(sequel to Three Tales of Junior Year)
How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love MIT
A shocking confession: one time, I almost transferred to Harvard. I even had a recommendation lined up from a Harvard professor. “But,” you might ask, “aren’t bloggers supposed to love MIT?” I guess sometimes they don’t.
I couldn’t go through with the transfer though. And not just because application process is scary. But also because, in my months of deliberation, I fell in love. With my life at MIT. I loved the niche I found here, and stayed because of my friends, my hall, my dorm, and the opportunities I got as a rare HASS major.
I stayed because I’d miss the First East random lounge craziness, and the gorgeous murals on our. Because I couldn’t imagine classes I loved at MIT anywhere else—with a spice of the technical in the liberal arts. I’d miss seeing the Charles River and the skyline from the East Campus courtyard while carrying dirty laundry. I couldn’t run off to Boston at a moment’s notice. I couldn’t transfer my UROP down Massachusetts Avenue. I couldn’t remain a blogger.
So I stayed at MIT. I could still take up to half of my classes at Harvard, if I wanted to. But I don’t, not anymore. After junior fall, I couldn’t handle more of Harvard. Instead, I found similar but much more fitting classes at MIT.
Love is hard of course. I won’t romanticize MIT life. Sometimes, it involves weeks of non-stop work that feel like they’ll never end: you wake up on Monday and know that you won’t be able to take a break until at least Sunday, and then the cycle will start over. Sometimes, it feels lonely to do social science without being able to share in the joy of the subject. It can feel lonely at MIT in general—at least where I live, we’re in a bubble.
On those days, I wonder about all the cool stuff I could have done at a giant local college like The Ohio State University, the kind of stuff they brag about on admissions tours. But then I remind myself that, even when it sucks, MIT is home. It is my community and my academic journey. I never think about transferring to Harvard again. At least for one person, MIT is significantly cooler.
A Trip to the Learning Zone
A wise woman once said that you need to raise your heartbeat at least once a month. Not counting midterms and papers, I tried it once junior year. The results were astounding.
In February 2017, I participated in the annual MIT Vagina Monologues production, again. It was scary the first year, being on stage, talking about vaginas, among other things. But it was also an empowering time with an amazing group of women ages 17 to 70, who deeply cared about making women’s voices heard. After all, The Vagina Monologues is not a collection of monologues about body parts. It’s a collection of experiences that, until plays like VagMo were written, were never heard, but rather silenced and stigmatized.
This year, I had no second thoughts about auditioning, and got parts in two group monologues. Then I thought, “Well, I have done a monologue before, so that’s not new. How do I move out of the comfort zone and into the learning zone this year?” So I wrote my own monologue! Not about an experience though: I actually did some “social science” and “media studies” research (and now know some great party fun facts).
The experience did get me into the learning zone. I didn’t expect that the audience to laugh as much as they did. But even more so, I did not expect myself to go through with the whole project. And if I could do one completely unexpected and totally awkward thing, what couldn’t I do? I was reminded of that later when I didn’t get the summer internship I wanted—I could always go back to the learning zone, just had to keep trying. So I’ve been trying since. And senior year has been awesome.
Practicing Adulthood (feat. the Human Centipede)
The adult-est thing I did junior year was the Burchard scholars program (with Phoebe C. ’18). It’s a series of dinner seminars with professors that start with a talk by someone from the SHASS (School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences) faculty. The dinners are supposed to be practice for adult life: dress nice, be on time, sound smart… The first two dinners felt awful—without a doubt, the two most stressful evenings of the semester (overshadowing even the 6.00 midterm). I was on time and properly dressed, but really out of my element: wasn’t sure how to eat and sit and talk properly, and embarrassed to be waited on by the restaurant staff.
It seemed, however, like the other students around me were perfectly adjusted, conversing easily about serious topics with the professors. They also seemed to understand the first talk, something about “horror without the body,” which I didn’t get (my closest experience with the horror genre was reading the Wikipedia synopses of the three human centipede movies, being scared for over a month after, and experiencing some disturbing flashbacks). Anyway, I didn’t understand the first talk and felt awkward in the discussion (also, over dessert, I learned that the human centipede movies were somehow a nuanced critique of Guantánamo, and that completely ruined dessert: I never finished that centipede-affected cake).
Later that month, I encountered the professor who wrote my recommendation letter for the Burchard program. I told him how out-of-place I felt. And he said that the program was an important life experience, that I had to learn to adjust to all sorts of settings. I came to the third dinner with a renewed purpose: to learn a life lesson. The professor that day was from my poli sci department, and he talked in familiar terms about terrorism. The talk was fascinating. Plus my table neighbor and I bonded over the underwhelming fruit salad, which was literally a collection of five slices of fruit with two grapes on top. We became Burchard friends! After the poli sci talk, our table had a great discussion about education and social science with a philosophy professor.
I gave the program another chance, and found my place! So, life lesson learned. Ready for more fun dinners in the fall.
Also, this is an old draft. I can now attest that practice immersion in adult settings has helped immensely. I’ve since had four formal dinners with job recruiters (including in a $$$$ restaurant in NYC). Thanks to Burchard, I didn’t fumble with the knives and forks!