I’ve been gone for a while, but I’m coming back!
Withdrawing from MIT to work for Amazon for a semester meant that quite suddenly, I had a lot more time on my hands than I was used to. I went to one of those competitive high schools, ran the college-admissions rat race, and kept running when I got to MIT. I took 72 units my sophomore fall (counting Unified Engineering), probably the most stressful semester of my life. I was lucky enough to have good friends and a strong community to support me during that time. When the opportunity came to spend a semester away from MIT working in industry, I jumped at the chance to take a break from school.
The withdrawal/readmission process is fairly straightforward; you meet with a dean at S3 (they are wonderfully nice people. they will give you hugs.) and talk about why you’re withdrawing, what your plan is for the time you’re away, and what the expectations are for your readmission. Then, when you’re ready to come back, you email your dean at S3 and your academic advisor, and they’ll help you fill out a readmission application (which involves a personal statement, a plan for finishing your degree, and reference letters from your employers and/or doctors, as the case may be).
I had to worry about a lot of things I didn’t have to worry about while I was at school. Those things included: buying groceries, cooking for myself, paying bills on time, maintaining long-distance friendships, and actively cultivating a social life (so much harder when you don’t live in a building full of friendly people your age). I also had a chance to do lots of things I failed to do while at school, such as: sleep every night, not fall asleep during the day, eat regularly, exercise regularly, explore my city, read books, watch Julianne Moore movies, write letters and poetry, maintain work-life balance.
It’s safe to say I’m a different person than the one that left MIT. I’d like to think I’m more comfortable in public (and non-MIT) settings. I understand better what I finding meaningful and what I don’t. I know how to treasure (and defend) my silence, my solitude, and my friendships. It’s remarkable how much you discover about yourself when you allow yourself to contemplate, to feel deeply, to be lonely, to think about your life and your beliefs and be confused. Perhaps school does not encourage this, much–you can’t put “I think about my feelings a lot” on your resume–but nevertheless it is important to know yourself, and who you are in isolation, as we charge forward with our lives.
Many of the friends I made at work were MIT alums, class of 2014 or 2015, and in them I saw brief glimpses of my future. They were settling in, as freshly-minted Real Adults do, buying furniture and finding friends, working hard at money-making and growing older. I don’t think you really see what that’s like in a two-month summer internship; by the time you’re settled in, you’re about to leave. But weeks pass, and at the three- or four-month mark you begin to see how this new life has affected you, and you think about the person you’ve become and whether or not you like it. Hearing their regrets and memories and advice has been impossibly valuable, and I’m incredibly grateful for their friendship.
I’m moving back to East Campus, this time on fifth west, and am nervously anticipating the thrill of new places and new friends. I am hopeful that this semester will be better than the ones before it, for my learning as well as for my health and heart.
Taking a break from MIT has been a great privilege, one I’m aware is not an option for everyone. But if you are a few semesters through school and find yourself unsure of yourself, and find the opportunity to be away for a while, I recommend you seriously consider it. That kind of time is both valuable and formative, in ways that are hard to predict and impossible to quantify.
Five poems from my time away.
jupiter and venus did not ride, nor did they orbit–they walked
slowly, when they met for their scheduled rendre-visite
flashes of quiet, a touch, old-school;
a bang of thunder on the west horizon,
hair and wind and night dew with strangers
to passers who asked “how?” one answered
“we climbed” — the other, “we flew”,
navigating the spaces between
a restless sunset and a starry night
fast heartbeats, anxious
music, soft and round and oddly
art in strange bodies, dancing
around the shower-room-floor,
living sculpture, animated feather-rock
song and mixed media, found re-up-cycled,
shelley’s monster collaged and confused
and purposelessly led to sunrise
curious blinking red in the horizon
darkness narrow lamps, strange food
for a four-foot floor-roller’s radio-static
disconnected words and white noise, suspense,
thumpa-thumpa down the street and
straws grasping fishhooks,
the pope speaks and the speaker goes mute;
i shirk responsibility and sleep until five
common threads tie old-new friends, bundles and kindling,
twenty-one tree rings circle our hearts, some thick, some wispy;
odd mercies sing medicine. we sleep lonely in our beds, swaying
slow-dances with the midnightly hours.
suns set on empty playgrounds. i walk the chaparral brush,
hand-in-hand with a dust-haired friend. i talk in bad chinese.
it’s quiet uptown. we miss the ones we love, and hurt,
while slow threads bind us to the unimaginables.
it is dark-early, can’t-tell-if-it’s-one-or-six early,
i wake from my floor-bed and find my friend has sent me sad poetry,
nostalgic filters and slow-churning gravel, and lifetimes of slow lostness,
and an actor of antagonists and a glam-rock starchild have died,
and the friend i do not like anymore did not come to my party,
and my furniture is bared for sale
i peek into other people’s coziness. how do they eat? how do they love?
how many of them also lie awake and read sad poetry and miss company-in-darkness,
and feel the slow-churning gravel in their legs?