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processing by Masha G. '24

in which I visit home and take time to think

MIT is overwhelming. Though this sounds painfully obvious, I don’t think I actually fully realized just how much it all is until the first time I went home this fall. It was mid-October, and I don’t actually remember why it was that I went home, but one Friday I took the train down to New York, had tea with my mom, then jumped straight into the bathtub.01 I’m obsessed with baths, which I’ll tell to anyone who cares to listen. this current winter break I’ve been averaging about a bath per day and I have no regrets Laying there, staring at the white bathroom ceiling of my childhood home, it really registered just how exhausted I was, from just over a month of being at college.

It’s not just academic exhaustion. If it were, I would know how to handle it; I’m intimately familiar with the feeling of overworking and of academic burnout. No, it’s something more fundamental, more all-encompassing. Any individual aspect of MIT is, on its own, manageable, but put it all together and it’s just too much, all at once. Not only am I keeping up with my classes, I’m meeting new people, exploring new interests and activities, trying to figure out what I want to do with my life, applying to scholarships and internships. All this in the less-than-half-a-square-mile area of main campus where I spend my days.

This geographic density, the fact of having my entire life squeezed into one place – this must be why leaving campus always feels like a breath of fresh air. Even walking up Mass Ave to get groceries from Target and H-Mart helps clear my mind a little bit. It’s a pattern at this point: I’ll walk to Boston and feel a little surer of who I am as a person, a little more oriented. It’s hard to explain, but when I’m on campus, I’m just less certain in my own sense of self, it feels like it… dissolves, almost, in the midst of all the happenings in my life. It’s not a bad feeling, necessarily. I hardly notice it in the moment, because my life is full and exciting and takes up all my focus. It’s just that when I step back for a second, I realize that I’m not taking time to delve deeper into my psyche as frequently as I used to.

 

Taking myself far from MIT gives a lot of perspective. It lets me remind myself that no, it isn’t my entire life, actually, even if it feels like it when I’m there. It’s just a place, just a period of my life, even if it encompasses so much right now. The truth is that I’ve been doing a lot of growing at MIT. I’m changing, learning more about people and the world around me, exploring new parts of myself. It’s revelatory, and confusing, and both comfortable and uncomfortable at the same time. Every day brings something new, some new little challenge or problem that fits into big, general themes I’m in the middle of exploring – themes like my identity, my values, my priorities. And yet, while at MIT, I can’t fully process the extent of how I am changing. When I’m on campus, it’s just one thing after the other, without a chance to properly sit down and process. So whenever I’m home, I can’t stop my mind from carefully sorting through the mess of thoughts and experiences I’ve accumulated since my last trip back.

Still, it’s weird to have to do that processing in my childhood bedroom, surrounded by the evidence of a distinctly different, past version of myself. It’s not that any of the things in my room are particularly out of place for my life now. It’s just that the environment brings me back to who I used to be; and that version of me is feeling more and more distant with each trip home. On one hand, it’s comforting – I had a pretty strong sense of self by the end of high school.02 all that introspecting when writing college essays has to count for something, right? It’s easy to slip into that persona, remember the way I carried myself and the things I cared about.

When I think back to high school, it feels like I knew what I was doing more than I do now. I suppose it’s true, since I had a pretty specific goal to work towards (college) and a pretty limited set of possible experiences. By the end of it, I think I had grown as much as I could have – I distinctly remember thinking that I’m just waiting for college to be able to reinvent myself. Now, in college, I don’t feel steady in any sense. Everything is in flux: my major, what I want to do with my life, my identity – all of it unclear and constantly changing. I wouldn’t say I’m reinventing myself, nothing so drastic, but I’m definitely different. So between the confusion of who I am right now, the steadiness of who I used to be, and the geographical separation of these two versions of myself, it’s too easy to start thinking of all the new growth as a phase, something that will go away once I graduate.

For all I know, some of it might. I definitely won’t be the same person in May 2024 that I am now. I’ll probably let go of some of my new habits and build other ones, I’ll change my hair ten more times, I’ll go back and forth on what I want to do after college. But all of that will have shaped me into an entirely distinct person from who I was in high school, and I’m excited to see what that person will be like. I’m excited to eventually feel comfortable in this new growth in a way that I don’t now.

The truth is that I’m just getting started: I’ve only experienced two semesters on campus, and only one fully in-person. There’s so many more things for me to learn, so many more experiences for me to have, so many more ways for me to change. I have to accept that it will feel uncomfortable, and learn to sit with that discomfort. Who knows, maybe I’ll start making an effort to get off-campus more frequently, even if it’s just to take a walk through Boston to sort my thoughts out.

  1. I’m obsessed with baths, which I’ll tell to anyone who cares to listen. this current winter break I’ve been averaging about a bath per day and I have no regrets back to text
  2. all that introspecting when writing college essays has to count for something, right? back to text