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MIT student blogger Yan Z. '12

One year later by Yan Z. '12

MIT is like a surprise birthday party, but without the birthday or the party.

(Editor’s note: For rhetorical purposes, let’s pretend that “today” is October 24th, which is when the first paragraph was conceived in a rush of inspiration mixed with Google calendar.)

Exactly one year ago today, I walked onto the MIT campus for the first time and nearly hated it for an entire 12 hours. Cambridge was wrapped in a wet blanket of cold, drippy weather at the time with hardly an ounce of sunlight to spare, and the hotel failed to serve bagels in the morning. I did a campus tour, which was a few decimal places short of exciting, and walked around for the entire infinity of a drizzly afternoon, feeling like an intruder on a well-trimmed private lawn that contained too many people with MacBooks. On the semi-bright side, I had signed up for an overnight visit to spend the night with a real, living MIT student in a real, non-living dorm known as McCormick Hall, but on the dim side, biology and I were no longer on speaking terms while my overnight host was a biology major who got stuck in a lab for most of the day. I mean, I’m sure she was voluntarily stuck there, not that the floors were covered in adhesive materials. At the time, I hadn’t yet discovered the unspeakable deliciousness of McCormick’s water fountains, so life was fairly joyless.

Somehow, the first night changed everything in a way subtle and inexplicable as the softness of a fresh-baked bagel. Perhaps it was the hilarious conversations I had with my host and her hallmates, or the spontaneous midnight tour of the MIT tunnels, or the fact that my host and I found an elevator in the great outdoors, or the 1 AM run to Simmons Hall, or the tingling discovery that Simmons Hall is supersaturated with tiny windows, or the thrill of hearing student musicians practicing in the Building 4 during the wee hours of the morning, or all of the above, or none of the above, or maybe I imagined it all because I was still struggling to accept the fact that the hotel had no bagels. I woke up on the floor of a dorm room the next morning to a gloriously confusing faceful of carpet and found that my host had slept placidly through her alarm. As we dined fancifully on glasses of cold cereal minutes later, a wonderfully carbonated feeling began to bubble up inside me as I crunched on on corn pops, sitting on a crunchy mattress in one of the greatest, crunchiest learning institutions in the world.

But the truth is, I probably made up the last sentence. In retrospect, 9:00 AM on a Thursday morning in 2007 seems to be a juicy, cooked-to-medium-rare slice of time in which I should have tasted the next four years of my life in blood-searing vividity*. Not so. I ended up telling my friends back home that MIT was only fractionally as exciting as the pamphlets and information sessions would suggest, and they probably believed me until I forced them all to read this blog. The point is, you should always make your friends think you’re a huge liar whenever possible**.

*Pardon me, mitBeef is supposed to have a meeting soon.

**Just kidding. No, really.

In the end, my visit was still enough to convince me to apply. At the time, I was still in the papery, testy, AP-classy dawn of my junior year and tossing around the idea of leaving high school a year early until I had tossed myself a nice salad of educational subversiveness dressed with a straight-A, finished-the-hardest-courses-available high school transcript. The secret master plan was that I would start college ASAP if I was accepted to a university that I sincerely and deeply wanted to attend, but otherwise I’d finish high school on schedule and deal with the minor injustices of life like everyone else, except with less spamming. The $65 application fees seemed like a Big Deal, so I ended up slacking off and applying to only one college (to be honest, I estimated that my chances of being accepted anywhere as a junior were fairly slender). Also, I lied to all of my friends again and didn’t tell anyone that I was jumping overboard the USS Public High School until I got my acceptance letter in March.

*No, really, you shouldn’t lie to your friends, despite the fact that I do it every 10 minutes or so.

Thankfully, it worked out anyway after a most unwelcome rush of last-minute standardized testing. Which is why I’m in Random Hall right now, basking in the company of radiant friends and a friendly radiator, happier and more overworked and did-I-mention-happier than I ever could have believed possible from my first visit.

My desire to convince you of this is so immense that I snapped a few pictures of the bloomingly apocalyptic sunset as I walked across the railroad tracks to Random Hall.


Granted, it’s now Wednesday night a week later after I began writing this blog, and I’ve just crawled through a narrow pipe named the Longest Half-Week of My Life. On the way over here from the far end of Monday, I’ve plunged through a test, an advising seminar, a spontaneous PE class in which I tried squash for the first time (the sport, not the vegetable), an attempt to register for fencing, 12.5 hours of classes, the acquisition of another part-time job, a frenzy of costume-making, broccoli, the unexpected challenges of dressing as a mailing list for Halloween, study sessions, a Halloween band concert and afterparty, a night of studying*, Paul ’12’s grandmother’s pastry recipes suddenly incarnated in the form of caramelized sugar at 1 AM, late night conversations about the Pope’s job benefits, the invention and subsequent enjoyment of the best Spinach Apple Salad that has ever been capitalized in print, four hours of sleep, another test, a Course 15 experiment in which all members of my physics class were given cups of insanely yellow soda with a consent form and a survey, a 3-mile run through riverside corridors of fire-colored leaves and monsoonal winds, a long nap, a phone call, and, as of right now, too many commas.

*Upon my return from the band party, I commenced studying at 9 PM and drove straight through to 3:45 AM, with a few detours for Pope-related conversations, broccoli, Paul’s grandmother’s pastries, and other roadside attractions that become irresistible when you’re running on midnight oil. It was a long night, but I wouldn’t have spent it any other way.

What makes it all worth it? The people. Unfortunately, people are mobile and somewhat difficult to photograph, so I instead took pictures of Random Hall. Consider this a tour of the third floor.

I give you the Dinosaur Comic (link) Whiteboard, which is a whiteboard permanently tattooed with the ingenious crappiness of the Qwantz panel sequence. Edward ’12, in a fiery rampage of unbridled inspiration, inked up the following masterpiece last Friday. It has something to do with chicken, but critics and reviewers are currently unsure of the unifying theme. Particularly noteworthy is the lower panel closest to the viewer, in which the rate of chicken with respect to chicken is not constant, but rather seems to show monotonic linear increase after a period of approximately-sinusoidal behavior. UROP opportunity, if I ever saw one.
MIT11 010

On one side of the Dinosaur Comic is a vertical chessboard mounted to the wall with pieces attached by the magical properties of Velcro. There’s also a wall Scrabble board somewhere that seems to be less popular these days.
MIT11 011

On the other side is Random Hall’s rock-climbing wall, by which I mean a random distributions of nubs stuck onto a wall in the hallway. Sometimes, if I’m in an optimistic state of mind, I try to climb it. I am subsequently reminded of the futility of mankind.
MIT11 012

I was taking these pictures while Manishika ’12 and I were cooking dinner, but Manishika must have been doing most of the work if I was taking pictures. I felt bad, so I took a picture of her chimerical, hand-painted door.
MIT11 013

Upon entering the kitchen and finding that the pasta was almost done, my feeling of badness rushed back. So I took a picture of another door.
MIT11 014

Manishika’s mother’s recipe for Orzo cooked in chicken broth with spinach and pepper induces deliciously warm feelings in all involved. Manishika and I enjoy making it on nights when we’re brain-fried from a linguistics problem set.
MIT11 015

BMF kitchen at 5:30 PM on a Friday night is only fractionally as bustling as it is later in the night, but never have I seen it completely empty at any hour of the day. This picture only further evidences my hypothesis that in any given room at MIT, at least half the occupants must be engaged in face-to-face bonding time with their laptop/computer screen. However, this picture shows the rare case in which nearly all of them are staring at the same screen.
MIT11 016
(Notice the ceiling tiles, which are up for artistic grabs at Random)

At midnight, I stood in the midst of a rising storm and watched pumpkins smashing into wet concrete as they descended from the top of the tallest building in Cambridge. Tell that to me a year ago, and I would have called you a liar and told you to start a blog.

46 responses to “One year later”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Cool post. The photos of the sunset are gorgeous!

  2. Ivan says:

    Great post

    Your first sunset photo is awesome, looks like a movie scene.

    Last picture, ceiling tiles, who is from Brazil? (Do you know the person’s name?)

    I know 7 Brazilians at MIT but none of them are in that last picture.

    The picture of the door, I didn’t know you could also paint outside of your room.

  3. Yan Z. says:

    @ Frittos:

    I’m going to say between 700 and 800 for every section. MIT admissions basically considers 700 to be the same thing as 800, by the way, so there’s no point in retaking any section if you get at least a 700.

    It’s just numbers, after all.

    @ Anonymous:

    There’s an anomalously high number of anomalously young people at MIT. At least two other people in my pre-orientation group were also a year younger than most people in their grade (so that makes 3 out of 32 people). Then again, there’s also stories of 15 year old sophomores and such.

    Again, it’s just numbers.

  4. deng says:

    you blogs make me laugh so much
    the random thinking outside of the box stuff is amazing.. teach me

  5. Stacy says:

    My first MIT experience was like yours. My class had gone there to test out some software that a group of students created. At the time, I didn’t look around and instead, was so mad at the weather that day that it gave me a bad impression of the school. Needless to say, I’m glad that I’ve changed my mind about MIT smile

  6. Anonymous says:

    nice entry. i like your writing style. it rocks. and you rock. keep it up. grin

  7. Nicholas says:

    “Thankfully, it worked out anyway after a most unwelcome rush of last-minute standardized testing.”

    Oh gosh, that’s me. I’ve got 4 of those to battle through. It’s times like these I kinda hate being home schooled–I gotta prove to college that I actually know something.
    Anyway, this post was more gorgeously awesome than usual, Yan. Punny funs (“radiant friends and a friendly radiator”), great pictures (esp. the sunset one–that wasn’t photoshopped, was it?) and the intimate look into your application and first visit to MIT. Thanks muchly.
    Question: Did you do an interview as part of the application process, and what was it like?

    You get used to that. :D What PL do you use, Java? C++?
    string YanZ_Blog = “Win” + ” Awesome”;
    if (YanZ_Blog == “Win Awesome”)
    cout < “Party like it’s 1999.” << endl;
    cout << “You’re a liar.”
    //Actually, that’s kinda lame and doesn’t make much sense. That’s what I get for learning VB this sem–it dumb’ed down my programming skillz.

  8. kimd says:

    2 IAP(January)s ago, Niki and I met a couple of Brazilians who were at MIT for their summer break at a Salsa dance. We invited them to a party at Random the next day; while at Random, they decided to paint a patriotic ceiling tile. It’s also got their school logo on the bottom, but you can’t see much of it in the picture, just a yellow corner. Anyways, they aren’t at MIT anymore (as far as I know).

  9. anon says:

    “I would have written a shorter letter but didn’t have time.” Some advice on writing and editing courtesy of Blaise Pascal (or maybe Mark Twain).

  10. Alex says:

    I love the pictures. smile The ceiling art work is amazing.

  11. Wiki Wiki says:


  12. Cam says:

    Off-topic: is the early action application online submission of Part 2 (essays, etc) due by midnight friday or midnight saturday? E.g. start or end of 11/1, the postmark deadline?

    Anybody got a clue?

  13. Reena says:

    photos = so, so gorgeous

  14. Reena says:

    whether that is a mathematical statement saying “photos” and “so, so gorgeous” are numerically equal or an assignment operator saying that the value of “so, so gorgeous” should be stored in “photos”, i will leave it to you to decide.

    (*is currently a bit bitter about getting used to the meaning of the equals sign in programming* :p)

  15. Reena says:

    or maybe you should just ignore that horribly, horribly nerdy musing. yeah, let’s go with that.

  16. Dane says:

    Great entry. Your pictures are great, too.

    …I don’t have much to say. Maybe this is why I haven’t been commenting that much.

  17. Yan Z. says:

    @ Reena:

    Error: Undeclared variables. Code fails to compile.

    (I personally enjoy the idea of “photos” as a pointer for “gorgeous”)

  18. Yan says:

    Breaking news: I’ve decided that the probability of another Yan lurking around the blogs is low enough that I’m going to leave off my last initial from this comment onward.

    scanf(“%s”, &your;_comment)

    On a similar note: Last Friday, someone upstairs converted the operation instructions for the expresso machine into code.

    The sunset pictures were processed slightly but not photoshopped because I lack time/skills/photoshop.

    I did do an interview and definitely recommend it, despite the fact that mine was short and not very exciting or comforting. But, it’s always a good idea to interview.

  19. Nicholas says:

    “I did do an interview and definitely recommend it, despite the fact that mine was short and not very exciting or comforting. But, it’s always a good idea to interview.”
    OK, thanks. I’ll get in contact with my area’s EC.

    My code did not come out right for some reason…….maybe it mistook it for html…or someone deleted it?….the cout after the if was supposed to print out “Party like it’s 1999,” and the cout after else was supposed to print “You’re a liar.” Hrm.

    “On a similar note: Last Friday, someone upstairs converted the operation instructions for the expresso machine into code. “
    Explain. You mean you have to code the espresso machine to make coffee now? Or that someone wrote a program simulating an espresso machine’s op-instructions?

  20. Jamo. G says:

    (first post ever!)
    Awesome post! XD
    I look forward to reading more! (and maybe experiencing all this first-hand wink )

  21. Yan says:

    @ Nicolas:
    Your code showed up correctly earlier today. Not sure what happened.

    The intention was to have the expresso machine’s instructions be written in code so that only Course 6 people could make coffee in the mornings. Or maybe to encourage freshmen to major in comp. sci. At least, that’s my suspicion.

  22. Nicholas says:

    Ah, OK. Well, that’s cool (my potential major is comp sci). What kind of code? Python?

  23. Nicholas says:

    EDIT: I just realized my request for explanation of the espresso machine code thing was way too terse, perhaps even bordering on rude! I do apologize. D:

  24. Oasis '11 says:

    I love Random.


  25. Frittos says:

    Hi Yan,

    Your blogs are a real good read! May I please ask what was your SAT Score. Range will do. Just curious.

    Thanks and keep blogging.

  26. Edward says:

    And I thought I used a lot of commas O.o
    But seriously, the pictures are all really nice. Especially the sunset ones :]
    (I’m a sucker for scenic pics)
    Seriously though, chicken….?
    I still have no idea what that means.

  27. Reena says:

    java smile
    my purpose in learning programming is actually to use it for earthsci. i’m kind of terrible with computers, terrible enough that learning how to ftp was a huge accomplishment
    or maybe it’s just windows.

    boolean reenaGetsAlongWithComputer;
    string op_System;
    if (op_System == windows) { …

  28. Yan P. Z. says:

    I just realized that you’re a P. away from my mother if we’re using the pinyin system.
    Thus, if she ever decides to apply to MIT so that I can get heritage points, (not that I need any, of course, since Kaitlyn Gao’s my cousin, obviously), she may be be confused for you on the forums.
    btw. Your photos are gorgeous.

  29. lulu says:

    oooh pretty :]

  30. Anonymous says:

    I can’t believe you finished high school when you were like 16 or 17? You must be crazy smart!
    And I wish I could write like you- so witty…

  31. Tiffany says:

    Hey. Do you know the email for the admissions office? Or a phone number? Thanks.

  32. Hey, my room is famous.It now exists on teh intrawebs. I am excited. Also sleep depped. Also your camera is really good. Also your post made me really hungry, darnit.

  33. Ahana says:

    Great post Yan! Please post your regular blog URL…I’d like to stalk your older entries smile

  34. Molly ('13?) says:

    Those pics are awesome- I LOVE the ones of the sunset.

  35. Vaibhav says:

    @Yan(.Z – no not needed)
    How can anyone have so much time to meticuously sit and paint their doors like that?? -seems strange…

    @Nicholas/Yan/anyone who could ans!
    Was that C++? (you see,I’m learning that right now so I don’t know if all languages have roughly the same base or not).
    This :”the rate of chicken with respect to chicken is not constant, but rather seems to show monotonic linear increase after of approximately-sinusoidal behavior” was an awesome line!
    And I second Ahana’s comment!

  36. Nicholas says:

    It’s probably just Windows.
    what happens
    if (op_System == “linux”)?

    I used C++, yeah. Java and C/C++ are all incredibly similar, though.

  37. harrison '12 says:

    Some (possible) context for the Chicken dinosaur comic:

  38. Rachel says:

    Lady Cottington’s Pressed Fairy Calendar. Each month was a fairy, and there was a diary entry about it. I think it started with a little girl catching fairies and ended with her being old(er) and annoyed that the fairies wouldn’t leave her alone but no one else could see them. Mine was from ’97 or ’98 and if I can find it, I’ll show you sometime. We’ll have a moment where you’re like “Why are you showing me this?” and then we’ll eat some gelato. This will happen at or near Borders, natch.

    Whoever painted those did a Really Great Job.

  39. Anonymous says:

    I would get along with you very well Shawn of Awesome.

  40. Ahana says:

    Yan! Your non-MIT blog..?

  41. Y says:

    you seem uber smart, so i thought i’d ask you, which AP exams did you take and your scores (only if you are comfortable discussing) and did they transfer? thanks!

  42. Yan says:

    Ah, but MIT reminds you that “smart” is just a relative term . . .

    I took AP World History and AP Calc. AB during sophomore year. That year, the school ordered an extra AP Lit test, so I ended up taking that one too even though I didn’t take the class until junior year.

    5 on APWH- counted for 9 general elective units. Honestly, I’m still not sure what that means.

    5 on Calc. AB- I ended up taking calc. at St. Louis University the next year, so I had transfer credit for single and multivariable. If I hadn’t, the 5 would have gotten me into the accelerated single variable class at MIT.

    5 on English- Didn’t have to take the Freshman essay evaluation.

    AP/IB tests taken in junior year: Zilch.

    I would recommend doing Calc. BC and AP Physics C if nothing else. None of the other AP tests are as useful, transfer-wise.

    More info:

  43. Y says:

    ahh ic, thanks much! so pretty much 4’s don’t count for anything? and unfortunately, my school doesn’t offer either of the two AP courses you have described..I’m taking calc AB right now, and considering doing Calc II at the college next year, but i doubt our small town university credits will transfer anyway, so i feel like i’m wasting much of my time..any thoughts?