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Making Friends Through SURF

As a rising sophomore, I decided to take advantage of the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program, a 10-week research program, at Caltech. SURF is a great opportunity to work with professors who have expertise in the field, but it also provides you an amazing opportunity to make new friends. According to the Student-Faculty Program office at Caltech, nearly half of SURF students every year come from other institutions. Always wanting to make more friends, my friends and I decided to take advantage of this.

I currently live in a suite in Bechtel residence (one of the unaffiliated undergraduate residences on campus) for this summer, which is where I lived all of my freshman year. Throughout the academic year, I would spend some of my time with my suitemates, but most of my time in different houses with my friends. But as the summer came, campus started to feel emptier as a lot of the students left after graduation, and for off-campus jobs, and remote-SURF works. So, instead of keeping ourselves to a small circle of friends staying on campus, my friends and I decided to branch out a little more and meet students from other schools.

Luckily, there are other suites in Bechtel with visiting students, as Bechtel is hosting 80-90 WAVE scholars this summer. To briefly explain what WAVE is, Caltech’s WAVE Fellows program offers a research opportunity to undergraduate students who are interested in pursuing PhD, who also come from historically marginalized groups in science and engineering. It aims to foster diversity in the field of research. Two of the suites that are down the hallway from my suite were both WAVE suites.

We got to become friends with one of those suites through a pretty interesting occasion. Once, my friends and I were having dinner in one of Bechtel kitchens, and we saw one non-Caltech student (our friend, Sergio), standing outside of the kitchen, waiting for an elevator. We decided to get to know him, and he introduced us to his entire suite, which happened to be the one right next to ours.

It was their first day at work, second day at Caltech, so they were not familiar with the buildings or Caltech culture. So, we decided to give them a house tour. We first took them to Avery, where we happened to meet some Amgen scholars and non-Caltech SURF students. And with a group of nearly 20 people, we went to Afters, one of the go-to ice cream spots for Caltech students, located about 10 minutes walk away from our campus.

Once we came back from Afters, we took them around other houses such as Fleming, Lloyd and Page, introducing them to our friends in those houses. We came back to Bechtel and hung out in their suite until 1 am that night (not thinking about the 8am wake-up for work the next day), and ended up making a group chat together. We still spend a lot of time together, going to local parties and events and introducing them to more of Pasadena. We sometimes go to other houses to play poker, go out to Koreatown to have Korean corn dogs and shaved ice, or get a late-night boba from Twinkle Tea. Fortunately for us, some of them come from local areas such as Santa Barbara, so they have been able to introduce us to LA that we never got to know until now.

Us with some of our WAVE friends at Marina del Rey after watching the 4th of July fireworks

(Above) Us with our WAVE friends after watching the 4th of July Fireworks at Marina del Rey

It can often feel intimidating to have a wave of new people all rushing into your residence for the summer, and you might feel more comfortable sticking to the group of people that you are already familiar with, but the connections and friends I gained through pushing myself out of my comfort zone and reaching out to new people first have become the most valuable part of my SURF experience so far. Even if you feel too shy to talk to new people on your own, there are events that SFP ambassadors organize, so eventually, you will get to meet a lot of new people without having to knock on people’s door to start a conversation. Meet-and-greets are one of the SFP activities that provide great opportunities to network. I’m glad that I was able to form new connections through SURF, and these new friendships have been a huge support for me to adjust to my independent, summer lifestyle.

Rachael Kim

Fleming Class of 2025, CS+BEM