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Being Home and Answering Questions by Allan K. '17

some changes, some constants, and the end of pass/no record

I’m writing this blog post sitting on my bed in my room at home in the sunny California Bay Area, where temperatures are above fifty degrees and the skies are probably going to be blue for the next three months.

As this week comes to a close, so does MIT’s week of finals. This freshman was lucky, and only had two finals (8.022 Electricity and Magnetism, and 18.03 Differential Equations). Since freshmen are on pass/no record, finals weren’t too stressful–but still stressful enough. Nevertheless, despite the worry and uncertainty going around our class Facebook page, final grades are coming out, with little “P” for Passes appearing on transcripts, and most people had little to worry about no matter how unprepared they felt. Next semester, when the freshman class switches over to A/B/C/No Record (or, for those people like me pursuing sophomore standing, a normal letter-grading system), will be a little more interesting, but the way that MIT gives us first semester on Pass/No Record means that I think most people are ready to take it on without the training wheels.

Both of my finals were on Monday, which meant I could spend all of Tuesday sleeping in/packing/unwinding, hop on a taxi at 5AM Wednesday morning for a 7:30 AM flight at Logan, and arrive home in California by noontime. I promptly called up some friends from high school to catch up over a solid In-N-Out burger, because (travesty of travesties) In-N-Out doesn’t exist in Boston. I’ll have two weeks in California before (exciting news!) flying out to Maryland over IAP (Independent Activities Period–in essence, MIT gives us the month of January to go adventuring before second semester starts in February) for an internship at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

Being home is…odd. Being off school and having no pressing obligations is a little strange after a semester being firehosed at MIT, where you could have fun, but only at the expense of putting something else off until later. Being in my own room at home, though familiar, is also odd because I’m finding myself missing the feeling of having a lot of friends very close by, just a holler to the next room away. Going out to do things or hang out is especially strange because of the spread-out nature of the suburbs (also because of the somewhat disappointing fact that I’m not actually able to drive yet).

Visting my old high school was much the same way. The campus was just the same as before–plus or minus an extra building here, a parking lot there. I showed my AP Chemistry teacher my lab notebook from my UROP, and she replied with a chuckle, “I see your handwriting hasn’t improved” (and she was totally right). When I was a high school senior and breaktime rolled around, alums coming back from college would often visit classrooms and answer questions from us high schoolers, nervous about college applications and even more nervous about the college experience itself. Now, being one of the visiting alums answering those questions felt especially odd–but they were interesting questions that many of you may be interested in as well. Here’s a sampling:

What’s the worst part about being in college?
I was asked this question twice, and answered it the same way both times. Being in college means being in a very rich, very active, and very busy environment, and there were many many many clubs I wished I could join, events I wished I could attend, projects I wished I could take on. But there are only 168 hours in a week, and I also need to eat and sleep. At some point, it’s worth sitting down and actually calculating how many hours per week are accounted for by your classes and extracurriculars, and then asking the questions: “Am I getting everything important I want to get out of my time here?” “Which activities do I value more and get a greater reward from–hip-hop dancing or singing a cappella?” “Am I devoted enough to this activity that I’m willing to sacrifice schoolwork or academic success to pursue it?” Everything’s a cost-benefit analysis when it comes to choosing activities in college, and it will definitely take a while to figure out which activities you want to stick with and which you’ll have to set aside just because it’s not really possible to juggle everything.

What’s dorm life like?
It varies dorm to dorm. As for me, I’m sad to say I’m not as tight-knit with my neighbors as I should be, because living in Next House means I don’t really spend that much time in my room. Usually I’ll go to classes and stay on campus for meals at Maseeh, studying or working in the libraries with classmates, attending club or UROP meetings, or going to special events or talks. Next House being so far away means it’s not really feasible to go back to my room to relax between meetings or classes. That said, it’s easy to be that stranger that just uses their dorm room as a place to sleep and disappears for the rest of the day. It’s just as easy to take a bit of effort and work late nights in the lounge with other people instead of in your room by yourself, or take some time to just say hello to people in passing, or even harmonize your shower-singing with your hallmates. That’s all it takes to develop a good friendship with the people you live with.

What’s the best way to spend your senior spring/second semester senior year/last summer before college?
Oho. Get in your college applications, and now what? Well…now’s the time to try out things you didn’t get to do before. Learn a new skill. Play with Arduinos. Go biking or hiking or both. Learn to cook. Read a book. Learn to drive (so you don’t end up like me, 18 and unlicensed). See a bunch of movies.

Here’s the catch: DO IT WITH OTHER PEOPLE. These are people you won’t get to see for a while, and now that you (presumably) don’t have as much schoolwork-induced stress or obligation, you should spend that time developing those friendships with your high school friends. This is the junction where a lot of people you know may become lifelong friends and connections–or they may disappear into the past and you’ll never talk to them again. It’s up to you to decide which way you go. Even if you don’t do anything and just want to sit around talking into the night–that’s one of the best ways to get closer to people and ensure that you keep these friendships through college.

What’s your fashion inspiration?
Okay, I’m only including this one because it was the first question asked of me when I got back. I suppose I’m dressing a little preppier–chalk it up to the East Coast influence, maybe? Regardless (for me at least), clothing and presentation have a huge influence on my own bearing and day-to-day life. Dressing better motivates me to work harder and be more confident and outspoken, whether that’s answering questions in the classroom or greeting cashiers at the checkout. I also think I’m treated better when I’m dressed better–whether or not that’s due to the appearance itself or to the way my attitude changes when I’m dressed up or just a case of really bad confirmation bias, it’s a good feeling to have. For the nitty-gritty details about the fashion itself, uh…I refer you to Reddit.


That’s all I’ve got for now. What are your questions? Shoot me an email ([email protected]) or comment below and I’ll answer to the best of my limited one-semester freshman experience :)