Random grad student: “Do you live on campus?”
Me: *slightly wincing in anticipation of oncoming judgment* “I live in Tang Hall.”
On the surface, this seems like a straightforward conversation. However, my answer often elicits two kinds of reactions. I either get a slightly sympathetic look (or an occasional smirk from the folks over at Sidney-Pacific) followed by an, “It’s alright man, try for Sid-Pac next year”, or a less sympathetic, “What!? Didn’t you do your homework before picking your housing preferences?”
The first time I had such a conversation was during a pre-orientation event for admitted students that took place in India, before I arrived on campus. I’ve ended up having such conversations semi-regularly during my first semester at MIT, and I do not doubt that this will continue so long as I reside in Tang Hall.
By now, I have learned not to take stock of the ‘notoriety’ associated with Tang Hall. Nevertheless, these exchanges raised a critical question during my first few weeks here - is Tang Hall any good at all? (TL;DR: it’s just fine). After all, as any graduate student will attest to, adjusting to a new academic environment and research group is challenging enough. So did I need the additional challenge of poor living accommodation thrown into the mix too? All the logical reasons I had carefully constructed in favor of Tang (low rent, reasonable proximity to campus, and the experience of living along the Charles River) were thrown into question over the initial few weeks.
Arrival and initial impressions
When I arrived on campus late in August, I had no idea what to expect. But when I opened the door to my room on the 19th floor, I was immediately struck by the amazing view of the Charles River with the Boston University lit up in the background (I got in around 10 PM). Indeed, as I would go on to find out, Tang Hall has stunning views of the Boston-Cambridge area, from the financial district’s skyline on one side to Harvard on the other, depending on which apartment you get assigned to. While this can’t be the sole saving grace of Tang Hall, it definitely eases a new resident’s entry into their new abode.
Sunset as seen from my room (September 2019)
Rooms and common areas in the apartment
To start with, the rooms aren’t the most spacious. This hasn’t been an issue for me since I often spend most of my day on campus. At the same time, my apartment offers a rather large common area that comfortably contains a couch, an armchair, and a dining table set. Note that not all apartments come with a common area. I was assigned a 4-bedroom apartment (this typically begets some more sympathetic expressions), so the kitchen can get cramped sometimes. However, with the help of accommodating roommates (like mine), a schedule can be worked out to avoid this problem. This was particularly important for me since I prefer to cook in my own kitchen, and a few other residence halls only have communal kitchens on each floor. Tang Hall makes up for the slight lack of space by being relatively affordable among the furnished residence halls (find more info here).
The building itself
The breathtaking views that Tang Hall affords its residents is because it is vertically stacked. This means that while our 24th floor lounge gives us sweeping views of Boston, it is too small to accommodate large groups during times like Christmas or Thanksgiving (Additional info: the 24th floor lounge is an excellent outlook from which to check out the Boston skyline, especially at night with the lights off; I totally recommend taking first-time visitors up there to show off the vantage point). There is an additional snooker room and a lounge on the ground floor as well. Perhaps the one main grievance I have with respect to Tang is the dungeon-like gym. While it is adequately equipped, I find the complete absence of natural light and its location in the sub-basement slightly depressing. However, the campus itself has two excellent gyms, the Z-center and the Wang Center, so there is always an alternative.
Ultimately, I’ve come to distinctly appreciate the notion that your home is what you make of it. While Tang Hall rooms are furnished with a twin-size bed, desk set, dresser, and a built-in closet, it’s truly up to the resident to add character to their room. In my case, this has meant putting up a few pictures of family & friends and adding a monitor, an extra lamp (super important) and a few other personal furnishings to the room.
After one semester in Tang, I have no regrets about my accommodation. I am steadily finding my community inside and outside Tang Hall and enjoy the proximity to the river. Finally, to all Tang residents who have ever felt judged by other students (or those who are destined to feel so in the future), the next time someone smirks when you tell them that you live in Tang, take a deep breath and say, “Sure, but have you seen the VIEW?”