This week, I am fulfilling my dream of taking over the Admissions page with a series of six consecutive posts. I am calling the takeover Yultide (credit to the bloggers for the awesome name). Today is Yultide Day 3. Check out Day 1 - "Sketches from the Independent Activities Period" and Day 2 - "Just 41 Pictures I Took in 2017."
Note: Part 1 of this post is from a never-published draft about from my freshman fall 2014. Part 2 is from freshman spring 2015. Senior winter 2018, I do not endorse all of the views expressed here.
Part 1: Freshman Fall
I’ve only been here for a semester, but things have changed in life. For example, I realized how little I know and how uncertain my plans are. It’s a fascinating revelation. Senior year of high school, I thought I knew how to handle life. In fact, I had a clear vision in mind of what I wanted to do. I expected to learn more about the field I’d already chosen for college. Then MIT destroyed those misconceptions, for good.
I look back on my fall classes and sometimes shudder at how little I learned. It doesn’t feel like much, but I think that’s because classes here do not teach formulas, but rather teach concepts and open up new paths. It’s horrifying sometimes to think how much knowledge there is in the world and how little I can access in a lifetime, let alone four academic years. I am grateful to MIT because it has shown me those new paths, allowed me to marvel at the complexity of modern science. Knowing little has driven me to know more. The best I can do now is take tiny experimental steps to figure out the most sturdy foundation. There are 2,000 possible classes, and although I would love to take all of them, four classes per semester is my limit, so, really, I can take very few. [Editor's Note: I cannot believe I wanted to take 2,000 classes, but I think I really did mean it at the time.]
My favorite learning experiences have been in the company of my peers. Perhaps my favorite kitchen conversation was one about algebraic field extensions. We found their analogy to human relationships. I did not have much background in the subject, but I loved it. I learned something amazing that evening—not the only time I discovered so much from my friends.
College changes things, but the biggest changes are often imperceptible. I discover them on trips back home, when I can no longer go to bed earlier than 1am, and waking up at 7am seems like a cruel practice [Editor’s Note: 1am, psh, that’s practically a high schooler's bed time]. I feel a separation from my permanent address in Ohio—when I visit, I realize that I’ll never catch up with the latest news.
Part 2: Freshman Spring
I have been here for a semester and a half. In three weeks, I will need to declare a (yet nonexistent) major. I must find summer employment, which I have decided to seek on campus because here, now, is my home—imperfect, busy, but totally comfortable. I shudder at the thought of an independent three-month “vacation,” but also think of future days at MIT without homework as thrilling.
I’ve also had to deal with personal matters: a friend left on leave, bonds broken, food patterns reduced to a combination of powders and cans, laundry and cleaning chores cluttering the day and often dismissed until the last pair of underwear disappears into the laundry bag. [Editor's Note: I have since switched to a combination of steamed and frozen foods and smoothies. I have also bought more underwear.]
I thought I hadn’t learned a ton academically. Turns out, that wasn’t true. Over spring break, I spent three days at my old high school for an assignment for 11.125 Evaluating Education—I had to observe and/or teach 20 hours of a science class. When I got up to review Newton’s Laws with the freshman physics class, it was as if I was speaking about old friends. I’d been terrified of physics in high school, but visiting from college, I was enchanted by it. I wanted the students to know how I felt, how marvelously physics displays itself in nature, beyond the formulas and laws. Every flower, unicorn, and dagger yield to Newton’s Third Law. [Editor's Note: Adorable. Editor's Note 2: This was before I took Physics II: Electromagnetism.]
Outside of academics, I’ve made more of life-changing decisions this year than during all of high school. College forced me to take care of myself when I fucked up, and learn from mistakes, too. I had to search for new options, and pursue them. And if the choices were unclear or not yet attainable, I invaded my friend’s room to seek refuge on her couch and figure out steps towards recovery. An hour of a friend’s time can save someone’s world.
Sometimes, this place is still tough. Then I need to give myself time to heal, and then spring up, hopefully before work is due, to continue, and maybe fuck up again, and once more discover the best alternative. Just as I’ve discovered my ignorance, so have I realized the ambiguity of the future.
But there is one thing that’s constant—even if it feels like MIT is a hostile alien world, I can always talk to those who've already adjusted to the new terrain. In 21M.600 Intro to Acting, we were taught to notice our classmates’ “spheres of energy,” and be mindful of our own as well. In real life, I think it means that sometimes it's hard to admit that you need help, but it’s easy to feel alone. This semester, I learned to let my friends provide expert advice. Most likely, one day I will also be someone’s expert.