Personally, I have always considered myself a pretty social person. I have always loved just spending a bunch of time hanging out with friends and just kind of doing nothing but chillin. However, on the other end I have always been very serious about school. In high school, there were very many times that I would spend Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights studying rather than going to whatever social thing my friends were doing. Often, I didn’t really mind because I really liked school and I would also always put in my best effort to try to make it up to them; however, for a number of reasons I feel like my ability to balance work/school with friends/free time has changed a lot since I got to MIT.
One of the biggest changes between high school and college is just the amount of freedom you have. I remember thinking in high school, “I hope the MIT curfew is not too early……… (there is no curfew in college :P),” you can be anywhere at any time just as long as you put in the effort to physically get out of bed (which in all honesty is harder than you might think). For a majority of high school I couldn’t drive, and when I could I spent 80% of the time driving my 4 little siblings around, so spending a lot of time away from home was not really an option. In response, my first semester here I spent a lot of my time going from place to place to place, but we were also on pass no record so it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. I just knew I wouldn’t be able to continue this “always being social” life style once the second semester started.
In order to compensate for the increase in social life and decrease in hard focuses on studies my first semester at MIT I decided to have a very heavy load over MITs independent activities period in January. This pushed me over from spending too much time being social to me never leaving the library/my room in order to study. Now, I think this isn’t an awful thing because there is always a number of people that have a hard time transitioning from pass no record to having grades again; however, I wouldn’t exactly say I was balanced yet. I was still far too much one side of the pendulum and kind of ignoring the other side.
I would say this stayed true for a majority of my second semester at MIT, and I think the problem with this type of life was that I did not know what to do outside of work once the summer came around. The summer after my freshman year I stayed on campus and worked at the Koch Institute of Integrative Cancer Research. The biggest difference between school and working over the summer is that during the school year you can spend literally all of your time doing work. At any given point in time you could be doing some sort of project, or pset, or studying for exam, or watching a lecture on OCW, or doing textbook reading, etc. etc. etc. However, when you work, you work from 9 to 5 (depending on where) and when you get off you are done, and for me that was a problem and honestly still kind of is.
When I would get off work I would go home, and just browse facebook or watch GOT until like midnightish then go to bed. From time to time over the weekend my friends and I would go out and do things like go to New York, or go to the beach, things like that. However, for 90% of the time I had outside of work I was doing nothing but just slumping. Now don’t get me wrong, slumping can be my favorite activity at time, and there are many days after a hard week that that is all I want to do. However, it is not the kind of thing that I enjoy for weeks at a time. I had gotten so used to school taking all of my time and energy that when I didn’t have school work to be doing I had no idea what to do with my time.
Like I said before, it is still something I am struggling with this summer, but I do feel like I am starting to get a better hold on understanding the balance. I started doing things that I used to do in high school and just didn’t/don’t have time to do during the school year here. I often go to Boston Public Library and take out Chinese comic books to practice, I spend a lot of time getting back into Blender (a 3D animation software that I used a lot in high school), I have spent a lot of time dancing at different studios in boston as well as workshops being held by students on campus, etc. etc. etc. In a way I feel like I had forgotten these things were all an option to me. I had gotten so absorbed in school and my work that I had forgot that life has a lot of fun things to enjoy.
So in a few words, if you feel bad just slumping this summer, the answer is not always go and drown yourself in work. There is a precious balance between work and fun, both parts are equally important. It can be easy for the type of people that tend to want to go to schools like MIT to feel like the answer is always more work = more success. However, I have found though the people that work hard do do well, people that give themselves time to get away from work breath then come back often do just as well if not better ^_^