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MIT student blogger Karen F. '11

Karen: A Short History by Karen F. '11


Hi, I’m Karen and like most other freshmen, I’m still working on my time-management skills, which is why it took so long for me to finally get started on here.

Unlike almost everyone else here, I don’t have an anecdote about my first encounter with technology or science. Most of my childhood was spent reading books and books and more books, and I think that’s what led me to see life the way I do:

The world isn’t just something you should get around to seeing once or twice when you get a vacation. It’s a place you live in everyday, and even if you think you live in the smallest, most boring town in the world, there are adventures around every corner (or cornfield, in some cases. Like mine. I’m from Illinois, remember? Well, actually I didn’t live far from Chicago, so it wasn’t as bad as I’m making it out to be, but it had a nice ring to it.)

You’ll have to get used to my parenthetical digressions if you’re going to be reading this. I’m warning you now.

With this in mind (the world, not parenthetical digressions), I spent a year abroad as an exchange student in Taiwan the year after high school. I applied to MIT my senior year, deferred admission (gasp!) and spent the better part of a year not always understanding what people said to me, but having fun anyway. I’ll talk about this more in-depth in another entry, but the point is that it was a critical year, because A) when I came back, I felt that I had had enough time to really think about what I wanted to do, and B) I forgot all the math I ever learned.

As a side note, I thought that when I came back to the US, it’d be a relief to finally understand everything people said, but here I am, at MIT, not always understanding what people say, but having fun anyway…

Anyway, I had a lot of time to think about ways to spend my life that wouldn’t turn my hair gray before I was forty, wouldn’t trap me in an office or a lab, would help me do my part to help the world, and allow me to have fun at the same time. Surprisingly enough, I actually came up with something. How about that.

I’ll probably major in Urban Planning and Design and minor in International Relations. I also plan to spend a lot of time here learning as many languages as possible (possibly even a programming one, so I can communicate with Course 6-ers as well as with the rest of the world). Reading Anthony’s blog, you might guess that I want to spend my life designing public transportation systems because we have the same major and minor and we’re both studying French. But actually, we’re on completely different tracks (Hah! Get it? Tracks? Like trains…). My dream is to spend my life improving conditions in under-developed countries. And not just because it’s, like, a good thing to do, but because I’ll get tons of opportunities to travel and see other cultures and maybe even some wild animals.

It all sounds really fantastic to me.

But for now, I’m still just a freshman without any official major declaration. I still have GIRs to get through. I still have people to meet, and I still need to learn how to cook, and I still have new music to discover, and I still have a room (a single) in Senior House to paint, and I still have a lot of things to learn about the world.

I hope you enjoy reading about them.

[Also, for those of you at MIT, the Muslim Student Association is hosting a Fast-a-thon on the 27th. The event is not religiously affiliated, it’s just for charity – businesses will donate to certain organization per person that pledges not to eat on Thursday. Go here to sign up or to read more about it. It’s only a day. No, seriously. Do it. What’s stopping you? Go!]

65 responses to “Karen: A Short History”

  1. Star says:

    Hey Karen! Welcome to admission blogging – great first post!

    So you spent a year in Taiwan (pretty cool!), what did you do there? Hopefully you’ll have a post or two about that experience; I love traveling / spending extended time in other countries, so I’d love to hear all about it.

  2. Constantin says:

    What music genres are you particularly fond of?

  3. Isshak says:

    Hi to you ! Welcome !
    So you’re learning french ? Alors est ce que tu comprends ce que je dis en ce moment ? ^^

  4. Karen says:


    The top plays on my media player tend to defy any categorization – I love all music.

    But I do listen to a lot of foreign music and disney soundtracks…And recently I’ve really been addicted to The Cure and Death Cab for Cutie and catchy 80’s songs and…really, the list goes on forever.

  5. Paul '11 says:

    Great first post, Karen. I am vaguely amused that you and Anthony are both Course 11 and both took gap years, but then again it doesn’t take much to amuse me. ^_^

    I look forward to reading your blog. (Especially since I also love parenthetical digressions.)

  6. Edgar says:

    Great post! =)
    I look forward to reading more about your MIT adventures!

  7. Pascale says:

    Hi and great post! Its cool to see a fellow commenter rise to the position of blogger. smile

  8. Hunter '11 says:

    The first 2011 post! Represent!

  9. Sam Jackson says:

    I love parenthetical digressions!

    Looking forward to reading more from you, keep up the good work!

  10. Snively says:

    yay new bloggers!

  11. Anonymous says:

    Hi, Taiwan is my home country and you make me homesick! :(

  12. milena '11 says:

    yay, more senior house people in the houseeeee! (I’m lame, I know.)

  13. oasis '11 says:

    “I’m still working on my time-management skills, which is why it took so long for me to finally get started on here.”

    Since you have gotten this up and running already, I guess my time-management skills are non-existent? wink

    But seriously, my first entry will be done soon…haha.

    Great intro-blog, looking forward on reading your future blogs! smile

  14. Yay, you’re like my hero. That’s exactly what I want to do – apply this year and then defer admission for a year while I go somewhere else and figure out life (at least partially). I look forward to hearing more! Best wishes for your first year at MIT (I hear it’s hard)! wink

  15. EA applicant says:

    I wonder if you got a chance to visit and stay at the rural areas, because they are completely different from the cities. I spend many of my winter and summer breaks staying with my grandma in the rural part of China before I moved to the US (Silicon Valley and rural part of China… What a contrast). There was no indoor plumbing, only one 40-watt incandescent light bulb in a gigantic room (bigger than hs class rooms). Cooking was by burning hay. There was also a chicken pen where I pick up an egg a day. And of course, no computers or internet. It seemed like there was nothing there, but there was so much to do there. All the farmers grew and harvest crops, veggies by hand despite how vast their land is. I got to say, it was pretty fun picking worms out of the roots of the newly harvested plants and putting the worms back to do their thing in the soil.

  16. Hawkins says:

    I love parenthetical digressions too! You are my hero. Also, Death Cab for Cutie is amazing. And I took a gap year too. (okay, more like four… gap years…)

    I met you briefly on Wednesday. I love your blog. That is all.

  17. Becca says:

    That’s awesome that you did a year abroad. I just got back from my junior year in the Czech Republic, and totally understand the not understanding and forgetting math thing.

    What exactly is Urban Planning? I am intrigued by what you said you wanted to do, because I want to do the same thing, but I’ve always thought of engineering. Any thoughts?

  18. monica says:

    hey, i’m a chicago girl too haha. i grew up in skokie which is really close to chicago

  19. Farhad says:

    Are there any Prog Rock lovers at MIT?

  20. Isshak says:

    Hehehe, I love parenthetical disgressions…didn’t know they were called like that though
    How are you adapting for the moment ?

  21. Yousif says:

    Hey karin, how are you ?! I really hope you could asist me. I’m an international student, i’m currently attending a college prep. program, my major is chemical engineering. In this program they will send you to ANY college you get accepted in as long as it’s good in the major your in. I know you’re bored by now, but i really want to study in MIT so i was just wondering if you have time to send me any tips you may have in the acceptance procedure ( If you’re busy don’t waste your time, I know how busy you are ) .

    And one more thing, in Taiwan , what did you study during the year there ?

    Thanks , Best Wishes for a bright future ( no matter what country you’re in )


  22. Hungyee says:

    nice first post! I’m looking forward to reading your blog. It’d be cool if you could blog about your exchange student life in Taiwan,like cultural shock, though this is an admissions blog lol =)

  23. Paul '11 says:

    @ Tom: Ditto the other commenters above. Moreover, you should realize that the international applicant pool is exceptionally strong here. I could say more, and dismantle your argument even further, but I think the point has been made.

    @ Nihar: Isshak and Star are both international, so they must be RA. smile

  24. Star says:

    “I quote God” – hahah, that just made my day right there. And I’m RD, internationals can’t apply EA. How about you?

  25. Intl Tom says:

    A lot of internationals seem to have problems using the navigation menu on the top of each and every page. Point is, everything you ask for is just a few clicks away. Let me take an educated guess and say that 70% of the intl applicants, if they ever manage to complete their application, write English so poorly that they really have no chance in getting in.

  26. Hawkins says:

    Wow, I missed a good troll… Nice job, everyone else. =)

  27. Isshak says:

    Hey Untl Tom just who do you think you are ?
    Of course not ! Most of intl students have a good level in english, or they wouldn’t even be on the mitadmissions website. You have no arguments and you just speculate ? Don’t you know anything about MIT by now ? Or even scientific reasonning ? People who usually point out things are the first ocncerned by it.

  28. Anthony says:

    hmm… Course 11, you took time off, *and* you forgot all the math you ever learned? Sounds pretty familiar!

    Yeah guys, course 11 is really broad. I just picked an obscure area to study… don’t mind me too much wink

  29. Star says:

    Although I don’t agree that the first to point something out is the first concerned by it, I do agree with the rest of Isshak’s comment. I’m international, as is he, and I feel we both have an adequate mastery of the English language, and I’m willing to guess that the same is the case with most MIT applicants. However, I guess there really isn’t a point in responding to trolls’ comments, so I’ll just leave it at that.

  30. Nihar says:

    **Woah!…is it just me or is it really getting hot around here sumwhr?** Cool down guys…smile


    @Intl Tom
    Even though you did try not to, you just generalized the level of english for a lot of students who come under that 70% my friend.**shakes head**.

    But seriously, I dont think the Admissions people are majorly majorly concerned with your level of english provided you can show them that youre MIT material and that you will be able to actively participate in the give n take of info.
    I quote God, “Since english is the language used in the MIT community, we need to see that you will thrive here…” (or smtn like tht, couldnt find where Id read it again raspberry)

    @Isshak and Star
    Im hurt and with you on this one guys. But by the way, are you EA applicants or RD??

  31. Isshak says:

    The thread is settled, thanks to P F TEAM ! (prospective and freshmen team!) ^^
    Er, Anthony, you forgot all of your math too ? Did that make MIT harder ?

  32. Anonymous says:

    I loved reading your blog! I look forward to reading more, it’s amazing that you’re not REALLY a maths/science person >.> I loved reading your blog! I look forward to reading more, it’s amazing that you’re not REALLY a maths/science person >.> <.<

  33. Manders '13 says:

    Going to MIT without math? Wow! I have enough issues with math at my high school!

  34. Nihar says:

    @Paul and Star
    Whoops!:P..srry. The fact that int’l students cant apply EA sort of slipped my mind.

    Anyway, the nickname of ‘God’ has sort of caught on hasnt it?;)

  35. Star says:

    No problem, so are you applying EA? How’s the application going?

  36. Kareeeen! Wow, I didn’t know you were a blogger! Congrats! This is an awesome first post; it gives a taste of the many interesting ones to come. smile

  37. Karen says:

    Gee, I hope that MIT doesn’t have its fill of Karens that study French and are from outside of Chicago smile Anyway, welcome to the blogs and your major sounds like an interesting combination – I’m excited to hear more about International Relations!

  38. Hey Ben,
    Being an International Student, I am considering taking the TOEFL since i am eligible. I read about the minimum scores required as stated by Matt. He also stated specific scores that we should aim for or exceed.
    For the Internet Based Testing this particular score was 100/120. Although i know this is incomparable to the SAT Reasoning Test, I was curious as to how you would compare a 100/120 in TOEFL iBT to an SAT score.


  39. That last comment isnt addressed strictly to Ben, I just did a bad job copy-pasting from the previous blog.

    Sorry smile

  40. Nihar says:

    Yes.Definitely does.Thats what I thought of too, actually.

    So….any experts on this one??

    ***Static sounds.***
    Prospectives to experts.
    Prospectives to experts.

    Come in experts.

    ***end of transmission***

  41. leah says:

    woah thats pretty much exactly what i want to do, but with civil engineering instead of urban planning. and i thought i was all alone..
    by the way, how good are the language/linguistics programs at mit? im interested mostly in east asian languages. i already know korean, and im studying japanese and chinese right now and plan on continuing in college.

    anyways, nice blog, karen! im looking forward to reading more:) good luck at mit!

  42. Matti says:

    @Star and Nihar
    I have just unearthed this entry.
    Ben is writing there that he starts reading applications in November. Nothing about reading unfinished parts beforehand.

  43. Nihar says:

    Hey..Im a RD international applicant too. The application is going fine….but I have a question. Does MIT start reading our application before all the components have reached them?
    I mean…if we submit part 2 now, will they read it without my teachers recommendations and high school transcript?

  44. tarun garg says:


  45. Intl Tom says:

    My point’s been made…



  48. Hawkins says:

    @Intl Tom – A single case would not make your 70% argument valid. Thanks for playing.

    @Nihar – The applications are not read until after the submission deadline. If you get everything in on time, your application will be read as a whole. That said, if there are parts of your app missing at the deadline they may be read separately or not at all.

  49. Isshak says:

    I was going to say the exact same thing : one example can not generalize anything ! That’s basic scientific reasonning by the way…

  50. non-a-non says:


  51. Emily L. says:

    I’m from just outside of Chicago too. Are you from the North Shore or somewhere a little further away from the city? Are there many people from the Chicago area at MIT?

  52. Star says:

    Gary Stapleton is what I was thinking as well… it’s awfully convenient that as soon as Tom says that internationals can’t speak English, someone comes along to prove his point, don’t you think? On a side note, who else was reminded of Borat from the last post?

  53. Star says:

    @ Nihar
    I’m not the expert, so I’m not 100% sure, but I think they’ll start compiling a file for you, but won’t read your application until all the parts are in. Makes more sense that way.

  54. Isshak says:

    Yep i thought the same thing, also pretty convenient how the time stamp is 30 minutes before and 3 after Tom’s one ?

  55. Karen F. says:

    To everyone who asked: While I was in Taiwan, I was required to attend to high school. However, I did not understand Chinese when I first went there, so I made it my priority to take advantage of my time there – see a lot of the island, learn a lot about the culture, and hang out with my other exchange student friends. There will be a more detailed entry on how others can become exchange students soon.

    Isshak – oui, je comprends smile I am having a little trouble adapting to the massive amounts of schoolwork, but not at all to the environment or people. Also, forgetting math I suppose made things a little harder, but considering they’d be hard anyway, it’s not too bad.

    Becca – Urban Planning is an incredibly broad major that can cover anything from development work to specific parts of city planning (transportation, public centers, etc). You can look at the website here:

    EA Applicant – Yes, I did visit the rural areas several times throughout the year. It was quite fascinating.

    Yousif – I’m sure there will be many entries to come soon on this topic, but for now, a few important things to keep in mind are DEADLINES (for the interview, different parts of the application, asking teachers for recommendations on time, etc). Otherwise, be yourself in your application, be yourself, and (this goes out to everyone:) don’t let a single place determine your happiness! Someone who is happy and successful in one place will most likely be happy and successful in many other places smile

    Intl Tom – Most people who apply to MIT, especially international students, are incredibly hard workers and very bright, meaning that they will most likely take the time to learn english enough to get in.

    Sid – I’m sorry, I don’t know anything about international tests. Perhaps Matt or Ben can better answer your question better.

    Leah – The linguistics program is quite a popular minor, from what I’ve heard. We also have Noam Chomsky teaching here, if that says anything about it wink. As for languages, well, MIT does teach (Mandarin) Chinese and Japanese, but they don’t exactly have a vast language selection. If there’s ever a language you really want to learn, though, you can always cross-register at Harvard to take it. I am currently doing this with arabic and it’s pretty great.

    Tarun – You can find the online application here: Good luck!

    Emily – I’m just about on the state line, about forty miles north of Chicago.


    Whew, that was a long post….See you guys later!

  56. Hawkins says:

    lol, cornfield marco polo… nice.

  57. Isshak says:

    @Karen (this is in four different languages that I speak and i’m impressed you do too)
    Wow! You speak english, tu apprends le francais et tatakalam al arabia !! Hablas espanol tambien ?
    Good luck con tus idiomas !

  58. kelsey says:

    I live in Indiana and i’ll tell ya. You havn’t truly lived until you’ve played marco polo in someone else’s corn field!

  59. Isshak says:

    Aprendé (y aprendo) el espanol en mi colegio, porque en el colegio frances, es una obligacion de aprender 2 otras idiomas : ingles y espanol o allemano o italiano. Espero que aprenderas el arabe para que tu y yo hablamos en espanol, frances, ingles y arabe !
    My english is way better then my spanish alors désolé pour les fautes de grammaire que je suis sûr d’avoir fait ^^ !

  60. Snively says:

    No Mander! Bad Mander!

    Look, you can’t tack a ’13 to the end of your name unless somehow you deferred admission for two years and were already accepted. The suffix is a little badge of pride you get to wear once you’re accepted, kinda like this:

    Michael Snively ’11

    Not ’13

  61. milena '11 says:

    Gah who cares about people writing ’13 or whatever next to their names? If it annoys you then don’t look at it, but that comment was kind of condescending.

  62. Star says:

    Oh, I just assumed he had been accepted and deferred, kinda like Hawk. I do agree with Snively in a way; I’m not yet a ’12, so I don’t really have the right to call myself one… although I guess it doesn’t bother me if other do. What about ’12 hopeful though? Cuz I’ve used that one a bit smile

  63. Hawkins says:

    Here we go again. =P

  64. rola says:

    haha..yes..c’mon hawkins..bring one of those navy water pumps..and disperse the crowd b4 it strts again…

  65. Hey, you got your blog!

    That’s great!