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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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:


The Rolling Sauna

After a wonderful week and a half of teaching at Haileybury Almaty, we set off for the sister school in Astana. Originally, we had two options: the 1.5-hour flight or the 14-hour overnight train (the Spanish Talgo train). I like trains, so I indicated my preference for the latter. We were told that we would see very little on the overnight train, so we ended up deciding to take the 24-hour old Soviet train instead! (I like trains.)

The day of departure, it became clear that David, the coordinator, could not come with us due to a contagious illness. He knows enough Russian to get by. As neither Alex nor I knew Russian, the headmistress wanted us to take the plane instead. After a few hours of agonizing and getting a better sense of what the risks realistically were, we decided to keep our train reservation.

The school reserved an entire compartment of four bunks for us so that we didn’t have to share with strangers. One teacher warned us that the ride would be interesting for the first fifteen minutes, but we’d soon get tired of the endless snowy steppes. After school on Tuesday, we took a cab to the Almaty-1 railway station.

We found our compartment and settled in. The sun had already set, and it was very dark. It was also extremely warm, a feature that gives this train its “rolling sauna” nickname. I think I was slightly sweating throughout the entire trip. Vendors roamed up and down the train, selling fruits, bread, drinks, snacks, and clothing. I read my book and ate a light dinner of salami, bread, and mandarins before retiring to sleep at 9 pm.

I woke up early the next day and watched the snow and the sunrise.

The next nine hours was a mix of more reading, napping, snacking, contemplating, and stretching. The train would stop for short times at tiny stations along the way. There was no cell service for most of the trip. I tried exploring the train (someone mentioned there may be a dining car) but only found the other cars to be just like ours.

I also amused myself by taking pictures of my travelling companion Totoro.

All in all, the ride was pretty uneventful. Nothing more exciting than having to pantomime a it when the train operators came around and tried to exchange bedsheets for our tickets (they didn’t collect the tickets from other people, I think they collected ours because we weren’t local or something?). No run-ins with drunk people, nobody trying to give us food. Before I knew it, the sun was setting and we were arriving in Astana.

Would I do it again? Probably, with the right people. I still want to take the Amtrak across the US at some point. But now I can say I survived a 24-hour train ride in Kazakhstan, and that ups my train cred. ๐Ÿš†


channeling my inner ahaan since 2019

It’s time for a blog post that isn’t about teaching – this weekend, I went exploring!

At my school in Rozzano, there’s another MIT student, Luke (also from Nevada!). On his plane ride over here, Luke met another MIT student who’s also in the Milan area. Last week, that person invited both of us to join him and 2 other MIT students to travel from Milan to Venice. I’m not exactly sure how the rest got connected, but somehow we did, and 5 near-strangers went off on a trip!

Getting around

I love the trains in Europe. I first rode them as a boxboi in Switzerland, and now I’ve gotten to experience Italian trains, too!

I’ve mentioned that it’s around 50 minutes into the city via public transit. There’s a tram (commuter rail) that extends beyond the city and an underground that runs throughout the city. They connect directly to each other (woo!) and a single ticket is โ‚ฌ1.90 for an hour of traveling to the city center. They’re always on time, very regular, and the (new) subway trains are incredibly modern. I want this in Boston ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

Our train left from Milano Centrale, the big train station near the center. It’s a 2.5-hour train between the two cities, and the roundtrip ticket was โ‚ฌ49. They’re so smooth! And big! And comfortable! Free wifi, giant seats, power outlets, ugh. They’re the best.

choo choo
Milan Centrale! Our train ended up being the one visible on the right.

In contrast to all of this transit, Venice is a city of canals – no roads, anywhere. Anything that you might imagine to require a car (taxi, police car, garbage truck) has an analog in boat form. Taxis (and gondolas) are incredibly expensive, and so the best way to get around is simply to walk. I walked 44K steps and 20 miles over the 2 days o.o

There’s other islands near Venice, and traveling to them involves a highly commercialized (and tourist-oriented) system of ferries that effectively functions like a subway system or a commuter rail. During the middle of the day, there was standing-room only for the 45-minute boat ride, oof.


I didn’t actually know 3 of these people before going on the trip. I met two of them at an MIT Milan meetup the Thursday before the trip and then didn’t meet the last person until actually in Venice. This trip and the MIT meetup and have helped me understand the power of the “MIT connection” a little more. It’s so weird to interact with people that you have so much in common with, and yet your experiences are so different. We’re all connected by MIT, GIRs, IHTFP, GTL, and Italy, and yet we’re all leading very different lives at MIT that led to each of us 5 only barely interacting with the others before. For the most part, it just reminds me about how varied the MIT experience is and no matter how much I try, I can only experience so much of it. (And so, interacting with other people is always good c:)

This holds beyond just MIT. On the train to Venice, we met with 4 girls from Minnesota who were also here student teaching, but to help get their teaching license and here for 3 months. We ended up exchanging contact info and meeting up with them in Venice, and it’s so interesting to see the ways that other people go about the world.

We also randomly bumped into other MIT GTLers on the streets of Venice on Saturday night? Are MIT people everywhere? Probably yes.

Connections are fun — I love talking to people. During the 45-minute boat ride, I ended up talking with one of my travel companions about all sorts of things. What they think their non-MIT life would have been, what their best experiences at MIT are, and more. It’s awesome to have these kinds of conversations to learn about other people and the ways that they go through life ๐Ÿ™‚


This is, after all, a travel post, and so how could I not talk about what happened in Venice?

The biggest canal in Venice is the Canal Grande. Riolta, one of the coolest bridges in Venice, goes right over it. It’s in a very tourist-centered area with shops on the bridge (and a Hard Rock Cafe next to it?). Even with the commercialization, the bridge is still amazing to look at. We woke up at 7AM on Sunday to see the sunrise on the bridge, and the view and the lighting that we got was definitely worth it.

Canal Grande. Riolta in the back.

St. Mark’s Cathedral! I don’t have too much to say about it — didn’t have a chance to go inside. Near a suuuper touristy area (with very high-end stores). Hm, this seems like a recurring theme.

it's big
The Church!

Burano, an island near Venice, is known for its colored houses! They’re super cool to look at, take pictures with. The main industry is fishing, so lunch had some awesome seafood ๐Ÿ˜€

i should have taken a photo in front of an orange house
So many fun colors ๐Ÿ˜›

Murano is known for its glass blowing! Made me want to get into the lab at MIT, but who knows if I’ll get in or if I’ll ever have time. We saw lots of incredibly complex glass creations, some of which cost tens of thousands of dollars. We weren’t allowed to take pictures of the big boiz, unfortunately, but here’s some others ๐Ÿ˜›

I ended up getting one of the horses that I’ll keep on my desk back at campus ๐Ÿ™‚

And now, it’s Italy fun fact time brought to you by yours truly:

  • Laser tag is “Laser game”.
  • Gondoliering is usually a family business. There are people that are 8th generation gondoliers. There are around 436 gondoliers in Venice.
  • A new gondola costs โ‚ฌ50K. They last for 20 years.
  • There is a dessert that is “Arancia e caffรจ” – sugar cubes in orange liquor mixed with coffee beans. You take the cube and some of the liquor and burn off the alcohol. It also comes with other combinations, like with mint, lemon, and cinnamon.
  • There is a Twix version of Nutella. I don’t think this is an Italy thing, but still.
  • I found Pringles that were ketchup-flavored. Also, ham and cheese flavored.
  • The flag of Venice has areas that are cut and flap around.
  • An update on “toast” and “salsa”: sometimes they put salsa in toast. I have very mixed feelings.
  • Kids always enjoy making dotted lines with chalk. Teaching them is so fun. I think I’ve taught most of my classes at this point.
  • There is a famous painting that just has an egg hanging from the ceiling.
Brera Madonna by Piero della Francesca.

Tomorrow marks my last day of teaching for GTL — 3 weeks pass so quickly. I’m hoping to do at least one more post about teaching before I leave (and maybe one about more travels?). But for now, I’ll get some sleep and get excited for GTL Italy teaching one last time ๐Ÿ™‚

I enjoy photos of me in this pose