When I lugged my suitcase back to MIT after my two-week long winter break, I had no idea how many new things I would learn and do in one month. For all of January, MIT has something called IAP, a period of time where we’re free to do anything we want on or off campus—UROP, extern, nothing, etc. My first IAP was amazing, to say the least.

I began my research position at the Media Lab under the Lifelong Kindergarten Group. We’re prototyping a tool to help teachers plan in an easier and more creative way, since most of the tools they use now aren’t well-suited for their needs. It was not only super fun to work in the Media Lab (with its large windows and nice views), but I also got to work with Trinity (who is awesome, by the way) and learned a lot! Plus, the Media Lab hosted a Festival of Learning on January 24th, where the whole third, fourth, and other floor were filled with activities anyone could participate in. Trinity and I went to a DJing session, where we learned to use DJ mixers and software that makes it easier to transition between songs. I’m not an expert, but when I’m asked to say a fun fact about myself, I can say that I learned how to DJ!

During that first week, I also started taking swim classes at MIT (a requirement to graduate!). I’ve taken swim lessons before in fourth grade, but never really learned how to properly swim because I was afraid of drowning. I still don’t really know how to freestyle—a month isn’t really that long when you think about it—but I feel much more confident gliding both with my head in the water and on my back. Nonetheless, swimming is fun and I want to get better at it.

Speaking of classes, I was also enrolled in Code for Good, where you work with your group to help or solve any coding related things a nonprofit might want or have. My team and I were partnered up with YWCA Cambridge, an organization dedicated to eliminating racism and empowering women. They have two rooms that they rent out, but the previous system was inefficient. People filled out a Google Form with details about the rental and kept calling YWCA to check if specific times were available. To reduce this inefficiency, we created a calendar that displayed all of the approved rental times and the booked but not yet approved ones.

I also knew that I wanted to write during IAP. During the first week, a story idea began to simmer in the back of my head and as I kept thinking about it, I grew increasingly more excited. It wasn’t until a week later, however, that I actually caught the end of one of the threads in my mind and knew where to begin. I wrote every day of that week and the next, but I stopped on the last week of January to code and learn new computer science concepts. I’m still in the process of writing the book, so no spoilers for now :)

Most of the people on my floor came back for IAP and it was fun catching up with them. On the first Friday, we rented a ZipCar for a few hours and drove from campus to New Hampshire for Ice Castles—an outdoor exhibit of statues and structures made out of ice. There were some amazing views at the top of the mini castle and a fountain sprouting water against the colorful backdrop. It was cold, but we had fun crawling through small tunnels made out of ice and skidding down a slide they had.

On January 19, we all took another trip to the Skywalk Observatory on the top floor of the Prudential Center. We could see nearly all of Massachusetts, from the towering heights of MIT’s MacGregor to the infamous CITGO sign. The sunset provided a breathtaking backdrop against the bright lights beaming from buildings and cars, sweeping the clouds away with orange, pink, and purple. When the sky darkened, leaving behind lights full of life, we went to get dinner.

All of them knew how to ride a bike and they decided that it was crucial for me to learn as well. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve tried to learn before, but much like swimming, I didn’t really get the hang of it. We went to the area of space to the left of the Infinite—the “Outfinite,” as Fiona calls it—and I got a CitiBike, with Sean helping me balance. After an hour of reattempts filled with frustration, Sean was able to let go and I could ride by myself. But there were many issues. First, I couldn’t get the bike moving by myself; I needed someone to push me off or hold the bike while I started pedaling. I also couldn’t make turns or avoid people because I didn’t feel confident or comfortable leaving the ground; I was scared of having to control a piece of equipment that could go get out of my control at any second.

The next time I tried to bike was to Trader Joe’s for groceries. I kept getting off my bike to readjust because my butt kept sliding off the seat and I couldn’t climb uphill, so a five-minute ride ended up being more like 15. Thankfully, Sean—who is so sweet and an awesome friend—rode alongside me the whole way there. We took a different, flatter route on the way back, and it amazing. It’s cliché to say, but the wind was blowing against my hair and I felt like I was on top of the world for being able to bike without crashing into cars. But little did I know, I still needed more practice.

I attended the TechTogether Boston Hackathon on the last weekend before second semester started with my roommate. We created Open Streets, a crowdsourcing platform that promotes a more clean, collaborative, and connected community by allowing users to post issues they notice in their surrounding locations, share details about the assistance that may be required, and automatically update the addresses and dates of when the posts were made. I worked on creating the map using Leaflet and reverse geo-encoding the addresses, as well as connecting the frontend to MongoDB using Mongoose. When we presented our project on Sunday, we didn’t think we were going to win anything, so we left early to get Bonchon chicken for lunch with our other roommate. But one of our friends texted us and told us that we’d won the MLH Best Use of MongoDB prize and thankfully, we were 10 minutes away.

My two roommates wanted to bike back to campus from Boston, so we all got on CitiBikes, but something felt off. It was difficult for me to get the bike moving at first and my reaction speed seemed to be slower than usual. Maybe I was tired from staying up to finish the hackathon project or the bike lane wasn’t as flat as I was comfortable with, but I crashed into a pole. I remember trying to brake with my right handle, but I couldn’t seem to slow down. My eyes were aimed right at this pole in front of me and for some reason, I knew that I was going to crash into it. When I reached the pole, I threw the bike to the ground—perhaps to stop myself from tripping on top of it or from flying backwards—and angled my head so that my chin hit the pole. It began to emit a loud, hollow sound from the force and my chin hurt for weeks after. I’ll be practicing the safe vicinity of the Outfinite before I try to ride on the roads again.

I’ve learned and had so much fun in January. I overcame some of my fears and tried new things, which I would never have expected during IAP. But most importantly, I learned that if you want to stop completely on a bike, you need to brake both handles, not just one.