The following post has been transmitted across the oceans by Mitch ('16.5) to me from his highly irregular LOA in Brazil.
Olin is great and all, but one of my best experiences at Olin so far has been in this semester, the first time I've been away from Olin in two years. That's right folks, I've taken the fabled and legendary LEAVE OF ABSENCE.
What is a Leave of Absence, you may ask? At Olin, an LOA is when you leave the school for a semester, usually to do something cool. They're nice in that a) there's no restrictions in what you can do, because you've left the school, b) you do not pay money to Olin, because you've left the school, and c) you get an 'extra' semester at Olin with a scholarship at the end, because you have 8 total semesters of scholarship, because you've left the school. It may seem counter-intuitive that one of the best experiences AT Olin is when you LEAVE it, but really, I'm so glad that Olin cares about its students enough to allow the flexibility to let students leave and do cool things with their lives.
So what is this cool thing I'm doing, you may ask? Well, three otherOlin students and I have gone to São Paulo, Brazil, to help start a new engineering college at Insper business school. And if that doesn't sound like THE COOLEST THING EVER, allow me to explain. Every day, I work with Insper Engineering faculty members to design a curriculum that is innovative, hands-on, and entrepreneurial. I'm a consultant/collaborator on a huge project, and we're trying to make Insper a leader in Engineering Education in Brazil. And the school doesn't even exist yet! Sound familiar?
It's especially interesting, at least for me, because the semester I spend away from Olin is the one in which it's basically my job to think about Olin all the time. I've had a few insights about Olin, about Brazil and about myself, and I think now's as good a time as any to share them with you.
1. Life is FANTASTIC, and people are great.
Really, anywhere you go, from Needham to Vila Olímpia, there's always something to be happy about, and people to be happy with. When anybody used to ask me what my favorite thing about Olin was, I would always say something like "The people. Oliners are excited about engineering, passionate about doing something meaningful, and are generally just good people to be around. And that's pretty true of everybody, the students, the faculty, and the staff." The funny thing is this: I'm now convinced that people are my favorite thing about life! The people at Insper have similar passions, and are similarly kind and interesting. Almost every person I've met in Brazil is friendly, helpful, and fun. Really, anywhere you go, your experiences are not so much determined by what you do or how you do them, but the people you do them with. And in my opinion, there's always 'gente boa' to be with.
2. Olin is really, really weird.
The student life at Olin is totally unique. Students at Olin spend a lot of their time with each other, and a lot of time working on their classes. That's probably somewhat true of any college, but at Olin, it's taken to an entirely new level. Something about spending all of your time with the same 350 people does something to you, where spending more time with those 350 people is all you want to do 90% of your waking moments. This goes back to my first insight, that people are great. But students at Olin have a zeal for life like you wouldn't believe, and they LOVE to learn, to the point where studying is a major 'fun' activity to do with friends. It helps that courses at Olin are interesting, and work feels more like play than actual work, but it really is STRANGE how close Oliners are to each other, and how much they love what they do. Add to that a student-faculty relationship that is so close it's staggering, compared to basically anywhere else, and Olin sounds more and more like an imaginary place than a real institution of learning. And that simple fact is very easy to forget while you're AT Olin.
3. Everyone should take a break from what they're doing.
And I'm not just talking about taking a coffee break, or going on vacation, but taking a full-blown month AT LEAST to step away from your life and do something else. Whether you're at Olin or at work or going to high school, this is a good idea. I love engineering, and although I talk about it all the time, I'm not 'doing engineering' like I do at Olin. And that's great! The work I do here is refreshing, interesting, and helps me be more reflective about my 'normal' life. I know that I will return to Olin more excited about my courses, and more excited to live a good life. My LOA opens my mind to new ways to think about the world, and that's gotta be good for just about everybody. So go press the pause button on your regularly scheduled life and do something exciting - you'll be glad you did.