East Campus was very hard for me to explain to my high school friends. Compared to my best friend who went to Mount Holyoke, I had way more freedom and responsibility. I could eat when and what I wanted, as long as I was willing to shop and cook for myself. It was very fair. Obviously, I occasionally made the wrong choices (it turns out you can’t really live off of ice cream for dinner), but I seemed to grow up faster than people I knew who didn’t even have the chance to make mistakes.
In EC, I was exposed to so many different subcultures, hobbies and opinions. That’s probably true of many dorms, but EC is special because of its persistent culture. Older students and alums would sometimes tell stories about what life was like “back in the day”, and it gave me a sense that there was this larger society to which I was connected. This feeling of connection and sense of a bigger picture eased some of the psychological burdens of academic stress. It’s not easy to feel this deep a connection to MIT as a whole–it’s just too big–but I feel very connected to MIT nevertheless because of my enduring connections to the East Side social world, which I still have now.
This is not to say that life was perfect. It never is with real people. I was growing up, and so were the people around me. But I like to think that I learned how to handle myself in a way that wouldn’t have been possible in a more sterile environment. There is something very flat about dorms that don’t have a culture that persists from year to year, and that flatness can make a dorm seem less like home and more like an assignment. That was my experience in a grad dorm (not at MIT). Sure, I met some interesting people and made some friends at the time. I worked on psets with other residents in my classes, and I learned how to roll sushi from someone who shared the same kitchen as me. I even experienced the drama of a love triangle. But these experiences felt like they were divorced from the dorm itself, like the dorm was just coincidentally where they happened. There was a lot of turnover year to year, as you’d expect in a grad dorm, which made it hard to really connect to the living group as a whole and to the university. It was just some place I stayed for a year.
The first story I remember hearing about MIT when I was in high school was about the hacks on the Great Dome. That’s when I knew that I’d find people like me if I came here, and I did :)