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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.