The last time I wrote a blog post, it was approximately 5 a.m. and I was cozied up in bed with a fever and couldn’t fall asleep (update: I’m all better now). Today, it’s about 5 p.m. and I just spent the last 30-or-so minutes in bed trying to fall asleep but feeling haunted by the lingering image of the monster that is my to-do list. It feels like all those times I just couldn’t reach for the extra cookie because I knew I didn’t go to the gym that week. Thankful for this discipline but boy is it frustrating sometimes..
I had two exams this week and have a paper due on Friday, which I need to start like, now. I told myself that if I finish writing my paper by 12 p.m. on Friday, I will buy myself a fruit smoothie and I really really really want that smoothie. The exams went well though, alhamdulillah. I have another exam next week which I’m quite nervous about because I’ve never taken a political science class or write an essay on the kinds of things we learn in that class. But as I was thinking about that today, I suddenly recalled feeling the same way for the literature class I took last semester. English literature is so not the kind of class I usually take, and it was not something I had much expertise in. I mean, we only read abridged versions of “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” and “Phantom of the Opera” throughout the 3 years we prepared for PMR, and then suddenly I had to read 9 whole books and a whole bunch of other supplementary reading in 15 weeks. I was really scared to write an essay for that exam but I did alright–definitely was not an amazing grade, but I was proud of myself for trying something new and interesting and not being ashamed to struggle for it. I guess all of this kind of gave me peace of mind, because I know I have surprised myself with scary oh-my-god-how-am-I-ever-gonna-get-past-this challenges before and loved it, so I know I can do it again (guys, it’s been a while since I’ve had faith in myself like this, it’s so rare and I’m rather pleased).
Highlight of the week: other than making it out of my exams more-than-alive, I am now the proud owner of two plants! I’ve been planning to get a plant for about a year now, but today, between classes, I walked past the farmers market, saw a really lovely selection of cute little potted plants, and in the spur of the moment, made my one-year-dream come true. It’s only been a brief 3 hours with my babies, but I love having a living thing around that doesn’t talk or make voluntary movements, you know? Is that weird? Oh well, it’s true.
Today, I still have to attend a meeting, read 2 chapters for a class, outline my 6-page paper and cook…. and there’s only about 6 hours left to the day. It’s really annoying to always feel like I must do everything (and do it well), but I think this is what it feels like to be pushing myself healthily and I’m just going to confront this discomfort by going through it. *cringe* Baby steps! The next time you hear from me insha-Allah it will be ~fall break~, all I’m currently worried about will be behind me, it will be amazing and I can’t wait.
Hey friends! Selamat Hari Raya Aidiladha, Eid al-Adha Mubarak 🙂 I’m done with about a third of my junior fall semester alhamdulillah. I think I’m still doing pretty well, and I’m still on track, and I’ve learned now that I need to pat myself on the back when I am doing good. However, I’m experiencing a little itsy bitsy minor hiccup as we speak because I’ve fallen sick 😦 I think it’s just a normal cold/headache/fever thing, and the doctor said it could be due to stress. I had the same headache for 3 days and yesterday Panadol didn’t even work on me so I was very worried and went to Student Health Services (SHS). They gave me a painkiller shot which should make me better soon, but I’m also eating lots of fruits and drinking warm milk with honey so insya Allah (god willing!) I will be up to my normal level again in no time. I’m writing this as I’m cozied in bed with a body temperature of 39 degrees C, at 5 a.m. on a Thursday morning because I’m supposed to “take a break” but I can’t sleep.
Interesting things that happened this week? I had my first exam for the semester and it was on Evolutionary Psychology. It went okay, I suppose. I did my best and I think I did everything I could to prepare so I’ll be fine with however it turns out.
I went to my friend Ken’s house for the first time for his housewarming party. His roommates Lian Han and Shaun were very nice and hospitable. They had longan and lots of my childhood snacks, which really made my day.
My friend Cristina had a simple presentation on the history of Palestine, and I went to support her. I think she was quite nervous because as she said, it was her first time “taking on more of a role”. But she did really well and I’m proud of her! I love being around people who are passionate about great causes.
The most exciting thing that happened to me this week actually didn’t really happen to me. My sister started university! She’s now a first-year medical student at Barts in London! I’m super proud of her, because it has always been her dream to study medicine. She has known what she wants for the longest time and worked consistently towards it for years and years. I know many of you who are reading this know her personally, so you know what a hardworking person she is and has always been.
Earlier this week, she texted Julia and I saying she feels like an ant in a sea of elephants. My heart kinda sank a little, because I remember that’s how I felt throughout my freshman year at Penn and it sucked. I never felt like it was okay to not be working because I needed to catch up, to measure up to all the other kids. I always felt like I needed to be doing 5 more things than I knew I could handle. I would turn to the mirror, confused, when people called me “capable” or “smart”, because I was aching to see that in my own self. I can’t say I’ve completely stopped feeling that way, but it has gotten a lot better as I’ve gone through a couple of years here, and I’ve mellowed down a lot.
Of course, it takes a lot to learn to shake that feeling off. Too often, people say “just be confident” or “nah, you can do it” or even “I believe in you” to remedy that. I understand that they’re well-intentioned, but these phrases never did anything for me other than frustrate me because they failed to recognise how far I felt I needed to go to feel confident. I thought I couldn’t “just be confident” because if it were really that easy, I would’ve done it a long time ago. I remember always mentally retaliating, “Well, tell me how! Somebody tell me how.“
So I’m not gonna say that to my sister. What I would say though, is to implement “circuit breakers”. Something that you know will help you when you feel that way. It’ll take time, naturally, to figure out what that is for her. For me, it meant keeping a note, and I mean like a physical piece of paper that lists a bunch of things I know will comfort me. There’s something to remind myself that the sincere and true effort of trying to get where I wanna be is worth so much more than actually getting there, because at the end of the day God knows what’s best for us. I remind myself not to compare my progress to how other people are doing because we’re just different. I write a favourite doa (prayer) asking for patience and strength. I try to tell myself that if I had what it takes to get here, I can make it another mile, and another mile, and another mile–one step at a time until I’m done. And so can she. I have so much faith in my sister, and I think she’s gonna do just fine.
So I’m gonna sign off now, get some rest and focus on getting better. The pope is coming to Philadelphia this weekend so we have Friday off (yay for long weekends) and that gives me some time to prepare for the craziness that is next week (I have 2 exams and an 8-page paper to write, eep!). But autumn has officially started and I can smell fall break around the corner, so that’s some light at the end of the short-term tunnel to look forward to 🙂
The past two summers I’ve been back, I’ve often found that it’s been difficult to answer simple questions like “how do you like your university?” or “what is Penn like?”. It’s hard to do justice to questions that require you to somehow summarise your entire year in a relatively unfamiliar place. It’s hard to share with people this experience if I’m not having proper conversations with all of them regularly–something very difficult to do because of time constraints and time differences. Being really close to my family and friends, I like being able to share my experiences with them. Not being able to tell them about my life abroad just, well, sucked, because it’s currently a huge chunk of my life. This is why I decided to write about my week in detail, as much as I can remember and think is significant. It’s a far-from-perfect representation of my entire year at Penn, especially given the fact that exams haven’t started, but maybe it’ll be a good jumping-off point. So, here it is.
Didn’t get out of bed until 11 a.m. because Hui Jie and I stayed up watching Running Man and talking while being slumped in my couch until late at night the night before. Later in the afternoon, I had lunch with my friend Adriel who’s from Singapore. I was so lazy to do any walking that I asked him to meet me at the Thai restaurant in my apartment building.
At night, my friend Fahmida organised a pot-luck type thing in her room for the MSA girls. It was really nice to meet the freshmen who all seem to be great girls. We pretty much just ate briyani, danced to desi/arab music and made a lot of noise. Honestly, it’s the closest thing I have here to spending time with my cousins at home.
It was labour day, so we didn’t have classes. I stayed in for most of the day. I cooked the chicken (the breaded chicken tenders from my last post!) and watched a lot of The Big Bang Theory. I did about 50 pages of reading for my classes, which honestly, was not as much as I could/should have done.
Monday is also the day I have club meetings. One of the clubs I’m in is Penn Sangam–we organise dialogue events once a month where we moderate a discussion on a specific topic within the context of the Asian community. After the Sangam meeting, I had to go to the Malaysians@Penn (M@P) elections. I brought poppadoms. I also got re-elected as External Affairs chair. It probably sounds like a bigger deal than it is, because M@P doesn’t even have 30 members.
As on most days, I cook eggs in the morning. My earliest class is on a Tuesday–I have Ideas in Mathematics at 9.30 a.m. at the opposite end of campus. Then, I have Evolutionary Psychology right after. It’s 5 blocks down from the Math building, and I’m always late because I can never make it there in the 10 minutes I get between classes. I have a 1-hour break after this, and I usually go home for breaks to eat, pray and sometimes even nap.
Then, I have a Sociology class which is Educational Inequality. We learn about how educational opportunities intersects with class, race, politics and stuff like that. Tuesdays are also my longest days so I have one more class after this, and it’s Cognitive Neuroscience. Yeah, you can tell how scary it is from the name. So far we’re learning about neurons and the brain–things I haven’t thought of since I finished SPM almost 5 years ago.
After my last class, the day is still far from over, much to my dismay. I went home to cook dinner and do some reading for class for a while before I have to head out again. I’m a coordinator in a volunteering group called Write On! that mentors middle school children and teaches them creative writing. Because it’s the new school year, we’re looking for new students to join the group. We had an event last Tuesday where we pitch it to a bunch of people who’re interested and encourage them to apply to join. There is also free pizza.
Afterwards, I go home and do laundry while watching some TV. At this point, I was very worried about how I will handle all my classes because I’m going through my readings very slowly (they’re so hard for me to understand, honestly) and I find it so difficult to keep up with taking notes in my Neuroscience class.
I wake up extra early today to go to my favourite coffee shop to finish my readings (which were due to be read by 2 p.m. that same day). After I’m done, I go to relax outside because the weather was amazing. As I’m lazing at College Green, I remember I don’t have time to be chilling because I needed to see my faculty advisor about questions I had on my Psychology research requirement. So, I run a few blocks to his office so that I have time to see him before class. I was quite worried about it so he gave me some advice about how to start and said I’m on track time wise, so that made me feel better. Then I have to rush to Math class but I make it in good time. Despite all that physical activity, I was so sleepy in class.
Then, I got lunch at the halal food truck because I didn’t feel like cooking. On Wednesdays after lunch, I have a Political Science class called Political Change in the Third World (this is the class I was rushing my readings for, lol). It’s very interesting and Hui Jie is also in the class with me! The professor talks a lot so my hands are always tired after 50 minutes of speedily taking notes. Right after this lecture, I have recitation for this class. Recitation is kinda like tutorials in Malaysia and even the UK, I think. We have to discuss the assigned readings.
Discussion-based classes make me feel so nervous. Sometimes, when I think of something to say, I can’t say it because I’m so nervous I can hear my heart beat in my ear. I used to be so scared to say anything in class because I was scared my heart beat would be louder than my own voice and I won’t know what I’m talking about. Things have gotten better, but I can’t believe I’m in Junior year (third year) of college and I’m still nervous about talking in class..
Right after class, I have to go to PAACH — the Pan-Asian American Community House. PAACH is a cultural center for Asians; a space for us to chill, get together and reach out to staff for help/support. As a representative of Penn Sangam, I have to go to their open house to talk about PAACH, what it does and also about the club I’m representing. It was a little tiring because it was a lot of smiling and high-energy talking, but it was fun I guess. After the open house, I stopped by at Houston Hall to see my friend Ken. He was presenting his summer research project, and I wanted to support him! And then I went home, completely pooped out.
I woke up early and made eggs for breakfast again as usual. Then I went to the coffee shop downstairs to do some readings and revision–going over my notes, watching some videos of stuff I didn’t quite understand. I had my first class at 10.30 a.m. and we learned about kin recognition. After class, I had to go to the Netter Center to get my security clearances done. I guess it’s kinda like a background check? It’s for my Sociology class–there is a volunteering aspect to the course which means we get to go to a school in South Philadelphia once or twice a week to understand the schooling system through a hands-on perspective.
Then, after lunch, we went to visit the school. It’s about a 25-minute train ride away from campus. It was really interesting to see the condition of the school. Public schools are largely under-funded in Philadelphia, and so they’re getting a lot of help from universities and other institutions like Penn which is partly why we’re there. Everyone at the school was great. The staff were all really nice and the kids are adorable! After a 30-minute tour of the school, I had to rush back to campus for class. A few of us took the cab because it was raining and we were short on time. I was a little bit soaked when I got to class so I felt really gross and found it difficult to concentrate.
After class, I went back home to get changed into my gym clothes. Hui Jie and I went for a gym class called Barre Fit. It’s a lot of slow, controlled movements with lots of reps. Think ballet foot work + weights. It was so painful, and by the end of it my legs were jelly but I LOVED IT. Because I was soaked once with rain and then twice with sweat, I went home to take a good long shower. I made prawns with thai chilli sauce and peppers and onions like my mom makes sometimes for dinner. Then I went to the Muslim Students Associations (MSA) gathering for a while to see my friends.
It was still raining when we left, but Shahirah and I wanted to go to Trader Joes (best grocery shop I’ve ever been to). I got my usuals: salmon, eggs, cheese, yogurt, soy milk and apples (which are the bulk of my diet, really). Then we were stuck at the shop for a while because the rain was so heavy. We ended up taking a Lyft back and the driver was really nice.
Once we got home, I was so tired but because I’m one of the coordinators for Write On!, I had to read through the applications we received for potential volunteers and rate them. I can’t imagine what it must be like to read college applications. I read just over 50 short club applications and already found it so difficult to pick my favs. It was difficult because everyone was so accomplished and also, to be honest, sounded the same.
Breakfast: eggs. Yes. Again. Always. Everyday. Forever. Also had mango juice, that was new. I had an earlier-than-usual Friday this week because we coordinators had to deliberate who would be part of Write On! and send out the acceptance emails. Then, I went to class. Some people don’t have class on Fridays but I think I prefer having one to keep me busy all week. After class, I went to a Career Fair for the first time! I felt so lost. I didn’t even know it was held at Sheraton, or that you needed to bring a resume, or that you get a name tag printed for you, or that there’s AN APP to help you navigate the fair, much less know what to say to recruiters. It was slightly overwhelming, but luckily I had friends to go with me and honestly, it wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be.
I went home for lunch, watched some TV and took a nap. Later at night, I got to catch up with two of my friends, Habeeb and Zohair. We took the Penn Transit bus (which is FREE, I never knew?!?!) and we went to the city to chill at Rittenhouse Square, which is a nice park to relax at! I love sitting on the benches and talking. It’s always a good time. I’ve always wished I could do that with my family and friends from home.
Finally the weekend!!!! I woke up early, made breakfast and did what I was procrastinating all week: cleaned the kitchen. Specifically, there were some old rags in the kitchen I’ve been meaning to wash/throw out but was too grossed out to touch. In the end it took less than 10 minutes, and I love it when things tend to be not as scary as they seem in my head.
Later that same morning, I went to try my first spin class! If you’ve never heard of it, it’s a cycling-ish class in the gym, where you cycle at the speed and resistance level you instructor tells you to be. There are sprints, and different “poses” like standing/sitting etc. It was really tough and I hated it and I was ~15rpm slower than she told us to be for most of the class. I’m sure it’s a great work out but I doubt I’ll be going back any time soon!
I went home to shower and eat lunch. I was too lazy to cook, so I went for my trusty salmon salad and peaches which is really low-effort. I did more reading yet again, and then went to the city. I needed to go to Center City because I bought a sports bra in the wrong size and had to return it. But since I was there, I went to La Colombe again to get their draft latte and stayed to finish my Political Science readings for the coming week. An hour later, as I sat at a table by the window peacefully reading, someone suddenly bangs on the window in front of me. I was so taken aback I almost fell off my stool. It was my friend Adam who saw me as he was walking past. It turns out a bunch of my MSA friends were chilling in the city because Fayaaz, who graduated last year and is now working in Atlanta, was here to visit. So I ended up walking home with them because if I was alone I would’ve spent $2.25 on a bus ride home. With company though, it’s a nice walk back to campus.
I was quite tired when I got home but I still had work to do. Every time I finished a chapter or one problem set, I would reward myself with one episode of TV. And I did that until I went to sleep.
So that was a somewhat-faithful description of my week. I mean, I didn’t include a lot of things. For example, every time I walk to my math class, I’m always soaking through my t-shirt and it looks like I’m crying because sweat is just dripping down my face until my glasses get fogged up. The chicken I made last Monday tasted good after baking but the breadcrumb skin wasn’t as crispy as I wanted it to be so I had to lightly fry it. I walked into wrong classrooms multiple times. I was nominated for President of M@P but was too scared to lead anything. I had to miss a gym class on Wednesday because I forgot to buy a class pass in time.
All in all, I think my Penn experience has been great because of the variety I’m presented with: I’m currently in 4 different clubs and I have friends from all over the country and the world. But it’s also difficult in many ways: I always feel like I should be either doing more or be doing better. Even though I’m already swamped and unsure of how to balance everything on my plate, I’m always dealing with a sense of fear that I’m not doing my best, or that I’m not living up to my standards. I think wanting to do more and do better is a great attitude to have and I’m thankful I have that motivation, but I’m constantly trying to be mindful of how I channel that energy into my daily life. It’s so easy to turn this energy into a self-deprecating voice, but I really need it to be a constructive, productive force or whatever.
Admittedly, this was a really great week. I got a lot of things done, and managed to have a lot of fun too. It was a great balance. Like I said earlier though, not every week is like this. Sometimes I’m too tired to go to the gym the whole week. Sometimes I eat maggi four times a week because I’m too lazy to do groceries. Sometimes I can’t answer any questions in class because I didn’t do my readings in time.
But I’ve always dreamed of becoming superwoman. I’ve always wanted to do everything. It’s not always going to go my way, and honestly, things rarely go my way, if ever. Most of the time I don’t have this balance, but it is always great to keep trying to get there.
My labour day long weekend was good. I love the 28°C weather, city streets and iced lattes. I love the view of the Schuylkill river as the 21 bus crosses over the bridge that links Center City to Penn. I like feeling okay enough to walk around on my own and feeling like the language and the roads are familiar to me. I like feeling like I know what I’m doing–which, often times I don’t. But I try!
Trips into the city are fun but this week I also made money because I managed to sell some of my clothes at a thrift store! They’re quite selective so they only took a few items but I donated the rest of my stuff–a suitcase and two paper bags worth of clothing. They say you gotta take out the old in order to make room for the new and it really felt like a good cleanse, getting rid of those things I’ve been hanging on to for years without actually using. I also bought candles because apparently I have a thing for candles. Eucalyptus Mint, Autumn and Mahogany Teakwood. I’m telling you, Bath & Body Works is a big booby trap that lures you in with the smell and then really hooks you with their good customer service and discounts. Candles make me feel very relaxed and it gives me the impression that my bedroom is nicer than it is.
The most exciting part of my weekend was La Colombe’s draft iced lattes. They started serving these over the summer and it’s one of the few things I was looking forward to, coming back to America. It was smooth, silky, foamy goodness coming out from the tap. It’s so light, yet so rich. I finished one, chucked it and got myself another right away because it was so much better than I expected and that’s saying a lot because I had verrrry high expectations for this one.
I also pretended that I knew what I was doing in the kitchen, as per usual. I made pasta for the first time in months, and I made breaded chicken for the first time in ever. Both were pretty good, I have to say, considering my cooking skills are still rather under-developed.
I call this one: Pasta With All the Random Stuff in My Fridge I Wanna Finish
And this one was just breaded chicken tenders.
Labour day weekend was also fun because the extra time meant that all my friends were also free to hang out! I got to go to the Spruce Street Harbour Park, which is the summer park that appears at Penn’s Landing every year and also got to have brunch and slump in bed, watch 20 over episodes of TV and eat pizza.
I also studied and went to the gym but I didn’t take pictures of those.. Also there is absolutely nothing interesting to say about going through 200+ pages on colonialism, natural selection and patterns in math. But anyway, I had a lot of fun this weekend and I’m not quite looking forward to the 4-day week ahead. I’m in bed dreading class as I type this, but I gotta get going, so bye until next week 😦
In 2013, I moved into my single dorm room on the 4th Floor in Fisher Hassenfeld. It was my first time being away from my family, and now I’ve been enrolled at Penn for two years. But this morning—in fact, most mornings—I wake up almost needing a moment to calibrate myself to my surroundings.
To put it simply, sometimes Penn just does not feel real and I felt that way this past week more so than usual. Call it denial if you like, and you would not be wrong. Like I said, I was hardly mentally ready to come back to school. My first week of classes went okay but I still found it difficult to digest the fact that I had readings and assignments to do because all I wanted to do was still to eat maggi, sleep, watch Korean dramas and listen to Justin Bieber (which is so odd for me–Justin Bieber, especially. What?!).
Not to be cheesy or anything, but I was really stuck in a post-summer daze. I mean, I guess that’s understandably normal, and I wasn’t alone. The day after we got back to Penn, my friends Shahirah, May May, Hui Jie and I stayed in Shahirah’s and my apartment pretty much all day talking about how crazy it is that we’re juniors in college now and still don’t have much figured out.
But we have to have discipline and responsibility and whatever, right?
So besides classes, last week I also took a couple of walks in the city, went to my gym classes, cleaned the apartment and went back to cooking meals for myself. Oddly enough, it felt strangely nice to be on my own again.
It felt nice to cook myself breakfast, lunch and dinner again. It felt nice to reach 10,000 steps a day, to run errands on my own without waiting for someone’s car to be available, to be able to walk out to get froyo, walnut shrimp and dan dan noodles and to have so many of my friends from all around the world within walking distance again.
Honestly, I forget how much I like taking care of myself until I actually have to be independent. Although, that said, yesterday I was imagining married life and started crying because I don’t wanna ever not live with my parents, hehe (hashtag anak sulung paling manja). I miss my family so much but I’m not going to talk about that right now because I’m not really in the mood to entertain another one of my 20-minute crying spells.
So, anyway! For now, I have to fully snap out of my ~easy breezy summer~ mood. I need to accept that I need to work very, very, very hard. It’s going to be slightly uncomfortable to go back to pushing myself, but I think I’ve been doing the bare minimum for too long and want to step it up again. Plus, I don’t really have much time to spare for this annoying case of denial I have because the semester will pick up very soon. My first exam is in 2 weeks, I think. Yikes. Wish me luck!