Now that I’m a sophomore, I’ve had time to reflect on how different I am now than I was before coming to MIT. Just a few years ago, it wouldn’t be unusual for me to sit in the corner at a party, just listening to conversations without participating in them myself. I would often not respond to hugs, and I would instead just stand there and look annoyed. I would usually rather read a book or play an iPhone game rather than talk with people. During breaks, I would go for weeks being only entertained by my computer, not talking to anyone outside my family, and I wouldn’t mind at all.
Now though, I find myself wondering if it is possible to switch from being an introvert to being an extrovert in a little over a year. Throughout all of last year, I didn’t study in my room once, and the waking time I would spend in my room each day was probably less than half an hour. Instead, I would usually find myself in a lounge or kitchen, often filled with half a dozen people. I didn’t watch a single TV show or movie unless it was part of a group event. I found myself giving and receiving more hugs than I’d had in the past several years combined, as well as participating in a number of “cuddle piles,” something which I never would have imagined myself doing. And when summer started, I didn’t last a few days until I started chatting and playing card games with friends online. And while I always had fun hanging out with friends before, I realize I now find it relaxing, rather than draining.
I think the reason for this change has been the Random Hall community and culture. Random Hall is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. There are always things that are happening; board games, food mobs, play/musical mobs, baking, long arguments about the mechanics behind Live Action Mafia, animated discussions about math problems, video games, LARPS, cooking for MITBeef, blanket fort building, or even just group psetting.
But more than the cool events it has, what makes Random special is how much of a community Random is. When building 12 was put on reuse, all the Randomites’ stuff was put in a pile, someone guarded it, a few people took all the stuff back, and items were distributed when we got back to the dorm. When a CPW chair emailed out that he needed help moving things, a dozen people came outside and helped. It seems like whenever someone is moving in, there will be a swarm of people helping them, and whenever someone emails out asking to borrow something, there will be several people offering to lend them it. Roughly every other day, someone will bake/cook something and, rather than saving everything for themself, they’ll email the entire dorm to offer the food. People are open with one another, and I remember being initially surprised about how frankly people would talk about things like their academic challenges, their mental health problems, and their sexual orientation. When CPW comes around, events have to be cut or combined, because there are TOO MANY people who want to run events welcoming prefrosh and showing off Random Hall’s culture.
Another thing I’ve noticed is that I have a kind of disconnect to some of the problems other people at MIT talk about, and I think it’s because I live in Random. I’ll be reading MIT Confessions, looking at a post on Quora, or otherwise reading MIT students’ thoughts online, and I’ll be unable to relate to a lot of it. Lots of people will talk about MIT making them feel isolated, depressed, or inferior, and how no one else will talk about it or admit that they feel the same. Girls will talk about harassment and sexist behavior they’ve experienced. And I’ll just be sitting there, wondering I even go to the same school as these people.
Certainly it’s possible that other people in Random might have different experiences, but at least for me, I feel less isolated than I’ve ever been in my life, and I’ve experienced exactly zero harassment or noticeable discrimination for being female. And while Random is certainly full of people who seem so impressive and awesome that their mere presence makes me feel stupid in comparison, Randomites as a whole seem pretty open about admitting that they feel the same way. I remember sitting in my floor’s kitchen last year, crying because I failed an 8.01 test. Soon, one of my floormates came up to me and started talking about how much worse she did in 8.01 while still passing, and how I didn’t need to worry because tons of other people were having similar troubles. I also remember Random’s several medlink study breaks last year, meant for talking about mental health or academic problems. They were well-attended, and I was amazed to hear nearly every one of those impressive upperclassman, the ones who seemed like their success was effortless and unattainable, talking about their struggles, struggles which were similar to or worse than my own. So, while MIT may be stressful, I feel like Random dampens the effect — from me knowing that people feel the same, from being full of supportive people, and from always having something fun that can take my mind off things.
I suspect the reason I’ve suddenly become so social is because Random is full of the types of people I want to socialize with, and because I’ve become used to an environment full of freedom, support and non-judgment. I feel like if I were in a bigger, less close-knit dorm, without murals painted on the walls by students who LOVE their home and want to make it beautiful, without a culture where people can leave their laptops in public lounges for days and leave their food unlabeled in fridges, without any of the things that make random special… well, I would be in a very different place, and I would be much less happy.