First 10 Days in New York

I have been putting off writing this for days! Partly because I had no wifi until last Wednesday, but partly also because I don’t even know where to start. It’s been a crazy 10 days.

I guess first of all, it was really sad to leave. Like I’ve said before, I’ve had so much fun at home especially in the recent months, despite the pandemic. Everyday kind of just felt like a family holiday because we’d cook, play badminton or Bananagrams or jigsaw puzzles and I didn’t have to think about making plans or rushing anywhere. So yeah, obviously I miss my family. I barely got to see my extended family this year, so that’s really sad too. I drove my beloved Volvo to the airport and obviously my dad came with me. I wish my mum and sister could have come too. Had to change my mask like three times at the airport because I cried so much every time someone texted or called me to say bye and my masks just kept getting soaked haha.

The flight itself was fine! I was a little nervous about it since I really haven’t done many flights, let alone long distance ones in the past year or so. But it was okay, I mean obviously I got kind of restless but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be. It was totally full though. I think the Doha – New York leg of the flights was at maybe 99% capacity but I double-masked and wore a damn face shield the entire way (except during meals of course, but even then, I deliberately ate after everyone else finished their meals).

Also, as I was about to land, I was looking at the map on my screen. And for whatever reason, as soon as I saw Philadelphia appear on the map, I started to tear up a bit?? Washington DC too, but mostly Philly, even though I prefer DC. I think just because I think of Philly as like my ~origin story~ lol and the place where I really had to grow up and be on my own. So clearly it’s just a super important place to me.

One of my in-flight meals
Got super excited when I flew over my sister!!

DAY 1

I didn’t get much sleep on the plane — I think maybe 6 hours in total at most, and definitely not all at once. But after I landed at JFK, I had a really busy day ahead of me immediately so I had no time to rest at all. First, I had to unload all of my bags at my apartment which is about an hour away from the airport. Let me just tell you that a wave of dread washed over me as I realised the elevators were not working. I live on the sixth floor ok, it’s not even funny. And the staircases are REALLY steep that even when I walk down the steps without bags I feel scared that I might fall. Also, here might be a good place to point out that if Qatar Airways is really generous with luggage allowance for students. I had 75 kg of bags and a ukulele on me. On top of all of that, we were pretty much in a heat wave. And there’s no air conditioning or anything in the common spaces. It was an absolute nightmare!!!!! Luckily, one of my roommates helped me carry two of my bags up. But then it was about to be time for us to go to the leasing office to get our leases physically signed and everything, so we just left one bag under the staircase on the ground floor for a while (and just prayed nothing would happen…) while we got that done.

My first glimpse of Manhattan on the cab ride there
Super steep staircases!

On the way to the leasing office, which is just a few blocks away, I went to pick up some sushi which my kind friend Hanna — who isn’t even in New York!! — ordered for me because she knew I would have no food in the apartment (love you Hanna, if you’re reading this). After I finished signing the lease and all of that though, my roommate had to run back to work. I on the other hand, had to rush to go pick up a window AC unit I had arranged to buy from someone secondhand on Facebook (so glad I remembered to make this purchase before I arrived, tbh). So I walk over (in the blazing heat) to that person’s apartment and it’s on the 6th floor, and there’s no elevator. That’s fine… except the window AC unit was SO HEAVY. I wish the person I bought it from had mentioned in the listing that her building was a walk-up. There was no way I could carry it down by myself. The seller offered to help me carry it down but it was just really hard to coordinate and it felt really dangerous for one person to be walking down the stairs backwards carrying it. So instead, I said never mind, I’ll just “slide” it down the stairs while I supported it from the bottom of each step with my leg/hands. I don’t know, it’s hard to describe lol but I think you might know what I mean. I guess that was the worst part. But I still had to carry it over to the main street and there was no one around who could help me. I think it only weights about 15-20 kg, but it’s more so that the box is really bulky and hard to hold. Not to mention I STILL HAD THAT SUSHI ON ME!!! Finally I get it close enough to the main street and someone helped me carry it all the way to the curb where I would try to get a cab back to my apartment. Tough luck, no cabs around. So I look at my phone, see I have 6% of battery left and decide I would try to call a Lyft/Uber. But I hadn’t been in the US in years, so I needed to download those apps again, and input my account and card details all over again. Good thing I know all my numbers by heart. In the end I managed to call a Lyft to pick me up with like 2% left to spare. Fun fact: my charger stopped working on the plane somehow (!!), so I also had to go to Rite Aid to get a new one, but I couldn’t use my debit card because it’s been ages since I had used it, so I had to use my dad’s credit card, heh. In fact, I couldn’t even use Venmo to pay for the AC so Hanna had to Venmo that person for me, since my Venmo account was still tied to my old phone number and I can’t get into it.

Ok so then after that, as you might remember, the elevator was still not functioning. So I got my AC back to the building but I couldn’t carry it up to my apartment and my roommate wouldn’t be back for a while. And my phone was dead at this point, so I leave it downstairs and go back into my apartment to troubleshoot. I got out the new charging cable I bought, but couldn’t find the kepala to plug it into an outlet (it was somewhere in my mess of luggage), so I had to charge my phone on my laptop. And because it was SO HOT (there’s no fan no nothing in the apartment), I opened the fridge, placed my laptop there and finally ate some of the sushi Hanna bought me at like 2.45 pm (I hadn’t had anything to eat since like maybe 6 am or so, New York time, and that was just a bit of plane food).

I will never ever forget this day.

Eventually my phone comes back to life and I decide to call my dear, dear friend Ken to help me. He also goes to Columbia but that’s like at least 20 minutes away. I told him it’s fine if he couldn’t help, since I had a backup plan. I was staying downtown with some friends for the first few nights while I sorted out my room (my apartment came totally unfurnished). So if I ended up being able to carry everything up, I would just lug all of my stuff there — not ideal, since I don’t want to bring a dirty AC and a large suitcase to someone’s apartment but you know, tolerable. But Ken agreed to come anyway in the middle of a weekday!! He helped me lift both the last suitcase and the AC up. And he would tell me not to tell him what level we were at so that he could be pleasantly surprised when we reached my floor hahaha. Then I thanked him and told him I’ll see him soon, since I’m sure he had to get back to work but he insisted we have something to eat. So we had some chips and guac and Jarritos (!) at a Mexican restaurant nearby. Finally, after that, I went over to my friends’ place. I showered, had some dinner, and passed out by 8.30 pm. That’s early but honestly not bad — considering I travelled back 12 time zones and barely slept on the plane, I should have been a lot more jet-lagged than that.

Ken to the rescue!!!!!

DAY 2-4

The second day was a lot less dramatic, if I’m recalling correctly. I went to the bank to reset my pin, got a new phone number, ordered some furniture for my room. Bought some basic house stuff that I needed immediately like plates and bowls and hangers and stuff — luckily this time, I managed to get a cab, though it was still a struggle and a half to carry everything I bought onto the curb by myself and I had to do it bit by bit.

Oh but one cool thing did happen that day. It was really hot so I wanted to get an iced drink. I walked into the first coffee shop I saw and place my order. As I’m getting my card out to pay, the cashier goes like “oh are you from Malaysia?” and I said yes, and asked how he knew. He said he saw my IC in my purse. So we started chatting, talked about where in Malaysia we’re from. Long story short, we figured out that his wife kind of my aunt’s former student!! My aunt had even put me in contact with her before I came to New York, just in case I needed anything. Such a wild serendipitous moment.

Then when I got back, I mostly kemas kemas here and there, unpacked my suitcases and put my clothes in my closet. I couldn’t install the AC by myself though, and no one else was home (my roommates hadn’t moved in yet either at that point) but even just turning it on while leaving it on the floor helped so much. I would not have been able to function otherwise. I didn’t have a lamp, though. That meant I had to stop working by the time it got dark haha and I went back to my friends’ apartment downtown before dark. We had dinner together and just had a really nice time just hanging out. They also have a kid, who is just the absolute cutest and sweetest boy ever. I loved spending time with him.

Had to change subway lines on 50th St but accidentally got off at Times Square instead

So yeah, for the next few days, I just spent the first few days just commuting between my friends’ place downtown and mine uptown and buying stuff, cleaning up, unpacking and assembling furniture. Ken came again on Sunday to help me carry and assemble my bed frame. The delivery people carried it up all the way to my door step. I managed to bring in and assemble everything but the bed frame — it was simply too heavy. This time he even brought me diet coke! I would say that by Sunday night (the end of day 4) I was mostly settled. I could already eat, sleep and shower in my apartment. So that was the first night I slept at the new place. I am super super grateful for my friends’ hospitality though because that meant I could properly rest and all that while I got my room set up.

DAY 5-7

Orientation started on my fifth day in New York. Everyone around me was like wow you’re really getting all your stuff together so quickly! But it’s literally because I had only four days before orientation began and couldn’t afford to take my time.

It was so emotional, honestly! Exciting and scary and also just beautiful?? Because it’s been so long since I’ve been in school. It’s also the first thing I feel like I’m doing that is me taking myself seriously as a writer. And also I’ve just been so busy since July that I simply hadn’t had the time to process the fact that I was about to start school again. Plus, the campus is also just so pretty!!

Before the class started, people were mostly making small talk outside. I felt a bit self-conscious for a hot second because it’s hard not to be when everyone’s looking their best and trying to make a good impression. But I also kind of snapped out of it immediately because I remembered I’m nearly 30 and I have no patience with myself to be anything less than self-assured in social settings. I am super fine with sitting by myself and I don’t mind making small talk but I also don’t feel the pressure to be liked or try to make a lot of friends or to prove to myself or anyone that I deserve to be here. I don’t even feel a lot of impostor syndrome because I just feel like whatever, it matters less how qualified I am, and more how willing I am to learn. I’m not saying that other people are doing/feeling/thinking all of those things, but just that those are the usual sorts of dynamics in any new school year or workplace. It helps I guess that I already am friends with my roommates (who I met online, by the way), and that I have a good number of friends in New York. But also I don’t know… I just, feel older in that way. It’s hard to describe.

Reunited with Sweetgreen after so long!! And Vera told me to FT her while I’m out and about so I did during lunch on my first day

The speakers at orientation pretty much made it clear that it’s going to be a gruelling year, and that we’ll be made to work very very hard. We also discussed topics like ‘What Is Journalism’ and how individual journalists can work to improve the field which has had a hand for many years in enforcing stereotypes etc, like how do we make reporting more fair and all of that. I think for me something I always think about is how do we shed light on issues around the world but at the same time not do it in such a way that certain groups of people only ever get portrayed as victims. So yeah, those were really interesting conversations and I’m really looking forward to having more of those discussions in the next year.

We also heard from people like the career services centre and the Dean of Student Life about career stuff from day one. It’s kind of intense and pressuring, but it also makes sense since it’s such a short program and people really do enter with the aim of trying to land something good after. And that’s what I love about being at a school like Penn/Columbia — it’s just so insanely well resourced and connected that it has all the means of supporting students through processes like finding work.

We had some smaller sessions outside since people can only remove masks outdoors (but not me I never lol). This is the Dean of Student Life, he’s also had a long career at the NY Times!

I also had to get tested for COVID-19 on my first day of orientation. Testing at Columbia is free, we just have to make an appointment online. Everyone has to get tested when they first arrive, but after that we can do it voluntarily as we like or when we’re identified as a close contact. One thing that’s cool I think is that we are subjected to random testing. Apparently every week 10-20% of the Columbia community is selected for random testing to detect potential clusters. The COVID-19 restrictions on campus are quite comprehensive, I think. So far the school has managed to maintain a very, very low infectivity rate and hopefully with all these precautions in place it’ll stay that way.

The Covid-19 tests here are self administered and sooo much more pleasant lol

On the last day of orientation, we only had one session from about 1 – 2.30 pm so I had time that evening to go see my beloved friend Cristina. We’ve been friends since first semester of Penn because we took Arabic 001 together (Cristina went on to become fluent and translate poetry, and I… can introduce myself and say I hate the winter). We went to Milk Bar, I had my favourite cereal milk soft serve that I haven’t had in three years. We walked around and then went to TARGET!! I love Target lol. She helped me get some small things I need for the apartment. It was so nice to catch up with a friend I haven’t seen in so long. We text and talk on the phone sometimes but it’s just different! She was actually supposed to come to Malaysia in April 2020 but we all know what happened then. Who would have thought that I would end up coming back to New York before she got to visit me.

At Target with Cristina

And earlier that morning, I went on my first run in New York along the Hudson River! That felt like a big milestone, haha. And speaking of milestones, it was also the very first time I visited the laundromat. I don’t have laundry inside my building, but thankfully there is a laundromat on the ground floor of my building.

Hudson River viewsss

DAY 8

On Thursday, I had my first day of class. We all start with Intro to Reporting. My class (about 16 of us) is going to cover Harlem, and we’re going to be publishing on a website later this semester. I have no idea what kind of stories I’m going to be doing yet, honestly. I guess we’ll find out. I’m excited about it though because I learned from DC that reporting about an area is an excellent way to feel at home and connected to a community beyond just your immediate circle of friends.

The morning of that first class day was just us going over how the course will go. In the afternoon, we went on a guided walking tour of Harlem. We saw lots of historical and cultural sites, including the first mosque that Malcolm X set up. After the tour though, we were given an assignment that was due that day itself. We had to walk around Harlem and interview people about their COVID-19 experiences. The idea was to get us into the groove of going up to people on the street to ask for information and to get comfortable with introducing ourselves, speaking to people, and taking notes. It was quite an experience. Several people turned me away, or would talk to me but were unwilling to share their names. Some told really interesting stories, and it was really cool. If you had told me 10 years ago, that someday I’d be doing this, I might not have believed you. 10 years ago I was still learning to tell the waiter my own order. I was scared to order pizza on the phone. I mean, yes, it’s been 10 years+ but it’s cool to see clearly what I already guessed — that I’m a much more capable and resilient person today than I was before and that’s such a nice feeling.

My class on the walking tour

I got feedback from my professor about the assignment the next day and immediately texted my friend Shahirah “WHY DID I DECIDE TO GO BACK TO SCHOOL” hahahaha because I did not miss the stomach-turning feeling of going over a professor’s comments. I don’t know why but it just feels so different from getting comments from a boss because that tends to be more collaborative, maybe?

For now, I only have this one class and I think this coming week I’ll start another called Investigative Techniques that’s all about using public records to find data and how else to gather information besides interviews. Later on in this half of the semester, I’ll have Journalism Law and Ethics. And in the second half of the semester, I’m taking one writing class and an “image and sound module” which basically means everyone takes a class in either data, audio or video. I chose data because video isn’t really my thing and I’ve already done a lot of audio. So I’m going to try a bit of data since it seems to be like the way journalism is headed these days.

These are kind of our “foundation classes.” Next semester we’ll get to choose classes that are a bit more specific to what we like — I’m hoping to take some sort of business/economics reporting class and maybe do more audio, we’ll see! I’m thinking I’ll explore more print this semester, and if I feel I still wanna do more audio next semester I’m going to look into it then.

DAY 9-10

The last of my roommates moved in on Friday, day 9. It was so exciting to have the apartment feel full and lively! I like both of my roommates a whole lot and am really pleased with how things turned out. We made trips to Target, Home Depot and Homegoods together. It was so nice to be able to do these trips with other people because before they moved in, I was doing them by myself and I really don’t mind that! But it is nice to have someone to get opinions from, and also to help you carry things.

My roommate and her friend on our way back from Home Depot

My favourite purchase in a long time are these makeshift blinds that are foldable and all you have to do is cut them to the length you need and stick them to the top of your window frame. I don’t even think I’ll need curtains now that I have these.

I also would have liked to do more fun things this weekend, since it’s my first proper weekend in New York. I had this grand idea that I’d rent a bike and cycle all of Central Park but a) I didn’t know who to do it with and b) Hurricane Henri came down on us. It’s been raining pretty much non-stop since Saturday night and it has just been so gross and humid outside.

And that’s it for my first (super eventful) 10 days! I’m not even including everything, mind you. I just can’t be bothered to go that much into detail and plus I just frankly don’t even remember all of it. It was really tough at times, and honestly New York just feels too big sometimes. In DC, it never takes that long to get anywhere. The metro stations are all air conditioned and equipped with escalators — plus they’re just so much cleaner. I mean, I literally saw a flattened rat on the 1 line earlier today. But I just feel super super blessed and grateful to be here, and hopefully now that I’m more settled in and soon when the weather becomes a lot more pleasant, I’m hoping things will get a lot more enjoyable here.

It’s been a while. Some life updates.

Hello! I know it’s been forever and a half since I wrote anything here (I barely even remembered how to navigate WordPress, to be honest). But it’s been quite a year for me, and I thought I’d take the time to share some of my recent life updates.

My first ‘adult’ resignation

I think most people who know me would have known that I spent the past two and a half years working at BFM as a producer on The Morning Run. Well, I resigned from that job several months ago.

I had been thinking of leaving because I felt like I had done what I wanted to do. Things day to day started to feel a little bit repetitive, and I just felt like I wasn’t challenged enough — like there wasn’t an avenue there for me to sufficiently grow in the ways I was looking to grow. So I took the plunge and left, before I even fully solidified my next steps (which, if you know how risk averse I am, is kind of surprising, but more on this later).

I’m very deeply grateful for my time there. I learned so much about Malaysia, about economics, how to tell stories through different mediums, how to learn new things quickly and how to work with others. Working on my microfinance piece and the one about the “lost generation” of COVID-19 were highlights. Helping create Season 3 of Rumit was one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. And knowing that my work on The Morning Run day in and day out has helped keep thousands of Malaysians engaged and informed with the world around them every day has been tremendously meaningful to me — something that I know will stick with me for a long time.

I have always thought of my job at BFM as a form of public service and I know I’ll continue to seek that purpose in all my future work.

Me with my farewell cake that my friend Shin Yiing made for me!
Obligatory last day photo with some of my work pals!
Check out this amazing drawing my friend Lyn made of me! I’m never without my sunnies, so that was on point
The farewell cards I had commissioned for my team (my brother in law made them and I was super pleased with how they came out!!)
They’re gonna *kill* me for posting this but this was my last production meeting with my team ❤

My last day of work was May 24th. Coincidentally, it was also the day I received the first dose of my COVID-19 vaccination. It was such an emotional day! It just felt like such a benchmark of a new beginning.

After getting my first dose after my last day of work

Volunteering at a vaccine center

After leaving BFM (like, literally the next day) I began volunteering at the IDCC vaccination centre.

I had such a great time and I am not exaggerating at all when I say it has been an honour to have spent my time doing that. I think vaccinations are so important for us to be able to resume our lives safely and I’m humbled just to have been a tiny part of that effort. It makes me happy to know I have done a small part to help thousands of people stay healthy, and to make that process as pleasant as I possibly can.

Me at the IDCC vax center with the dorky government-supplied vest for volunteers lol

The other reason I loved the experience was that, in many ways, the life I lead is so segregated. My neighbourhood, my grocery store, my friends… they’re all within a bubble of this upper middle class, progressive Malaysia. But the people who come for vaccinations truly come from all walks of life — rich, poor, of every race, age and profession (teachers, hawkers, dato sris, business owners, fund managers, actors, Grab drivers, footballers, retirees, priests, even Latheefa Koya and Amy Search). It’s a little corny but my brief conversations with them have taught me so much and helped me appreciate the diversity around me. I even picked up a few words in Chinese. And it makes me so happy to be able to connect with such a wide range of Malaysians, which is something don’t get to do regularly.

Morning briefing with all the volunteers

I tested positive for COVID-19

And if you kept up with the news, I think you probably know what happened next. I unfortunately was one of the more-than-200 volunteers who caught the virus in early July. Anyone I worked with there would have been able to tell you that I took all the precautions — I double masked, wore a face shield everyday and sanitised my hands ’til they cracked. And yet I still got it.

Alhamdulillah, I was asymptomatic and felt perfectly healthy the entire time I spent quarantining. My viral load was really low, too. In fact, the evening I found out my results, I had just spent over an hour playing badminton and Active Arcade with my family. I even climbed onto my roof to grab a shuttlecock. I am certain that being partly vaccinated helped. I’m also confident that’s what helped ensure I didn’t pass it to any of my family members, despite the fact that we live together, eat together and spend quite a lot of time together. That was a huge relief, and I’m super grateful for that.

Checking my oxygen levels everyday

Despite getting infected though, if given a choice to go back in time and decide again whether or not to volunteer, I would have made the same choice. It was unfortunate that I had to quarantine, but I am also privileged with good health and ample space at home. Plus, I am financially secure enough to be able to volunteer my time and spend 10 days at home without work. I believe it’s my responsibility to use these privileges to benefit others, and I think the risk was worth it for me, given my specific circumstances. And again, like I said, being able to help other Malaysians get vaxxed was really an honour for me.

I also want to say sorry to all the people I didn’t tell. I really didn’t want to answer questions about it, or have anyone take pity on me. It really bothered me to think that other people would be discussing my condition, or just talking about me. I really just didn’t want anyone to be talking about me and I hope you understand! COVID is such a tricky thing because with contact tracing and the need for support (because the rules can be so confusing and whatnot) it can be so difficult to maintain privacy, but I really really just wanted as much privacy (and normalcy, honestly!) during that time.

I am really thankful to my parents and my sister Julia who kept me fed and comfortable all the days I spent locked up in my room. Thank you also to everyone who sent me snacks and treats while we were stuck at home. Some people did small rounds of groceries for us. I’m also grateful for each one of my friends and family members who video called me, sent me tiktoks, Netflix partied with me or sent me songs to play on my ukulele I really can’t repay everyone enough. Your generosity means so much to me.

Modern Family was my best friend
Had to set up a mini desk in my room because I had no where else to work
I really cried tears laughing during this game of skirbbl.io
My *pathetic* drawing skills
At the Covid Assessment Center
What I looked like when I went to the CAC to get my release letter from home quarantine lol

I’m going to attend Columbia Journalism School

In March, I was accepted into Columbia to do an M.S. in Journalism. If you knew me in 2017, you might know I’ve been saying I wanted to do it for ages. At first, it was supposed to happen a year after I moved back to Malaysia. But a year slowly turned into two, and then three. When the December 2020 deadline rolled around, I nearly didn’t apply just because I was lazy to write a few essays. It sounds silly, but I was so tired with work and all of that. Plus, I had actually gotten into another program in the UK earlier that month. In the end, I wound up deciding to give it a shot anyway so I put together the entire application in less than a day (!) and I’m so glad I did.

Columbia when I visited a few years ago

I’m really excited and I think in the end it happened at the right time. I found out that I got accepted on March 17th. But after that, it was a long stressful few months while I tried to figure out my funding situation. Columbia provided me with some financial aid and while I am grateful for it, at the end of the day, it was a tiny fraction. And without sponsorship I would honestly have had to turn it down. I applied for scholarships, sat for round after round of tests and interviews and for a while, I didn’t know if it would come together. Khazanah turned me down after a few rounds. I did Yayasan Dayadiri and got pretty far along but they were only going to give me a decision by mid-July, but I would have needed to start my visa application process by late June in order to arrive in time for the program. I didn’t qualify for many other scholarships because so few of them were willing to sponsor a Journalism student. In the end, alhamdulillah, I managed to get MARA’s help (again, I might add — without them, I also would not have been able to go to Penn).

It came to the point where I was ready to let it go, honestly. I was concurrently applying for jobs in case it didn’t work out (since I had already quit my BFM job earlier in the year) and some of those other options were actually quite exciting! Also, I had really come to love my life in Malaysia… and with that life being more or less on hold for the past year or so due to lockdown after lockdown, I really just missed it and wanted to see all my friends again.

Ultimately though, I’m glad I decided to do my Masters at a time when I was actually pretty satisfied with life here because that helped me feel quite prepared to accept whatever the eventual outcome might have been. I’m glad I’m not making this decision out of an urge to run away from my job, or because I was unhappy here for whatever reason, or to run back to an old life — it just simply felt like the right thing to do at the right time.

Those closest to me will know it took a village to make this happen. My parents and sisters helped me a lot with my Visa applications, logistics of getting my passport renewed in the middle of a total lockdown, taking a passport photo at home since all the shops were closed. I’m deeply grateful for my Uncle Asaraf — without his help, I wouldn’t have been able to apply for a visa since MARA’s letter came quite late. I’m grateful to my former bosses, Shou Ning, Noelle, Melisa, Caroline etc for taking a chance on me and nurturing me these past 3 years – I’m absolutely certain the experience made me a stronger candidate. My former editor, Neva, political science professor Mark Pollack and most recent supervisor Wong Shou Ning graciously wrote my recommendation letters. My friend Q helped me so much in navigating the scholarship application process and I’m so grateful I had her on my side.

You need to bring proof that you have a valid reason to renew your passport but if you can do that, I recommend doing it now because usually the Immigration HQ office is so packed but there was only one other family there that day!

My mum’s cousin, my Mak Long Eza and my neighbour/friend’s mum, Aunty Raz, helped me tremendously with completing my MARA agreement in the middle of a lockdown when I can’t easily get documents certified. I really really hate COVID for making errands that were annoying before (like going to the post office, LHDN, or commissioner of oath) a pure pain now. But we managed to get all my documentation done with everyone’s help.

So many people also talked to me about job opportunities that I might have liked to take had the Columbia thing fallen through — the potential of these backup plans helped me sleep at night while I navigated the uncertainties. Philip See and Rahmah Pauzi were some of my best supporters. And I know that all my family members and dearest friends (I can’t name everyone! And anyway this isn’t the Oscars!) kept me in their prayers during this stressful time, and I really just cannot thank them enough for that.

Moving to New York

I also want to shoutout to … myself, honestly (lol) for juggling all the nightmarish logistics of moving across the world amidst a global pandemic.

No one ever told me how difficult it is to rent an apartment in New York City. It’s so unlike anything I saw in DC or Philly, where I lived previously. You have to be able to prove (with tax returns, bank statements, employment letters and pay slips) that you have an annual income 40x the monthly rent. So naturally, most students won’t be able to do that and have to rely on a guarantor. Guarantors need to prove that they make 80x the monthly rent in annual income (with all the same documentation). The catch is that if you’re an international student, you likely won’t have someone in the US who would be able to do that for you. There were third party guarantors (corporate ones) that would act as a guarantor on people’s behalf, but in the end you wind up paying more and that sucks when you’re on a student budget, right. Anyway, I’m super lucky and grateful because a dear friend of mine (who I guess I won’t name just for privacy?) agreed to help me out and be my guarantor.

But the pinning down an apartment was a whole lot of work too. I spent hours and hours in the middle of the night (yay 12 hour time difference!) viewing apartments virtually and doing roommate interviews. There was lots of nights while I was on quarantine where I was up at 3 a.m. discussing security deposits and all that good stuff. It took me 3 weeks before I found a place but I’m very happy with how things worked out.

My unamused face at 1 a.m. doing an apartment viewing

Getting a US Visa in the middle of a pandemic was also a concern, because I needed to cross district lines to make my appointment, and I wasn’t even sure I could get an appointment on such short notice since I had heard that the embassy was taking emergency/citizen appointments only. But that all worked out too, alhamdulillah.

The only photo I took in KL on the way to my US embassy appointment and probably my last in a long time 😦

Of course these are just the main things. But that’s pretty much all the updates I wanted to share today!

It’s pretty downright sucky that I have to leave in the middle of a pandemic. My friend Fahmida said recently “I don’t want to make new friends, I just want to see the friends and family I already have” and I totally feel the same way right now. I already miss all my friends and family. To miss them more now, just sucks. But inshaAllah I’ll be home before long and I’m praying those will be better times for us all.

All in all, 2020 was a time of a lot of stagnation. And 2021, in some ways, brought even more grief and heartbreak but thankfully, also a lot of hope. It’s crazy for me to think about how much has changed for me in the past 6 months or so. I guess sometimes a bit of stagnation can really get you going, no? This is the most hopeful, excited and optimistic I’ve felt in a very long time and I honestly pray the same for all of you.