friends of ours.  Once we sat down, we spied one of this year’s MacArthur grant winners, whom we recognize because he works with our former next-door-neighbor.  On our way out, we passed Tufts president Larry Bacow.  Later, as we left the movie, we bumped into friends near the theater and, having walked them to their car, waved to yet another friend as she drove by during our trek home.

These are the days when, contrary to Somerville’s municipal status, it feels like a small town — the kind of place where you run into people you know wherever you go.  I like that!  But it’s also great to take advantage of all that Boston, our larger city neighbor, has to offer.

So off we went on Sunday.  Hopped on the T and soon arrived in Chinatown for dim sum.  When we walked out of the restaurant, I had a hankering for a cannoli.  (Doesn’t everyone follow-up dim sum with Italian pastries?)  A quick walk down the Greenway and we were in the North End, Boston’s traditional Italian neighborhood.  Warmed ourselves with coffees and yummy cannoli at a busy but mellow spot.

Back on the T in time for Paul to carve a pumpkin before the youngest trick-or-treaters started ringing the bell.  And we could hardly have forgotten about Halloween, as we passed witches, zombies, skeletons, one large elf, and a wookie on a Segway, as we meandered through this area where — depending on how you crunch the numbers — as many as 20 percent of residents are students.

All in all, a perfect small-town big-city fall weekend.

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I hope it was a good weekend for everyone.  It certainly was for us:  the Medford/Somerville metro area had fantastic weather — the type we look forward to all winter as we dig through the snow.  My husband, Paul, and I kept ourselves busy:  went to the theater, puttered around our small sun-starved garden, picked up after the high school girls varsity soccer team during their sleepover with our daughter Kayla.  But the event that establishes the flavor of the neighborhood is, without a doubt, the annual Honk! Festival.

So there we stood on Massachusetts Avenue on Sunday, watching a long and unruly parade of marching bands, clowns, people on stilts, and hula hoopers, many of whom displayed a clear political leaning.  It’s a joyful parade, a celebration following Saturday’s great music in Davis Square (and ending up at the annual Oktoberfest in Harvard Square).  Be sure to put Honk! on your calendar if you’re planning to be in the area next fall!  Meanwhile, check out this video, Louder than Words, made by Tufts students in an Experimental College class last year.

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Continuing on the theme I started yesterday, I thought I’d provide one piece of info key to navigating the local landscape, and that is “the square.”  Look at Trafalgar Square in London, or Tiananmen Square in Beijing, and you’ll see a space that is, at least, rectangular.  Not so our local squares.  Davis Square is sometimes drawn as this little guy, with two legs, two arms, and two (what?) sticks coming out of his head.  Not rectangular, and certainly not square.  The “squares” of Somerville or Medford (or Cambridge, for that matter) are the intersection of several streets.  Closest to Tufts are Somerville’s Davis, Ball, and Teele Squares, plus Medford Square in Medford.

Now you have the essential knowledge that will enable you to understand Fletcher students when they tell you where they live, or the location of their favorite restaurants.

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