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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
I am so thankful for Thanksgiving break, because it has been 7 weeks since we’ve had any sort of holiday. The past few days were pretty rough–churning out papers, marathon-studying for exams… but I soldiered on and made it through with lots of support from friends and a solid intake of caffeine.
Thanksgiving weekend also means I got to spend time with a lot of my wonderful friends over amazing food. After a week of a constant stream of horrible news in the media, it is empowering to continue with life normally and treat acts of normalcy as triumphs. I am so thankful to have such a good network of friends here who are always looking out for each other and ready to support one another. I grew up being very close to my sisters and cousins, and even though this isn’t quite the same thing, it comes rather close. In fact, it’s more than I ever dared to hope for when I first stepped onto Penn’s campus over 2 years ago.
I’m also looking forward to a lot of down time on my own this break. Sure, my Friday is probably going to be taken up by review sheets and pages and pages of political science readings… but I’m also burning through Mindy Kaling’s new book which is a really fun read.
I’ve also gotten the chance to re-watch some of my all time favourite movies. If anyone knows me, they’d know that I have a long list of movies but always just end up re-watching Princess Diaries, Big Hero 6, High School Musical, the first/last Harry Potter movies, Kung Fu Panda 2, Pitch Perfect and sometimes also Enchanted and Hairspray. I know, basically just musicals and children’s movies. What can I say? I like what I like.
Anyway, so, I was watching Princess Diaries last night and it’s amazing how I can still draw inspiration from it even though it came out over 14 years ago. It’s also amazing how Anne Hathaway hasn’t seemed to age very much.
This scene where she’s talking to her grandma about how she doesn’t think she can be a princess used to be whatever to me when I was 8 but now that I’ve grown up, it always makes me cry. Like, ugly-sobbing, straight up bawling type cry. It is just such a relatable feeling–thinking that I am not qualified, that I am not the right person for something, that I don’t have what it takes despitehaving people believing in me. And then she starts packing to run away… but this being a movie and all, she just happens to find her father’s letter as she’s preparing to leave. And that letter just makes me disintegrate into tears:
“Amelia, courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear. The brave may not live forever but the cautious do not live at all. From now on, you will be travelling the road between who you think you are and who you can be–the key is to allow yourself to make the journey.”
SO GOOD, RIGHT? I can’t believe this loaded piece of wisdom has been getting past me for the past 14 years.
It makes me so happy to be continuously able to derive strength and inspiration from everything I have around me: my family and friends, my classes and assignments, even my childhood movies.
My week really reminds me that I have so much to be thankful for. Just like the whiteboard says, I still have my brain and my bones, and I’ll always have my families and my homes.
To my American friends, happy thanksgiving weekend; I hope you have a good meaningful one. To everyone else, I miss you guys and I’m always thinking of you and wishing you all good things.
Something interesting I realised about blogging is that I feel like I’m actually talking to someone through this thing, and when I take a longer gap between two posts, I feel like I haven’t spoken to this person in a while and I miss him/her. So, hi! It’s nice to speak to you again. I hope you’re well 🙂
I don’t have much to say this week because I haven’t done much other than stress out about my “analysis” of India and Nigeria… I mean, seriously, I haven’t even done the actual analysis. All I have done is just stress out about it. I know it’s kinda silly, but writing critical essays is a huge fear I need to get over. The two things that pose the greatest deterrent for me to take a class are: having to write a paper for it and it being held in DRL.
The best thing that happened to me this week happened on Monday. I was feeling rather upset about something I can’t even remember now after a meeting in Harrison. As I was making my way out to go home, I saw Adam studying in the mezzanine. I sat with him for a while and he told me the Harrison cafe was giving free coffee so I got a cup. And then Adel came by so he sat with us and we all did some work. Well, they did some work. I did a sudoku puzzle in the newspaper. It was really relaxing and yet also challenging at the same time. Then, I started taking on the crossword puzzle below it just for fun. When I started it, I had no serious intention of completing it because I had never done one before, but it was so much fun to get one or two answers here and there. A few minutes into the crossword puzzle, Adel somehow started solving it with me. Together, we finished the whole thing!!! And right as we finished, someone offered us free cookies!
I don’t think anyone understands how happy I was at that moment. First, the crossword puzzle was so much fun to solve! I was so happy every time I remembered some obscure fact or made a guess which happened to fit perfectly into those tiny boxes. It also always feels good to finish something I start without the slightest idea as to how I will make it to the end and chip away at it slowly. Plus, it also felt nice to have someone sit there with me quietly solving problems; not really conversing but just accompanying me. It also kind of reminded me of my sisters and I playing word puzzles at our kitchen table at home on my mom’s iPad.
It made me feel so happy that I asked Adel to take a picture of me with my free cookie, solved puzzles and free coffee. He laughed because he doesn’t understand just how much I appreciated him working through the puzzle with me, but he took this dorky picture of me anyway because he’s nice.
When I got home, I placed the newspaper on my desk (yeah, I kept it) and got a pleasant surprise.
Just like this crossword puzzle, somehow I’ll make it through writing this paper. I will figure out how. I always do.
DRL is the David Rittenhouse Library, it is the math building all the way on the opposite side of campus. I never have any other classes near that area and so walking there always involves a lot of speed walking and panting.
Harrison is one of the college houses on campus. A lot of my meetings are held here somehow. A lot of my friends also live here.
I have 2 full weeks and 2 half weeks of classes left, you guys. Can you believe it? BECAUSE I CAN. I AM EXCITED.
It’s been a great semester, though. I was so weary of everything, I was trying to make sure I don’t “slip” and mess up, lose control of my workload… but I’m grateful that so far, it has not happened and I think it’s safe to say I don’t foresee it happening soon. Granted, I have the easiest workload I’ve had in like 2 years, and that’s probably 90% of the reason why. I’m enjoying it either way. College has never been more fun.
Last weekend, for example, was excellent. I got to watch a play in Philadelphia for the first time on Friday night. I watched Disgraced, written by Ayad Akhtar who won a Pulitzer Prize for it. It’s about a Pakistani American lawyer navigating his Muslim heritage in the post 9/11 world. I don’t know much about theatre, but I really enjoyed it and I’m glad my friend Adriel invited me to watch it.
PAACH, the Pan Asian American Community House, celebrated its 15th year anniversary on Saturday. It was a really great celebration and I’m glad I was invited to attend! I got to hear Amy Gutmann (the Penn president) speak, meet some alums who came back from homecoming weekend and listen to a great keynote speech by Vijal Patel. Vijal is a Penn alum, class of ’98. He studied finance and engineering but then went into a career in comedy writing. His speech was so funny. If (or when) I get my hands on a recording, I will be sure to send it to everyone I know. He talked about how important it is to have safe spaces on campus so that students have the freedom and confidence to explore their abilities in new and interesting ways. He also talked about how he took a huge risk, declining a hugeWall Street job offer to drive across the country and move to L.A. to pursue a career in entertainment. Sigh, I wish I could tell you more but my memory of it is super spotty so just trust me, it was hilarrrrious and inspiring. I got to meet him after, and he was really nice! (You can read a little about him here!)
Homecoming weekend was also really great because I got to see Amanda again. She was a senior last year, and one of the first few Malaysians I met from Penn. It’s always really nice to talk to people who’ve been through the whole Penn journey and know what it’s like to make it out on the other side, but it’s a bonus to talk to someone who understands the path I’m on and part of where I come from. It really means so much to me to have such supportive and understanding people in my life.
This past week, I’ve also started watching The Office and, well, I don’t know why I put off watching it for so many years because it’s an amazing show and I kinda squeezed in time to watch it whenever I could. For example:
It has also been a great week even though it’s only Wednesday so far. There is a farmer’s market every Wednesday in front of the bookstore on campus and today I bought some good fresh bread there. Conveniently, the farmer’s market is also next to Cosi which gives free coffee on Wednesdays! So I got fresh bread and free coffee, which is, *deep breaths* wonderful.
Then, today after class, I went to see Rachel who is a freshman in Write On, one of the volunteer programs I’m in at Penn. We talked about the many difficulties of freshman year and reliving them sent chills down my spine. The overwhelming feeling of lostness–physically around campus, navigating new friendships, finding an area of interest and just generally finding a enclave on campus makes you feel like you belong. It takes time, I guess, but I genuinely believe it gets better. That’s what I told Rachel.
Gratefully and certainly, it has gotten better for me. Today, for the first time, I felt the tables turning a little. I’ve had the chance to meet with 3 freshmen girls so far this semester to talk about adjusting at Penn but it just occurred to me right now that I’ve kind of transitioned into a different, um, how do I say this, position(?) here. I remember talking to my freshman hall Resident Advisor, Cat, and other upperclassmen like Petra and Hanna because they reached out to me wanting to talk to me about how I’m doing in my transition into Penn. It’s hard to believe I’m now on the other side of that conversation. It’s really weird, because 2.5 years in, I still feel like I’m transitioning into life at Penn every day so I don’t know how it’s possible that I’m giving advice or whatever. I feel that this transition is never complete and so is always ongoing but I suppose, in some sense, I can’t really say that I’m adjusting anymore because I’ve been here for a while, and no matter how much more experience I have to gain, the fact is that I have gained some experience.
A few hours ago, I was at an Asian Pacific American Heritage Week event. We invited Vidya, a YouTube star to perform at Penn. She does mashups between Hindi and American songs and she performed a bunch of them earlier. I also got to meet her earlier and speak to her a little, it was really fun.
It was great to be a part of an organising group that helped make this happen. That would not have happened 2 years ago. Also, as I was at this event, I was introduced to a freshman who asked to know more about what the club I am part of does. When she left, I again found myself thinking that 2 years ago, I would’ve probably been on the other side of that conversation as well.
In fact, when I left the venue, I walked on the steps between College and Cohen halls onto Locust and recalled the time in freshman year Saffa (who was a senior at the time) walked with me there. We were walking back to our rooms after the first MSA meeting that year. She was giving me a little tour of the campus. It felt like quite a long time ago.
For the first time, it feels like I’ve actually made progress. That’s a pretty difficult thing to feel here sometimes, you know. Everyone just seems to be doing amazing things that it’s hard to see my own progress at times. But today, as I walked home, I felt proud of myself because I know I’ve progressed here as a result of my baby steps–slowly, putting myself out there and steadily putting one foot in front of the other.
I know it’s not a lot, but if I don’t start feeling a little proud of me for something, then, well I don’t know. I gotta start somewhere and this seems like a good place to start.
I’m done with my second round of midterms! I had exams on Monday and Tuesday this week, so even though it’s only Wednesday right now, I feel like it’s already Friday. To those of you back home who don’t know, in American colleges we have midterm exams throughout the semester. Instead of having one set of exams at the end of the semester, we’re kind of being tested by stages. I used to think I prefer to be tested this way, but it’s so tiring. I spent the whole weekend staying in and doing work. I missed out on some fun, but it’s okay because I felt really good walking out of those exams. I don’t know how I did, but it just felt nice to know I gave it everything I could.
Monday was a particularly long day. Reviewing, exams, class, more class, and then office hours, review session, a meeting, reviewing more exam material and getting help from Adel. I mean yeah, that’s what we do in college I guess. But having everything going on back to back like that.. ahhhh. I was so pooped out.
I’m glad I managed to squeeze in some cooking over the weekend though! I made pancakes and fried rice for Hui Jie and myself. We basically spent the whole day in the apartment eating all the food slowly. I also made chicken sandwich filling the way my mom makes it, and I was so happy about it because it made me feel like home a little.
By Tuesday night, I was done with exams so I slept super early because I was tired. But I had some readings to do for my political science class and had to start doing them at 6 a.m. the next morning (i.e. this morning). I felt so restless though because I hadn’t been to the gym since last Thursday and after being done with my exams I just really wanted to go so I got to make it out to a PiYo class today.
I was super excited about this because I used to go for PiYo classes at 7.30 a.m. every Friday (ok, most Fridays) last year. This year, it got moved to a 12 p.m. slot and it doesn’t really fit with my schedule and I spent all semester missing this class because I loved Angela, who is the instructor. Plus, the gym classes I’m doing this semester really lack cardio stuff — which I hate doing, but I mean, it’s good for me or something like that.
I’m not the fittest person on earth and am nowhere close, so I probably shouldn’t go around touting the merits of exercise… but honestly, it’s wonderful and we should all be doing it consistently in some way. I hated exercise before I discovered the type of exercises I liked and the setting I like doing it in. Since sophomore year, I started going to group exercise classes and it’s been so much fun.
Just like cooking, it really forces me to be present and to focus on what I’m doing. It lets me practice being intentional about every single movement I make. Also, it hurts. A lot. Everything burns: my thighs, my arms, my abs. But that’s what I love about it most–not because I love pain or discomfort, but rather, because it teaches me to keep pushing. I think I manjakan (have babied) myself a lot. I would do work and get sleepy and go, “maybe I need a break” when I don’t. So I need to remind myself that some discomfort and pain isn’t a good enough reason to stop. Just wanting to give up isn’t a good reason to stop. Feeling tired isn’t a reason to give up. Not being very good at something isn’t a reason to give up. I keep going, and that’s what will make it better. I know this sounds motivation-speechy which is like *gag* ugh, but I’m getting at something here, I promise, and that is, knowing when to give up is really not easy. There are times when I really do need to step back and let go a little, but knowing when to do what requires listening to myself and being super super honest and confrontational with myself. That, is what I love about exercise.
So there I was today, walking out of the gym, dripping in sweat, wobbly legs and feeling very satisfied.. when I remembered that Viraj (one of the staff at PAACH) baked cookies and made a post on Facebook about it saying we should drop by if we want some. Naturally, I did. Usually, I would’ve gone home for lunch but today I decided to stray from my routine.
As I was waiting for my next class at PAACH, someone walks into the room with Jenny Yang and introduces her to everyone. Jenny is an Asian-American comedian and writer. You may have seen her on BuzzFeed, like here. This is a cool article about her, and this is her website. I am glad to have gotten a chance to speak to her today. She was talking to a girl I know, Caroline, encouraging her to put herself out there with her photography (Caroline is amazing, check out her work here!). I kinda just joined in.. She talked to us about how we should put our names on the work we do and believe in, and fearlessly put it out there. She also talked about how everyone has a valuable story to tell, how you don’t know who you will reach/move with your work, and how it helps to be in contact with the world you want to be in because even being around the thing you love will help a lot.
It was really cool to get to speak to her even though I only saw her for about 20 minutes. Interestingly, this happened at a time when I was contemplating whether or not I would want to continue blogging/writing next semester and onwards into the future. I think Jenny gave me some good things to think about, which was awesome because I didn’t even know when I woke up this morning that I was going to meet her today. And if I hadn’t gone to the gym, if Viraj hadn’t baked those cookies and made an announcement about it on Facebook, I might not have. It’s also amazing to see what resources can reach you once you open up about your hopes/dreams and the things you care about. If Caroline hadn’t been brave enough to tell Jenny, “hey, I want to show you my website” we probably wouldn’t have ventured into that conversation.
God, it’s the little moments like this that make me trust in every crooked step of my life path. Earlier this year in February, I wrote this in my journal:
And this really feels like one of those times.
I always try, or I always want to refrain from publicly giving advice on here because if there’s one thing I know, it’s that I don’t know much at all. But sometimes I learn simple things which can be so profound to me–as simple as the cliché “everything happens for a reason”–and I just feel like it would be a waste not to share, so there it is.
Last Saturday, I realised I had a little bit of linguine, whipping cream and parmesan cheese left. So I made pasta!
I’m not the best cook. In fact, I’m not a very good cook at all. I just make things I like to the point they’re good enough for me to eat. I would probably get endless heart palpitations if I were to cook for a dinner party or something like that because (so far in my life, anyway) cooking has just always been something I do just for myself, just for fun.
With that said though, I love it. I love cooking and cleaning. I feel so alive, so at ease and so myself when I’m doing it. I still don’t know if the way I chop onions is the right way to do it or not. I don’t know if the amount of heat I use to make my omelettes is correct or not (actually, I know that it’s probably not, because 3 out of 5 times, they’re slightly burnt and/or undercooked). I still don’t know if I’m cutting the chicken properly..
But cooking makes me feel so many things. Firstly, it invites me to believe, once in a while, that I have what it takes to take care of myself and to be self-sufficient. Even if the food I make isn’t amazing, I know how to feed myself healthy wholesome meals. Even if it’s just one thing in my life I can do, it’s the one thing that truly makes me believe I will be okay.
The best part is feeling like I can just wing it. Like I said, I never really know what I’m doing–I have no recipes and I barely follow the ones I find because winging it is so much fun. I like learning that I can get by knowing the core principles of how something works and I enjoy the process of getting comfortable with improvising without making everything perfect. A lot of times in life, I try to control as much of a situation as possible and come up with plans and backup plans and more backup plans so that I get the outcome I want. Cooking kinda just teaches me to let go of that. Sure, nothing I cook is really consistent or life-changing but I still enjoy everything I make because I experimented, I gave it my best and it’s unique and special.
IT’S JUST LIKE LIFE, YOU GUYS. (I love metaphors so much that I can make scrambled eggs and turn it into a life lesson.)
Also, it’s such a great way to unwind. I find it really easy to be present when I’m cooking. Like for example, in class, it’s so easy for my mind to drift off and start thinking about the other 5 billion things we Penn kids worry and stress out about because nothing happens when you do that, the professor will just go on talking, the class doesn’t fall to pieces because you aren’t paying attention. But with cooking, I am forced to be there and I feel super ~in the moment~ because if I let my mind drift away or whatever, there goes my food..
Ok this is probably the cheesiest thing I’ve ever put on here (and not just because that pasta I made had like 2 fistfuls of cheese in it) and I can’t believe I dedicated like, 600 words to talking about my pasta-cooking thoughts.. but I just felt so happy cooking last weekend that it made me want to share this, haha.
It’s a Tuesday night as I write this and I’m chilling on my couch with Hanna after having dinner; she just braided my hair like my sisters usually do.
Hanna was a junior at Penn when I was a freshman and she really made me feel welcomed here. It’s crazy to think that I’m now a junior and the freshmen I know now are to me like I once was to her. Right now she’s working at this radiation oncology lab here so it’s really nice how even though she graduated last year, I still get to see her from time to time. She’s such a lovely person and she always seems genuinely happy to see how I’ve grown throughout my few years here and honestly, she has been such a huge part of it because of how supportive she is. Hanna makes me feel like I have family here and I’m so grateful for that.
Anyway, it’s a busy week and I just typed this in like 10 minutes so I apologise for typos or grammatical errors because I didn’t proof read this *closed-eyed monkey emoji* and I’m back to work now!
Today, I went to a Chai Chat (they’re monthly dialogues on issues socially relevant to students, basically, and they’re called Chai Chats because there is free chai!). It was a collaborative discussion on the way social media affects our perception of our peers and ourselves. I think it’s a really important dialogue to have because so much of the pressure we put on ourselves is derived from what we think everyone else is doing and the standards we feel we should hold ourselves to because of it. And let’s face it.. Facebook and whatnot, they all kinda make you feel like everyone else is doing a lot better than they usually are.
I mean, I love Facebook and Instagram and Snapchat. I think, to some extent, I like seeing what everyone else is up to because it gives me inspiration and ideas–a type of fashion style I could try out, a new restaurant I could visit, a good band I might want to check out. This is great. Seriously. I love it. Most of the time I’d say that in the moment, it makes me feel connected and happy or whatever. Plus, I like knowing what my friends and family back home or in other countries are up to! I miss them so much and being able to see bits and pieces from their “mundane” daily lives make me feel close and connected. I like seeing people having fun and being happy–it makes me happy. It really does!
But no one is really representing an accurate picture of what their life is like, you know? Most people try to put their best selves out there, and that’s fine. We’re always taught to behave nicely and appropriate around people, and so I can understand how it’s somewhat natural to “curate” a social media presence. I’m not saying it’s bad or that they shouldn’t, just that it might be difficult for us to remember, and so sometimes, when it’s 2 a.m. and, I don’t know, maybe I’m writing a paper that feels completely unwriteable or studying for a midterm that seems to have bottomless material to cover, pictures of people going out and having fun just slowly tip toes into my mind. It happens. And like a big fat caramel cupcake to my hungry eyes, it tempts me to think, “how do they do so much outside of school and still take 6 classes and do really well in all of them?”
We’re always comparing our blooper reels to our peers’ highlight reels and that’s not fair. But I get it. It’s hard. I know. I subconsciously do it a lot. Yet, I’m also guilty of putting my best self up. I try to make conscious efforts to be genuine and honest–I’ve been frank about downright crappy weeks and feeling stressed and helpless and lost. I guess those things just tend to be more “quiet”? I don’t know. Like I said, it’s kinda ingrained in me to treat social media interactions like I would real life ones, which means to lead a good example and what not, be collected and friendly, but also just a little bit open and frank about the not-so-great stuff.
I also personally don’t know if I would say I never want to compare myself with others, because a bit of awareness is useful I think.. but I guess all I wanna say is it’s never a complete picture. Everyone is going through something. For me, it really helps to remind myself that happiness isn’t a zero-sum thing; someone else’s success and happiness doesn’t stop me from having mine and likewise for you. We have different lives, starting points, priorities, personalities and different lessons to learn. Jealousy costs way more than its worth, and to quote the realm of adolescent wisdom (*cough* Tumblr *cough*), trust the journey of your life.
[Haha so thanks for bearing with me ’til the end of that whole spiel.. I am now going to ~*seamlessly transition*~ into talking about the rest of my week.. lol.]
This past week, I had my first session of Write On, which is the volunteer creative writing thing we do with kids from Lea Elementary. I missed being around these kids and seeing the clever things they come up with. The new coaches this year also seem really great at coaching the kids, so that made me really happy.
Besides that, this past week I was just constantly constantly constantly reminded of how lucky I am to have the friends that I do. I wouldn’t change a thing about them–they are smart, ambitious, hardworking, sensitive, kind and hilarious. Thank you thank you thank you thank you for friends.
Cristina walks 8 blocks with me to help me satisfy my cravings. Shahirah and May May lent me some of their clothes to wear and helped me pick out clothes and for hours even though they had a lot of work to do. Sofia is always there to crack me up with her random dance moves. Busra has my back and has real talk with me. Hui Jie is my pilates/gym bud who also goes on bubble tea runs with me and keeps me in check by reminding me not to procrastinate. I don’t even know if any of them read this but thanks for making me feel safe and loved all the time.
Golden stars to all my girlz and everyone reading this. As we speak, I’m doing the thing where I spend an hour trying to pick a movie to watch and end up just watching 50 movie trailers and then decide not to watch a movie because I just wasted so much time trying to pick one. Haha, have a fantastic weekend! 🙂
Here we are. Week 8. I am at the midpoint of the semester, otherwise known as the time my to-do list reached puberty and went through a growth spurt.
Midterm next week and 200 pages of reading to do, remember to email the TA about setting up an appointment to ask clarifying questions, review material so that I know what questions to ask to begin with, email student groups about collaboration on event, go to Lea elementary for advertising 3 times this week, remember to print out flyers before you go, text Casey to coordinate where we’ll meet, email the homeroom teacher to tell her we’re coming, remember you have an appointment at Career Services at 1.30pm to talk about how to take control of finding a job, submit your resume and cover letters for criticism, follow up on advisor about transcript problem, cook lunch/dinner at 7 a.m. because you won’t have enough time to do it otherwise, call SHS to see if my appointment was schedule correctly online, make a dental appointment, see if I can squeeze in an extra gym session on Wednesday morning, drop by Marcus’ office hours to collect my midterm exam and assignments, see Professor Epstein to discuss the stuff I didn’t understand about his lecture on perception, remember to ask Mama about her medical appointment, email sponsors my transcript (!!!), make sure you’re drinking enough water, oh and water your plants check to see they haven’t completely died, do the dishes from yesterday morning please, oh and you really need to do laundry if not you’ll have nothing to wear to the gym tomorrow, also pick out classes for the Spring semester and make a mock schedule, which means you have to see Professor Connolly to approve some of your course selections, also see an ECON advisor to help figure out if you want to continue with that major, and see a PSCI advisor to see if you could accidentally get a minor in political science, and remember to write a blog post about your week in time.*
I hate to sound all ~oh I’m so busy~ but man.. the little things. It’s like that light rain which is more like mist, where it’s not heavy enough to warrant you staying inside, and yet an umbrella just will not protect you from it because it still gets in your face. It’s like a pile of books in my way for which I just need to figure out a system to stack them on their respective shelves. It’s like a being a waiter at those restaurant where they carry like 6 dishes on two arms (or is that not a thing?).
See, the thing is, none of those things really scare me in and of itself, and I know I can use iCal and my to-do list and reminders to help me get through all of them. But sometimes I wish someone would just give me a play-by-play of what I need to do on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis so I would just follow instructions, as opposed to having to always re-evaluate and re-consider and improvise. It’s like how the rubic’s cube was so much more fun once I had memorised all the steps, instead of having to think my way through it and calculus only became my favourite subject once I had gotten the hang of it.
Dude, this transition into being an adult is toughhh. It’s like I’ve spent my whole life riding those tiny aeroplane rides where you pay like a dollar or something to use and it just swings you back and forth for 2 minutes while playing some fun-fair type music, and then I blinked and suddenly I am in a real aeroplane and there are buttons on the dashboard and ceiling and floor and levers that serve functions I don’t know of.
It’s times like these I really need to just take a step back and detach from the street-level view of my life and “zoom out”. Yeah, they’re like a million tiny raindrops, but it’s just rain. Soak in it, wipe it off–it will stop, you will dry off. It will be okay. Deep breaths. One thing at a time. One step, and then another, and another.
Honestly, “baby steps” is like one of the most liberating pieces of wisdom I’ve ever received, which is why it’s on my Instagram bio thing (and that is clearly where all pieces of wisdom belong).