Week 13: I Really Like Using Italics

As I write this, I’m taking a break from doing work at Hubbub, my favourite cafe on campus. At the corner of my eye, I can see that the girl sitting at the table next to me is watching a really good episode of The Office and I just wanna slide over and cozy up next to this random stranger and laugh about it with her (like a creep) but luckily for me, I have proper socialisation and know to buckle myself down and keep my eyes on my own laptop screen.

How was your week? I was kind of sick last weekend so I didn’t do much except go to Trader Joe’s and Uniqlo. Their new collection of pants is so awesome (!!!!) but I reigned in my self-control and got only 2 pairs. I had a midterm yesterday which I feel I kind of blew and I was a tad bummed but I was like okay about it. This morning, I thought, maybe I’ll just go see my TA to talk about how I’m doing in the class in general and whether that grade would seriously hurt me. I walk into her office, she asks me “hey, what’s up?” and I just choked. It took me a while to start talking not because I was so upset (I honestly did not feel upset walking into the room, just out of breath from all the stairs leading to her office) but because I was seriously puzzled about why I was at the very brink of tears. Seriously, the whole time, I was like WHAT is going on??????? I have gotten Bs and Cs, my transcript is basically a melange of alphabets and I have always shrugged my shoulders and carried on. Yet, here I was, tearing up about the prospect of getting an A-. You can probably tell I’m still bewildered. But anyway, after a few deep breaths, we talked about my grade. The class won’t be curved so I will have to pull myself up if this goes badly but she doesn’t think it will be too bad.

I am pretty much at the tail end of the semester so the focus is very much on the last few hurdles. Nothing too exciting has happened so I will leave you with some ~pop culture~ recommendations.

  • “Blue Neighbourhood” by Troye Sivan—my favourite tracks are “EASE” and “BLUE”
  • “Binge” by Tyler Oakley—a book you can get as an audiobook for free on Audible.com like I did! It’s so entertaining
  • “Room”—an Oscar-nominated movie, for which Brie Larson won best actress and it’s so riveting
  • Season 28 of The Amazing Race—I know TAR is so like 10 years ago or whatever but I think we all just forgot how fun it is to watch
  • The Commanding Heights—I had to watch this 3-part documentary for a class and it’s super informative and interesting, for anyone interested in economic history (I guess this one is not really pop culture but it is still fun)

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Byeeeeeeee.

Week 3: I Think I Did Absolutely Nothing

Hi, friends. How was your week? 🙂

I’m not really sure what to talk about this week because I didn’t really… do anything… The Northeast had a pretty big winter storm last weekend so I kinda just stayed home watching movies (I saw Sisters and Miss Congeniality hehe) and doing my readings throughout.

Last week after Friday prayers, there was a reception at one of the college dorms to officiate the English House Dining Hall serving halal food starting the 25th of January. That was really exciting! I’m so grateful that we have this option now, it really makes the dining hall experience so much better for us Muslims. I just found out that Penn was, until last week, the only Ivy League that did not offer halal options. I hope now more people will know what halal means and stop saying they want to “get halal” when they mean they want to eat chicken over rice from the halal food trucks because it just doesn’t make sense grammatically, haha.

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From the Penn MSA Facebook page because I took no photos and just ate.

Last Saturday night as the storm had its fun, Hui Jie and I had popcorn and maggi and stayed up talking, that was nice. A lot of people went out to play but I just… dislike snow. After the storm passed, Shahirah, Hui Jie and I went to Trader Joes (best place ever next to Disneyland) to do groceries.

My classes have been okay. I’m starting to love this Psychology class I’m taking called Language and Thought—we’re learning about the pathway between thinking and speaking. Being bilingual helps to understand some of the concepts in this class and in fact, makes the content a lot more interesting and engaging for me and I like that.

I also love my International Political Economy class! Professor Pollack is so energetic that he makes 9 a.m. classes very exciting and it’s always a great start to the day and week. For now, we’ve gone over some brief economic history and we were assigned to watch this documentary called The Commanding Heights. It gave me the basics to start learning about many things I’ve heard about but never really understood like Keynesian economics and the Raegan-Thatcher years. The readings were kind of difficult though. I don’t have a strong background in economic history or history at all for that matter, so I took a very long time to go through them.

I’m also taking 4 classes again this semester instead of my usual 5 because the work load for these 4 classes seems pretty heavy–I think I’m going to be writing 1-2 papers every week this semester. Plus I want to do less but do better, so I feel good about that decision.

In other news, I was awoken this morning at about 4-ish a.m. because I thought I heard the sounds of a rat or something under my bed, but was too scared to check so I went to sleep on the couch (which, if you know my room layout, doesn’t make much sense because it’s like two steps away from my bed).

But yeah, that’s all for this week. Next week is looking more exciting so I’ll tell you about it soon 🙂

P.S. Last weekend, I also discovered Noah Ritter’s videos on Ellen. If you have never seen it, let this be my gift to you: go look it up!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just a little bit longer, now 🙂

Week 4: I Invite You To Walk A Week In My Shoes

The past two summers I’ve been back, I’ve often found that it’s been difficult to answer simple questions like “how do you like your university?” or “what is Penn like?”. It’s hard to do justice to questions that require you to somehow summarise your entire year in a relatively unfamiliar place. It’s hard to share with people this experience if I’m not having proper conversations with all of them regularly–something very difficult to do because of time constraints and time differences. Being really close to my family and friends, I like being able to share my experiences with them. Not being able to tell them about my life abroad just, well, sucked, because it’s currently a huge chunk of my life. This is why I decided to write about my week in detail, as much as I can remember and think is significant. It’s a far-from-perfect representation of my entire year at Penn, especially given the fact that exams haven’t started, but maybe it’ll be a good jumping-off point. So, here it is.


Sunday

Didn’t get out of bed until 11 a.m. because Hui Jie and I stayed up watching Running Man and talking while being slumped in my couch until late at night the night before. Later in the afternoon, I had lunch with my friend Adriel who’s from Singapore. I was so lazy to do any walking that I asked him to meet me at the Thai restaurant in my apartment building.

At night, my friend Fahmida organised a pot-luck type thing in her room for the MSA girls. It was really nice to meet the freshmen who all seem to be great girls. We pretty much just ate briyani, danced to desi/arab music and made a lot of noise. Honestly, it’s the closest thing I have here to spending time with my cousins at home.


Monday

It was labour day, so we didn’t have classes. I stayed in for most of the day. I cooked the chicken (the breaded chicken tenders from my last post!) and watched a lot of The Big Bang Theory. I did about 50 pages of reading for my classes, which honestly, was not as much as I could/should have done.

This has nothing to do with the day's events, I just wanted a picture to be here.

Monday is also the day I have club meetings. One of the clubs I’m in is Penn Sangam–we organise dialogue events once a month where we moderate a discussion on a specific topic within the context of the Asian community. After the Sangam meeting, I had to go to the Malaysians@Penn (M@P) elections. I brought poppadoms. I also got re-elected as External Affairs chair. It probably sounds like a bigger deal than it is, because M@P doesn’t even have 30 members.


Tuesday

View from class.

View from class.

As on most days, I cook eggs in the morning. My earliest class is on a Tuesday–I have Ideas in Mathematics at 9.30 a.m. at the opposite end of campus. Then, I have Evolutionary Psychology right after. It’s 5 blocks down from the Math building, and I’m always late because I can never make it there in the 10 minutes I get between classes. I have a 1-hour break after this, and I usually go home for breaks to eat, pray and sometimes even nap.

Then, I have a Sociology class which is Educational Inequality. We learn about how educational opportunities intersects with class, race, politics and stuff like that. Tuesdays are also my longest days so I have one more class after this, and it’s Cognitive Neuroscience. Yeah, you can tell how scary it is from the name. So far we’re learning about neurons and the brain–things I haven’t thought of since I finished SPM almost 5 years ago.

After my last class, the day is still far from over, much to my dismay. I went home to cook dinner and do some reading for class for a while before I have to head out again. I’m a coordinator in a volunteering group called Write On! that mentors middle school children and teaches them creative writing. Because it’s the new school year, we’re looking for new students to join the group. We had an event last Tuesday where we pitch it to a bunch of people who’re interested and encourage them to apply to join. There is also free pizza.

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The other coordinators at the Write On! meeting.

Afterwards, I go home and do laundry while watching some TV. At this point, I was very worried about how I will handle all my classes because I’m going through my readings very slowly (they’re so hard for me to understand, honestly) and I find it so difficult to keep up with taking notes in my Neuroscience class.

Waiting for my laundry.

Waiting for my laundry.


Wednesday

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I wake up extra early today to go to my favourite coffee shop to finish my readings (which were due to be read by 2 p.m. that same day). After I’m done, I go to relax outside because the weather was amazing. As I’m lazing at College Green, I remember I don’t have time to be chilling because I needed to see my faculty advisor about questions I had on my Psychology research requirement. So, I run a few blocks to his office so that I have time to see him before class. I was quite worried about it so he gave me some advice about how to start and said I’m on track time wise, so that made me feel better. Then I have to rush to Math class but I make it in good time. Despite all that physical activity, I was so sleepy in class.

Reading at College Green.

Reading at College Green before I panic.

Then, I got lunch at the halal food truck because I didn’t feel like cooking. On Wednesdays after lunch, I have a Political Science class called Political Change in the Third World (this is the class I was rushing my readings for, lol). It’s very interesting and Hui Jie is also in the class with me! The professor talks a lot so my hands are always tired after 50 minutes of speedily taking notes. Right after this lecture, I have recitation for this class. Recitation is kinda like tutorials in Malaysia and even the UK, I think. We have to discuss the assigned readings.

Discussion-based classes make me feel so nervous. Sometimes, when I think of something to say, I can’t say it because I’m so nervous I can hear my heart beat in my ear. I used to be so scared to say anything in class because I was scared my heart beat would be louder than my own voice and I won’t know what I’m talking about. Things have gotten better, but I can’t believe I’m in Junior year (third year) of college and I’m still nervous about talking in class..

Sangam board at the PAACH open house.

Sangam board at the PAACH open house.

Right after class, I have to go to PAACH — the Pan-Asian American Community House. PAACH is a cultural center for Asians; a space for us to chill, get together and reach out to staff for help/support. As a representative of Penn Sangam, I have to go to their open house to talk about PAACH, what it does and also about the club I’m representing. It was a little tiring because it was a lot of smiling and high-energy talking, but it was fun I guess. After the open house, I stopped by at Houston Hall to see my friend Ken. He was presenting his summer research project, and I wanted to support him!  And then I went home, completely pooped out.

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Thursday

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I woke up early and made eggs for breakfast again as usual. Then I went to the coffee shop downstairs to do some readings and revision–going over my notes, watching some videos of stuff I didn’t quite understand. I had my first class at 10.30 a.m. and we learned about kin recognition. After class, I had to go to the Netter Center to get my security clearances done. I guess it’s kinda like a background check? It’s for my Sociology class–there is a volunteering aspect to the course which means we get to go to a school in South Philadelphia once or twice a week to understand the schooling system through a hands-on perspective.

Then, after lunch, we went to visit the school. It’s about a 25-minute train ride away from campus. It was really interesting to see the condition of the school. Public schools are largely under-funded in Philadelphia, and so they’re getting a lot of help from universities and other institutions like Penn which is partly why we’re there. Everyone at the school was great. The staff were all really nice and the kids are adorable! After a 30-minute tour of the school, I had to rush back to campus for class. A few of us took the cab because it was raining and we were short on time. I was a little bit soaked when I got to class so I felt really gross and found it difficult to concentrate.

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After class, I went back home to get changed into my gym clothes. Hui Jie and I went for a gym class called Barre Fit. It’s a lot of slow, controlled movements with lots of reps. Think ballet foot work + weights. It was so painful, and by the end of it my legs were jelly but I LOVED IT. Because I was soaked once with rain and then twice with sweat, I went home to take a good long shower. I made prawns with thai chilli sauce and peppers and onions like my mom makes sometimes for dinner. Then I went to the Muslim Students Associations (MSA) gathering for a while to see my friends.

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It was still raining when we left, but Shahirah and I wanted to go to Trader Joes (best grocery shop I’ve ever been to). I got my usuals: salmon, eggs, cheese, yogurt, soy milk and apples (which are the bulk of my diet, really). Then we were stuck at the shop for a while because the rain was so heavy. We ended up taking a Lyft back and the driver was really nice.

Realizing we were both somewhat-matching as we were waiting outside Trader Joes for the Lyft car.

Realizing we were both somewhat-matching as we were waiting outside Trader Joes for the Lyft car.

Once we got home, I was so tired but because I’m one of the coordinators for Write On!, I had to read through the applications we received for potential volunteers and rate them. I can’t imagine what it must be like to read college applications. I read just over 50 short club applications and already found it so difficult to pick my favs. It was difficult because everyone was so accomplished and also, to be honest, sounded the same.


Friday

Breakfast: eggs. Yes. Again. Always. Everyday. Forever. Also had mango juice, that was new. I had an earlier-than-usual Friday this week because we coordinators had to deliberate who would be part of Write On! and send out the acceptance emails. Then, I went to class. Some people don’t have class on Fridays but I think I prefer having one to keep me busy all week. After class, I went to a Career Fair for the first time! I felt so lost. I didn’t even know it was held at Sheraton, or that you needed to bring a resume, or that you get a name tag printed for you, or that there’s AN APP to help you navigate the fair, much less know what to say to recruiters. It was slightly overwhelming, but luckily I had friends to go with me and honestly, it wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be.

9 a.m. deliberation meeting.

9 a.m. deliberation meeting.

Random stuff from the career fair.

Random stuff from the career fair.

I went home for lunch, watched some TV and took a nap. Later at night, I got to catch up with two of my friends, Habeeb and Zohair. We took the Penn Transit bus (which is FREE, I never knew?!?!) and we went to the city to chill at Rittenhouse Square, which is a nice park to relax at! I love sitting on the benches and talking. It’s always a good time. I’ve always wished I could do that with my family and friends from home.

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Rittenhouse Square.


Saturday

Finally the weekend!!!! I woke up early, made breakfast and did what I was procrastinating all week: cleaned the kitchen. Specifically, there were some old rags in the kitchen I’ve been meaning to wash/throw out but was too grossed out to touch. In the end it took less than 10 minutes, and I love it when things tend to be not as scary as they seem in my head.

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Later that same morning, I went to try my first spin class! If you’ve never heard of it, it’s a cycling-ish class in the gym, where you cycle at the speed and resistance level you instructor tells you to be. There are sprints, and different “poses” like standing/sitting etc. It was really tough and I hated it and I was ~15rpm slower than she told us to be for most of the class. I’m sure it’s a great work out but I doubt I’ll be going back any time soon!

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I went home to shower and eat lunch. I was too lazy to cook, so I went for my trusty salmon salad and peaches which is really low-effort. I did more reading yet again, and then went to the city. I needed to go to Center City because I bought a sports bra in the wrong size and had to return it. But since I was there, I went to La Colombe again to get their draft latte and stayed to finish my Political Science readings for the coming week. An hour later, as I sat at a table by the window peacefully reading, someone suddenly bangs on the window in front of me. I was so taken aback I almost fell off my stool. It was my friend Adam who saw me as he was walking past. It turns out a bunch of my MSA friends were chilling in the city because Fayaaz, who graduated last year and is now working in Atlanta, was here to visit. So I ended up walking home with them because if I was alone I would’ve spent $2.25 on a bus ride home. With company though, it’s a nice walk back to campus.

Adam and Fayaaz after unintentionally surprising me.

Adam and Fayaaz after unintentionally surprising me.

With the girls on the walk back to campus.

With the girls on the walk back to campus.

I was quite tired when I got home but I still had work to do. Every time I finished a chapter or one problem set, I would reward myself with one episode of TV. And I did that until I went to sleep.


So that was a somewhat-faithful description of my week. I mean, I didn’t include a lot of things. For example, every time I walk to my math class, I’m always soaking through my t-shirt and it looks like I’m crying because sweat is just dripping down my face until my glasses get fogged up. The chicken I made last Monday tasted good after baking but the breadcrumb skin wasn’t as crispy as I wanted it to be so I had to lightly fry it. I walked into wrong classrooms multiple times. I was nominated for President of M@P but was too scared to lead anything. I had to miss a gym class on Wednesday because I forgot to buy a class pass in time.

All in all, I think my Penn experience has been great because of the variety I’m presented with: I’m currently in 4 different clubs and I have friends from all over the country and the world. But it’s also difficult in many ways: I always feel like I should be either doing more or be doing better. Even though I’m already swamped and unsure of how to balance everything on my plate, I’m always dealing with a sense of fear that I’m not doing my best, or that I’m not living up to my standards. I think wanting to do more and do better is a great attitude to have and I’m thankful I have that motivation, but I’m constantly trying to be mindful of how I channel that energy into my daily life. It’s so easy to turn this energy into a self-deprecating voice, but I really need it to be a constructive, productive force or whatever.

Admittedly, this was a really great week. I got a lot of things done, and managed to have a lot of fun too. It was a great balance. Like I said earlier though, not every week is like this. Sometimes I’m too tired to go to the gym the whole week. Sometimes I eat maggi four times a week because I’m too lazy to do groceries. Sometimes I can’t answer any questions in class because I didn’t do my readings in time.

But I’ve always dreamed of becoming superwoman. I’ve always wanted to do everything. It’s not always going to go my way, and honestly, things rarely go my way, if ever. Most of the time I don’t have this balance, but it is always great to keep trying to get there.