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90-something days of summer (Part 1) by Linh V. '13

MIT people around the world

Hello!

Sorry for the recent lack of post! After an epic trip around Europe (which I WILL DEFINITELY blog about later!), I have to go straight to exam revision (yes, over here people say revision, not review :)). Anyway, as you can tell from my post tittle, I wanna talk a little bit about what MIT peeps do during the summer since the holiday is fast approaching (of couse, after the horrifying super intense final week for people at MIT and my crazyfrightenthelivingdaylightsoutofme 9-paper exam at Cambridge.) SIGH. I will look like a zombie for 2 months ☹ But it’s okay though, because I love what I am studying!

My life:

  

Anyway back to the summer experience. Usually MIT people do epic stuff so I am super excited to share with you all! This post will be split into 2 parts because apart from talking about my summer experience, I have also invited two awesome MIT people to write about theirs!

First say hello to Saba Mohsin, class of 2011. Both of us are members of Sigma Kappa sorority and that’s how I got to know her!! Since the first time I talked to her, I have always thought that she is an incredibly intelligent, motivated and inspiring individual but when I heard her describing her summer experience during her four years at MIT, my response was “WOW”. Currently, she is doing her Masters in Mechanical Engineering at Stanford University. Anyway, here are Sabah’s epic summer experiences!

“Some of my fondest memories of MIT life took place during the summertime. I was lucky enough to find three programs that allowed me to travel for 1-3 months and I can say with conviction that I am who I am today because of those opportunities.

I lived in Paris for about 10 weeks during the summer of 2009 through the MISTI program. I worked in an experimental fluids lab at ESPCI and lived smack dab in the middle of one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. I spent my days capturing the effect of surface tension on submerged jet deflection and my nights strolling through the Bastille, munching on macarons.

The following summer I obtained a PSC Fellowship to spend 3 months working on a portable water project in the small community of Santa Ana in the Amazon region of Ecuador. During these three months, I was challenged in more ways that I could even imagine. It was both a humbling and strengthening experience and I left there with such strong bonds with my host family and friends that I have since returned to see them again. I am so thankful that MIT gave me this part of my life.

My twin host sisters (Shirley and Samira, 6 years old) who always made me laugh with the older Sacha (11), who is someone I admire very much.

Collaborators from Santa Ana who helped us develop the community water system

Our three team members (right to left: Mauricio, Israel and the late Antonio) who helped us with our water project and taught us more than we taught them. They were colleagues, bodyguards, jokesters, and dear friends.

In 2011, two weeks after my graduation, I traveled to Costa Rica where I spent 8 weeks working alongside the Ministry of Science and Technology launching a nationwide high school science camp series as a part of “Talento Joven”. MIT students collaborated with Costa Rican university students, with the Costa Rican Institute of Technology, and even with HP Costa Rica to run some of the most well-received science camps ever. I was so proud to see my students finding their love of engineering and later to see them going on to college and pursue that love. It’s the MIT spirit and I’m glad it has infected others.”

Me as coordinator with the students of Costa Rica’s first science camp.

The most hardworking and brilliant group of counselors I could have asked for. What great people!

Coordinators and counselors at the inauguration of Talento Joven.

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The second person I would love for you all to meet is Qing Li, Class of 2012. Again, we met at Sigma Kappa and I adore her wonderful personality, always cheerful, friendly and optimistic. I have always known she is a great swimmer but when she told me “I am going to swim the English Channel”, I believe my response was “WHAT? Pause. AGAIN WHAT?” This is an extremely difficult feat even for highly athletic people, but at the same time, it’s an incredible thing to do. So yes, I can’t wait to share with you all Qing’s summer training and swimming the English Channel!

“Last summer, I set out to accomplish my dream of swimming the English Channel (EC). This had been my dream since junior year of high school, when my history teacher gave out end of year awards. Some people got “Most-likely to cure cancer” or “Most-likely to be senator” or even “Most-likely to be arrested at a peaceful protest.”Mine was “Most-likely to swim the English Channel.”…because I was the only swimmer in my year.

Swimming the EC is 20% mental, 40% physical, 20% luck, and another 20% mental. Though, retrospectively, I really wish I had brought MIT’s weather machine with me, seeing as I had to swim through a lighting storm and 20ft waves.

I prepared physically by biking, ellipticaling, and swimming about 4-5 hrs a day as well as getting open water and night time swimming experience on the weekends. I built my swimming yardage up to about 25-30 thousand meters a week. This was the fun and easy part. (Warning: the next sentence is my public endorsement of MIT, Boston, UROPs, and LAI) Having a UROP position at MIT’s Lean Advancement Initiative allowed me to pursue my research in systems and lean engineering, in collaboration with Boston Medical Center Diabetes Services. I also allowed me to have access to MIT’s great athletic facilities and open water spots such as Walden Pond, Nahant beach, Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, Portsmouth NH, and other fun places in the greater Boston area. I trained with a friend from the varsity team, Anna Kokensparger, as well as two girls from Smith College who were also attempting to swim the EC last summer (and who had also succeeded).

My training buddies

Even though swimming the English Channel was physically challenging, the biggest obstacle for me was the mental aspect. I worked hard by talking with my varsity swim coach, MIT masters swim coach, and other EC swimmers to find out what I should expect from the swim and how to define the swim to make it my own. The mental preparation beforehand really helped me deal with my doubts about not finishing, the nausea, the physical pain, and the cold.

My preparation with Coach Bill of MIT Masters swimming helped me greatly. He had told me about the idea of “treeing.” This is the technique triathletes use to forget about small things that go wrong during their race by channeling all the negative thoughts into a tree. After passing that tree, they would forget about those thoughts and, instead, focus on what comes ahead. I counted a forest by the end of the swim.

My thoughts of giving started with the first hour of the 17 hour swim. I already had motion sickness from the boat before I got into the water causing me to vomit eight time during my swim. And as I swam into the night, brought a darkness that blinded my senses and cooled the air and water to the low 60s. I shivered uncontrollably. Despite this, the lowing sun behind the white cliffs of Dover flooded my eyes with the most beautiful sunset I had ever seen. I was swimming in a National Geography foldout!!

Beautiful sunset!

The most challenging part of the swim came when I was just 5 miles from shore, which I knew it would. As we headed towards the eleventh hour, my head spun and my spirits were bruised from battling sea-sickness, cold, and storm. Light appeared and I began to see sea-birds, but still no land. As I swam on, the swells grew and fatigue set in and I struggled to stay along side my boat to take my feed. When I finally decided to as where I was, the answer I got was “Three and a half miles away. How long do you think it will take you?” Ha! Ha! Haha!! 3.5 mile? That’s 6,106 yards! Or 5,632.704 meters! Or 5.6 kilometers! That’s just a two hour practice! Well, long story short, it actually took me five hours instead of the two hours I was hoping for.

However, hearing I was so close was enough to renew my energy. I thought of everyone’s support and the journey I had taken that summer. I knew I could not have even thought about attempting the swim, let alone getting that close to shore, without so many supporters. My goggles filled to the brim with tears (and it wasn’t because my face got thrown into the edge of the boat right after my feed). Though my shoulders hurt, my stomach churned, and the waves sloshed over me, it was the support of everyone that allowed me to find the courage and energy to continue to swim.

Looking back, it wasn’t the pain or the time and resources needed that ever detracted me from my goal. Nor was it the pure feat of swimming the English Channel that drove me to finish. What I gained from this experience was the opportunity to learn about myself, meet new people, and gain great friendships. Some say that the finish is almost anticlimactic. As you reach the red shores of France, the is a daunting question of “Great, I’m finished. What now?” For me, even before I swam, I knew I had gained so much already through that summer. The opportunity to swim and the ability to finish the English Channel was the cherry, the whipped cream, and chocolate frosting of an amazing journey.

After I reached France, with my parents. 

While this challenge was tremendous, I can’t say it has proven me worthy of accomplishing everything I want to in the future. I probably will not cure cancer, nor will I become senator. However, I believe this experience as well as four years at MIT has prepared me to face the future with the best tools available and probably, most-importantly, gain the capacity to learn.”
Thanks Saba and Qing for sharing with me and MIT admissions blog readers their incredible summers. I hope you all are inspired by them and plan great things for your 2012 summer. Next post: my summer fun!

Love
Linh