Starting at MIT

On Orientations, FPOPs, and Classes

September 07, 2020

So, where do I begin?

Ever since I started writing, I have always found the beginning something to be the hardest part of writing. The idea of letting the words in my mind to escape through the tips of my fingers (I nearly always prefer typing) and watching them appear on the screen is often terrifying, but at the same time, I feel it becomes easier to continue once they have started to flow.

As of today, I have started taking classes at MIT. I am a college freshman, a position, I must admit, I felt would be unparalleled in maturity when compared to the perspective of a high school student. In hindsight, I was wrong (I don’t feel any more mature). Truthfully speaking, I never truly tried to visualize what my life beyond twelfth grade would look like, in part because it is painful to focus on dreams in a world where they so often go unrealized. I didn’t let myself think too hard about the name of the college I would be attending, or the kind of experiences I would have there. I never tried to build up a dream of the kind of college experience I wanted to have, knowing that it was very unlikely I would be admitted to the colleges I would want to go to. I suppose this is part of the reason why I feel I have handled the experience (or the lack thereof, depending on who you ask) of starting as a freshman virtually pretty well — I didn’t have as many expectations to begin with.

When classes began, I found that much of what I hoped is still there, in some way or the other. I study material I chose to study from a wide array of choices. I met people (virtually) who were passionate about the same things as I am, and I found so many clubs and activities that I could try out for that would gift me the satisfaction of doing something I love. I got time to catch up on my reading, and I have slowly begun listening to more music as I settle down to a routine. Sure, there are complications from being in a timezone that is nine and a half hours ahead of a large majority of my professors and peers, but I feel I have been successful in navigating the difference and giving myself time to breathe in-between the rush of Zoom calls. Is the coursework hard? I believe it is, and I cannot claim in good faith that I understand everything in my first reading of the text. But as I learned many times over from throwing myself into situations where I knew little of what was going on, it is rarely the previous knowledge that counts, and more the dedication with which you throw yourself at the problem. Everyone told me that MIT would be hard, and every time I feel myself slipping, I try to remind myself of all the beautiful moments I experienced over the past few weeks, and of the tiny things that make my struggles worth it.

And what were these, you wonder?

I suppose it is hard to pinpoint where exactly to begin - I think I simulated at least a part of the freshman experience well enough that I attend tonnes of events super-fast and now memories blur into one another. I suppose it started at Campus Preview Weekend, or the virtual version of it, rather - a weekend that would typically have been filled with fun, crazy events where I got to visit campus for the first time (as an international student, high school college campus tours aren’t really a thing where I come from, and even if they were, I don’t possibly think I could have managed one). I probably could not have attended Campus Preview Weekend had it been in-person but virtual Campus Preview Weekend was amazing in the many glimpses of the facets of campus life it gave me. Sometimes we watched hilarious musicals online; another time we had a popcorn reading of fanfiction; and so many times I ended up just talking to upperclassmen who were just as excited to talk to prefrosh 1. People seemed to be genuinely happy to see new students here, and some of them were even at times more excited about our journey than I was then. It certainly was a very unique experience, and I for one had not seen anything like it previously.

Then came the match-ups with the many mentors, leaders, and advisors that followed, some of whom were assigned, some of whom I signed up for. I suppose being in two orientations (the regular incoming students’ orientation and the International Students Orientation) helped with the number of people I got to meet. Honestly speaking, I rarely had formal peer mentorship during my experience at high school — most of the things I learned outside class were simply due to idly chatting with friends and by being at the right place at the right time. A part of the process felt like applying to college all over again, and listing and talking about my interests, my hobbies, and my passions over and over again, but I am grateful to every conversation, text, and email that followed it. My plans for the fall in March and my plans when I am starting this semester could not have looked any more different, but yet here I am, with the inputs of all the people I talked to helping me make a decision about what I should be doing this semester, right from the classes I chose to the extracurricular activities I am thinking of pursuing.

Perhaps the most interesting of events I attended was the Discovering Entrepreneurship and Leadership (DEAL) FPOP I attended. FPOPs are First-year Pre-Orientation Programs, which are short introductions to different disciplines held prior to orientation. Like many other programs, they too were programs with significant in-person components that had to transition to a virtual experience within a short period of time, although I thoroughly enjoyed the many conversations around startups and entrepreneurship we had. I even got to pitch on a short slide deck of my own during the event, and got to listen to several notable speakers in a relatively smaller and more intimate group than I would have in a traditional webinar. The talks were certainly unlike the many speakers I have heard at different events over the years, and I found the diverse perspectives put on the table during the event fascinating. I often find events like these, that provide so much fodder for longer reflections and conversations, quite enjoyable, and more personalized, because so many of people’s experiences are anecdotal and relatable. It certainly feels very different from learning from textbooks and accepting statements as facts, and while both approaches have their pros and cons, I feel it is nice to take a break from my learning habits every now and then, and DEAL certainly was an interesting way of discovering not only entrepreneurship, but also a new way to learn.

So there I am, one week completed, one pset submitted, with orientation and the adrenaline rush of being a pre-frosh behind me. Convocation has happened, and all these months have passed so soon, and here I am, still a tiny bit nervous, still wondering what the next year will look like, but nevertheless glad to have made it so far, and finally begun.

  1. pre-freshman i.e. newly admitted students in the time period before convocation

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