The house system is one of the coolest non-academic things about Caltech (by popular opinion, at least), but I do not live in one of them. I live in an apartment off-campus, and have been since the beginning of the summer. Last year, I lived in Caltech off-campus housing, and I realized that it was a huge improvement over living in a dorm. When it came time to find housing for this school year, I realized I didn’t want to be locked into the Caltech housing system, especially since there was a good chance I’d be in one of the non-“house” dorms. After a frustrating and then suddenly-successful apartment hunt, I found an option that was pretty much ideal. Now I live, in common tech parlance, off-off (campus), which indicates that I live neither in a dorm nor in Caltech-owned off-campus housing.
My apartment is directly north of campus. It’s about a block away from the north edge, including buildings where I have classes. I think that even though I’m “off-campus,” I’m much closer to my classes than most people are living in a dorm at larger schools. The dorms are about a ten-minute walk away, less if I’m feeling peppy or riding a bike or longboard. There are a lot of other techers on the same street; there are at least two other apartment complexes that are owned by Caltech and which are full of off-campus sudents. I see a lot of people I know walking to and from campus. There’s even a guy I don’t know who I see riding a unicycle. He’s very good.
One of the best things about living off-campus is being off-board. I think that in general, the food Caltech Dining Services makes is pretty good, especially compared to what you get at other campuses. I really enjoy cooking as a hobby and, on special occasions, as an art. I say on special occasions only because as much as I like cooking, I also realize that cooking legitimately takes a lot of time (cleaning also takes a fair bit). When I have a lot of spare time, it’s not a big deal, but during term, cooking can seem like a major time sink.
This is why it is important to be good at making things efficiently. This does not mean just eating ramen all the time. That is only acceptable some of the time, and when I do that, I usually dress up the noodles with some vegetables and an egg or two, which goes a long way towards making the meal seem more legitimate. There are other good strategies, most of which involve making food ahead of time and storing it up so that it takes less time to prepare later. One of my favorite foods/recipes to this end is making calzones. I made a batch last week, in fact.
The idea behind the calzones is much like buying frozen food from the grocery store, only much healthier and custom-fitted to my tastes. I used fresh pizza dough from Fresh and Easy (a grocery store very convenient to campus) and a combination of frozen and fresh vegetables and cheese for the filling. I cooked frozen bell peppers and onions, fresh tomatoes, and kalamata olives then mixed them with ricotta, mozzarella, parmesan, and a little bit of goat cheese. Then I wrapped the filling with pizza dough into little semi-circular shapes. I froze three of them and baked the fourth for dinner that night. It was delicious.
The calzones are convenient not only because I now have to do a bare minimum of cooking to acquire a filling meal’s worth of tasty hot food, they’re also pretty portable. As much as I’m glad to be out of a dorm, it’s still important to socialize. I must admit I’m not a big fan of eating alone. The calzones are the perfect thing to bring to campus. I can cook them in the oven right before house dinner starts then eat with the rest of my friends.
My favorite part about Caltech is the Houses! The easiest way to describe them is as Hogwarts houses: each has their own personality and group of people and the first thing you do at Caltech is go through a “sorting” process. The people are what makes the Houses at Caltech so great. As a frosh, it’s amazing to be able to come in and immediately have a group of 100+ people to support you. Because the Houses have students from every grade, you make friends with upperclassmen and can ask for help on tons of things like:
It’s crazy to think that it has been four years now since I was applying to college. I remember it vividly. This week we’re spending some time reflecting on our personal admissions processes, and how we ended up at Caltech. There’s one question though that I wanted to spin out into a separate post: “what advice would you give to the admitted class of 2025?” And I think the best way to do this is to tell a more detailed story than I did in my other post.
These past six months have been a whirlwind- from having to move out of Caltech housing in March within a week’s notice due to COVID-19, to starting the first term of my junior year, I’ve definitely experienced a lot of change. When I went home in March, it was to a completely new state-my family moved from Chino, CA to New Jersey in January (great timing, huh?). While I missed seeing my friends from home, it was fun to have the chance to explore a completely new place. The pandemic obviously limited what I could see and do, but I got to experience walks through nature and along rivers normally foreign to a SoCal native and had some time to focus on bioinformatics research for the lab I work with on campus.