How I came to Cambridge before I came to Cambridge

Lessons I learned as a newly accepted student during a pandemic
Oct 2020
Ambar
R.
Comparative Media Studies

I could finally see the finish line. If you were to ask me five months ago where I would be by Aug 10, 2020, I’d have said “in Boston” without blinking an eye. But guess what: COVID-19 spoiled my plans, and here I am, still in Mexico. To be honest, it was a bummer, mostly because I knew that I wasn’t going to have the year I thought I’d have: Meeting new people, moving to a new country, speaking and learning in a different language, and the list goes on. However, every time I told someone I got into MIT, that reminded me how lucky I am.

So I said to myself, “Ambar, you were accepted to MIT! MIT! What do you do now? Figure out something you can do to make the most out of this unusual experience.” And that’s what I did.

There's nothing quite so 2020 as Zoom

With or without a pandemic, there are a few takeaways that I’d like to share with you to start your MIT experience even before you begin your program. I encourage you to take advantage of every resource and enjoy every part of the process.

MIT is filled with opportunities. I discovered that the best way for me to learn what’s happening in the community was by following every MIT page that interested me on social media. That’s how I found out about a lot of activities that happened this summer, such as Wellbeats free membership for a month, the MIT Grad Blog’s workshop, the language conversation exchange, and the International Films Series.

Here are the top three findings that I took full advantage of:

  1. First, get in shape! The MIT recreation center offered free workout classes to the MIT community. I took Zumba and Cardio Kicks. PSA: The virtual classes will continue for the fall term. 

  2. Second, activate your MIT email account and MIT certificates – in my case, it was a nightmare to get them installed. They open the door to MIT’s resources, so you can basically access anywhere you can imagine. I used my account at the MIT library and JSTOR, among others. 

  3. Finally, my most valuable takeaway: start collaborating with your research group (if you do have one already!). I can’t overemphasize how important this is. You’re in, so why wait? Start familiarizing yourself with your colleagues and learn how things work – without the additional pressure of classes. Believe me, this will be an advantage once you start your research assistantship. 

I’m a MIT Open Documentary Lab RA. In my first meeting with the team, I asked if I could attend their meetings remotely during the summer. They welcomed me with a big YES! I ended up being involved in a project that we are going to exhibit (fingers crossed) in November at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA). IDFA is the world's largest documentary film festival, so it’s a big deal for me, as a documentary filmmaker, to be part of this project.

When I started attending the meetings, I felt hesitant to suggest ideas. I blamed it on the language differences or the fact that I was a rookie. But as weeks passed, I started to feel more and more comfortable. Three months in, I feel I know some colleagues well, and I feel part of the group. For me, amid the uncertainty, an exceptional opportunity emerged.

Bonus hint: create a WhatsApp / Messenger group with your cohort. My group did this and it has helped support me over the last few months. Although we’ll start classes without the benefit of meeting face to face, I’m looking forward to beginning our program together.

The challenge now is that the finish line keeps moving due to the pandemic. I chose to enjoy the race while it lasts, though. If I got involved in all these activities away from Cambridge, I can only imagine how much stronger my experience will be once I get there. My wish for all MIT students is to realize that we have many ways to connect with the community before we ever arrive on campus.

MIT is a place to thrive and the sooner you start, the bett