Slowing Down

“Slow down, you crazy child / And take the phone off the hook and disappear for a while.”

Vienna by Billy Joel

Vienna is probably my favorite song of all time – I love Billy Joel, the lyrics, the piano, the style, just everything.

My plane out of Malpensa airport in Milan

I wanted to do GTL because I love teaching. I never expected myself to — when I started high school, I’d get frustrated trying to explain math to my sister. But 3 summer camps, 1 HSSP, 3 Splarks* and a GTL Italy later, teaching has brought me to where I am today. I’m so much more confident in my presentation abilities, better at explaining ideas to people, and have a deeper understanding of the things that I teach.

A “Splark” is a portmanteau of Splash and Spark, two programs that ESP runs. These programs are a weekend learning extravaganza, where HS (Splash) or MS (Spark) students can take classes on anything that they want. Teachers are usually MIT students (but can be anyone!), and can teach anything they want, whether “Physics without Calculus”, “How to Figure Skate in Socks”, or “Balloon Animal Bonanza.” For more past classes, check out this link!

But even as the focus of GTL is the teaching, the program also gives you lots of time, a scarce commodity in the middle of however many units, psets, midterms, deadlines, clubs, whatever.

I enjoy having time to think. Looking back at this IAP and GTL Italy, I suppose I’ve thought about a lot of things while in Italy. I’ve had incredible new experiences, met awesome people, had interesting conversations, and I always think it’s important to learn from those.

I guess this post is the more serious version of the “fun facts” that I’ve been posting. More serious, in-depth things that I’ve learned during my time in Italy about myself, teaching, or anything else.

1: It’s hard to escape MIT and the world of responsibilities.

When I left campus back in December, I remember thinking to myself that this would be the longest that I’ve been away since MIT since I got to MIT freshman fall. Last summer, I only spent 2 weeks not in Boston. But this IAP would be five entire weeks of being separated from campus, hopefully getting a little bit of a break from the firehose that is MIT.

Every single day over GTL, I did some kind of work for ESP. Whether reserving rooms, helping programs run, thinking about the future of our club, or doing random tasks that needed to be done, I still remained very connected to campus during my stay in Italy.

My responsibilities didn’t end there. I’m in charge of outreach to companies for MCG for our work this spring semester. I worked on my UROP remotely. I began applying to internships and opportunities for the coming summer. And of course, I had to plan out lessons for my actual teaching here.

I’m not trying to say I don’t like having these responsibilities — I live my life trying to do the things that I enjoy. I love ESP and the programs that we run, I’ve grown so much working on cases for MCG, and my UROP has the best professor that I could ever ask for.

But, work is tiring. The last time that I had a day “off” where I did nothing was probably back in August – and even then, I’m not entirely sure I took any “full” days off.

I like taking on responsibilities and doing things, but the things I do tend to follow me around. And if I can’t separate myself from my work over IAP and thousands of miles away, what hope do I have of doing it in the middle of the semester, on campus, potentially drowning in psets?

I’m terrible at taking time for myself. In the past at MIT, it’s just come in little bursts, taking a few hours every couple of days to listen to music or talk to friends or go to a study break or decompress. But this GTL experience has made me acutely aware that I’m bad at stepping back and slowing down.

The kind of life where I’m “always on” is unsustainable and while I enjoy doing it now, to be honest, I have no idea how much longer I’ll like it or how long it’ll take me to burn out. It’s something that I should focus on in the near future.

2: I like people.

After 3 weeks, the extent of Italian is ragazzi, buena giornata, ciao, grazie, tutto bene, allora, and the names of random foods. My level of fluency in Italian is roughly the same as my ability to tolerate spicy foods – none.

Every night, my host family had dinner together, often a delicious pasta with some homemade desserts afterward. Italian dinners tend to run long, spending time talking to each other about anything. My main problem was that I couldn’t follow along with any of it – I’d catch snippets of words that sounded almost like Spanish, would follow along with their gestures, and occasionally, I’d hear the word “inglese” before I was asked something in a language I could understand.

Not to say this wasn’t entertaining – given gestures and certain words, I could catch the gist of conversations with some difficulty, and my host brother helped me follow along with what was happening when I was especially confused 🙂

I define my life by interacting with other people and learning things from them. This is made exceptionally hard when you can’t understand more than a few seconds of conversation during an hour-long dinner, and for the majority of 3 weeks, this was the longest face-to-face interaction I had with people.

I ended up filling my need for interaction with lots of talking with people through online chats. Friends back at MIT, doing GTL around the world, externing at different places were all awesome people to talk to throughout IAP.

And when I did get the chance to talk to people in person – whether the other MIT student at my school, at MIT meetups, on trips to Venice, or wandering around Milan, I think I appreciated those times even more than I usually do 🙂

3: Independence and Initiative – how much do I do things by myself?

I’ve always thought of myself as being bad at making decisions. I’m not a terribly decisive person. My opinions always feel half-formed, not as fleshed out as everyone else’s. When I’m pushed to say something, I’ll often just say the first thing that comes to mind, and then back-justify those thoughts.

This plays out in different ways in my life.

  • When traveling around Venice with the group, I was the follower. I let other people plan our adventures, the cool sights to see.
  • Most of the traveling that I did at all in Italy was based on other people’s initiatives. My host brother taking me around Milan, a teacher bringing me to the Last Supper, going to Venice.
  • Wandering around Milan by myself on my last day tended to not actually happen — I went to the nearby park, grabbed some food to eat, and just sat around and thought a lot. (This one’s probably a weaker example, mostly because I also wanted some time to sit and think, and was exceptionally tired from the previous days of wandering around Milan with Sarah – I walked 25K and 36K steps, the latter an all-time high.)
  • I tend to be a red pen, revising and building off of what’s been done before, rather than a black one, and making my own new ideas.

I’ve looked at this part of me before, and it leads naturally to wondering about how original I am: how often I make new ideas or do things on my own.

I think I’m a pretty reflective person; I just wonder how much this thinking translates into action.

At the beginning of the year, I did YearCompass as a way of reflecting on everything that happened this last year. One thing that I wanted to prioritize for myself this year was to live during this next year. Not just let life guide me to adventures, but to actively live life. I don’t think this was something I particularly succeeded at during GTL.

Now, I’m trying to do more things that are of my own initiative – things that I care about happening in ESP, trying to do things to bring friends together, and more. Even still, I know this is something that I need to work on a lot.

4: There’s so much to do.

  • Walking around an art museum with a teacher from my school, telling me about the stories behind paintings, their creators, the historical context.
  • Wandering around Milan and seeing so much history, architecture, and art all around me.
  • Talking to a teacher who went back to school after graduating with a degree in biology, studying mathematics and becoming a teacher.
  • Listening to other people at MIT talk about their experiences about GTL, going through MIT and how different those experiences are from mine.
  • Being a teacher in a real school for the first time.
  • Teaching large classes, where students were English Language Learners, for the first time.
  • Meeting people from Minnesota and talking to them about their own experiences teaching abroad.
  • Talking to someone my age about her experiences studying abroad in Canada (from Italy).

Throughout GTL, I’ve talked to people about all of the different experiences and adventures that they’ve had, and had some new ones of my own.

I know that I always have room to improve – the Growth mindset is something that I internalize. Another thing I figured out during my end-of-year reflections is that the way I best identify growth areas is not via introspection, but rather going through life and seeing where I fall short, where I could be better.

The things I learn about other people’s experiences play a crucial role here. There’s only so much that I can ever experience in life, and by learning from other people’s experiences, I can help to define my life even better.

GTL has helped me realize more directly that there’s so many different life experiences that I haven’t had and that I may never have. So, I need to keep talking to people about their own experiences and keep trying to have as many new ones of my own.

I’m finishing up this blog post almost 3 weeks after getting back. The semester’s already started, classes are in full swing, and it’s finally time for me to say goodbye to this GTL blog. If you’ve been reading, thanks for following along with all of the posts – it’s been fun writing c: