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View From An Alternate Cambridge

Maral Shamloo

Reg Day is here and suddenly I realize the second term has started. My second and last term at MIT. I look back to think about the past five months, with their ups and downs. I remember moments I wished I had never come, and the moments that I thought I was in heaven -- well, something like that.

It was a challenging experience to say the least, being thrown into an alien environment, expected to be a junior when I was a freshman to everything around me: people, work, classes, buildings, the city, and even the culture. It wasn’t long ago when I thought everything here was so strange: people, work habits, entertainment activities. I would walk in Lobdell and hear people talk about their project over dinner, I would see people working at 4:00 a.m. in the coffeehouse, I would hear that labs are open till dawn, and I would hear people refer to their courses and lecture halls with a bunch of numbers. Everything seemed to be a statement to the rest of the world: “We are clever.”

And then I experienced MIT’s social life dilemma! I missed Cambridge’s structured and “normal” social gatherings. We all had time set aside for our formal halls, bops, and pub crawls. None of that seemed to happen at MIT. Instead, there were free parties sponsored by the Institute or department; there were study breaks and free Aramark food floating everywhere, the sole incentive to get people out of their rooms. It was depressing, to say the least. The whole combination drove me to the point that I hated MIT.

But I survived, mainly because of the people around me. Everybody was so welcoming and friendly. I had formed my circle of friends very soon after arriving in September. But still, there was an unresolved issue: why did all these people, who seemed pretty normal to me, enjoy being at MIT to such a degree?

Then I saw IAP, when many Cambridge students went back to England for all of January just because they had had enough. I decided to give it another chance. It was the second week of IAP and things had already started to get better, but it was only at Leadershape that I found the missing piece of the jigsaw puzzle.

We had to come up with a vision. Any vision. The only restriction was to choose something that we truly cared about. I think it was the third evening when we posted our vision statements, written brightly on chart papers around the largest room of the conference center where we were staying. I went round the room and read them, every single one of them. And there, for the first time, I found the magic word that keeps MIT and its people together: community.

All those visions involved MIT in one way or the other. All of them described the picture of a happier and more accommodating environment, the picture of a better place for its members.

MIT -- whether I like it or not -- is what its members want it to be. They work on it as students, they graduate and become alumni, alumni become professors and admissions administrators, professors become chancellors and presidents and, along with administrators, they take in the people who would fit the place best and would share the same values and ideas, people who would care about the community just as much as the generations before them did.

I might not belong to this community, and I might not share the passion some of its members have, but one thing is for sure: I respect the community. I have a deep respect which allows me to understand and enjoy the “different” behaviors here, a respect which I can never overcome to hate MIT again.

Maral Shamloo is studying at MIT through the Cambridge-MIT Institute.