And Then There Was 2014.

This blog has been a bit quiet recently.  This past semester had me wrapped around its little finger and I faced what was probably my most challenging several months, academically and personally.  But it’s over, and with a finished semester and a holiday vacation comes time for reflection. Google did a fantastic job recapping the year for the world in Zeitgeist 2013.  What has this year meant for me?
  • Big Ben, Feb 2013
    Big Ben, Feb 2013

    2 new countries on my passport (UK and Mexico)

  • Finishing a year-long endeavor to watch all of the FRIENDS episodes with two of the besties
  • Traveling to 4 new states, 2 new national parks, and many more of this country’s geological wonders
  • Experiencing the strength of a community after the Boston Marathon bombings
  • Dolphin Kiss, Cancun, Dec 2013
    Dolphin Kiss, Cancun, Dec 2013

    Para-sailing and swimming with dolphins in the first ever Gururaj-Hukeri-Kanmadhikar 17-person-vacation “big family” vacation (more on this to come!)

  • Seeing old friends graduate and move on
  • The MIT Brass Rat, companion for life
Brass Rat, Jun 2013
MIT Ring Delivery, May 2013
  • The first time I’ve ever lived truly on my own
  • Falling in love with Pentatonix
  • A new family in Southern California
  • Putting on the best a cappella concert at MIT this fall (alright I’m a bit biased) with my favorite singers on campus.
MIT Ohms, Nov 2013
  • The sweetest of friendship
  • Sweat, tears, success, failure… and so much more.
And now it’s time to welcome the New Year with some of my closest friends and family.  Decorations? Check. Dance playlist? Check. Fondue? Check. Champagne/sparkling cider? Check.  Anderson Cooper in Times Square? Check.  2014, we’re ready.

Sounds of Santa Cruz Island: The Intern Event

The big P&G Oxnard Intern event this year consisted of a full day’s outing at Prisoner’s Island, a section of the larger Santa Cruz Island followed by a dinner back on the mainland with all the interns, Corky and his wife Beth (the “parent” figures of us all), and a few of the interns’ managers.  But I’ll just let your ears experience the rest.  Here’s to a day defined by unforgettable sounds…


…of the creaky wooden boards on the dock as 100 or so people lined up to board the boat, which rocked slightly side-to-side in the water.

Ocean Spray

…of the occasional spray of water off the side of the boat as it hopped along the waves, creating a rainbow on the water’s surface glistening in the sunlight.

…of the exclamations of those who were hungry and the slight moaning of those of us who had felt seasick once we reached our section of the island where we were completely alone.  But after Corky took out his magical, bottomless picnic baskets of food, all you could hear was quiet munching. 

…of the rattling of bushes next to us as we hiked up the slopes of the island, sparking conversations about snakes and other unpleasant creatures. 

Island flowers

Ocean View…of the distant rumbling of ocean waves the further we climbed, and the wind that picked up its pace, as did our breaths. 

…of the round, smooth rocks that made up the sandless beach hitting against each other under our feet every time after the waves came in and the water rushed back into the ocean.

Lone Island Walk

Wading on the Beach

…of Ryan’s girlish extremely masculine, high-pitched low guttural shriek roar when he and Boris made the decision to swim out into the freezing water, and he stepped on something (“a shark”) that supposedly shot up past his leg.

Island Fox…of the soft crackle of leaves underneath the feet of the small island fox, in comparison to the loud crunch of our own when we tried to follow it.

…of the pitter-patter of seagulls landing on the tarp roof above Andrea’s Seafood where we ate dinner.

Heading Back

…of the joyful bickering over ice cream at the end of the day by the harbor, when stories of our experiences with each other throughout the summer all came out in full form with unabashed laughter and all of our true colors shining brightly through.

…of the silent anticipation around the table as I sat with my hands hovered above my overturned cup, about to do the “Cups” routine (see this or this).

Island Views

…and of the quiet whispers of the water swishing underneath the docks as we walked back to our cars under the calmly pinkish evening sky.


Thank you, Corky and Beth, for arranging such a wonderful, unforgettable day for us!

New Family

Los Angeles: InSights

A few of my weekends exploring Los Angeles this summer– in pictures.

Seal Beach Sunset Seal Beach SunsetSunset at Seal Beach- Orange County, CA

Hollywood Hike

Hiking up to the Hollywood sign, with views of Griffith and the LA skyline along the way.


A adorably friendly baby girl I met on the train to LA named Elna.  

Dancers- Los Angeles Plaza Park Los Angeles Plaza Park

Traditional dancers at Los Angeles Park Plaza, just outside Union Station.

Olvera Street
Olvera Street Market

Olvera Street open-air markets, with the smell of fresh Mexican food in the air.

Sundial on Olvera

Sundial in front of Avila Adobe, the oldest standing house in Los Angeles.

Entering Chinatown Chinatown Sidewalk

The unmistakable entrance to Chinatown.

Our Lady Queen of Angels- La Placita

Our Lady of the Angels, La Placita Church.

Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels

Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown LA.

"Peace on Earth" Fountain

“Peace on Earth” Fountain outside Los Angeles Performing Arts Center.

Walt Disney Concert Hall photos at the Disney Concert Hall

Walt Disney Concert Hall lets out after a performance–pictures of pictures.  

LA Times

LA Times on the windows.

Little Tokyo

The end of the day– refreshed in Little Tokyo.  

Empathy: The “Why,” Not the “What”

A week ago, an article was published on CNN that began making its way through my Facebook feed.  The article is titled, “Why lasting compassion matters” and is a commentary written by Jason Marsh.  Always intrigued by any piece of journalism that actually brings up compassion head-on, I clicked the link.

In the article, Marsh talks about the tragedy of the 19 Arizona firefighters, the Granite Mountain Hotshots, who died while trying to fight a wildfire.  While the media fully covered the men, their hard work, and their loved ones’ sorrow, Marsh pointed out that the coverage might disappear within a matter of days.  In fact, it’s already started happening.  In the cafeteria at my office where the TVs usually play CNN, the mammoth coverage of the Zimmerman trial overshadows almost any other news.  The San Francisco plane crash and the Canadian train explosion are two of several other tragedies that have all surfaced in this time, leaving us to wonder where to focus our thoughts, our sympathy.

Marsh argues in his article for the importance of understanding how to keep these tragedies at the forefront of our collective, social psyche because he says that it is the future of this psychological effect which determines our response to it and our desire to prevent such tragedies from occurring again.  He cites an older study in psychology which suggested the extent to which we emotionally respond to a tragedy is correlated with how specific the descriptions are of the people involved in them.  A picture and description of a little girl starving in Africa elicited significantly more donations than a paragraph of statistics that explicitly brought up high rates of starvation throughout the continent.  Ultimately, Marsh concludes that stories should have more specifics, more images, more details so that we can relate to them and feel the compassion that we should.

But should we really respond to things only because they remind us of ourselves, or simply because we can connect them to our own experiences?   That’s understandably our natural inclination, but that doesn’t mean it’s right.  And just because that’s often the way our minds work, should journalism and leaders of society really just cater to that?

When I read this article, I was reminded of a piece in the New Yorker from a couple of months ago titled the “Case Against Empathy,” by Paul Bloom.  I strongly believe that empathy is at the core of our spirit and a measure of our humanity, so of course I approached this piece with more than slight skepticism, but my love for reading things that force me to challenge my own convictions eventually won me over.

At the center of empathy is the idea of placing yourself in another’s shoes.  Much of our motivations to do things for others stems from us imagining ourselves in their situation, allowing us to understand the pain, happiness, sorrow, or anger they feel.  Which is why we have leaders like President Obama, whose words Bloom cites several times in the beginning of the piece, claiming that the world would be a much better place if people had empathy for each other.  Ultimately, empathy is what inspires us to act.  It’s our “why.”

But, as Bloom points out, what determines “what” those actions actually are?  Doesn’t it depend on who you empathize with, or why you’re empathizing with them?  And if we were to act simply out of blind emotion, we could end up doing more harm than good.  Connecting back to Marsh’s arguments, the problem with motivations being born simply through empathy is seen in the very results of those psychological studies he cited.  Indeed, the issue is the very fact that we are naturally more inclined to act for the girl who’s starving, whose picture we see the girl who perhaps reminds us of our little sister or daughter–all this, simply because of our ability to relate much more easily than when we hear the statistic according to Bloom that as many as thirteen times the number of people who died in Hurricane Katrina die each day from malnutrition around the world.

As Bloom himself acknowledges at the end, the point is not that empathy is wrong, or that our world should be empathy-less.  It’s that empathy should not be the only input to morality.  We need empathy to motivate us to act, and we need it for our relationships with those around us, but to truly do good in the future you need more than just the strong emotional response you get when you can complete understand another person’s situation.  You need good judgment, an understanding of fairness and justice, and of course, rationality.

In the piece, Bloom gives the example of the Sandy Hook shootings for which the town of Newton received so many donations of stuffed animals and children’s toys that they didn’t have enough people to give them to.  Meanwhile– and this is perhaps my favorite line of the article–“almost twenty million American children go to bed hungry each night, and the federal food-stamp program is facing budget cuts of almost twenty per cent. Many of the same kindly strangers who paid for Baby Jessica’s [the baby who fell into a well in Texas in 1987] medical needs support cuts to state Medicaid programs—cuts that will affect millions. Perhaps fifty million Americans will be stricken next year by food-borne illness, yet budget reductions mean that the F.D.A. will be conducting two thousand fewer safety inspections. Even more invisibly, next year the average American will release about twenty metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and many in Congress seek to loosen restrictions on greenhouse gases even further.”  

Of course this is not even a glimpse of a suggestion that it’s wrong to feel so strongly for the children at Sandy Hook or the victims of Hurricane Katrina or the genocide victims in Darfur.  What’s concerning is that the outpouring of empathy that people are capable of seems to be restricted to certain people, certain tragedies, and certain times.

"The Alchemist" sculpture in honor of Officer Sean Collier.
“The Alchemist” sculpture decorated in honor of Officer Sean Collier.

I recently realized how guilty I myself am of the narrow-minded effects of empathy.  The third week of April 2013 will forever remain etched in my mind and the memories of those in Boston and at MIT– the week when we first witnessed the two bombs that exploded at the finish line of the Boston Marathon and then, a few days later, the shooting of our police officer, Sean Collier, and the shutdown of our school and city for the police-led manhunt that culminated in the final capture of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and the death of his accomplice and brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev.  I will always vividly remember being interrupted in the middle of a dance practice by a text on that Patriot’s Day, April 15th that bombs had exploded at the marathon.  I will never forget how frantically I began texting, calling, emailing anyone and everyone I knew to make sure they were safe.  College students in the Boston/Cambridge area play a large role in volunteering for the event, and I had friends, including my own roommate, whom I knew would be there at some point during the day.  Four nights later, we went through the same experience when we heard that there had been a shooting on our very own campus.  The rest of the night became a blur of news reports, the police scanner radio, and constant Facebook updates.

I actually had to catch a flight back home to St. Louis for a dance performance the very next day and until four hours before my flight that seemed impossible– no cabs were running in Cambridge or Boston.  When they finally re-opened, I wavered back and forth for a long time, especially because the police still hadn’t caught the younger brother yet, and I didn’t know what kind of trouble I would run into.  Finally, I decided to go home.

Needless to say, although I was in St. Louis for the weekend, my mind was entirely in Boston.  And thus I was shocked by how little of the conversation around me in St. Louis was about the tragedy that had unfolded in my home-away-from-home.  Sure, people would ask about it when they met me, remember what they had seen on CNN and ask about what the current situation was, but that was pretty much it.  For the first time I realized that even though our world has grown smaller and flatter, the distance between people and places remains just as undeniably far— my perception of the situation would never be shared by someone who lived halfway across the country.  Those who were relatively well-versed in current events would turn their thoughts to attempting to fathom the significance of what had happened, and then continue on their lives and the people/places tangential to them.  It was just natural.

Copley Square Memorial- Honoring the four victims who lost their lives in events of marathon week.
Copley Square Memorial- Honoring the four victims who lost their lives in events of marathon week.
Vice President Joe Biden at the memorial service for Officer Collier.
Vice President Joe Biden at the memorial service for Officer Collier.

Meanwhile I would soon go back to MIT, take part in memorial services, and visit the Copley Square Memorial near the finish line several times on sudden impulses.  I would eventually become so inspired by the tireless work of my biochemistry professor, Dr. Michael Yaffe, a trauma surgeon at Beth Israel Deaconness Medical Center, in the aftermath of the bombings that I wrote my final paper in another class on the response of Boston’s world-renowned trauma centers to the marathon bombings from the perspective of several trauma surgeons across the city.  Interviewing them was an eye-opening, unforgettable experience, and I knew that nothing I wrote could do justice to their incredible work.

The words of Martin Richard- the 8-year-old boy who died in the bomb blasts.
The words of Martin Richard- the 8-year-old boy who died in the bomb blasts.
Red Sox hats at Copley Square- #BostonStrong
Red Sox hats at Copley Square- #BostonStrong
Here to pay respects at Officer Collier's memorial service.
Here to pay respects at Officer Collier’s memorial service.

That was me in April.  And here I am in July, having barely read two news stories on the San Francisco plane crash and only heard one radio news segment on the Alaska and Canadian tragedies.  I unconsciously fit that same mold of people who frustrated me when I came back to St. Louis just a few months ago.  It’s so easy to slide into routines and become so buried in the immediately surrounding world that it seems that the problems in that space are the problems of the world.

When I was interviewing for my final paper, I talked a trauma surgeon at Mass General Hospital, Dr. Peter Fagenholz, who was one of the first medical professionals to give a press conference after victims had been rushed to the various hospitals in the area.  When I asked him whether they were prepared for a mass casualty event like this one, his words shook me: “I’ll be totally honest.  I don’t really find it to be all that different on a patient-to-patient basis from what I do everyday.  Everyday I see someone in trauma who didn’t expect to be there, who’s having something terrible happen to them.  You have to explain it to them if they’re in a state to talk to you, or to their family if they’re not. We do that every single day.  [The bombings were] dramatic and got a lot of media coverage.  Obviously it’s different since it’s intentional and targeted.  But whether you’re one of however many people who got blown up and lost your leg or whether you fell off your motorcycle and lost your leg, to you it’s probably more similar than different.”

Dr. David Mooney, at the Children’s Hospital, a Level 1 pediatric trauma center, echoed those sentiments: “These kids are really lucky.  They were 1.5 miles from the best children’s hospital in the world.  Three-fourths of the kids who get hurt never get to a children’s hospital.  They’re cared for in adult hospitals where people don’t have training and the resources we have.  I wish that society tried as hard to prevent the everyday kid from getting hurt as much as they pour into tragedies like this one.  It would save a lot of lives if that happened.”

The American flag flying high over the memorial for Officer Collier.
The American flag flying high over the memorial for Officer Collier.

The small stories of tragedies, successes, joys and sorrows that happen everyday in lives around the world are no less significant than those that occasionally shake us awake by their magnitude and bring us together with our humanity.  When we view the world as larger than our lives and the lives of those around us, we won’t need pictures and descriptions to motivate our moral actions.  Our empathy for humankind as a whole and our deeply ingrained understanding of the intricacies of culture and society will naturally lead us to push our world toward the brighter future we all dream of.


For similar discussions, see my thoughts on another tragedy that hit India and women all over the world, earlier this year: “Her Name Was Jyoti Singh Pandey”

Mishaps in Big Bear

On my second weekend on the west coast, I decided to leave Oxnard and spend a relaxing weekend with one of my best friends, Felicia, who lives near LA, in her family’s cabin at Big Bear Lake.  Although some of that definitely happened, a short sequence of events transformed an average weekend into an unforgettable one.  Everything here is a combination of recollections from both Felicia and me, since we seemed to be in and out of sleep for complementary parts of the night.

Sleepy Max.
Sleepy Max.

Adventure #1 involved my first train ride (at least in America), from Oxnard to Fullerton on a Friday after work, where I would be picked up by Felicia and her parents.  Two other individuals who would also be coming with us were Felicia’s dogs, Cuddles and Max, whom I’ve basically adopted as nephews of sorts and can shamelessly spoil with treats whenever I visit.  After almost a two-hour train delay and agonizing that I would get off at the right stop, and sitting outside a slightly sketchy Old Spaghetti Factory, I finally met up with Felicia and her family.  At this point, I figured I could fill my stomach, spoil my Felicia’s dogs, and fall asleep on the 1.5 hour ride up the windy mountain road to Big Bear Lake.

That plan was going pretty well until a little after 11 p.m., after I had fallen asleep.  Felicia’s dad was driving in basically pitch darkness, when suddenly a huge thud and the car simultaneously jumping wakes us all up.  A few minutes later, we pulled over into this little overlook area on the side of the road and as suspected, found a flat tire.  No problem, that’s what spares are for, right?  Of course, for that logic to hold you first have to know where the spare tire is actually located (which we didn’t).  Somehow I thought of looking in the car manual, which I’m not exactly sure how I did considering I had just woken up and anyone who knows me knows just how great my mental state is when I am even remotely sleepy.  The second requirement for the use of the spare tire is possessing the right tools to actually replace the tire (which we didn’t).

All four of us check our phones– no signal, though we are now aware that it is 11:45 p.m.).  There is no choice but to go the old-fashioned, ask-random-stranger-for-help route.  After ten minutes of keeping the emergency lights on and seeing cars with owners who are (rightfully) too suspicious to help out a random car on the side of a mountain road, Felicia’s dad decides to try and flag down cars.  Finally, a car stops, and Felicia and her parents step out to talk to them, while I stay inside, drifting in and out of sleep, with the dogs who are now hyper-alert mode.  I could see a man and woman in the car, and later found out that although they couldn’t drive Felicia’s dad further up the road to a restaurant where there would be phone signal because they had kids in the back and no room, they offered to drive up themselves and call AAA for us.  We thanked them and sat in the car for a while, having no idea how long it would take or whether they would actually call.  My faith in human empathy was restored, however, when fifteen minutes later, they drove back down to let us know that they called and AAA should be there in an hour, an unexpected gesture of kindness.

I fall asleep several times, and pretty soon Felicia took the back seat so that we could at least wait in comfort.  At around 12:15 when I was completely knocked out, it turned out that another car saw our emergency lights and stopped to ask what happened.  Felicia’s parents told him that we called Triple-AAA and asked if he had any phone signal.  Meanwhile, another car also came up the road and stopped on the side of the road next to us.  The guy in Car #2 sees the guy in Car #1 and our car, and suddenly turns around and starts driving back down the mountain.  Car #1 guy now tells us that he’s sorry he can’t help us, but instead of continuing up the mountain, now turns back around just like Car #2.  

Of course this freaked everyone out (did they know each other, were they supposed to meet there, what on earth for, etc.) and the lights were immediately turned off, leaving us again in pitch darkness.  I woke up pretty frequently in the next hour because it was pretty cold, car seats are not the most comfortable thing in the world, and the seat belt kept jabbing at my side.  For once Felicia was the one passed out in the back.

Middle-of-the-night tow truck: AAA to the rescue
Middle-of-the-night tow truck: AAA to the rescue

Finally two hours after the original call, at 1:50 a.m., AAA showed up.  In this time, Felicia’s dad had stepped out again to try and find a spot with signal, only to discover that we actually had not one punctured tire, but two.  The spare tire wouldn’t have been enough anyway.  With the side car doors open and blowing in cold air, I forced a sleepy Felicia to get my shawl from the trunk, and after some half-hearted attempts she finally threw it at me.  But I was still too cold and decided to awkwardly jump into the back seat for body warmth– though then they just opened the trunk, so that became pretty pointless anyway.

With the car loaded on the ramp, we all got into the Triple-AAA truck to begin towing the car back down the mountain, while Felicia’s mom called some friends to pick us up.  Everyone, that is, except Cuddles and Max, who looked at us with frantically terrified eyes from the front seat of the van since they weren’t allowed in the truck.  Returning to them when we reached the tire shop pretty much played out like a 10-year reunion as far as the dogs were concerned.  In fact, when Felicia’s dad left to pay the AAA guy, Cuddles got so upset at the thought of him leaving again that he began to bark and jumped up on the steering wheel, pushing it so hard that he actually honked the horn a few times.

An hour later, the family friends picked us up and drove us back to Felicia’s house, where we finally crashed on the bed at 5 a.m.  I fell asleep hugging Max.

Dinner by the LakeWe did end up driving back up the mountain to Big Bear in the morning and having some of that weekend we originally planned for.  Italian restaurants, a sunset dinner by the lake, watching movies, playing pool, and walking among the trees all still happened.  Plus I now had a great story to tell my co-workers when I got back.

Welcome to Big Bear
Welcome to Big Bear
A cabin at Big Bear
A cabin at Big Bear
Cuddles and Max awaiting our return to the cabin after our walk.
Cuddles and Max awaiting our return to the cabin after our walk.
Watching the sunset at Big Bear Lake
Watching the sunset at Big Bear Lake

Boats on the Lake Post-Sunset Calm


But my favorite part of this story happened on Saturday morning before we left again for Big Bear.  I was sitting at Felicia’s breakfast table, munching away on Special K, when the phone rang and Felicia’s dad picked it up.  It was the couple who had offered to call AAA for us and driven back down to let us know they had done so.  They wanted to make sure we had come back safely and had thought to call us the next morning to check on us.  I didn’t know people still did that, and I also realized how much I underestimated the effect that a personal touch like that had on the receiving end.  Interestingly, they also said they wanted to especially make sure because they had seen “children” in the car (aka 20-year-old me).  Though the sleep-deprived-me is like a three-year-old anyway so that isn’t too far from the truth.

It’s amazing how much a simple gesture like a phone call can show how much you care.  And whether that’s from a complete stranger or from your best friend, there’s nothing stronger and more comforting than the  reassurance of a human connection.

Another On-My-Own Summer

Almost exactly a year ago, I posted my second entry on this blog, titled “On my own.”  It was a post inspired by the thrill of living in Singapore for an entire summer with a small group of other MIT students, living a 9-5 working life, “cooking” for myself, and booking flights and hotels for exotic weekend travels.

This post is the equivalent of that one from a year ago, with one important addition.  Alone.  I have been on my own plenty of times– traveling to perform in music programs, summers in India without my parents, college.  For the first time, however, I am actually on my own, alone.  I have come to Oxnard, California, a city where I know nobody, working at Procter & Gamble in Product Supply Engineering, a company and work I have no experience in.  And so I began my summer at the beginning of June, living and working with complete strangers.  No college friends, no relatives, not even distant family friends.  Armed with a crash course in cooking from my mom, allergy medicine, and a window in my summer room that perfectly frames the rising sun each morning, I hugged my dad good-bye exactly a month ago when he came to help me settle in.

California Sky
California sky.

So what exactly does “living on my own alone” mean?  It means knowing how to use my time in the evenings wisely if I ever want to get anything done.  It means starting to think about what I’m going to eat for dinner almost as soon as I get home from work.  It means that my breakfast isn’t magically ready in the morning and I have to wake up 10 minutes earlier to make that happen.  It means waking up on my own in the first place (damn my deep sleeping habits for which I have to set at least 5 alarms with different tones and various time intervals apart if there’s any hope of me hearing one of them).

But being on my own alone has also meant that I have been given the opportunity to make new observations about myself, because when you have time to yourself, you naturally do the things you actually want to do.  It means I have the privilege of going on a walk or a run in the neighborhood alone to just think.  It means I get this adorable dog’s love all to myself when I get home from work (until, of course, her actual owner, Shirley, comes home).  Being on my own alone without a car, although definitely annoying at times, has meant that I’m back in high school mode, asking new acquaintances for rides, having new conversations, listening to new music in different cars with different personalities to and from work, restaurants, LA, etc.

Zuri, up close and personal.  "Zuri" supposedly means "beautiful" in Swahili.
Zuri, up close and personal. “Zuri” supposedly means “beautiful” in Swahili.

IMAG0118Most importantly, being on my own alone has given me a new family– a new P&G Oxnard family.  Armando and Shirley, from whom I rent a room in a beautiful house, have been incredibly welcoming.  I can always expect an interesting conversation with Armando on my way to work, and great laughs in the evening with Shirley’s spunky personality.  And of course, Zuri, my beautiful, golden-brown Pomeranian, who reminds me of a Pomeranian who used to be with my family in India, and who greets me every time as if she hasn’t seen me in years and keeps me company wherever I am in the house.

An evening of food, music, and dance in Corky's backyard, the "Jungle."
An evening of food, music, and dance in Corky’s backyard, the “Jungle.”

And of course there’s Corky.  Corky Clevenger– a man even more interesting than the name itself.  I don’t think I have ever met anyone like Corky, and I sincerely doubt I ever will, which of course is exactly what he’s going for.  How do you describe in words someone who has been a professional motocross racer, mission worker in Thailand, Laos, and the Philippines, who flew to the Philippines to propose to a woman (Beth, who is a second mother to all) he had met for two months and known for a year through letter-writing, who partners in managing the best Thai restaurant in SoCal, who has built a bamboo jungle in his backyard with twenty-something motorcycles, who sends the most ridiculously hilarious emails, and who has the most incredible stories, the tightest hugs, and the warmest smiles?  This man single-handedly has created a community of P&G Oxnard employees that extends beyond the workplace, and he and the rest of the employees have welcomed us interns with open arms.  And of course, how could I forget the interns themselves?  A more genuine, unique, quirky, and friendly group of six engineering college students from across the country never existed. 🙂

Corky, Mama Beth, and the other interns on Thai Tuesdays.
Corky, Mama Beth, and the other interns on Thai Tuesdays.

Being on my own alone may not be what I’m used to and it will probably rarely happen again, but right now it’s giving me the experience of a lifetime, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

MIT De-Techified: A Different Good-Bye

This past semester has involved a lot of time for reflection.  It’s hard to believe that I’ve been at MIT for two years now.  I’ve walked down the Infinite Corridor, de-stressed by the Charles River, watched the Boston skyline from the McCormick penthouses, and midnight-snacked on mozzarella sticks from the student center already for half of the time I will be here in this unique, incomparable part of my life.

But this semester there was also the looming realization that there were people above me, people who I have come to know in all sorts of times, who would soon complete this part of their journey.  When the video commemorating the seniors was played at our annual South Asian Culture Show, my reaction was much stronger than I expected.  Sure, there was a graduating class last year too, but my interaction with them was more of a freshman looking up in awe at accomplished seniors.  And I was pretty close to many in the high school graduating year before mine, but it was still high school.  College represents a different level of friendship that comes with not only interactions in an academic/work environment but also with living next to them, eating with them in dining halls, waking up at 8 a.m. on a Sunday morning to practice with them in a dance studio.  MIT also doesn’t separate residences by class, which means that over my four years here I will live with and come to know the 2012’s all the way to the 2018’s (that number just sounds scary).

Drew Houston ’05 delivers the Commencement Address.
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Yesterday, Friday, June 7, 2013, the 147th graduating class of MIT received their degrees in the beautifully green Killian court with the famous dome for a backdrop.  The students heard commencement speaker Drew Houston, MIT alum and CEO of Dropbox, give an inspiring speech to the graduates, telling them to seek out the challenging experiences, the new “fire hoses,” and go “ever upward.”  They sat with the friends they’ve made over the past few years, took plenty of pictures, and I’m sure, shed a few tears.

Any MIT alum you talk to will always say that the most valuable part of their MIT experience was the people they met.  And undoubtedly, the 2013’s I know are people whom I hope to never actually have to say good-bye.  Almost before I even made close friends in my own year, I got to know 2013’s, who were juniors then, first through my a cappella group and a few other dance groups I performed in.  Over time in various classes, clubs, and experiences like LeaderShape, I got to know a lot of 2013’s.  They were crazy.  They were hilarious.  They all had strong, independent personalities, but you always knew you could come to them with anything.  They were involved in everything from social get-togethers to campus initiatives to performance groups, but they always made plenty of time for pure goofing-off.  They achieved everything they set out to do but were never oblivious to their faults, their humanness.

One of the biggest sources of my interactions with the current seniors was through my South Asian a cappella group, called the MIT Ohms (which should tell you something about the personality of this group).  These 2013’s were actually the ones who founded the group when they were sophomores, the year before I came. In them I immediately found close friends and a family of older brothers and sisters.  I will never forget preparing for our fall concert that semester–the hours of filming ridiculous skits that ended in fits of giggles, corny punch lines, ripped-pants and singing/rapping sessions.  In fact, my first “all-nighter” at MIT (term applied loosely because I still slept 1.5 hours) was born out of editing those videos the night before my concert.  And yes, I definitely learned from all of them that it’s never too late to pull off something amazing.

My beloved Ohmies.
[poster and photo credit: Rik Sengupta, Divya Panchanathan]
But they also showed me and the rest of us how to lead a group.   How to delegate.  How to organize.  How to bullshit your way through almost anything.  How to make connections.  And most importantly, how achieving everything we wanted and having pure, silly, everyday fun are never mutually exclusive.  Arun, Divya, Aditya, Swetha and Arvind, thank you for what will always be some of my favorite memories at MIT.

This morning I congratulated another one of my close friends, Nikita, who just graduated.  She immediately responded with her usual loving, big-sister personality, and told me that MIT flies by after sophomore year so I should make sure to “live it up and meet tons of people.”  I smiled a little to myself at how fitting her statement was—Nikki had been introducing me to people since the beginning of my freshman year.  It was from dancing with her in groups that she led that I learned what it meant to be friends with someone whom you also held accountable, and how to do what you knew and felt was right without worrying too much about what others think.  Thank you, Nikki, for listening to my complaints, worries, and fears, for always watching out for me, and for being an amazing role model.

And to all the MIT 2013’s—I’ve come to know and love many of you and I wish I could have spent more time with each of you.  I wish I hadn’t taken so many moments for granted.  And I wish I could have gotten to know even more of you.  I’ve only named a few of you here but I’ve crossed paths with so many more of you, and it always left me for the better.  Thank you for living up to the MIT spirit and leaving this community better and richer than when you came.

I know I shouldn’t be too sad or worried.  The connections that MIT forms are too strong for even graduation to break, and I know that all of you will always be there for fun, support, and laughter.  This is a different sort of good-bye, and hopefully much more of a see-you-soon.

But most importantly, thank you for showing me the importance of forming bonds that cross boundaries of age, class, residence, and interests, how to pass on the knowledge and experience you’ve learned to those younger than you, and how to make a sophomore at MIT realize she’s made some of the best friends of her life.  I only hope that I can inspire and support someone in the same way you guys did for me.  Congratulations, and don’t forget the rest of us here at your first home-away-from-home.  🙂

The Dome
[photo credit: Rik Sengupta]