Building a supportive and positive community around me has become increasingly important to me as I grow older. During my year back at MIT, community integrating and building became one of my primary objectives. My goal was not only to create a community for myself, but also to share my passions and interests with others such that they too would feel a member of the community. I found three main outlets through which I chose to develop my community:
MIT Language Conversation Exchange
In the past few years, I've truly developed a love for language and cultural exchange. My personal experiences abroad coupled with the myriad of multicultural interactions I've had here in the United States has proven the unique importance of understanding people's cultures and backgrounds, which I believe starts with learning their language. Upon returning to MIT after my year abroad, I was determined to cultivate a community of language learners who are passionate about culture exchange in a social context. I became a Graduate Community Fellow for the MIT Language Conversation Exchange (LCE), which formalized my commitment to developing this community on campus. The LCE is a community where people can find language partners who wish to practice each other's native languages. I had found a number of terrific French partners via the LCE as an undergrad, yet the program was considered a "hidden gem" on campus and not many knew of it or were involved. I made it my mission to change that.
I worked in collaboration with the program director, Jennifer Recklet-Tassi, along with a team of volunteers and an additional Graduate Fellow to grow the community. We began with small yet fundamental steps - revamping our publicity efforts, building out our social media, hosting large events for partners to meet. I personally prioritized networking among various entities at MIT that could serve as resources to the LCE, such as our Global Languages department, MISTI (MIT's work-abroad program), and the International Students Office. As we built connections and increased publicity, we saw our participation numbers skyrocket. We began to identify what "worked" and what didn't in terms of incentivizing participation (free food always works). We hosted a series of language learning lunches, where people from across the institute came to practice languages and enjoy ethnic foods. We even grew so much momentum that an instructor of Portuguese requested we conduct a pilot program where an LCE language partner is integrated into the formal language courses. After just 8 months of community building, it was clear that the LCE had become much more than it was when we began. Our final event of the semester - International Karaoke - was just as memorable as it was inspiring, as participants sang in 11+ languages, many of which were non-native speakers of those languages.
One of our very successful language learning lunches, with 50+ participants!
We estimate that we increased participation in the program by 300% (based on number of registered users in our database). We saw more than 500 participants in total at our events throughout the semester, dwarfing participation numbers in past years. Furthermore, the mutually-beneficial relationships we built among the various entities at MIT remain strong, and will continue to serve the LCE for years to come.
Personally I derived much fulfillment from the smiles and laughter of participants as they practiced new languages. I myself enjoyed leading a weekly French conversation group, and chose Italian as my next language to learn. In recognition of our efforts, MIT awarded the Language Conversation Exchange the Bridge Builder Award, presented to a group that has addressed a campus, local community, or global need and has demonstrated a strong commitment to and passion for diversity education and cultural celebration. It was a very fitting ending to an extremely rewarding year.
Receiving the MIT Bridge Builder Award, May 2017
"I really appreciate the LCE program which provides an excellent oppourtunity to meet other people from all over the world, even in a quite surprising way!"
"Being able to challenge yourself to explore the new world that resides inside of the other's culture and language and immerse yourself to the point that you already feel part of a community, that is what LCE means to us! Thank you, LCE and MIT for the great opportunity."
MIT Graduate School Leadership Institute
I also had the great fortune to join a strong community of graduate students by participating in MIT's GSLI program. The MIT Graduate School Leadership Institute (MIT GSLI) is a first-of-its-kind, peer-led collaboration across all MIT graduate schools to further develop the leadership skills, experience, and network of outstanding MIT graduate students who have already exhibited strong leadership capacity. Out of the hectic pace of studying at MIT, the program carves out dedicated time and space for purposeful, authentic reflection and connection across disciplines. According to past participants, this is an intense and deeply rewarding program. A kick-off retreat on Cape Cod and six mandatory weekly meetings build strong friendships, leadership skills and reflections, and a peer network bolstered by alumni programming that continues after the MIT GSLI semester is over.
The GSLI Spring 2017 Cohort during the Cape Cod Retreat Weekend
My GSLI cohort of 35 students came from across the institute - from the Sloan School to the School of Engineering. As an engineer studying computer science, I had so rarely had the opportunity to have such deep, thought-provoking conversations with students from across the institute. These people helped me to think critically about who I am and who I wish to become, and what role leadership will play in my life's journey. I was honored to join this community, and grateful to carry with me the GSLI mentality whenever I interact with people.
MIT Outing Club
The third community that I joined and am now contributing to build is the MIT Outing Club (MITOC). This club is dedicated to helping the MIT and Cambridge community enjoy the great outdoors. MITOC members hike, climb, ski, bike, camp, tramp, backpack, snowshoe, and canoe to the highest, widest, most scenic vistas in New England and beyond. I had always wanted to become an active MITOC member as an undergrad, but doing so required a significant time commitment (often being away from MIT for an entire weekend) that simply wasn't possible in undergrad. Now as a grad student, I found myself with more flexibility in my schedule and therefore I wholly embraced the many adventures possible with the outing club.
With MITOC, I enjoyed winter hiking, cross-country skiing, glissading, downhill skiing, indoor rock climbing, mountain biking, camping, sailing, and even chopping wood! Perhaps even more importantly, I found a real community of like-minded people among MITOC members, with whom I enjoyed hours of conversations about a myriad of topics. When you spend 12+ hours together (4 hours driving, 8 hours hiking) you can learn a lot from these conversations! Perhaps my favorite part of participating in MITOC is sharing my joy of exploring the great outdoors with others - initially as a participant and now as a leader of trips.
"Thank you again for organizing such a fantastic trip. I had an awesome time and it was great to meet you and other great folks. That was hands down the best MTB'ing I've ever experienced!"