“Massachusetts Institute of Technology” is a name with 37 characters, 12 syllables, and a state name that I am still completely incapable of spelling. Luckily for the sake of our collective sanity, however the abbreviated “MIT” has more or less eclipsed its expanded form. With 3 characters, 3 syllables, and a literally self-explanatory spelling, even official websites and documentation are more likely to use “MIT”—so much so that the acronym is probably more recognizable than the full name.
It’s therefore quite fitting that, upon arriving on campus, the first thing we freshmen were greeted with was an absolute flood of more acronyms. In fact, I think I’ve seen more acronyms in the past few weeks than in my entire life—every club name, every administrative office, and every program is compressed into a handful of letters: Office of the First Year Career Advising & Professional Development Lecture Series Committee Society of Women Engineers Connect By Chance … the list goes on. Trying to decipher these acronyms can sometimes feel like a fun little game, and someday (hopefully) I won’t have to search my email inbox every time I need to translate.
That day is unfortunately a long way off, but so far I’ve had at least two acronyms ingrained in my head. They’re the ones that defined my first week+ here at MIT, so if there’s any acronyms I can explain to you, these are it. First up—FPOPs!
FPOPs: First-Year Pre-Orientation Programs
I arrived on campus on August 22, five days before Orientation began, to participate in the Discover Aerospace FPOP! In my overly simplified interpretation, you can think of FPOPs basically like mini summer camps. They introduce you to departments and/or communities at MIT—from Nuclear Science to The Arts—while also giving you a chance to settle into your dorm early, meet some upperclassmen, and make some new friends!
The aerospace FPOP that I did was a flurry of activity—building balsa wood gliders, touring labs, launching bottle rockets, and eating lots of free food. But as much as I enjoyed the projects (and the food), I don’t think my favorite part of the FPOP actually ended up being learning about rocket propulsion or standing in a giant wind tunnel.
Instead, it was all the spaces in between—the little Shrek figurines that we made out of modeling clay, and taking selfies with stupid signs on campus. It was the night when four of us took the An excessively long route, but hey—it was fun :) and shared a pack of mooncakes at H-Mart. It was the A very difficult math, physics, & chemistry exam used for admission to India’s technological institutions. problems passed around the bus on our way to tour a startup, and the lunch boxes scribbled with calculations. (This is the most stereotypically MIT thing I can possibly think of, and I love it.)
Most of all, though, it was the adventure that happened after we got off the nerd bus (nerd being very much a term of affection <3). It was 5:48 PM, and we were completely done with the day’s prescribed activities! We had never finished before dinnertime, let alone 6:00 pm, and now… freedom :D
But what to do with it?
“What time does the MIT and Harvard’s campus/merch store—originally “The Harvard Cooperative Society” (notably not?? an acronym) close?” someone asked.
According to Google, 6:00 pm.
“How long does it take to get there?”
According to Google, 15 minutes by foot.
“There’s no way we can make it.”
One person took off running. Another of us followed, then two more, and the challenge was on.
Or at least, it was on for the first 90 seconds. Before long, one of us (me) succumbed to our (my) lack of physical conditioning and folded over, panting. We stopped for a second, and walked for another few. Then there was a crosswalk in our way. We waited. We ran. We stopped. We walked. We waited. We persevered.
And eventually, at 5:56 pm, we arrived at the Kendall Square COOP, exhausted but triumphant. Seven minutes ahead of Google’s estimate! We pulled open the front door of the COOP to find—
It didn’t budge. There was a man standing ten feet from the door, staring at us. He tapped at his wrist. They’d closed! Early!!
To be fair, this makes complete sense—you can’t really be letting in new customers four minutes before closing. Nevertheless, the sense of bereavement was palpable. The mission we had toiled over for so long (eight minutes) was a complete and utter failure!
However, like the good, tenacious MIT students we all strive to be, the four of us decided that a new objective was in order. We would cross the illustrious which notably leads cars from the center of Boston straight into the heart of MIT, not Harvard and continue onwards to Trader Joe’s!
Why of all things a grocery store, you might ask? Well, as it turns out, my three companions were international students who’d heard about Trader Joe’s, but never been. And as someone from Anytime anyone from Hawaii visits the mainland, a good portion of their suitcase will return home packed with Trader Joe’s snacks for themselves and all their friends and family. It’s kind of hilarious, but hey—you gotta do what you gotta do… I was equally excited for a visit, so off we went!
I’ll spare you from the rest of the details, but suffice to say that we were diverted from our mission quite incessantly—by a mini shopping trip at …an aesthetic Japanese Target? but without much food? idk what it really is, but it’s amazing a turn down the wrong street, a visit to a music store, and a very intense debate about the meaning of life. By the time we took the 1 Bus back across the bridge, however, our spoils had been secured: chocolate-covered gummies, fake Takis, ghost pepper chips that were not at all spicy, and a so-called “British Toffee” that our notably British companion had never seen in his life.
And that was the end of the last full day of FPOPs! It was a glorious adventure to cap off both an incredibly interesting program and an incredibly silly round of shenanigans. If you want more information, check out this page, but otherwise we can move onwards to the next acronym in the first-year tidal wave: REX!
REX: Residence Exploration
In one sentence, REX is a 4-day 346 events, to be exact at the beginning of Orientation, with the aim of helping first-years figure out which dorm is right for them. If you’ve ever heard of Campus Preview Weekend think of that, but geared towards dorm exploration! At both CPW and REX there’s something like ten events going on at any given time, which gives you an incredible choice of things to do—from ceiling tile painting to escape rooms to “how many question marks can you draw in a minute?”
CPW and REX are therefore experiences without a default path, which means that everyone has some kind of “approach” to them (conscious or unconscious). For some, that’s carefully Google calendar-ing each and every event they want to see, and for others it’s spinning a wheel and picking a random new event every hour. There’s no way to do it wrong! But it’s definitely interesting to think about the ways that might exist.
During CPW, my strategy had been to put every event I might enjoy onto my calendar, then hour-by-hour pick the perfect event for my current mood. It was very much an event-focused approach, where I was trying to examine the vibes of each group and take advantage of all the Interesting Things To Do™. And I think it worked very well for me! I accumulated vague impressions of the dorms, some clubs, and I suppose MIT in general? I also did a lot of i.e. riding a rope swing, or playing hockey on mini scooters, or singing karaoke at *three different events* (because why not?) that I’d never had the chance to do!
The one thing I didn’t do at CPW, however, was form any relationships that went further than acquaintanceships. I know some people who came out of CPW with a burgeoning friend group, and that was really meaningful for them. But while I actually did put a lot of energy into talking with people, my prioritization of events over staying with particular people meant I never stayed with the same group for more than an hour or two. And that worked perfectly fine for me at CPW!
But with REX being the opening salvos of the school year, this time around I was a little more interested in the people than the events (which again, is just one of many possible paths to take). I let go of my personalized list of events and tried to be a bit more spontaneous, following an FPOP friend to paint a comet mural in New House, and even tagging along with another friend to their friends’ random hangout—a puzzle-solving session outside of REX events altogether!
Combined with the shenanigans of FPOPs, my focus on people during REX ended up being incredibly valuable for me. As someone that’s generally nervous about social dynamics, my FPOP gave me the jumpstart I needed to develop actual friendships (forced proximity really is such a powerful thing…), and I was then able to use REX to solidify those relationships outside the structure of FPOP activities! This is obviously not going to be the same for everybody, and who knows—maybe in a couple months I’ll look back and none of this will have mattered. But the memories and friendships I’ve made so far have been amazing, and I can’t wait for what the next four years has in store :D
- Office of the First Year back to text ↑
- Career Advising & Professional Development back to text ↑
- Lecture Series Committee back to text ↑
- Society of Women Engineers back to text ↑
- Connect By Chance back to text ↑
- An excessively long route, but hey—it was fun :) back to text ↑
- A very difficult math, physics, & chemistry exam used for admission to India’s technological institutions. back to text ↑
- MIT and Harvard’s campus/merch store—originally “The Harvard Cooperative Society” (notably not?? an acronym) back to text ↑
- which notably leads cars from the center of Boston straight into the heart of MIT, not Harvard back to text ↑
- Anytime anyone from Hawaii visits the mainland, a good portion of their suitcase will return home packed with Trader Joe’s snacks for themselves and all their friends and family. It’s kind of hilarious, but hey—you gotta do what you gotta do… back to text ↑
- …an aesthetic Japanese Target? but without much food? idk what it really is, but it’s amazing back to text ↑
- 346 events, to be exact back to text ↑
- Campus Preview Weekend back to text ↑
- i.e. riding a rope swing, or playing hockey on mini scooters, or singing karaoke at *three different events* (because why not?) back to text ↑