Fall not-quite-Break

Hello! We’re at week 7 now!

I’ve just finished Fall Break which was Thurs-Sun, but if I’m honest, it really didn’t feel like a break at all. Three of the four days, I had a 9 a.m. start to my day. Friday, particularly was packed with gym class, career services appointment, office hours, working at the lab… it felt like just any other weekday. And because I had SO MUCH homework, the break felt even busier than some weekends.

Recently, I’ve been really enjoying working at the Psycholinguistics lab. First of all, it’s in the new Neurobehavioural Sciences building on campus so the facilities are like, top notch and it’s super clean and pretty. The lab I’m working in isn’t a lab you’d normally think of: no chemicals or frogs or rat or anything like that. I’m currently analysing speech and coding for certain dimensions of conversations. It’s funny to take something I do everyday (converse) and dissect it into snippets and label it etc. But yeah, the room the lab is in is really nice. It’s so nice that I’ve been spending a lot of time there because there’s a lot of privacy and a reclining chair (I was too cheap to spend an extra $20 on a reclining chair for my own room two years ago, sigh).

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I did manage to have some fun during break, though. On Saturday, I went to brunch with Lanee and Shahirah at Sabrina’s. I hadn’t been there since like the spring of my Sophomore year so I was very excited to go back. Lanee and I went half-half with a savoury dish and a sweet one and I was so thankful because I love love love eggs but really wanted some of the maple-syrup-coated stuffed french toast. Back home with my family, I’d usually get one of my sisters to split two things with me, but I try my best to refrain from asking anyone else to do that with me. However! That day, Lanee was the one who brought it up and that just made my day, haha.

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Oh! I have to say, my favourite part of fall break was binge-reading The Girl on the Train on Wednesday. I was really tired because on Wednesday night, I had just submitted my 2nd paper within one week (that’s about 4500 words combined, which is a feat for me; I hate academic writing) but I had been so excited to start reading the book that I just went for it anyway. It was so good. I’m not about to do a whole book review here, but Hawkins made it so easy to look at each character complexly and see the story through multiple lenses which is what I absolutely loved about it. I read the book in preparation for watching the movie on Saturday night and I almost maybe kinda wish I hadn’t? Because the movie version never compares to the book version. I left the theatre wishing I could see it fresh. But with that said, the movie was still good although definitely not for the faint-hearted. Clare and I watched it on Saturday night and we had a great time 🙂

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Anyway, in general, things are going ok. I know I haven’t really been writing about my regular weeks and what’s been going on, but that’s because I feel like nothing super interesting has happened? I haven’t gone out to do anything fun, I see the same 5 people always and on average I have like 200 pages of compulsory reading every week so I spend most of my time on my laptop doing that…

I guess there have been some fun things. Yuna came to campus for  a little forum slash discussion thing but I only took one picture with her and no one told me my shirt was super wrinkled so I’m not posting that LOL. Hubbub also hosted a little Gilmore Girls promo thing last Wednesday and I queued for an hour to get a cup of coffee in the Gilmore Girls promo cup with the Luke’s Diner sleeve hahaha.

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I’m actually at Hubbub again right now as I’m writing this, waiting for my meeting with my research advisor to start while tidying up my History notes because I have my first exam in that class next week! I have something major due/an exam every week starting from week 3 to week 13 before I get a one and a half week “break” and then it’s finals. So I guess it’s a good thing I didn’t get a break these past few days?? So that I don’t risk losing momentum?? Haha I don’t know. Pray I don’t burnout guys THANKS. Byeeeeee.

Dear Past Self | USAPPS

Dear past self,

At this point, you are petrified but so eager to learn. If what I remember about you is correct, you’re excited to soak up knowledge and run with it, but you’re also just scared that you don’t have what it takes. Well, I have to say that I’m you, three years later, and I’m still incompetent in Excel, still unsure about how to give a good presentation, still unsure of how the stock market works and still clueless about Plato. I’m sorry. But here’s what you will get from Penn…

It will hit you straight away that everyone around you is smart and driven. During orientation, all freshmen will be asked to write about an assigned reading and some people around you will raise their hands and ask for more paper. You will end up awkwardly making stuff up in your best efforts to make up a modest paragraph. That will be the first of many times you feel you fall short. I don’t want to scare you but there will be more. Professors and TAs will ask questions in class and your classmates’ hands will dart up confidently, even though you feel like you didn’t even understand the question. Some people will take six classes and you will be hustling with your four. Trust me though, you will steadily learn that sure, everyone around you is insanely brilliant, hardworking and even accomplished, but each and every one of you took a different road to get there. I know that you’re scared you won’t measure up, but you don’t always have to. You will learn that your starting line is your own and your experiences are incomparable.

The truth is, your finish line might be days, months or years behind someone else’s starting line and so college will be a hustle on most days. You will be assigned six-paged essays and people will tell you, “that’s totally fine” and that you “can definitely do it” and you will stare back, mouth agape in disbelief and confusion. You will be expected to turn in MATLAB codes for classes despite having never used the program before. You will spend days writing your first cover letter and resume. You will sit in bed at night and worry that what is expected of you is always leaps and bounds ahead of what you can do. You will worry that you are an impostor. But somehow, either through copious amounts of caffeine or sheer divine intervention (though, most likely both) you will hand in the paper, the code, the cover letter. You will make it through semester after semester, exhausted but unscathed. There will be so many oh-shit-what-the-hell-have-I-gotten-myself-into situations, and you will learn that you somehow always make your way out of them. You will learn that you always learn to find a way.

Because you have the capacity to learn, you will slowly start taking risks. You don’t have to do everything—6 classes, 5 clubs, go to the gym and fall asleep by midnight—perfectly right away, but eventually you will raise your hand in class and eventually you will manage a board of 7 people, eventually you will raise thousands of dollars for events and charities. If it seems far away from where you are now, well, good. Because you will learn to take pleasure in having a long way to go.

You won’t do it all alone, though. You will inevitably worry your way through the chaos and hurry of New Student Orientation. People will exchange phone numbers with each other and with you absent-mindedly, and people will haphazardly add each other on Facebook for a while… but that will all slow down and if you keep going out there, keep saying “hi, I’m Dayana” then by the end of all that chaos you will find yourself with friendships more rewarding than you’ve ever known. This is a college cliché—as cliché as lying down on green grass doing work on a Macbook—but luckily for you it will be true. It will be difficult to make friends initially, and you will compare it to making friends in school where you were all chucked into the same classroom and so friendships were always more effortless and convenient… but you will learn that your best relationships are ahead of you and they involve ordering pizza at 2 a.m., making snow angels on a snow day, eating burgers on the rooftop of Fresh Grocer, having a shoulder to cry on when you get your first C and feeling endlessly supported and inspired and grateful.

Yeah I guess it kinda sucks that I still have no idea what “VLOOKUP” is on Excel but you can Google that when you have to use it. The things you will learn are skills beyond what a textbook can teach you. The things you will learn are a lifetime’s endeavour. You’re learning how to learn. I know you’re eager to learn things you can use at work, things you can put on your resume, and I also know you’re scared. I’m here to say that your thirst for knowledge, your capacity for information will never be fulfilled and you will find at every corner that there will always be more you could have learned. But you will be better at feeling scared, you will feel more comfortable with not knowing everything and you will be more equipped to figure things out as you go.

I’m so excited for you.

Sincerely,
Future Dayana


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This post was originally posted on the USAPPS blog. I wrote this post for USAPPS, an organisation run by Malaysians studying in the United States, which aims to provide help to other Malaysian students applying to U.S. colleges.

I attended USAPPS myself when I was applying and learned about writing my Common App essay, applying for financial aid and most importantly, got to speak to Malaysian students from all the colleges I wanted to go to. Their 2-day workshop is coming this weekend, you can register for it on their website usapps.org or their Facebook page.

Week 16: Wrapping Up…

I’ve had a pretty good time this past week, I can’t complain too much. My club put together our semesterly speaker event last week, which was pretty cool. Once a semester, we invite a prominent Asian figure to speak about their experiences and this semester, we got Yellow Rage, a Philly-based spoken word duo to come perform and talk about their current projects. It was a really great performance and I’m glad our team got to have dinner with them afterwards too. It was tough pulling this event together. I didn’t think it would be this difficult but I’m so proud of the team for making it happen. The event was good; I think when I’m organising something I scrutinize every little thing that could’ve been better and get stressed out about it. But people seemed to enjoy it and anxieties aside, I think it went pretty well!

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5/7 of our board with Michelle and Catzie of Yellow Rage. (L-R: Jamie, Luke, Catzie, Michelle, Sydney, Wendy and me)

Another really exciting that happened is that I’m done with classes for junior year!!! Classes ended for this semester on Wednesday and it’s now reading days, which is basically a time for me to half-heartedly prepare for finals I am not ready for.

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Me with Joanna and Erin, my cultural psychology classmates at our last class together.

All of this also means my friends and I are pretty much seniors now! We had Hey Day today, to celebrate the ~moving on up~ of the junior class to becoming senior class. It’s just some Penn tradition thing—we wear red t-shirts, styrofoam hats and carry around wooden canes and we march down Locust Walk together. I mean, I honestly did not enjoy it as much as I thought I would. The picnic part of the morning was so disorienting… everyone was loud and drunk, and I hate crowds so all of that made me really antsy. People were also like, rounding up their friends to get group pictures, which was really difficult because I’d be pulled aside to take one picture but as we’re walking around trying to complete that group, I’d bump into someone else who’s looking for me and all of that just made me really dizzy. But it was still moderately enjoyable (haha) because I’m glad I got to see a lot of my friends today and I’m happy to be this much closer to senior year.

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Hui Jie, Shahirah, Ken, Peter, Lian Han ❤ ❤ ❤

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Class of 2017 Malaysians!

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Freshman hall friends ❤

Just before Hey Day started though, I attended the Psychology department’s poster presentations, where all the students who did their independent research studies in the department get to talk about what they’ve worked on and discuss their findings with other students and professors. Some of my friends and classmates were there presenting their work, which was really awesome to see! I really love seeing people accomplish things and I was honestly really amazed by a lot of their work. I was particularly happy to meet this one girl, whose project I will be developing further for my research project next year. I got to talk to her about working with the Psycholinguistics professor in the lab and her experience with the project in general. She seemed really excited to know that I was going to be continuing this work, which I thought was really sweet. Coincidentally, the person who worked on this project before her was also there the same time I was and it was… a moment. You know? It’s like 3 generations of students who will have worked on this project and are really excited about this topic. They were both very supportive and I really appreciated that.

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My friend Joanna explaining her research to Dr. Kurzban, the Psychology undergraduate advisor.

On the whole though, this week has really been all about the end of year events. I just got back from the senior farewell dinner with the Malaysians at an Indonesian restaurant in South Philly. It’s a little sad to see them go but I’m so excited for everything that’s ahead of them. There was also a end-of-year dinner for the Asian community house and I got to go. The speeches were really moving and it’s always nice to come together and congratulate the graduates. 🙂

I’m really looking forward to getting a break from Penn, honestly. But first, I have a 7-page paper to write and 3 finals to take so……. I’m going to go to sleep, hehe. Until next time!

Once All The Dust Has Cleared / The Whole Is Greater Than All Of Its Parts

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.