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Painting with the Colors of the Wind by Yuliya K. '18

reflections on the first MIT semester

We need to sing with all the voices of the mountains.
We need to paint with all the colors of the wind.

— Pocahontas from Pocahontas

I’m on a plane flight home. Dire Straits’ “On Every Street” hums through the ear buds. Dimmed cabin lights are perfect for introspection.

My first semester of college is done. Its climax reminds me of a promise from the Maseeh Hall announcement screen: “MIT gets hard. I’ll get to fixing this soon. In the meantime, here’s a puppy. :)“

This semester, I found what it means to actually learn from mistakes. Relationships, personal finances, health, lifestyle, and academics have been my responsibility since August. I messed up at times. Looking ahead, I can imagine few famously disastrous scenarios I have not encountered. Truly, I got the major categories covered. Luckily, life has been entirely on Pass/No Record for the past four months, and I can cross the catastrophes off my record. Next semester, perhaps I’ll pass in most (all?) categories, but if not, hey, it’s still A/B/C/No Record. #YOFO #YouOnlyFroshOnce

Never has Ben Jones’ legendary 50 Things post been more relevant. Now, 50 Things is a list that brings up 50 stories. I’ll share some.

As predicted by The Blogfather, I lost friends and sleep, but gained the priceless skill of taking naps anytime (#1, 4, 5). Eventually I came to terms with the fact that some days I may not see sunlight and others sleep through multiple alarms.

I have compiled several people and event inspired playlists. There’s already “fun,” “sad,” and “Go the Distance,” and the collection grows as my network expands (#3).

On Monday night of finals week, my friends and I spent hours dyeing hair pink, blonde, blue, and purple (blue eyebrows included for some). Sure, the hours wasted were academic suicide, but did we have a totally and unforgettably awesome bonding time? YES! And besides, #YOPRNO (You Only Pass/No Record Once; pronounced “yoporno”) (#7). Also, no grades were harmed in the end.

I acquired ~99% of college wisdom from fellow learners and, through our contrasts, found my own direction. I’m a potential Course 8 (Physics) minor now. The inspiration for this decision came from group problem solving events, which I’d miss terribly if not for the existence of more Course 8 classes (#14).

Late night PSet parties remain common, but all-nighters have lost their exotic appeal. As proven empirically, they only work half the time. During the other half, the brain shuts down at about 5 am and yields to sleep. Not worth it (#15).

Despite the imminence of a Thursday all-nighter, celebrating the transition period from Tuesday to Thursday PSets has been an essential ritual to lessen the week’s load. Whatever working time lost was never missed (#6 and 20).

5.112 Principles of Chemical Science was fascinating precisely because it was not related to my major(s). I am simultaneously pumped and terrified for 5.12 Organic Chemistry I and other classes out of my area of expertise I wish to take (#22).

Enjoyable on-campus jobs are very much “a thing.” Some of my peers have been hooked into the widely advertised positions, but the opportunities for fun work are always available. I adore blogging and teaching for a living. Some love UROPs (Undergraduate Research Opportunities), and others desk work (which mainly involves working on homework). The opportunities are plenty (#30).

Clean sheets feel divine. I resolve to do laundry frequently next semester (#42). College has significantly lowered my living standards in other ways as well. I will now gladly accept (almost) any free food (#40).

This October, I switched two (or exactly half) of my classes. Additionally, over the course of the semester, I have been registered in four different math courses. The last one, 18.02 Multivariable Calculus, worked. I looked forward to doing the homeworks for it. Sure, making up prior work was scary, but the deadlines for that passed eventually. Only two all nighters later, I could enjoy 18.02 to the fullest (#46).

In college, my friends and I have made “adult decisions.” Yet, our world remains protected by the MIT bubble. I’ve had few encounters with true responsibility. All I must do these days is learn and prepare for a life of doing what I love. I won’t forget that #50 on the list: “This is the only time in your lives when your only real responsibility is to learn. Try to remember how lucky you are every day.” I will.

Many other items from 50 Things resonated with me strongly, but not all can be included in one post. Instead, in a conclusion that is longer than the body of the piece, I offer extra thoughts.

I’ve awakened a deep fascination with bodies of water. The Charles River has been a silent witness to a vast majority of my laughter and tears. Still, every time I pass by its rippled surface, I am awed. Sometimes the wind makes the surface of the water look so coarse, it seems that if only I found a way to lower myself upon the surface, I could walk to the other side, where brilliant city lights await.

Boston is a gargantuan city, but intimate as well. Yesterday my friends and I ventured far enough past the bridge to find the entertainment spots. My foreign nature was giddy with excitement at all the lights and fancily clad people. From the other side, the Big Dome and even the Green Building looked so tiny.

Perspective matters. The magnificent MIT is just a dot on somebody’s grid.

Seeing groups of Bostonians have the entertainment without the deadlines felt as foreign as live trees with birds in a mall. Maybe I have been converted to a dangerous work ethic, but I like to consider myself lucky, for deadlines are continuous (and safe) stimulants to curiosity. They are weekly challenges that inevitably follow the Principle of Conservation of Difficulty.

As mentioned earlier, I fell in love with 8.01 Physics I: Classical Mechanics problem solving. No matter how soon the path to solution worked, getting the right answer was definitely up in the Top Ten Best Feelings of All Time. Now imagine getting that at least eight times every week (plus additional multi-part extras). Pure bliss! I have proudly converted to one who said she can’t/won’t ever do physics to a problem-solving addict.

In 18.02 Multivariable Calculus, I honed my manual labor endurance by completing thousands of algebraic lines (admittedly, in sprawling handwriting). I used to make “silly math mistakes” in simple calculations. No more. Practice makes much better.

24.118 Paradox & Infinity simultaneously broke my heart and brought a stunning revelation. But I won’t ponder on it in this post, for there are better opportunities to share enlightened woes. (SPOILER: check out Gödel’s Theorem)

Then there was also the tough 5.112 Principles of Chemical Science. It was risky business, a class for people with a Chemistry background that I did not have. But the material was too incredible to quit.

The mind blowing new Chemistry concepts are still boiling somewhere in my brain. Our second quarter professor, Richard Schrock (winner of the 2005 Nobel Prize in Chemistry) led groundbreaking research, and so his lectures were often stories about mentors’, friends’, colleagues’, and personal experiences. Professor Schrock even proved that 42 is indeed “the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything.” It refers to the element with that number, Molybdenum (Mo), a “required element for life in all higher eukaryote organisms”…

… My plane is heading towards the ground, and soon I will be asked to store my computer. I shall write more another day.

tl;dr this semester I stumbled, problem solved, and gazed with wide-eyed wonder at the world. Increased knowledge infused additional magic into the mundane.

The feeling of excitement from September hasn’t changed, but the reasons for it have. Without warning or expectation, I learned to paint with the colors of the wind. Almost literally.

Goodbye for now, MIT. I smell freedom in the winter wind.

With much excitement and a thousand ideas brewing,
A Frosh Who Is No Longer on Pass/No Record