Times May Have Changed, but MIT will Not

Looking Back at International IAP Adventures
July 2020
Olivia
Y.
Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology

My first year at MIT was filled with opportunities, more than I was able to take advantage of. In just one walk down the Infinite corridor, I could pick out a dozen flyers that piqued my interest. I deliberately slowed down, knowing that I had four to five more years to explore all that MIT had to offer. In light of the current uncertainty of this world, I am left wondering when I will be able to take advantage of these opportunities again and so grateful for the opportunities that I was able to have.  I am trying not to linger on feelings of regret, but I know I will be taking full advantage of every opportunity once MIT is back in full swing. 

In January, I joined a team of Harvard and MIT students who traveled to Mumbai, India to act as mentors in the MIT-India Initiative. I was nervous about flying across the world, to a country that is completely foreign. I was unsure what I could offer to the workshop participants as a first-year PhD student who still feels like she is finding her way in graduate school. Despite these qualms, I jumped at the opportunity to travel and to share some of the innovative spirit of MIT.

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Day 1 of the workshop: excited and nervous!

Just three months later, that kind of opportunity seems like a relic of the past. When will I next be able to fly across the world for a five-day workshop? I can flip through pictures that I took and keep in touch with some of the students, but my visit to India seems worlds away. When I visited Mumbai, the city was bustling at every hour of the day. The streets were the most crowded streets I have ever seen, filled with a mish mash of cars, dogs, chickens, street hawkers, street carts, bikes, and motorcycles. Now, India is on lockdown, in many ways much more severe than the one we are experiencing in the US, with restrictions on all non-essential movement outside the home. The streets are mostly empty. Just three months later, Mumbai is a completely different place from the city that I visited.

 

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A chicken coop alongside a major highway. The butcher killed the chickens behind the stall!

During the wokshop, I was constantly reminded of how lucky I am to be at MIT. The perception of MIT by the workshop students was one of reverence and amazement. To many of them, MIT seemed like a Willy Wonka candy land of science, technology, innovation and unlimited resources. I tried to convey that MIT was a wonderful place to study, and how incredibly lucky I was to have those kinds of resources at my disposal, while also trying to convey that opportunities exist everywhere and MIT is not a golden ticket. The students’ fascination and unwavering respect for MIT reinforced how lucky I am to go to this school, something that can be easy to forget in the grind of assignments and lab work.

Once students return to campus and our lives return to a semblance of normality, my advice for MIT students is to realize how many resources we have at our disposal and to take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way. Even now, in this time of virtual learning, there are many ways to get involved – hackathons for finding solutions for Covid-19-related challenges, virtual seminars from leading scientists, and volunteer opportunities for those who want to share their skills and resources. This is MIT’s strength: the go-getter attitude fostered by our peers and reinforced by the faculty. A global pandemic will not change the fact that MIT is a land of opportunity.

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A foggy sunset over the Mumbai skyline.