I’ve had a pretty good time this past week, I can’t complain too much. My club put together our semesterly speaker event last week, which was pretty cool. Once a semester, we invite a prominent Asian figure to speak about their experiences and this semester, we got Yellow Rage, a Philly-based spoken word duo to come perform and talk about their current projects. It was a really great performance and I’m glad our team got to have dinner with them afterwards too. It was tough pulling this event together. I didn’t think it would be this difficult but I’m so proud of the team for making it happen. The event was good; I think when I’m organising something I scrutinize every little thing that could’ve been better and get stressed out about it. But people seemed to enjoy it and anxieties aside, I think it went pretty well!
Another really exciting that happened is that I’m done with classes for junior year!!! Classes ended for this semester on Wednesday and it’s now reading days, which is basically a time for me to half-heartedly prepare for finals I am not ready for.
All of this also means my friends and I are pretty much seniors now! We had Hey Day today, to celebrate the ~moving on up~ of the junior class to becoming senior class. It’s just some Penn tradition thing—we wear red t-shirts, styrofoam hats and carry around wooden canes and we march down Locust Walk together. I mean, I honestly did not enjoy it as much as I thought I would. The picnic part of the morning was so disorienting… everyone was loud and drunk, and I hate crowds so all of that made me really antsy. People were also like, rounding up their friends to get group pictures, which was really difficult because I’d be pulled aside to take one picture but as we’re walking around trying to complete that group, I’d bump into someone else who’s looking for me and all of that just made me really dizzy. But it was still moderately enjoyable (haha) because I’m glad I got to see a lot of my friends today and I’m happy to be this much closer to senior year.
Just before Hey Day started though, I attended the Psychology department’s poster presentations, where all the students who did their independent research studies in the department get to talk about what they’ve worked on and discuss their findings with other students and professors. Some of my friends and classmates were there presenting their work, which was really awesome to see! I really love seeing people accomplish things and I was honestly really amazed by a lot of their work. I was particularly happy to meet this one girl, whose project I will be developing further for my research project next year. I got to talk to her about working with the Psycholinguistics professor in the lab and her experience with the project in general. She seemed really excited to know that I was going to be continuing this work, which I thought was really sweet. Coincidentally, the person who worked on this project before her was also there the same time I was and it was… amoment.You know? It’s like 3 generations of students who will have worked on this project and are really excited about this topic. They were both very supportive and I really appreciated that.
On the whole though, this week has really been all about the end of year events. I just got back from the senior farewell dinner with the Malaysians at an Indonesian restaurant in South Philly. It’s a little sad to see them go but I’m so excited for everything that’s ahead of them. There was also a end-of-year dinner for the Asian community house and I got to go. The speeches were really moving and it’s always nice to come together and congratulate the graduates. 🙂
I’m really looking forward to getting a break from Penn, honestly. But first, I have a 7-page paper to write and 3 finals to take so……. I’m going to go to sleep, hehe. Until next time!
I want to start by acknowledging that I do complain about Penn a lot. It is overwhelmingly competitive, stressful, tiring and annoying. It’s like trying to take a sip from a waterfall, sometimes. But of course, waterfalls can also be wonderful. This past week was pretty great, and I am writing while looking out my window, realizing for the first time this semester that the trees are green again.
Today, I had lunch with Professor Pollack who teaches my International Political Economy class. Anyone who knows me knows that I rave about his class constantly. I have to write 5 two-page papers for his class (and again, if you know me, I utterly despise writing papers for classes) but even while I’m writing my IPE papers I’m like “OMGI love this class!!!” First, Professor Pollack is exceptionally engaging in the classroom and he’s so good that, quite ashamedly, it’s the first semester I’ve had a perfect attendance record for a 9 a.m. class.
The course content is also really interesting; it covers topics like economic history, financial and sovereign debt crises, trade and multilateral agreements, monetary policy, development etc using the framework of interests and institutions. So like, what are the interests of the different groups of society when it comes to trade, for example? What are the roles of domestic and international institutions? I think the framework is also really useful to learn because I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know a lot about the world, but this class truly has helped me learn to become an informed member of society… if that makes sense.
Anyway, enough nerd talk. Lunch with Professor Pollack was so much fun. I understand professors are accomplished people with busy schedules so the fact that he willingly sat down with me and my friend Christina for two and a half hours just talking about what he’s learned from being in his field, from teaching, from parenting and from life in general really meant so much to us. He talks about the colleagues he admires and calls them “superstars” but oh my god, as far as Penn professors go, he’s definitely one of my superstars. I’ve said it before, but I think people who offer their time and their insights to others so kindly are so generous and I am thankful to know people like that.
And speaking of superstars, (wow, what a smooth transition!) apparently, Penn is full of them. In the past two weeks, I’ve gotten to see 2 shows put on by Penn students. The first was Memphis, put on by the African American Arts Alliance. It’s set in the 1950s and centers around a white DJ, Huey, who plays black music on the radio, and falls in love with an African-American singer, Felicia. I went to see it because my friend Habeeb was in the band, playing the drums, and I’m so glad I decided to go because I had so much fun!
This past weekend, I saw All Shook Up, put on by the Quadramics Theatre Co. It’s a whole musical built up of Elvis’ hits and it’s some kind of a love pentagon (?) kind of story which starts off with this “roustabout” coming to town and shaking things up. My god, I, love, musicals. LOVE THEM. Seriously, I had such a great time. And considering I went to see the show alone, I really had a great time. Like the other show, I went because my friend Clare is involved with it. We had brunch a couple of weekends ago (at the place with the best hot sauce I’ve had in America) and she told me about how she’s assistant stage manager so I wanted to go support her and again, I’m infinitely glad I did. I’m so, so proud of her! Plus, I later found out that my classmate from cultural psychology, Nate, was also one of the cast members. I was also happy to see him perform and was just amazed by his (and the other cast members’) performance.
Not only were the two shows spectacular, but I also really love taking a step back to just be in awe of the amount of talent I am surrounded by here on campus. Because, I mean, on a day to day basis, it gets overwhelming. I sometimes feel like I’m the only one here who isn’t doing 50 things at once. But other times I get to realize how lucky I am to be around friends and other Penn kids who are just… remarkable.
Watching All Shook Up was just one part of a great fling weekend, though. So, if you’re not from Penn, Spring Fling is what some people refer to as a “weekend of debauchery” — there is a carnival in the Quad, a huge concert on Friday night (this year we had Chance the Rapper, last year was Kesha and the year before, we had David Guetta), and, from what I gather, many many many frat parties. As you can imagine, that’s not a lot of fun for me. I don’t love the crowd and I don’t wanna fork out the money to go see a performer I won’t enjoy, so I’ve never had the “conventional” fling experience. Instead, my friends and I do what’s fun for us. On Friday, I went to Fairmount Park with Hui Jie, Jamie and Selina. We saw the quaint little Shofuso Gardens and took lots of silly pictures. Later that night, Adel and Ahsen had a bunch of MSA people over at their place and we played Mafia and ate desserts and somewhat surprised Sanaa for her birthday at midnight 🙂 On Saturday, as is tradition now for the class of ’17 Malaysians, we have a fling weekend picnic! I think part of what I like about being a junior in college, is that I now know how to navigate parts of college I don’t enjoy by doing things I do enjoy and being with people whose company I value.
In fact the entire last week was pretty good. On Wednesday, I got to attend a talk by, or, well, I guess it was more of a conversation with Ben Bernanke. He was the chair of the Fed during the American financial crisis and given everything I had learned in class this semester, it was super interesting to me. He talked a little bit about how he got to where he is, defended the decisions he made during the crisis and talked about his book “The Courage To Act.” It was pretty cool to be, as Professor Pollack said, “in the same room with a historic world figure.”
Summer break is fast approaching and as the semester is kind of winding down, people are trying to catch up with each other. It’s quite difficult to see all the people you care about consistently throughout the semester because we have a lot of papers to write, hundreds of pages to read, exams to take, meetings to run and etc… so I appreciate it when friends like Iman understand that and give me room but also let me know they’re there for me if I need them. Iman, exactly one year ago today actually, helped take care of me when I had my wisdom tooth extraction. Even though I don’t see her a lot, I know she’d still make time for me 🙂 we had the chance to grab dinner last week at Honest Tom’s (ahhh their sweet potato tacos!!!) and it’s really nice to end a long day with a good friend.
Shahirah and I also got to catch up with Marcus, who’s a Malaysian graduating this year!! We always say he’s kinda like an uncle because of his mannerisms but we love him, he’s so nice. I also love that he’s the first guy I’ve met who is as scared of dogs as I am. He took us to Dock Street for pizza and it was one of the best pizzas I’ve ever had! Maybe the best but I’m refraining from making that statement because I know I have a tendency to overuse superlatives. The pizza I chose had brie and pear on it, which was a delightful combination. The one Shahirah chose had egg on it!!! I LOVE EGGS so yeah it was 10/10.
Next week is the last week of classes!!!! I am so excited because it’s Hey Day next week, which is when the juniors march down Locust Walk and are “declared” seniors. And also because I am tired and ready for a break. Anyway, so I think this post is long enough, and I’ll leave you for now. Byeeeeee.
[Trigger warning: this post talks about a recent tragic incident that happened at Penn]
It was a nice morning in the spring of my Freshman year. My hallmate and good friend, Claire and I were having brunch at the dining hall in Hill when we got an email from our RA offering support in light of the recent tragic news. We didn’t know. Then, we found out that a fellow classmate had committed suicide the day before. She lived in the dorm we were eating in at that exact moment. We continued our daily lives, shaken, but ultimately, unscarred.
That was 4 semesters ago. I thought it would be the only time I’d experience news like that. But since then, we’ve lost way too many. I could say all of their names here, and I could even tell you the scary statistic that lingers over this institution but I won’t, because they were more than a list and more than a statistic. They were real people who walked on the same Locust Walk I use to go to class, people I’ve probably bumped into, people I have mutual friends with, people with vivid and complex lives.
Yesterday, we lost Olivia.
I didn’t know her, but it pained me to think about this loss. Like me and most of my friends, she was also from the Class of 2017, poised to sit on Franklin Field next May in a cap and gown. Like my friend Wendy, she was in the CSA culture show. Like my friend May May, she was in the PGN business fraternity. Like my friend Busra, she was in the APO service fraternity. She registered for classes, took midterms, was involved in campus organisations and had many friends. She was just like any one of us.
In times like these, my mind becomes somewhat naïve and child-like. “She was here. Now she isn’t. She was alive. Now she isn’t.” I grapple with this reality, and clearly all of my friends are struggling with it too. There was an outpouring of grief and support, simultaneously. At 5 p.m. yesterday, there was a support group held at Huntsman and hundreds came. Later that night, a vigil. Everyone was struck, and everyone tried their best to reach out to each other.
“Even if we’re not that close, feel free to come to me if you need someone to talk to.” “I’m always here for you.” “Given what just happened, I just wanted to see if you were okay.”
“You’re not alone.” “You can always reach out to your advisor, counselling services, a professor, the chaplains’ office, your RA.”
But that raised so many questions in me. Questions that weren’t new, but questions I still could not answer: Why do we only offer support when something like this happens? Why do we not reach out to people who offer support when we need it? How do we stop things like this from happening again?
I certainly wasn’t alone in wondering about this. Coincidentally, the topic for my Psychology class today was mental health. There was an atmosphere of stillness, I would say. In class, we talked about “Penn Face”—a culture that immediately immerses you once you step foot here. It’s the idea that we all have so much we’re struggling with and yet walk around with this facade that everything is perfectly fine all whilst comparing our challenges to the seemingly-perfect lives of our peers. I mean, when I walk down the street and bump into someone I know, occasionally, we’ll strike small-talk. Usually it’s: “How are you?” followed by the obligatory “fine, thanks” or if you’re a little closer to the person, maybe “yeah, I have a shitty week with midterms, papers and OCR etc” to which they might reply “oh my god, ugh, same” and you end on “we should catch up some time” before saying bye and walking away. It’s well-meaning, and not always an entirely sugar-coated conversation but rather expectedly surface-level without fail.
I don’t know why “Penn Face” exists, to be sure. It’s partly about putting up our best selves at all times, whether in person or on social media. To me, it’s partly about persevering and not letting the negativity get to me or affect others. It’s partly the notion that we’ve worked so hard to be here, and now that we’re here, we have to make the most of it so that we can do so much more. I understand this culture and I have no doubts that I am complicit to some extent.
But that’s where it gets tricky, right? Because I do believe in putting my best self forward, I believe I always have to work very hard, I believe in maintaining a positive demeanor. So, where is the line? What do we change?
Some people talk about how the administration has failed us. Not enough resources, an environment that’s too competitive, not being responsive enough. Petitions are written and circled and debated and signed. President Amy Guttman sends out an email encouraging us to reach out for support. But what will be done and will it be effective quickly enough?
Some people talk about how Penn students need to break out of this cycle, that there needs to be a behavioural change in the undergrad culture. But the conversation tends to circle back to the fact that we don’t really know what to do. How do we consistently be a source of support to our peers and seem genuine when our schedules are so packed? How do we reconcile our internal monologues so that we can both push ourselves to do more and be more while being kind to ourselves? How do we destigmatise weakness?
I guess for now I don’t know the answers. But for now, we’re talking about it. We’re thinking about it. We’re reaching out to hold each others’ hands through this.
For anyone at Penn/even outside, if you need someone to talk to, please reach out. To me, if that’s what you feel comfortable with. You are stronger for it. Lastly, if this post was misinformed in one way or another, feel free to let me know.
As I write this, I’m taking a break from doing work at Hubbub, my favourite cafe on campus. At the corner of my eye, I can see that the girl sitting at the table next to me is watching a really good episode of The Office and I just wanna slide over and cozy up next to this random stranger and laugh about it with her (like a creep) but luckily for me, I have proper socialisation and know to buckle myself down and keep my eyes on my own laptop screen.
How was your week? I was kind of sick last weekend so I didn’t do much except go to Trader Joe’s and Uniqlo. Their new collection of pants is so awesome (!!!!) but I reigned in my self-control and got only 2 pairs. I had a midterm yesterday which I feel I kind of blew and I was a tad bummed but I was like okay about it. This morning, I thought, maybe I’ll just go see my TA to talk about how I’m doing in the class in general and whether that grade would seriously hurt me. I walk into her office, she asks me “hey, what’s up?” and I just choked. It took me a while to start talking not because I was so upset (I honestly did not feel upset walking into the room, just out of breath from all the stairs leading to her office) but because I was seriously puzzled about why I was at the very brink of tears. Seriously, the whole time, I was like WHAT is going on??????? I have gotten Bs and Cs, my transcript is basically a melange of alphabets and I have always shrugged my shoulders and carried on. Yet, here I was, tearing up about the prospect of getting an A-. You can probably tell I’m still bewildered. But anyway, after a few deep breaths, we talked about my grade. The class won’t be curved so I will have to pull myself up if this goes badly but she doesn’t think it will be too bad.
I am pretty much at the tail end of the semester so the focus is very much on the last few hurdles. Nothing too exciting has happened so I will leave you with some ~pop culture~ recommendations.
“Blue Neighbourhood” by Troye Sivan—my favourite tracks are “EASE” and “BLUE”
“Binge” by Tyler Oakley—a book you can get as an audiobook for free on Audible.com like I did! It’s so entertaining
“Room”—an Oscar-nominated movie, for which Brie Larson won best actress and it’s so riveting
Season 28 of The Amazing Race—I know TAR is so like 10 years ago or whatever but I think we all just forgot how fun it is to watch
The Commanding Heights—I had to watch this 3-part documentary for a class and it’s super informative and interesting, for anyone interested in economic history (I guess this one is not really pop culture but it is still fun)