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MIT student blogger Yuliya K. '18

The Last Five Days by Yuliya K. '18

aka How I Spent My Summer

How many days I have left in my parents’ home is approximately as many as a romcom character gets to decide her life.

Five days.

This week, someone from my hall at MIT asked, “When are you coming home to 1E?” Which means I have two homes now, and although I should feel lucky, I am torn.

In the college home, I get adventures with friends, bright city lights, and academic pursuits. In my parents’ home, I have my sister, the reason I dream to return each time. I’ll refrain from describing her so as not to inundate this post with a couple thousand extra words. I could never condense her into one story. So I won’t.

Here, I also have my parents. Old friends. Blotches of forest in the neighborhood where deer families preside over moving cars. Over the plains, the sky is visible in all directions, and if I go out at sunset, I get dizzy from spinning under all the views of the setting sun. Here, I get the best seat under the setting spectacle.

So what can I do in this home for the last five days? How do movies make it so easy to fold up a life and sew up a problem? Quickly and effortlessly.

Maybe the answer is in setting the stage early.

Here’s what I did this summer.

In the beginning, I braved the Boston streets in a week of total freedom before my flight to Ohio. I wielded the power of the unlimited MBTA pass.

I went to the Museum of Fine Arts and the Boston Public Library. Twice. Sat in a serene fake temple at the Museum. Saw masterpieces of Hokusai. Lounged on the cold polished floor of the Library’s basement and wept with mixed emotions. There, encircling the American fiction section, were Russian books that I used to own. That I left in Ukraine, certain of a quick return, oblivious of the grim future.

Later, I stuffed myself with delectable cannolis from the North End Cannoli Factory. Strained arms with sacks of cheap fruit from the Haymarket. Stared plenty at the Atlantic Ocean and Charles River. And though I haven’t brought up my friends yet, rest assured, I hung out with them plenty.

We ventured to a developing Boston suburb with an outdoor mall. There, right in the midst of generic stores, stood an AMC Movie Theatre opposing an ice cream shop. Just like in Ohio. Freaky!

Upon return, I reveled in the privilege of wasting time. Oh, it felt good! All those late nights with ice cream and romantic comedy classics. Judging the characters but slightly hoping to be in their place. Hours of writing and introspection, the only way to rekindle creative power.

One night, I decided to change my major. I was playing the CourseRoad Game and losing. When I considered switching to Course 17 (Political Science) in order to focus on public policy, the game was won.

Makes sense. I came in as Course 18 (Mathematics) major, so only one unit off.

Most of my high school friends have changed paths, too. A sworn teacher became a physical therapist. An aspiring archeologist turned to teaching. A music teacher decided to study bugs and a zoologist, sociology.

I’d sworn to stick to math. Cannot imagine why. It took a while to get to now, but I am settled at last.

I think. No guarantees in life.

Time of the summer was spent, too, on recovering from the effects of freshman year. I was lost and disillusioned by the end, unable to see my niché. I was an outsider who came to a tech school only to realize I did not love tech.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I still adore math and science. The times when ideas of math let us break past human constraints. Go to infinity and actually beyond. Into the 24th dimension. I shiver while thinking how many neurons light up while I’m thinking.

With scientific knowledge, I am never alone. In my gut, tens of trillions of microorganism friends keep me company. That’s more than the number of my personal cells. So, in a way, there’s more of them in me than me. And that is both scary and awesome!

On that note, my favorite website of the summer was For those who wish to own an adorable pink syphillis or a pretty brain cell.

After all that awesomeness, I still realized that I loved math and science for what I call the “humanities side of STEM.” Thus, I was lost. But whether for better or worse, MIT didn’t have too many majors to lead me astray. Now decided on Course 17, I hope I’m here to stay.

To save up for food and gain experience, I tutored local children. One was a boy who’s going to graduate from my school this year. And it’s scary to realize that he’s the second generation to leave after mine. With every month, I lose another tie to my old life. Soon, I will recognize no students when I visit my school. I may even forget how the first touches of fall light up the local forest.

This year, the tutoring experience was vastly different. After 11.125 Understanding and Evaluating Education, I no longer employed an idealistic fantasy to coach my students. Instead, I recalled the words of my instructor, knowing that, even if I fumble through a lesson, I’ll be aware of why. And we’ll work on it.

Outside of work, I did some personal learning. Read fascinating articles online and discovered new favorite books. I explored transgressive fiction and literary minimalism, mostly by Chuck Palahniuk (whom you may know as the author of Fight Club, of which there is now a children’s version). Then devoured book after book written by C. Palahniuk’s literary favorites. No prose I’ve ever written could rank even close to the exquisite sentences of Amy Hempel. Just observe this one, “The year I began to say vahz instead of vase, a man I barely knew nearly accidentally killed me” (from “The Harvest“). Have you ever read something so beautiful? How about this: “I moved through the days like a severed head that finishes a sentence.”?

Before my journey into Chuck Palahniuk Universe, I discovered another favorite, Junot Díaz, who is a Pulitzer Prize winner and a professor at MIT. He teaches these classes. I may be able to one day learn how to write fiction from him! How exciting is it to learn writing from a favorite author? I look forward to finding out.

In the real world, I caught up with old friends. Because switching a life around always involves reevaluating the old.

I can see even stronger reasons now to never let go of my prior connections. Times and beliefs change, but there’s always something special about the friends you once loved. I wish I knew that at this time last year, when I packed my two bland suitcases with no memories and left.

Related lessons of the summer: it’s never too late to start over with true friends. Never too late to change the old course of life. I’d dreamed of entirely different things this time last year. Something else mattered more.

College changed me to be the person I always was.

It also revealed just how little I know. And how minuscule all the knowledge I will gather through life. That’s ok. I’d like to never reach the peak.

The best difference college made was reveal knowledge of who I am, which made me comfortable. Of what I want for the future, which let me love even the most dreary present suburban sights.

Summer was about all those things, and much, much more.

It was about writing. Finishing packs of gel pens exhausted by writing. Falling in love with fictional friends. Staying in love with real family and friends. Savoring a succession of sun salutes or folding into odd shapes in yoga. Running through the rain, glasses soaked, but still singing, laughing, feeling free. Recharging.

Ready to begin again now! It’s terrifying and exhilarating.

The finale of my trip home is scheduled this week. Then I shall commence the sequel. Of new dreams in a new home.

Coming Soon: Sophomore at MIT.

A journey not to be missed…

NOTE: the editing of this post was unfortunately delayed for the past two weeks, and that is how old the info presented is. I’m currently on campus, taking classes, and being a changed Course 17 major. My last five days in Ohio were an amazing finale to a wonderful summer.