29 Sep 2014, 8:45


“It’s not a normal place.”

I’ve been settling into Caltech for the past week or so now. It’s insane.

I spent the first couple days at what they call “Frosh Camp” (I’m not super into this phrasing because it sounds awful) which is when they take all of the Caltech incoming freshmen and take us to a hotel on Ventura Beach, where we get shuttled between all kinds of panels and discussions, and we learn about problem sets and how much soul-crushing work this place is. At least there was plenty of time to swim in the ocean.

In the days since we got back, we’ve had rotation dinners every night. At Caltech there are eight on-campus houses, and the process for sorting all of the incoming freshmen into them is pretty absurd. A lot of people have compared it to the houses at Hogwarts, which I think is correct only inasmuch as this place is a ridiculous fantasy land for most people. Basically you have dinner and dessert at all of the houses over the course of two weeks to get a feel for what they’re all like (really it’s only enough time to form a one-word stereotype [ie jocks, freaks]). Each house has also been putting on rotation events, ranging from paint-dodgeball to capture the flag to board games and boba. It’s been a crazy balancing act of meeting as many people as possible and optimizing which names you actually think you’ll need to remember.

There’s also a weird culture of secrecy around rotation. In order for us to get a better idea of what each house is like, the upperclassmen can’t color our opinions, say, by giving a one-word stereotype of each house. Everyone is so afraid of breaking rotation rules that they’ll barely talk about their own experiences with their house.

Everyone says the workload is going to be nuts. I had my first few classes today, and so far it doesn’t seem too bad. The math problems are pretty intense, and the chemistry is taking a really long time. But you probably don’t care about that.

A couple days after I told the people at work that I was going to Caltech, one of them came in trying not to laugh.

“Noah, I’m not sure I should tell you this, but I found out the woman who mucks out my horse stalls is a Caltech graduate.”

She went on to tell me it was a choice this woman had made and she also tutors kids in math. They talked a little bit about the school. The graduate started by saying “It’s not a normal place.” I have to say I completely agree.