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Unpacking Surprises by Jenny X. '13

to sum up 4 years at MIT

Architecture seniors at graduation and awesome USB wristbands from the department 

It’s been exactly one month since commencement, and I don’t think “being an alum” will hit me until it’s the first week of September and I’m not at MIT registering for classes and trying to squeeze in some fun before chaos resumes again. In case you missed it, thousands of us managed to receive our diplomas after 3.5 straight hours of pouring rain.

Can you imagine? This Vine from my fellow archi grad Justin proves how excited we were to graduate despite the rain (admittedly, this was within our first 15 minutes of being outside; it got old fast).

Anyways, I love to tell the story of how I never imagined coming to MIT, because even today I still can’t believe it. I didn’t really enjoy math and science in K-12, but for a number of reasons (including the architecture department’s minimalist but colorful website), I decided to apply. And for a number of reasons (including MIT’s amazing financial aid offer), I arrived here. Surprise #1.

Once I got here, it was hard as many older bloggers made sure to point out. First semester, I kept hurdling over the passing grade for calculus ever so slightly. “C” became the new “B” — it’s not great…but it’s good that I tried really hard. This part was not a surprise, and I expected it to be all better when I take classes in my major.

Sophomore year was indeed better. Architecture courses started, picked up some A’s, planned to go to GSD (Harvard Graduate School of Design), dreamt of the glitz and glam of being the next Zaha Hadid. As the year progressed, however, I questioned my passion and rightfully so. Lacking the will to improve is the surest sign that you’re just not that into what you’re doing. In a matter of months, I’d gone from preparing to apply to GSD to … well, plotting how to break into journalism. Surprise #2.

Starting the summer before senior year, I went into serious “apply to journalism grad school mode” — studying for the GREs, getting my feet wet through part-time media internships, registering for relevant classes (essay writing, info economics) in the fall. By the middle of January, I’d applied to six schools. By the middle of February, I’d gotten into two. By the middle of March, I’ve heard back from more schools and proceeded to pull my hair out trying to figure out which program to go to. By the middle of April, I’ve decided against all the grad programs and instead to accept a one-year editorial fellowship in Washington, DC — which I applied to back in February, “just because”. It still bothers me to think about all the time, money, and effort I put into grad apps. But oh well, this is Surprise #3.

Figuring out a career path is just one bucket of surprises to experience at college. Talking about the “living situation” aspect specifically, I’d expected to come to college becoming best friends with my roommates. Today, I walk away happily with 4 years in a single room, albeit a single room in a suite of good friends. From a bigger picture point-of-view, I couldn’t fathom spending several hours off campus every week — not doing work — until I became Christian in junior year and somehow found the time and peace-of-mind to dedicate a huge chunk of Sundays to church, after-service fellowship, and grocery runs at Shaw*s.

Needless to say, my time at MIT was a transformative experience. Would it be cliché to say, it’s not what you learned in class that’s most important? It’s certainly not the exams and problem sets, at least. Rather, I think the most valuable part of my MIT experience has been the endless opportunity to practice being curious and to meet and seek inspiration from all kinds of people. And I’m so thankful for MIT and all those involved for creating this environment, one that nurtures the unpacking of surprises and teaches that highs & lows and twists & turns are normal and surmountable. Before I sign off as a regular blogger, I’ll leave a few tips/notes that I want to impart to those interested in this school and that I want to remember for myself.

6 tips about MIT, college, miscellaneous 

1. Don’t strive for scores and rankings — strive to do work you’re proud of, that you can stand by and own up to.
2. Follow up — it’s not that they don’t like you, the first email probably just got buried in their inbox/mind.
3. Travel. Abroad. On. MIT money. And do it again. And again if possible.
4. Take a writing class — you really get to know your classmates and their stories… also writing is super important for effective emailing.
5. Ask those stupid questions — it will save a LOT of time. My egotistical self had to learn this time and again throughout the years. Sure, there is Google and Youtube tutorials, but a lot of times (read: using software) it really is much easier to just ask that person in the same room as you.
6. Awesome places to work in decreasing noise level: Steam Cafe, Hayden Library second floor, Rotch Library’s tucked-in window-side desks hidden among the stacks.

And 1 distinctly MIT experience I will never forget

Trying to navigate to a free t-shirt after a Dropbox info session. No space to move. Can hardly breathe. Virtually a stampede. This experience rivals the time Macklemore did spring concert. Treasure forever.

This coming week, I start writing for The Atlantic Cities, so if anyone is interested in anything about cities and the urban life, feel free to follow my adventure there! As always, thanks for reading and good luck!