Right now campus is quiet. A lone grad student moves slowly across the Terrain being a word which here means: the view outside my window. like a deer across the savannah. Little does she know that soon a swarm will descend upon this campus. In fact, it has already begun. The Technically, they're not freshmen/freshpeople until after convocation! ~Conservation of frosh~ are moving in!
It started on Friday, when the athletes arrived. Today, on Tuesday, the international students and FPOPs will come. And then some of them will leave again! To everyone heading to Yellowstone and New Hampshire, have fun :D And on Saturday, everyone else will arrive, flooding the student center, picking up shiny new student IDs, looking around with their parents, hauling boxes up to their new rooms, running around excitedly, and generally being real darn froshy: /frɑʃi/. adj., sometimes but not always pejorative. To act like a freshman, i.e., to be naïve and excitable. And there ain't nuthin wrong with that! about things.
Saturday officially kicks off “welcome week” for the Class of 2023. At some schools, maybe Orientation is some ice breakers and a 90-minute safety presentation. But this is MIT: why bother doing a thing if you’re not gonna be super extra about doing it? And so, we have not one, but two completely separate sets of events running all throughout this week. There’s “Orientation”, put on by the administration, the Department of Student Life, and the Office of the First Year, where you can learn (among other things) about the various opportunities and supports MIT has to offer. And there’s “REX“, or Residence Exploration, put on by students, where you can play D&D, make your own sushi, paint canvases and people, and generally meet students, make new friends, and decide Over the summer, everyone is assigned a dorm based on their personal preference ranking, but about ten percent of freshmen change their minds; they have a chance to move again once REX ends through FYRE, the first-year residence exchange.
This year, I’m serving as one of the two Dormitory Council REX chairs, working with the REX chairs from each dorm to help organize and put on all these events. I’m also newly a okay, okay, not till convocation, I know! and as I drive to MIT for Year 2 (I’m writing this in the car :D), I can’t help but be viscerally reminded of how it all felt to me last year – which is to say, crazy, fast-paced, unbelievable, terrifying, and fantastic. So I wanted to write something to all of y’all, you prefrosh who, as you pack and travel and arrive on campus, might be scared as hell, so excited you’re shaking, lost and unsure of what comes next, and maybe (it happened to me) all three at the same time.
A lot of the basic advice for REX mirrors my CPW advice from earlier this year (and frankly, could well be applied to life in general):
- Do it your way, not anyone else’s way, and don’t feel bad about that.
- If it turns out you don’t like a thing… do something else! This includes a specific event, a group of people, and dorm choice/FYREing.
- Take care of yourself: consume nutrition, get the rest you need, and stay hydrated (especially in the brutal August heat!)
- Reach out to others: talk to your peers, who are all just as alone and nervous as you; to upperclassmen, who can give you the advice you probably desperately want; and to faculty and staff, who can point you to resources and opportunities you may not have known existed.
And there’s some extra practical points: for example, it can be tricky to balance REX events and Orientation events. Here, too, find your own balance, and don’t feel pressured to follow others’ lead. Some people, fellow frosh or upperclassmen, may try to tell you that all the Orientation events aren’t worth attending. This is 100% a lie! For a quick counterexample: please go to your The meeting where you can officially register for classes, plus ask your faculty advisor the many academic questions you may have which are the most important thing you will do that week by far (except perhaps if you happen to make a really good friend!).
But even beyond this, I found some of the Orientation events to be really meaningful. The “diversity” training, which could have been so bad, was thoughtful and insightful; it taught me a lot about the other members of my class and made me reflect on our collective similarities and differences, which I hadn’t really done before. The Academics rotation was also incredibly helpful, especially since the 2022s and 2023s are being experimented upon. Everyone in my class was dying to know the details so they could I KNOW you're all making four-year-long class schedules right now, and I KNOW nothing I say will change that. But trust me, in four years, you'll look at those schedules and laugh your butts off. They will change. I promise. and yet tons of them didn’t show up to the event. Our group chat was exploding with people asking for screenshots of the presentation slides, which made me lol pretty hard. If you think an event might be useful, go to it!
Beyond the practical advice… REX/Orientation and CPW, on the face of it, seem very similar. They share the same basic format (“so many cool events! try to go to everything! Definitely don’t make it to everything! Have fun anyway!”), but despite that, they have very different atmospheres. I think that’s because now, it all feels final. CPW was a tryout, a break from reality and a peek into fantasy. REX is the beginning of the real deal, and the signal that your old life really is gone, and that makes it feel much scarier and more significant. (I mean, like, not to freak you out if you don’t feel that way. That’s totally cool too. I’m just speaking/over-analyzing for myself here.)
In that vein, I think that one REX-specific piece of advice is that it’s more important, now, to begin as you mean to go on. What does that entail? Well, for example, sleep: at CPW, going sleepless just meant a good nap on the flight home, perhaps, or missing your first-period class that you’ve stopped caring about anyway. At REX, going sleepless means going into your first week of class at MIT sleep-deprived, which… you’d survive, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it.
At CPW, doing everything alone means you make it home without losing your voice; at REX, not introducing yourself to anyone means that you won’t start to exercise your making-friends muscle, which you’ll need to strengthen and rely on throughout your first semester. It’s not that you can’t recover from these mistakes (you certainly can! Which is a damn good thing, because I’m still hoping to recover from mistakes I was making for all of last year…), but it’s so much easier to keep your momentum going than to try to get started partway through.
Also, I think it’s easy to feel that (for me at least) the emotions you’re experiencing are so complicated, messy, and/or enormous that no one else could really understand, and that can make you less likely to reach out to other people. But if you bring it up with someone, you’ll probably find that they feel the same way (even if neither of you can describe it!) Here you are, on the precipice of adulthood, in a truly incredible place but without the support system you’re used to, and expected to take care of yourself in ways you may never have had to before. It’s just wild, man. It is! I can hear you laughing, everyone over 20, and to you I just say: let us have our moment, dudes. You’re here at MIT!!!! How and when did this happen???
I’m not going to say “don’t let it overwhelm you”, because I spent probably the first three weeks in a constant state of far too much whelm. But do know that that’s okay. Find a freakout buddy, and scream together while sharing some food item you both enjoy. Take some time to yourself on occasion to contemplate the truly nutso fact that time is passing at exactly the same rate no matter how you feel about it, and when you’re done letting your eyes well up a bit, open the door to your room and go find someone to have fun with.
Like orientation events vs. REX events, the duality of BIG EMOTION AHHHH and ~just havin’ a fun ol’ time~ can be tricky to navigate. For me, that’s one of things that characterizes my first year at MIT: riding the seesaw of being in the moment vs. realizing just how wild it is to be here, living this moment as opposed to the one I’ve been used to. And even this seesaw, when I’m in the right headspace, can be an emotion to embrace. The world is a wild and wonderful place, and it has brought you here, to MIT, where you will be sad sometimes and happy sometimes and just totally mcfreaking losing it sometimes. And eventually, whether after a week or four years, you will be a slightly (or very) different person than you are today, and this place will be your home. Welcome <3
- Terrain being a word which here means: the view outside my window. back to text ↑
- Technically, they're not freshmen/freshpeople until after convocation! ~Conservation of frosh~ back to text ↑
- "And then some of them will leave again! To everyone heading to Yellowstone and New Hampshire, have fun :D back to text ↑
- back to text ↑
- Over the summer, everyone is assigned a dorm based on their personal preference ranking, but about ten percent of freshmen change their minds; they have a chance to move again once REX ends through FYRE, the first-year residence exchange. back to text ↑
- okay, okay, not till convocation, I know! back to text ↑
- The meeting where you can officially register for classes, plus ask your faculty advisor the many academic questions you may have back to text ↑
- I KNOW you're all making four-year-long class schedules right now, and I KNOW nothing I say will change that. But trust me, in four years, you'll look at those schedules and laugh your butts off. They will change. I promise. back to text ↑
- I can hear you laughing, everyone over 20, and to you I just say: let us have our moment, dudes. back to text ↑