Making a positive impact in a community that you do not live in can be daunting and overwhelming. Designing a project to fit what the community needs requires research and experience. One of the most important things to consider is what the people want and what they believe they need. We do not live in their society, do not suffer their pain, and therefore cannot fully understand what is best for them.
Being an industrious little beaver, I held down two jobs the year before graduate school. By day, I was a lab rat, fearlessly pipetting small volumes of liquid back and forth. By evening, and on the weekends, I worked on a horse farm in rural North Carolina. They were essentially the same job; all you had to do was replace “pipetting, small volumes, and liquid” with “shoveling, large volumes, and poop.”
I became so comfortable in India that I began to feel as if I had been there for a long time. In reality, my time sped by. I became close to both the Indian and MIT students in the group and loved our conversations. Besides documenting the students’ work, I had the opportunity to help them with theirs, eventually becoming a part of the community and project. The other MIT students and I really got a chance to immerse ourselves completely in the Indian culture.
Once upon a time, I had no problem whatsoever getting up at 5 or 6 in the morning before heading to school. Obviously, I generally didn’t get much in the way of rest that way, but that was during a time when I would prefer being able to eat my Lucky Charms without having to rush out the door. Plus, I also got the chance to see some very lovely sunrises.
I came to MIT to study math. Surprise. Modern math doctoral programs enforce the study of a foreign language. This is because there are significant intellectual contributions written in other languages, especially French, German, and Russian. In this regard, I am fortunate I chose MIT, since they only enforce the study of one foreign language while other schools like Berkeley and Princeton require two. To my Canuck counterparts from Québec, a French requirement is a welcome amusement. For me, French is a torment. Once a forgotten part of my past, this language has been awakened from the grave, seeking revenge from many moons ago.
You cannot begin to imagine how thrilled I was to find that multiple thrift stores exist within half a mile of my dormitory. You see, my mother is an expert bargain hunter and my dad loves to buy shiny electronic doodads. (With a Radio Shack just up Massachusetts Ave. and a Best Buy down it, I suspect I’m poised to follow in his footsteps.)
There’s nothing like the lack of supervision, combined with a healthy workload, to help me realize how I work best. I’ve already taken great joy in flouting virtually every study habit I’ve ever been told about, like not listening to music with lyrics, or working at my desk instead of on the dinner table (although due to a lack of adequate cash flow for furniture, the two are the same as often as not). When better than college to twiddle with different ways to tool in search of the optimal learning method?
OK, so a turkey hangs out in Kendall Square. Big deal — I’ve seen a lot of turkeys in my lifetime. Maybe that’s just because I grew up on a rural Minnesota farm, but that isn’t an explanation for why barely anyone around here seems to know what a turkey is. You see, I walked down the path that leads past Quantum Books into East Cambridge twice a day for over a year. In that time, I saw some pretty strange episodes involving the Kendall Square turkey, affectionately known as Mr. Gobbles. I’ve seen him walking, running, flying, sleeping, munching on grass, and being chased by everyone from obese women to skinny kids.
Though my summer was extraordinary, it was also heartrendingly eye-opening. It was more than the suffocating heat, nauseating odor, and hordes of flies. Our group was welcomed by most people, but sometimes I’d find older women gazing scornfully at me, a foreigner marching in with an expensive-looking camera, here to take pictures of their pitiful living conditions.
My roommate Sam and I were at Nieman Marcus the other day looking at Prada party shoes. It was then that we decided the current avenues for constructive feedback to the powers that be in America are woefully inadequate. Sam and I are strong proponents of constructive criticism, especially when it comes to consumer products.
Out of the thousands of photographs I took this summer, I can count on two hands those that I absolutely love. My first project in India proved to be the most difficult in many ways: adjusting to brushing my teeth with bottled water, overcoming the language barrier, reaching the right balance of respect, and, of course, taking a good photograph. While I was able to control composition, lighting, and other technical aspects, I ran into problems with capturing a variety of subjects and emotions.
Ever since I was little, I’ve dreamed of becoming Superman, minus his wardrobe and enemies, of course. As I grew older, I felt most content when I could help others. In a sense, volunteering is one of the most selfish things a person can do. Volunteering gives me a purpose for my own life and makes everything worth while. Though it is satisfying to serve in my own community, I had always dreamed of helping those suffering in developing countries around the world. I always thought that this would make the biggest difference.
Warning! Excessive cell phone use will give you brain cancer! That’s what some scientists are saying these days, right? Nerds in lab coats getting all Chicken Little on our weekend minutes. But imagine if they were right and 10 years from now, we were all walking around with big tumors sticking out of our heads. This would be a serious calamity and its consequences must be addressed.
The other day, I encountered a tour passing the Student Center. The tour group, as near as I could tell, consisted largely of wide-eyed parents and nonplussed teenagers apparently unimpressed with the Infinite Corridor (I guess they’d never seen anything infinite before and were still recovering from the shock). At any rate, the parents seemed enthused about exploring campus, and, after passing a group of sorority members, the more hormonal of the male high school prospects seemed to perk up as well.