It is 2PM on a Saturday. I’m listening to one of my favorite dreampop albums, much like I used to back home, except my room looks a lot more bare, and the view outside is completely different.
I am in Cambridge, MA, for the spring semester.
After I finished my fall semester last December, there was a two week break before the beginning of Independent Activities Period (IAP), a month-long winter break in which MIT students pursue projects/activities/classes of our own interest. This IAP, I decided to take a light courseload and take only one 3-unit class called 15.393 The Nuts and Bolts of New Ventures, which comprised of a series of sessions on different aspects of entrepreneurship and creating a new venture. Alongside my classes, I also self-studied for the Advanced Standing Examination (ASE) for 18.06 Linear Algebra, and started an internship at MIT Sandbox, where I am currently working as a data science intern.
I spent the ten days in-between the end of IAP and the start of the spring semester in a flurry of packing, mostly trying to figure out what I would need the most in starting a new life in my dorm room. The process involved a lot of surprises for me—I discovered that I was willing to carry my plushies and my stamp collection all the way here, but I left behind a number of books, notebooks and outfits I was rather fond of. Regardless, after navigating the complexities of flying internationally in the time of COVID, dealing with baggage load restrictions, and taking nearly 30 hours to get here, I made it, and lugged my luggage through the snowy roads and into my dorm.
On arrival, we had to test once before quarantining for a week, called Q-Week. Although Q-Week got extended for a while, post-quarantining, undergraduates on-campus were enrolled in a weekly testing program, and a number of the restrictions were lifted. I took the opportunity to go on frequent long walks, and take photographs of some of the places in and around campus. MIT also lets us access certain classrooms allocated as touchdown spaces, where students can use in a socially-distanced manner as long as they do not exceed the maximum capacity for any room. I have noticed that many touchdown spaces tend to be empty for most of the day—there have been a number of occasions where I have been the only person in the room for nearly 3-4 hours—and it does give me a slight productivity boost when I get out of the room and get work done, not to mention the exercise provided by the surprisingly long walk to different parts of campus.
This spring, I am taking five courses: 7.016 Introductory Biology, 8.02 Physics II, 6.046 Design and Analysis of Algorithms, 21L.011 Introduction to Film Studies, and 21W.762 Poetry Workshop. They have certainly shaped up to be rather unusual experiences, especially when compared to the courses I took last semester, which were more technical in nature. For example, two of my classes, 7.016 and 8.02, have in-person components, which means once a week, I get to go to recitation or attend a problem- solving session with other students. Although it is definitely not ideal, given that all of us have to wear masks and socially distance throughout the meeting, it does help bring a little bit of the normalcy of in-person classes back into my life. Apart from that, 8.02 also follows the TEAL (Technology Enabled Active Learning) format for teaching the class, which a very different way of studying electromagnetism than what I am used to.
On the other hand, my film studies class has certainly improved my film-watching frequency, as I now have to watch a list of beautifully curated films, one each week. Both 21L.011 and 21W.762 are discussion-based classes, and it is also quite interesting to listen to the different perspectives that fellow students have in class, as compared to the more technical classes I took last semester, where most students had their videos and mics off, while instructors/professors would often be the only people speaking in class.
One of the goals I am working towards this year is to diversify the types and kinds of experiences I have, and so far, at least in terms of environment and classes, moving to a new country and taking classes with different formats have certainly helped me make progress towards that goal.
We’ll see how it goes, I guess :)