Once All The Dust Has Cleared / The Whole Is Greater Than All Of Its Parts

One of my goals last Fall was to keep this blog running throughout the 16 weeks of the semester, and I’m so glad I did it. I think those 16 weeks were better because every week I forced myself to regroup and take a step back from it all to tell you about it. It helped me gained distance and perspective quicker and at the same time keep track of my progress. I am writing now at the tail end of winter break because I kind of want to have closure on the last semester now that it has disappeared in my rearview mirror.

I think we all get so caught up in the semester that it can be tough to realise what’s going on until it’s all kind of settled, or like one of the Political Science TAs said, it’s hard to appreciate what we’ve learned until all the dust has cleared.

Now that I’ve gotten all my grades, had a chance to talk to family and friends about my semester and go over my past 16 posts, I’m starting to see how junior fall has been the best semester I’ve had at Penn. I’m not sure why. It could be that this was the easiest course load I’ve had since freshman fall, that I’ve made some of the best friendships of my life, that I love my off-campus living arrangement this year, that I’ve gotten more used to being at Penn… but most likely it is some combination of all of the above.

At the start of the semester I wrote about what a struggle it can be to feel comfortable and at home at Penn. Yet, here I am, on a warm afternoon in my house in Malaysia, basking in the irony of the fact that I am living out of a suitcase (3 suitcases actually, haha). This will always be home to me, but finding my closet empty and not having my own set of house keys forces me to appreciate the fact that this in-limbo period of my life is one of the braver things I’ve done. Sure, that will be hard to remember when I’m on the 20-hour journey to Philadelphia, eyes swollen from tears and arid from cabin air, but I know I have the resilience to continue doing things that scare me.

If I learned one thing this semester, it is that some of the scariest things I dare to undertake are the most rewarding. I wage wars in my head between feeling incapable and worrying that I am wasting whatever potential I have. The ability and the will to break down the things that scare me and go at them one piece at a time is the peace-deal that I feel assuages and reconciles both sides. This semester my little pieces have appeared in the form of one midterm in a 16-week course, one cover letter in a series of job applications, one box in a crossword puzzle, one push-up at the gym and so many more. Yeah, I know, it’s insanely cheesy but all of these daily life things just now seem so rewarding… and it’s not because I get the grade or the position or the job or whatever the “prize” is at the end (because God knows a lot of times I don’t win) but it’s rewarding to know that I have what it takes to push through.

Spring ’16 is going to be tougher, but I’m going to start a new semester all over again one day and one week at a time–thinking about the course load, goals and responsibilities I have ahead of me makes me chuckle a little in sheer nervousness because I honestly can’t wait to see how I make it through this one and, if you still want to listen, tell you about all the little pieces on the way.

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Week 16: Finals

I’m so thankful to be in such good health this finals season. Last semester, I had a wisdom tooth extraction around this time and it was awful. Also, last weekend, I had such a terrible cold. I was a bit worried I wouldn’t be able to study properly for finals what with being sick and all, but I’m all good now, alhamdulillah. On Friday night, I slept for like 14 hours. It was insane, even I couldn’t believe how tired and sick I was.

But my friends were so great to me while I wasn’t feeling well!! Hui Jie got me cough drops and kept me company at home. Cristina also came by with a wonderful care package consisting of flowers, honey, lemon and camomile tea.

These were such a delight to have when I was sick.

So yeah. I can hardly believe we’re at the end of the semester! There were definitely times where the semester seemed to be endless. Yet, here we are. My last day of classes for the Fall semester was yesterday, and it’s officially finals season. We have Wednesday and Thursday off for what we call “reading days”—time to prepare for final exams—and finals start on Friday.

It’s been pretty busy, I guess. Nothing really interesting has happened. Regular end of the year stuff, like for example, a lot of the club boards are turning over during this time. The board for the dialogue group I’ve mentioned before, Sangam, just ended our “term” or whatever you call it. I decided to reapply, so I’m still going to be doing that next semester 🙂 the outgoing and incoming boards got to meet last week, and we made posters for the newbies! I’m a little sad that I’ll no longer be working with the old board. Andrew was such a good president and I think he leaves big shoes to fill. However, I’m also excited to work with the new board – they all seem really wonderful and I’m genuinely excited to get to know them better over the next year.

Also, this time of year means people are starting to look for summer internships. Eek. I needed to write a cover letter for an application this past week and it was so difficult. I had to like… talk about what I’m good at… and why they should pick me… when I honestly don’t think I’m good at anything and don’t know why they should pick me.

It’s just really frustrating to feel like I don’t have a selling point despite being at a good university. It’s also frustrating because I’m not sure if that’s the problem or if the problem is that I don’t know how to see myself in a good light. There are definitely moments when I wonder if I’ve spent my whole life pushing myself by being too harsh, to the point that I don’t even know how to objectively evaluate myself anymore.

Sitting at the coffee shop trying to write the cover letter was kinda agonising. It made me want to change my mind and not apply at all, because why bother? But then I remembered how I’ve always believed that courage is deliberate, not the default. So I decided I’m going to go ahead with it anyway because I can’t just stick to doing things I’m already comfortable doing and I need to actively be exercising bravery.

On a lighter note, however (!) I bought a new pair of ~girlfriend~ jeans during the sales on Thanksgiving weekend and they just got in a few days ago. I absolutely love them!

I wore them today to the Tea House event. Four of the cultural groups at Penn (Malaysians at Penn, Chinese Students’ Associations, Hong Kong Student Association and South Asia Society) came together to have a tea-themed “study break” where people could stop by and take a break from studying to drink tea, meet new people etc. It was really fun because I got to meet some friends I haven’t seen in a while and lots of new people. I also met two freshman girls who are actually half Malaysian! They were really sweet and I was really happy that they stopped by–I can’t believe I hadn’t met them before today.

Meerie, one of the girls I met today, making teh tarik with our makeshift teh tarik kit, haha.

So that was my week! Largely uneventful, but still a good one. Guess I have to quit procrastinating and get started studying now 😦 bye for now until next semester!

Week 15: Up at 4.23 a.m. for Clarinase

Once again, I find myself writing on here in the dead of the night/in the earliest of mornings. I was sleeping in a rather uncomfortable position–head propped up to help with the whole blocked nose situation, and the sound of my own cough happens to be more effective at waking me up than my alarm sometimes is. I had a pretty bad dream; I dreamt I was at some international negotiation on behalf of Malaysia and had no idea what I was doing. My neighbours haven’t gone to sleep yet as usual, and their laughing makes me summon bucketloads of patience and wish I had earplugs.

But, whatever. I want to back track about 24 hours.

I woke up with this cold (is that what you call it? I’m not really sure what Americans refer to as “cold” or “flu” to be honest… I used to just say I’m sakit and if I had a runny nose, I would call it a flu and if I had a cough, I would call it a cough) that came without warning yesterday morning.

I planned to get some work done but I felt really weak, so I had breakfast on the couch and the next thing I knew, I was asleep again. I woke up right before my class started, but I wasn’t ready for class and I didn’t feel like bolting to get ready for it so I missed it (side note – don’t worry parents, the class is recorded and I will responsibly watch it this weekend and I wasn’t that sick).

As was the tradition this semester, I had lunch with Cristina because it was Thursday. ……… Then I went back to a nap before my next class, heh.

Slightly later in the afternoon, I felt much better and proceeded with the rest of my day normally. I went to my last Cognitive Neuroscience class yesterday evening. I always get really anxious about the last class of every course because the professors always try to impart some wisdom on us and it always makes me really emotional and I always feeling like tearing up in the classroom, haha. Professor Epstein has been really great and I think he’s one of my favourite Psychology professors. To think that I started out really apprehensive about this class because of the biology-related content, only to find myself enjoying it immensely because of how interesting and well-structured he made the class makes me a little less scared of taking on new and challenging things.

He ended the class by reminding us all the things we learned about the brain; from the fact that there are billions of neurons in there undergoing complex processes to how studying the brain leads to understanding the way each of us perceives the world and ourselves. This was what he said:

“From the Homeric Greeks who didn’t even have a word for the mind, we now have a glimpse of how the mind comes into being… how the movement of ions across the membrane can eventually lead to a thought, and a self. We are far from understanding how the link between the ions and the self work, but what I like about this field is that it at least provides a start. And if I can leave you with one thought, just one thought, it’s this: the fact that our minds work, the fact that you can understand what I’m saying, the fact that you can perceive this room and the people in it, the fact that you can remember things that happened to you 10 years ago [is] really kind of.. remarkable.”

This made me really happy, so I thought I’d put it on here in case it makes you happy too. It’s true, we take for granted the fact that we are “walking around with one of the most complex objects in the universe sitting on top of our shoulders” and sometimes it’s nice to be reminded of that, don’t you think? When I heard this, I thought, “wow do I just have really low self-esteem that just reminding myself that I have a brain can already entice my tears to come out?” But then I realised, no, it’s not really that. It really is a remarkable God-given gift.

So then, I went home, feeling pretty content. Plus, what’s more, Thursdays are also gym days! I love Barre Fit classes. I mean, I think I’ve said this before, but I’m always checking the time during class because it feels like it will never end (it helps that the clock in that studio has been broken for months!) and it feels painful and I want to give up every 5 minutes. But I only feel accomplished if I push through, and I always do and always feel better for it.

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We got to take a picture with our instructor Evangelyn! She’s really great; Hui Jie (on her left) and I love this class so much.

We came home after the gym and quickly got ready because–oh, did I mention? It was my birthday yesterday! So I went out for dinner at Audrey Claire with May May, Shahirah and Hui Jie.

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I don’t really have good pictures of our food but this is us huddled together in a grocery store, haha.

On our way back from dinner though, we were in a Lyft car when we stopped at a traffic light in the city nearing campus. Shahirah, riding shotgun, sees someone she knows at the sidewalk next to her. Our driver rolls the windows down and Shahirah starts talking to him, like “hey how are you” etc etc and she even takes a Snapchat video of him saying she saw Ryan on the sidewalk while in a Lyft. We get home and she gets a text from our friend Abdala. He saw her Snapchat and he says no, that is not Ryan. So we all burst out laughing in just utter agony because we were already so full from dinner and so tired. But it was so funny! She stopped to talk to someone while she was in the car, like celebrities do, only to realize it wasn’t him!!! It turns out it was some other person she knew but she had not known his name… I can’t tell you the story really well because I left out some details but if you know Shahirah, you should definitely ask her about it, haha.

So really, despite the irritating “cold” I have (again, assuming I’m using this term correctly…) I had a pretty good day. I really want to go back to sleep now because I have such a long weekend ahead of me. Board turnovers for clubs are happening soon, which means reviewing applications, interviews, elections etc. Plus, just 2 more days of class–a last for all my other classes this semester, and then it’s finals!

Just a little bit longer, now 🙂