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Surviving Freshman Year

Guest Column Jane Yoo

Okay, so you've finally deduced that Building 1 is nowhere near Building 2, and that eating lunch at Walker Memorial is more convenient than trekking to Lobdell Food Court. You've bought all your textbooks, navigated your way through classes, and even gone through the hassle of switching recitations. You've got this whole place figured out, right? Wrong!

Take it from me, a sophomore who thought everything was to go according to plan, only to find out freshman year that quite the antithesis was true. We all come to MIT with grand hopes and great ambitions. Top in our classes in high school, we are consummate achievers holding high expectations of ourselves. As accomplished and talented individuals, most of us come here feeling like supreme beings that can take on, if not take over, the world.

However, let me tell you this: Don't swallow too much at once. This place is certainly different from anything one has experienced before. It's not unusual to feel alienated after having one's family and friends displaced, and to discover that all things that were familiar are now filled with things that are foreign. If you're like most people, you'll need time to get acclimated.

Looking back, I can laugh at how my life was upside-down and topsy-turvy last year. I had fully mapped my undergraduate career with every detail meticulously worked out. Little did I know that I would soon be making plenty of changes. I would say that my biggest mistakes as a freshman were of character, of my being recalcitrant and inflexible. It's good to have a plan, but one has to realize that things do not have to be fixed in stone. MIT is a wonderful place to try new things and develop unfound interests.

If you foresee problems - either personal or academic - fix them immediately. I became a happier person after switching dorms halfway through the year. I also found out that pass/no record is no laughing matter. If you need help in a certain subject, there are many people around to provide assistance. Forget about having your pride injured. If you're smart, you'll schedule an appointment with the professor or attend your teaching assistant's office hours. And, contrary to popular belief, attending lectures is helpful. One never realizes how much of the material presented in lecture appears on the final exam!

Don't lock yourself in your dorm room; be sure to get out and meet people. Friendships are wonderful things. MIT is home to people of all different cultures, races, and ethnic backgrounds. People may be science and math freaks, but they are also gifted artists, musicians, and actors.

Get involved in activities and organizations. One of the best decisions that I made last year was joining a sorority. I made invaluable friends whom I can count on for support; they essentially became my family away from home. Of course, Greek life is not for everyone. So, find your own niche, whether it be sports, dance, theatre, or another art.

Call home once in a while. Make sure mom and dad know that you're still alive and kicking. Also, remind them that your first class isn't until 10 a.m., so any calls at 7 a.m. are just a bad idea. The most important piece of advice that I can give you, though, is this: be absolutely crazy and absolutely silly. Participate in regressive activities once in a while. Who says you still can't be a kid?

Work hard, but have fun too. This place is only stressful if you intend it to be. Smile and relax. It's only four years of your life. You'll get the hang of things. After all, I am still trying to get adjusted.

Jane Yoo is a member of the Class of 2001.