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First Encounter with MIT’s Culture Proves Rewarding

By Allison Naaktgeboren

Massachusetts Institute of Technology: the dream school of every techie, tinkerer, and nerd from New York City to San Francisco and then some. Its reputation is formidable and the prospect of being a lowly prefrosh at such a school is just a tad bit intimidating -- yet we come anyway.

MIT’s fame in academia is renown, and has spawned rumors and myths. Prefrosh are no doubt curious to see if any of them are true. Well, MIT didn’t turn out to be what it’s cracked up to be; it’s a great deal more than that.

My first introduction to MIT proper was Lobby 7, or rather the people in Lobby 7. New York City claims to be the place where one can see every and any type of people, but I saw more variety in dress and ethnicity in twenty minutes in Lobby 7 than I ever have in New York City.

There also seemed to be a greater diversity of nationality. Before ten hours had elapsed, I had eaten dinner with a French student and watched Friends with an English one. French House was a whirlwind of activity and laughter, of many different ages, interests, and personalities, all centered around the kitchen, not a textbook. There is definitely more than one type of person at MIT, contrary to a myth circulating in my hometown.

Speaking of the people, everyone was congenial, pleasant, and helpful. Someone was kind enough to point in the right direction when I managed to get lost in Building 3. The popular myth that everyone at MIT is a robot seemed false (or the robots’ programmer did a spectacular job, one of the two).

MIT had other pleasant surprises. There is life here outside of books, lectures, labs, and problem sets. Although the students I met did spend an enormous amount of time with their books and problem sets, it wasn’t the only thing on their minds. The number of clubs, performances, and other activities was startling for a population that supposedly lives in the library.

During my visit, we passed by a protest about dormitory rush. Many sophomores, juniors, and seniors seem upset, while the freshmen students seem not to know what they’re missing and therefore don’t know which position to take on the issue. I had thought that rush was an integral part of campus life at any campus, and I don’t see why it should be discontinued. The most interesting parts of the whole thing to me were the discussions among the students and their peaceful and orderly protests.

As a prefrosh, I was treated to all the MIT landmarks including the Infinite Corridor, the Great Dome, Hayden Library, a computer cluster, and of course bona fide MIT lectures. The only thing which prevented me from feeling like a complete tourist was the paucity of “flash photography forbidden” signs. The studio classroom in Building 26 (the Technology Enabled Active Learning room) was impressive. I wanted a little buzzer of my own before the class was over. The four classes which I attended were taught by professors who were both lively and interested in the material they were teaching.

A visit to MIT was certainly informative and memorable. MIT is formidable, but it’s not impersonal or unpleasant. It’s a living institution comprising hardworking individuals. And I managed to survive an entire day without getting stuffed into a locker, a step up from high school.

Now, if I can only survive the application.