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1.1 miles as the crow flies by Amber V. '24

and it takes me forever to run there

No one marks you five minutes late01 in MIT time, classes start five minutes past the hour. anymore, and I know it’s a college thing but part of me feels like I’ve gotten away with mischief every time I jump on at 9:05 am. Fix my home-cut bangs in the video cam while the chat room explodes with questions. I’m scribbling notes in colored pen, looking out the window at a Cambridge street below. Ambulances scream past, sometimes five in a week, and my computer, hearing the noise, alerts me that my microphone is off. This is the MIT I’ve come to.

When I went on a gap year, MIT seemed like a glass castle, so very far. Now I’m in Cambridge, reeling with a move cross-country and the start of the semester. In some ways, MIT is close. In other ways it feels distant, like a thought you once had that you can no longer grasp.

I will never have REX, the freshman orientation I’ve heard so much about. Instead I had the whirlwind of finding an apartment in Boston. No free-food events, but plenty of beds dropped on the side of the road, cheap furniture selling fast on Craigslist. No roller coasters have been built, but my roommate and I carried home a table and ladder from over a mile away.

That was a week ago, and I’m more settled in now. I’m still getting the feel of my classes, how to manage the ridiculously hard one so that I don’t skimp on the easy-but-fun ones. My roommates are MIT freshmen too, and some of them know how to cook, and day by day we’re finding a schedule. I’ve turned in my first pset, gone to my first office hours (and then second, and third). I’ve talked with my roommates about politics and race and philosophy until two am. I think these are MIT things.

I know that I am missing little things — I can’t borrow pens from the person next to me, smile when someone makes a joke, grimace at a new friend when scary long equations fill the board. I’m missing big things, too.

I am worried that I will not absorb MIT culture, since I am only interacting with freshmen who know just as much as me. I’m actually worried that the entire freshman class will not absorb MIT culture as previous classes have, and that therefore the culture, rather than shifting gradually from year to year, will alter abruptly. But I don’t have much evidence to substantiate this, and besides, there are so many Zoom gatherings for frosh and upperclassmen to mingle. In this world, anyway, it seems like a minor worry. 

As of now, I do get aspects of the MIT experience: an enthusiasm from students that shows even though zoom calls. I have classes that will keep me up into the small hours and knot my stomach with stress. I have classes that excite me. I feel like I’ve slogged through so much high school just to get to study what I care about. I have roommates who love coding, and maybe by the end of this they’ll have worn away my aversion to all things comp sci. I will spout facts from Greek history seminar until my roommates tell me to shut up. I’ll learn many things: chemistry, physics, and Greek history, with a supplemental education in how to pay bills, how to split chores and finances with roommates and negotiate without arguing. Adult stuff. Wild.

I don’t really want to be an adult yet — I’m happy to still be growing. I love this sense of wonder.

Every morning that I wake up on time, I run from my apartment to the Charles river. I cross the Smoot bridge and turn right, run along dorm row, knowing that some day, in four months or maybe twelve, I will call this place home.

For now, I am not on campus but isn’t Cambridge beautiful, with its trees and tiny shops, shingle houses and cars that stop for you when you walk into the road. Isn’t it spectacular that I can run past the Charles, where, unlike Arizona rivers, there is actual water. In Cambridge the heat doesn’t trap you inside after eight am. 

I am excited and a little scared, wide-eyed, sleep-deprived. I know that MIT will swallow me as a river does a stone: tumble me against the rocks, splinter and shape me. 

I think that I’m ready. Let’s see how it goes.

  1. in MIT time, classes start five minutes past the hour. back to text