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MIT student blogger Allan K. '17

An Experiment in Independence by Allan K. '17

all by myself for IAP

Signing in from sunny foggy and snowy and icy and rainy Greenbelt, Maryland, down the road from Goddard Space Flight Center, where I’ll be interning for the next four weeks during Independent Activities Period (IAP) before second semester start in February. And I’m alone. No classmates down the hall. No classmates down the stairs. No classmates anywhere nearby, really. Possibly more importantly, no meal plans or dining halls in sight. (side note: my condolences to all those left high and dry when the IAP meal plan program back on campus got canceled. We share the same struggles. Let us commiserate. Maybe you’ll find this shopping list below useful?)

first sunrise in Baltimore, Saturday morning, from an airplane.

Last Friday, my older brother (MIT ’11) and I took off from San Francisco after being patted down by a very kind TSA agent while one of his coworkers cracked snide comments (something something “MIT” something “not Caltech”). We landed in Baltimore close to 7 AM Saturday morning, after a redeye flight that was miraculously not canceled due to inclement weather. After orienting ourselves and collecting my luggage, we hopped on a shuttle to a Zipcar station where we were greeted by the Volkswagen Golf my brother had reserved, as well as the cute fluffy snow-and-ice hat that it had recently acquired and was proudly wearing on its windshield.

Unfortunately the snow had to go if the car was to be at all usable, so when we finally figured out how to open the trunk to look for the ice scraper Zipcar should have left us (opening the trunk on a Volkswagen Golf is, surprisingly enough, a nontrivial challenge in itself), we looked eagerly into the trunk’s corners and pockets to find…nothing.


Fortunately when I called Zipcar the nice lady at the other end worked some magic and unlocked one of the other Zipcars so we could steal their ice scraper instead. This California boy and his brother then spent their first half-hour in Maryland hacking, scraping, and waging war on the ice and snow until the car was in an operable state. These are problems we never have to deal with in California.

We spent the rest of the day carting ourselves all over Maryland in our hard-earned car to go grocery shopping. I wasn’t exactly planning on eating out every single day, which would be both expensive and unhealthy. We decided to get the bare necessities for lunch sandwiches (lettuce, bread, and deli meat), plus hella frozen goods for easy dinners, as well as some assorted snacks for, well, snacking. Here’s the final grocery list, commented:


Lunch Stuff:

  • Organic Multigrain Bread (2x)
  • Soft Organic Multigrain Bread (2x) [don’t ask me what the difference between these two breads is–I’m not exactly sure]
  • Applegate Sliced Roast Beef [mmmm roast beef]
  • Applegate Sliced Turkey [in case I get tired of roast beef]
  • Organic Romaine Hearts [delicious both in sandwiches as well as raw. Those who know me well are aware I love rabbit food.]

Frozen Dinnerable Things:

  • Entree Chicken Drumellas (Nuggets) [I grew up on these and know for sure that they are delicious.]
  • Meat Turkey Corn Dogs [my brother swears by these. I’m more skeptical.]
  • Rice Medley [rice, rice, baby]
  • Chicken Fried Rice Stir Fry [I’m a bit of a fried rice snob but we’ll see how this goes]
  • Chicken Orange Mandarin w/ sauce (2x) [my mom made these at home all the time and they are fairly scrumptious.]
  • Organic 3 Cheese Pizza [my mom also made this at home all the time, and it is also fairly scrumptious]

Snacks For Snacking:

  • Snack Corn Chip Dippers Organic [THESE ARE MY FAVORITE CHIPS EVER]
  • Beef Jerky Organic [this is pricy but makes for an amazing snack and also makes you feel manlier]


  • Milk Half Gallon Organic Whole (2x) [I need milk to survive, and none of that skim/nonfat white water nonsense.]
  • R-Veg Combo Broccoli/Cauliflower
  • R-Veg Medley Broccoli/Carrot Cauliflower (4x) [gotta have your veggies! bonus points if they actually last more than two weeks frozen]
  • R-Cucumbers Persian [these are also good for veggie-nutrition-getting]
  • Bananas Organic [bananas are the most convenient fruit ever]
  • Navel Oranges [seedless oranges might be the second most convenient fruit ever]

Total: $136.61 [not bad for all those noms.]



  • 365 Salt & Pepper [in case I decide to go totally wild and add extra flavoring to some of those frozen dinners]
  • Horizon Low Fat 1% Milk (30 boxes) [good for packing with lunches. I grew up drinking one of these every day.]

Total: $49.54 [okay seriously though, why is individually packaged milk priced at $1.50/box? oh right–Whole Foods.]



  • Ziploc Bags [gotta have something to carry those sandwiches in]
  • Food Wrap [and something to cover leftovers with]
  • SFY Facial Tissue [hey, those little tissue packages are super useful]
  • Dawn Original Scent [dish soap for doing dishes]
  • Scotch Brite Sponges (6x) [sponges for doing dishes]

Total: $16.38 (with Safeway membership card) [sounds about right for assorted goods]


GRAND TOTAL: $202.53, or ~$7.23/day

I’ll keep y’all posted as to how I do this month about staying fed. Maybe I have too much food. Maybe I’ll have too little and starve to death (although with the amount of delicious home-baked goods my mom insisted I bring along, that seems unlikely). I don’t know. It’s an adventure! Exciting! In any case, the eating is much cheaper than the MIT meal plan, so if this month goes well I’ll have more confidence about the possibilty of moving into another dorm and going without a meal plan next year.

Evening came, and morning followed–the first day.

Sunday (today) was a little less interesting. I went downtown to Washington D.C. with my brother on the metro, and upon arrival at the National Mall, the conversation went something like this:

Brother: So that’s the Washington Memorial. That’s the Capitol Building. These are like office buildings. Those are Smithsonian buildings.
Me: …coool.
Brother: So where do you wanna go? We only have one or two hours, tops.
Me: …
Brother: We could do touristy stuff and go see things or we could go to the Air and Space Museum.
Me: …
Me: …let’s go to the Air and Space Museum.

…and we spent the entire morning there. Course 16 at heart. I almost cried in front of the original Wright Flyer.

guys that is THE original Wright Flyer from the 1903 Kitty Hawk flights



Oh, and I got pictures of some other cool things in the neighborhood on the way:

So that’s the weekend. After my brother left, I told myself to make a sandwich and I made my first sandwich. It is my very own sandwich and I will eat it with pride tomorrow at my first day of work at Goddard Space Flight Center. I don’t know much about what I’ll be doing yet but it’s sure to be very scientific and engineersome and I’m going to learn tons. I’ll keep you posted.