my fave memories from freshman year at MIT
oh, how quickly and abruptly frosh year ended
posted 2020-07-25 00:00:00 +0000
In August 2019, I (like most other college freshmen) came onto campus not knowing what to expect. I had gotten some small bites of independent living through several summers of math camp, but I was mostly void of preconceived notions of MIT culture. However, when I left campus ~7 months later in March 2020 (RIP corona-times), I brought back new friendships, new experiences, and new cultural networks. Below is a list (in somewhat chronological order) of my favorite memories of those 7 months, which althogether comprise my MIT freshman experience. Enjoy!
DEAL scavenger hunt DEAL (Discover Entrepreneurship and Leadership) is one of the 14 or so FPOPs (First-year Pre-Orientation Programs) offered to incoming freshmen. By nature of an FPOP, the people in DEAL were some of the first people I met on campus, which was nice because then I had ~30 more faces to recognize and say hi to on campus. At the end of the week-long program there's a scavenger hunt for DEAL/MIT-related things around Boston, and it's an awesome way to get used to the city and see some cool landmarks along the way!
REX/rush week REX (Residential Exploration) and rush are two different things, but they both happen in the same first couple weeks of the fall semester. REX was fun because it's almost like a second CPW — I got to make several cool things, and it was probably the second time (after CPW) I was introduced to the awesome restaurants in Boston (Tosci's, Pepper Sky, Abide, Flour, Tatte...).
Even though I wasn't planning to join a frat (yes, there are co-ed frats too), rush was one of the first times I realized how lucky I was to go to school in/near Boston, a big city that has easy water access (Charles River → Massachusetts Bay → Atlantic Ocean !!) and a bajillion other colleges/universities around. Also, I digress, but the northeast is just generally smaller and easier to get around (compare that to living in the middle of big ol' Texas), which relates to another bullet point further down.
But anyway, the frats go really hard for rush events. There were several steak and lobster dinners, harbor cruises, a paintball event, bubble soccer, beach trips, go kart racing, and lots and lots of food. Many of these events were open to any student, but I didn't really take full advantage of rush, oops. I did go to one steak and lobster dinner and one boat cruise though. The dinner was incredible, and the night of the cruise was stormy and generally a rainy mess but the event was lively and fun — the floor of the upper decks was bouncing from the music and partying below (though I'm not really sure if that's more of an indicator of the liveliness of the event or the structural integrity of that boat). I also went with one of my roommates (Diane) and several of her friends, a few of which I would end up becoming close friends with as well through the cruise!
Boston Night Market Remember when I said that the whole MIT-is-in/near-Boston-thing is awesome because Boston is a big city with a lot of things happening? Well, here's another thing that happens: Boston Night Market is an Asian night market with booths from many restaurants around town, and many college students and other young people attend. It's also been an event that I've wanted to go to since I learned of its existence like 2 years ago, so of course I entered their Instagram giveaway for $100 of food vouchers prior to their Fall Night Market in September. I didn't think I would win or anything (what were the odds?), so I didn't really make any concrete plans to attend, and forgot about it after entering. But then lo and behold, I actually won that giveaway (again, what were the odds?). So I ended up frantically texting people a few days before and asking if they happened to have any extra tickets to BNM. Luckily, my CPW host's roommate (Amber) and friends happened to have an extra ticket, so I went with them and we had a great time using up those vouchers. Even though the weather was colder than I'd anticipated and it was raining at the end of the night, I still enjoyed eating all that yummy food, getting introduced to Boston's Asian food scene, and making friends with some 2022s.
The first snow Growing up in Texas (yeehaw), it was fairly rare to see much snow, so of course I had great fun the first time it snowed in November. Stepping in crunchy snow hasn't gotten old for me yet, and I still can't get over how beautiful the sky sometimes becomes after a flurry. My rose-colored view also definitely has something to do with the fact that I don't have to deal with driving in snow or shoveling snow, but hey, I'll take as much fun as I can get!
Loadblock Nootlounge shenanigans Okay, this one is a series of highlights related to a friend group, not a single event — I've had so much fun with Loadblock that I can't write separate bullet points, otherwise this blog post would be massive. But wait — who/what is Loadblock Nootlounge? Well, it's a group that consists of me, Kat (one of my freshman roommates), and Shayna (who lived a floor above us and fed us eggs during IAP). We think up ludicrous ideas and sometimes actually make them (see boba holder a few paragraphs below), but we mostly just hang out and get/eat food together. Shayna wrote a much more detailed origin story here.
Before we "officially" became Loadblock, I hung out with Kat and Shayna separately several times. In early September, Kat and I went to Chinatown and got boba and fried chicken together (my profile picture was actually taken then!). One night a few weeks later, I got tired of doing my 8.022 pset and asked Kat if she wanted to go out to get boba. She agreed, but it was too late at night and all the boba shops were closed, so we were about to go to J. P. Licks across the bridge when we found out that dining actually still had the ice cream station out. After fulfilling our collective sugar tooth, we decided to then explore the tunnels under east campus for a while. We had a lot of fun talking about our high school experiences and what we wanted to do at MIT and in the future, and just ~bonding~ in general. Then we discovered a coffee machine in the tunnels that sold $1 coffee and took some self-timer pictures in the Borderline mural tunnel.
In October, I started really needing to find clothes for dance costumes (shows and performances were coming up!). I didn't feel like going downtown by myself, so I texted in our dorm group chat if anyone wanted to come with me. Shayna happened to be free, and this was how I got to know them (beyond the quick introductions we all made at the beginning of the year). Together, we walked around Newbury Street and Downtown Crossing while I tried to find clothes that fit the costume concepts, and I learned about lightsabers and (metaphorically) pick their maker brain! We had dinner on Newbury before heading back to the same tower in the dorm.
A couple weeks later, Kat and I both travelled to New Haven for YHack, Yale's annual hackathon. During the weekend-long event, we went out to Bonchon (a fried chicken chain we both love) with our teams. I'm happy to report that New Haven Bonchon tastes just as good as Harvard Square Bonchon!
One January night, all three of us were gathered in the kitchen (I think Shayna was feeding us eggs) when someone came in and needed help breaking up their rock sugar. So of course Shayna got their hammer out of their toolkit and hammered that rock sugar to pieces. Later, we realized that one of the kitchen chairs made a sound that sounded like a Pingu noot whenever anyone sat on it, so we spent the rest of the evening yelling "NOOT NOOT" at each other in varying pitches and laughing hysterically. Thus, the "noot" part of "Loadblock Nootlounge" was born.
A few days later, I decided to actually make a boba holder that I'd memed around about making for a while — I don't usually carry mittens with me but holding my drink outside makes my hands cold. I sewed the fabric parts downstairs in the dorm crafts studio, but didn't have the supplies to allow the cup holder to slide (very restrictedly) on the hanging strap. So I asked Loadblock for ideas and Shayna came up with using heat-moldable plastic for the connection. Then we decided to meme further and post the boba holder into Subtle Asian Traits. It gained more reactions than I'd expected, and the entire experience was a funny reminder of how receptive people at MIT are to just quickly hacking together something for da meme or for fun!
That night, I helped (read as: washed the vegetables and then kinda stood around as Shayna did The Cook) Shayna cook dinner for the "Shayna mealplan" (an informal setup whereby we all chipped in to help a bit and Shayna kept outputting quite a bit of food to feed their friends around campus). I think I'd better at least pick the cooking part of Shayna's brain clean before we graduate — just look at that food!
In March, when we were all busy getting booted off campus, we paused from our frantic packing to take this picture. This is the last pic of us I have on campus, but rest assured, we're still virtually eating eggs together, ideating, and hanging out! In fact, I wanted to start a blog after seeing Kat's and Shayna's blogs.
Hackathons So here's some background about me and hackathons: coming into college, I had never attended one and barely even knew what one was. But Kat was who I saw as a serial hacker (in the hackathon sense, not necessarily in the MIT sense, and definitely not in the nefarious sense) — she'd been to 12+ hackathons in high school and organized a few too, so she was definitely Big Hacker. After asking Kat a bunch of questions about hackathons, I decided to apply to one and see what I could learn, and that's how I attended HackUMass in October. At first, I was somewhat scared because this was my first hackathon and one of the few times I've traveled by myself, but my hackathon teammates were really awesome and patient and taught me so much about React and other front-end web development things. I don't think I would have liked hackathons as much had my first hackathon experience not been so welcoming and supportive. Since HackUMass was hosted at UMass Amherst, this was also a nice way for me to glimpse a northeastern university campus that wasn't right in the middle of a big city.
Since I'd learned so much at HackUMass, I decided to also apply to YHack. Kat was going to this one too, so yay I had a travel buddy! Like last time, I got the opportunity to travel (costs reimbursed!) and explore a campus I'd never been to before. I also reconnected with a high school friend who's a Yale 2023, and had the aforementioned Bonchon outing. Lastly, my SO attended YHack too (we're long distance, so this was one of the few times we've met up again in person from August till now)! Though our project was pretty rough even at the submission deadline, I still learned quite a lot (hey, when you don't know anything it's fun and easier to learn more, okay?).
After that I attended several more hackathons, including HackBeanpot, MakeMIT, and TreeHacks. At each, I continued learning and meeting people, and I credit hackathons for opening my eyes to the "immediately-applicable" technical skills I have now (i.e. web development and design). TreeHacks was particularly notable in that my friend/travel buddy Gary and I got to explore the Bay Area (on Stanford's dime, whee) before the hackathon, and I also got to meet up with some high school and math camp friends in the bay. The events and food at the hackathon also really hit the spot. It was a nice little mini-vacation before the spring semester got intense and then went to crap (because of the coronavirus).
MIT sponsored/subsidized events I once heard an upperclassman say that MIT is oozing with money if you knew where to look, and that's honestly kind of true. Dorms have special funds set aside for just hanging out with someone in your dorm/floor, clubs generally don't have a problem finding sponsors, and there's quite a few discounts/subsidies you can get with an MIT ID (especially for arts-related events). In September, Diane and I went on a dorm-sponsored trip to Crane Beach in Ipswich, MA. This was one of the first times I'd explicitly hung out with her (as opposed to just chilling in our room), and I definitely felt like we developed a stronger roommate bond after this.
I was also able to go to An Evening With Champions (with tickets subsidized by MIT Figure Skating Club), participate in the quintessential New England fall experience of apple picking (thanks to my dorm), visit the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (with a discount that comes with an MIT ID), and eat all-you-can-eat sushi with my dorm, among many other experiences. I wish I could have taken advantage of a few more (particularly the discounted tickets for the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Boston Ballet), but hey, I still have at least 4 more semesters on campus, right? Right?? *fingers crossed that a coronavirus miracle will happen by 2021*
Dance Okay, my involvement with dance definitely deserves a post of its own so I'll try to keep this bullet point concise. Just by joining several dance teams on campus, I've not only been able to train, perform, and compete at a surprisingly high level, but I've also been able to make many upperclassman friends and friends of other majors — all of which would've been harder/less likely to happen otherwise. The dance community at MIT is definitely one of the big families that played a huge part in my first-year experience as a whole.
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Last weekend we had a great time competing in World of Dance Boston and performing at FUNK’tion, hosted by @nukinematix !! Here are some highlights from that crazy day! Catch us tomorrow on our home turf, competing in Ring the Alarm, hosted by our friends @mitmochamoves 💚
It sucks that freshman year as we knew it had to end the way it did in March, but in the 7 months I spent on campus, there was no shortage of fun and friends. Hopefully we'll be back in some way in spring 2021, but until then, I'm continuing to make unique virtual memories with my communities while distant!
 There's a lot of math camps in the world, but when I say "math camp" I almost always mean Honors Summer Math Camp at Texas State University. Math camp is on my list of things I want to write about, so hopefully soon I'll have a post explaining it here.
 Standard disclaimer: everyone's freshman year experience is different and valid! Just because I lived mine like this doesn't necessarily mean you should too. Also, if you want more ideas of MIT culture, the MIT admissions blogs were made just for that!
 REX is a series of events overseen by the dorms/DormCon to introduce freshmen to each of the dorms' cultures, and rush is a series of events overseen by IFC (Interfraternity Council) to introduce the 27 fraternities and recruit unaffiliated students.
 So does sorority recruitment, but I'm kind of glossing over it for the purposes of this blog post since recruitment is a very different type of event from rush (and I didn't really fully attend recruitment anyway).
 Okay, I'm pretty sure there's some kind of ban if you're affiliated (with a frat or srat), and other rush events are invite-only, but in general rush isn't restricted to just to freshmen or just guys or anything.
 IAP stands for Independent Activities Period, where MIT students can take less traditional classes or do externships or travel abroad or do a bunch of other fun stuff during the month of January. See here for more details. A fact about IAP relevant to this blog post is that the meal plan is opt-in during then, so many students choose not to be on the meal plan and instead cook for themselves/otherwise obtain food during that month.
 SAT is a popular Facebook group for discussion/memes on the Asian-Western experience. There's many articles about it on the interwebs, but here's one in particular!
 An Evening With Champions is a figure skating show run by Harvard students that features national and Olympic figure skaters, with proceeds going towards cancer research!