“70 Pacific Street. I guess this is it,” my dad declared as we pulled the minivan to the front entrance. The nine-story brick building loomed over us like Mount Everest. I could feel my heart beat as I walked to the front door, my parents not far behind. A banner with “Sidney Pacific” on the front waved gently in the summer breeze. I’m not sure who was more nervous: my parents or me.
I guess this is where I’ll be living for the next five years, I thought to myself, and I opened the door.
For most students, this might sound similar to their undergraduate move-in day. Only for me, this was not undergrad. This was grad school. For all four years of college, I lived with my parents and commuted to school to save money. At age 22, I was finally moving away from home. I was simultaneously excited and afraid.
During my first semester, I saw Sidney Pacific, or “SidPac”, as its residents refer to it, as little more than a place to study and sleep. I would walk in and get straight to work, hardly saying hello to anyone. SidPac had plenty of opportunities to get to know others – like weekly coffee hours and random movie nights – but if I ever attended them, it was mostly just for the free food. I wanted to get involved and make friends, but I simply didn’t have the time. In the Chemistry program, you take all of your classes, teach, and start research in your first year. All I could focus on was trying to stay afloat in the stormy sea of grad school.
Lacking a sense of community was a familiar feeling to me. As a commuter student in undergrad, I was used to the difficulties of getting involved on campus. It was easier to drive home after a long day of class than stay late and attend club meetings or get-togethers. However, I didn’t live at home anymore; I lived in a dorm. While I could always Facetime my family or talk on the phone, it didn’t replace my desire to be part of an on-campus community. If I was going to feel any sort of connection to MIT, I needed to get involved.
By the end of my second semester, my workload eased up, and I found myself at SidPac more often. Because of this, I made a commitment to get involved in the dorm. I started small by attending weekly coffee hours with my friend from lab. We would introduce ourselves to other residents and get to know them better. The more people I met, the warmer and more close-knit the dorm felt.
Soon, I began receiving emails about officer applications. Officers are grad students who run events, maintain resources, and develop initiatives at SidPac. In return, they get guaranteed housing in the dorm.
This is perfect. I thought to myself. I can get involved AND I won’t have to move off campus. I liked the convenience and security of dorm life and had no desire to search for an apartment and roommates off campus. I applied to be an officer, specifically a hall councilor, and to my excitement was elected for the 2017-2018 year.
Serving as a hall councilor was the final push I needed to get involved. As a hall councilor, I was required to run monthly events for my hall in the dorm, forcing me to branch out and meet new people. For my first event, I cooked waffles and served them with ice cream in the common kitchen. It was a great way to introduce myself to my residents, and afterwards, as I walked down the halls, I began to recognize more faces. Slowly, I was beginning to feel like a member of the community.
That summer, I also took on the role of serving as a temporary member of the Sidney Pacific Executive Council (SPEC). SPEC is a team of five students who oversee all of the officers and events in SidPac. I attended weekly meetings with the other SPEC members as well as the Heads of House, the professors who live in the dorm with the students. I oversaw large-scale events, helped plan for orientation, and even presented SidPac’s budget proposals to the Deans. I couldn’t believe it. A few months ago, I was barely showing up to events. Now I was one of the most active students in the dorm, leading the direction of the graduate community as a whole.
Today when I walk through SidPac’s doors, I rarely make it through the lobby without being greeted by someone I know. It could be one of my hall mates, a fellow officer, or someone I met while chatting at the front desk. One thing is for sure, I finally feel like a member of the Sidney Pacific graduate community. I’m even thinking about reprising my role as a SPEC member next year.
When I went home for a visit last fall, my family asked me about my life at MIT. I replied, “Oh yeah, at home I…” I stopped, realizing what I said. I had just referred to SidPac as home. And yet, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it was true. SidPac was, and is, my new home. I won’t be just living at SidPac for my three or four remaining years. I’ll be thriving.