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MIT student blogger Paul B. '11

If strangers meet life begins by Paul B. '11

you shall above all things be glad and young

I.

Flying back home to MIT from home in South Bend (not a typo), I had a perfect view of Cambridge and Boston out my window. The plane was flying east as I stared north at the city I now call home, and the Charles River and the bay glittered like uncut gems in the light. It took me but a moment to notice the Green Building, standing taller than any other building in Cambridge, marking – claiming – MIT’s place in the vast cityscape, drawing my eyes like a beacon. And in that moment MIT unfolded for me, as I saw the entire campus, from west to east, east to west, and all the other bits and pieces of buildings strewn throughout Boston and Cambridge.

It was so beautiful I didn’t want the plane to land.

II.

Almost precisely a year ago, when I was but a newly arrived freshman on MIT’s campus, one of the speakers during my Orientation challenged my classmates and me to meet at least five new people each day of Orientation. But he didn’t mean just say hi to five people and try to remember their names when you ran into them randomly in the Infinite or before your 18.02 test three weeks later. No, he meant get to know them – where they lived, what they wanted to study, what they liked to do for fun. What made them tick. What made them unique.

Tall order?

Maybe.

But if you just try, think you’d be surprised by what happens.

III.

As I write this entry, I can see MIT perfectly outside the window of my fraternity. Dorm Row and the twin domes, Mass Ave and the bridge, the boathouse and the Green Building – the same buildings I saw from the air. The view is still mind-blowingly beautiful. But it’s not the same.

Is everything just a matter of perspective?

IV.

As my friends know, I’m a pretty big fan of the University of Notre Dame, which is located in South Bend and in whose laboratories I first discovered my passion for biomedical research. Unsurprisingly, every now and then I wear a Notre Dame hat around campus – and I was wearing one on my flight back to Boston.

So I wasn’t too surprised when, just as I was settling into my seat, the person in the seat next to me nudged his wife and said, “He must go to Notre Dame.” At the time, I had been in the middle of a great book – How Doctors Think, by Dr. Gerome Groopman, himself a Bostonian – and was burning to return to it and continue reading. But instead I smiled, and explained I was from South Bend, but actually I went to MIT. And the man said, “Ahh,” and I asked him, in return, why he was headed to Boston – and so I found myself drawn into a conversation that lasted for a good fifteen minutes, that meandered from my interest in bioengineering and biomedicine to his passion for electronics, from his exploits helping “unlock” the (original) iPhone to my dream of using computer technology to advance biomedicine even farther than it has already gone.

We got on the plane as complete strangers. And though we never spoke again after that original conversation, I left the plane feeilng as though I knew him, even if it had been only for a moment.

V.

I met lots of people during Orientation, but I didn’t really get to know most of them. Looking back, I wish I had put a little more effort into it. Don’t get me wrong: I’ve met more than enough people, found more than enough friends, to keep me happy. But Orientation is one of the few times everyone is trying to meet people. And you should take advantage of that.

So get out of your room. Close those books, stop checking Facebook, take a break from studying for those advanced standing exams. Go out and meet people. Check out the dorms, each with its own culture and quirks, its own habits and tradition (almost as if each dorm is, itself, a person or at least a personality).

Explore. Laugh. Live.

Find friends to last a lifetime. Or at least four years.

15 responses to “If strangers meet life begins”

  1. Ivan says:

    Nice post Paul
    This is something people need to keep in mind everywhere they go.

    What fraternity are you in?
    I have a few friends at Sigma Nu.

    The book How Doctors Think, is it a good book?

  2. Karen says:

    I think I’ve been doing a pretty decent job of getting out and meeting new people – too bad one particular upperclassman never remembers my name raspberry

  3. Anonymous says:

    Grammar lesson of the day: it is NEVER correct to follow an adverb (specifically, -ly words) with a hyphen; i.e. “newly-arrived” should be “newly arrived.”

    Sorry, that’s just something that really, REALLY bothers me. Continue. smile

  4. Keri says:

    @Karen: Shut up, Jennifer. You know you love him.

    I love meeting people on planes. The conversations you have are such anomalies compared to normal conversation: once someone starts talking about themselves and the things they love, they get really excited about it – and when the two of you realize that the time until landing is the probably the only time IN YOUR LIFE that you’ll get to speak to each other, you both start becoming really candid and honest about the things you’re interested in.

    Seriously, conversations with seatmates on plane flights are the strangest, most interesting, most fantastic conversations you can ever have.

    Just sayin’.

  5. Paul says:

    @Ivan: I’m in Phi Kappa Sigma, also known as Skullhouse.

    I loved How Doctors Think – I would definitely recommend it.

    @Karen: “Never” remember, huh? Just wait until the next time we randomly bump into each other. And then, one day…I shall remember your name! wink

  6. Jeremy says:

    Werd yo. I love knowing what makes people tick!

  7. Omar says:

    I’d have to say I’ve been doing a somewhat decent job at getting to know five new people each day. I’ve been lagging a bit lately though, but orientation has finally started. w00t.

  8. Alioth says:

    That was beautiful. How much I wish I had done that, instead of staying in my room so much. Here’s to a second chance at a first year.

    Frosh: you’ll only have one Orientation. Live it up.

  9. Omar says:

    If anyone is considering a frat, go with Skullhouse! I love it from what I saw smile ASEs start tomorrow…what madness.

  10. Ivan says:

    @Paul

    Your right about the conversations we have on planes, they are usually some of the most interesting conversations you can have and they are normally one of the most random.

    Your fraternity looks pretty cool, will you ever blog about rushing at MIT? or types of fraternities are on campus?

    I will look into the How doctors think book.

    Are there any courses at MIT that combines, biology, and computer science or Neuroscience, nanotechnology and electrical engineering?

  11. - says:

    aahhh i’ve seen the same view out the plane
    it *was* beautiful

  12. Your writing is gorgeous.

  13. Stanislav says:

    Great post, Paul. Just thinking back on this summer, if I had not randomly met a couple of people, the past couple months (and the next few actually) would’ve been very different. Same applies for pretty much all of last year, though I only really embraced that mentality around the end of IAP.

    So I second that — don’t shy away from opportunities to talk to people (especially now, when it’s so easy) — you never know who you’ll meet