Anthony Bourdain in Sarawak, and then some thoughts on work

It’s Friday night and my roommate is out of town so I have the TV to myself. I was scrolling through Netflix for something to watch and after giving up on a crappy Jennifer Aniston, I found Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown series. I initially was looking for the episode on Tehran because I was told by people at work that it’s really good. Then, I saw there was an episode about Borneo… so like, there was no competition. I had to watch that one. I thought it was going to be something about the Indonesia part of it but was so pleasantly surprised that it was actually about the Malaysian side of Borneo. Sarawak in particular. He even started out the episode in KL… with a plate of char kuey teow! And then he went off to Kuching, for some Laksa Sarawak, which just left me in fetal position on the couch.

IT WAS TORTUROUS. I did not expect that at all, but man, I was writhing in pain. I don’t think about home that much anymore… I don’t spend a lot of time fantasizing about the food or places as much. I wasn’t sure if I just loved it less or if I just got better at being present wherever I was. I guess it’s really hard to tease those two apart. But I really felt it in my gut when I saw vignettes of home: everything from the penambangs to the twin towers. It’s like the US is on my skin, but home is deep in my bones.

But umm, since I’ve started writing this… Bourdain has gone to visit his orang asli friends deep in the Sarawak forests and they’re now celebrating Gawai with pork and tattoos and alcohol and I can’t relate to it anymore HAHA so let’s change the subject!

Work was good this week. Another featurette squared away in 4 days! Monday was off and honestly, I’m not such a fan of public holidays anymore just ’cause no matter how many days we work, an episode comes out every Monday morning so a day off doesn’t mean less work, it just means less time.

Ok now here’s the thing about me and working on these featurettes. I thought I’d feel a bit better at it because it’s my second time helping to produce a segment of the show but the story was a little different this week and I quickly realized that even though to a listener, most of the How I Built This stories sound the same… to a producer, especially a severely inexperienced one, it’s a slightly different challenge everytime. So it wasn’t a lot easier. It actually wasn’t any easier at all. And I think that’s annoying just because I desperately want to get better… of course, part of it was wanting to get better for myself, but a huge part of it, I’m not gonna lie, was just about wanting to get better so that I can stop taking so much of other people’s time!

I know everyone says it’s not a burden when I ask for help… and I believe them. Truly, I do. But the objective fact is also that I’m doing something they could do in half the time—maybe even less than that. And I just, ugh, that just annoys me y’know? Working with my editor is getting a bit more painful not because she’s gotten more strict or garang or whatever… she’s as nice as ever but I think in my head it’s like “ok, it’s been a month and I still haven’t totally got this.” So, every criticism is a bit more annoying not because it’s harsher, but rather, because I have quickly-rising expectations for myself.

If you know me at all, you’ll know that my high expectations for myself have always both been a hindrance and a propeller. I don’t like doing things I don’t do well. That sometimes means I go all out with the things I do. But that also sometimes means I don’t try. My editor told me to take a stab at the first draft of our featurette this past week and my first impulse was to shy away from the chance. I agreed to do it of course, because I hate being a coward and because I knew it was good for me… but I have to acknowledge that I felt a strong urge to decline responsibility. I think she noticed my reluctance and she was very understanding. She gave a nod to how intimidating the task seems but encouraged me to try. At that very moment, I almost laughed out loud, because I remembered the time I got into the car for a driving lesson and the instructor told me to switch seats with him and drive the car and I was like “no, thanks”—because everyone knows the best way to learn to drive is by watching from a passenger seat, right? LOL.

This week, only 1 or 2 lines of the draft I wrote actually made it into the final edit. Only a few of the clips I chose survived my editor’s scrutiny. I don’t take it personally and I respect her every decision and I see her reasoning. But when I continue to miss the mark, it can feel like I’m not learning. I know the truth is that I’m probably just not learning as fast as I want to, but that I am still learning. I guess sometimes it doesn’t feel like that.

I want to be good, you know? I want to be really good. I know these things don’t come quickly. I know I should be patient but the fast pace at which things move at makes it difficult to tolerate inefficiency. I find myself wishing I could learn new things now the way I learned new things back in school. And I don’t mean Penn school. I mean like… Form 1 school. You learned everything part by part. I remember being asked to do countless fraction problems, and on a separate part of the exercise book, there were just factorisation problems or whatever. And then on yet another part of the exercise book, they’d give me a word problem and in trying to solve it I’d realise, OH, the solution involves both factorisation and fractions, that’s why they drilled us on the basics first. It’s kind of like how in Karate Kid, Jackie Chan made Jaden Smith take his jacket off and on constantly. It felt so pointless, and then when he got into a fight, he realised he had really gotten down all the tools he needed.

I guess in an exercise-book version of learning to do my job, I’d be asked to first do nothing but practice cutting tape in a way that “preserves natural breaths” for a whole day. Then the next day, I’d spend the whole day learning how to balance sound levels. Then the next day, aligning music. The next day, adjusting the gaps between sound bites/making sure the pace sounds right. And the next day another thing, and so on. I think I grew up learning by drilling in the basics until it became so painfully tedious, and now part of me still clings on to that system. Maybe because when I was a kid, I tended to be a bit “ahead” in my classes; I got so used to not moving on from one concept until I got totally bored of it. So in college, and now at work, being thrown into new things at such a rapid pace and expecting to learn and improvise on the go kinda puts me out of my comfort zone. It’s a little embarrassing that I’ve been out of school—high school—for years now and I still get so insecure about trying new things and not being perfect… but there’s no point denying it.

But here’s what I know I have picked up from my schooling years (all my life, basically). I know I have a feel for how to work with people: update the people I’m accountable to on where I am with my work, give them a sense of what to expect from me in the coming days or weeks or whatever so we’re on the same page, make sure I’m clear about what I can and can’t do. I also know I’m able to plan ahead and manage my timelines. I always ask myself “have I taken the fish out of the freezer?” and I don’t mean it literally. When I first started learning how to cook, I kept making the mistake of forgetting to defrost my fish and come home excited to cook/eat dinner… only to remember my salmon is still frozen. It’s such a good metaphor I think, for how sometimes you have to do something now so that you can do the thing you have to do next week. And I’m definitely not great at that, but at least it’s something I’m quite aware of. So far, at work, there have been a couple of times at least where I’ve been glad I was looking ahead and avoided getting stuck.

I don’t know if any of this makes sense, honestly haha. It makes sense in my head, I swear. So yeah. That’s my thoughts on the week. I don’t know how long I can keep this up honestly, because the things I’m doing are quite repetitive and this first month, I’ve always had new things to say about the job because of this steep learning curve but as things progress, I’m curious to see what I’ll have to say (or if I’ll still have things to say).

Ok, I was planning to write more about some stuff I did outside of work this past week but this is getting a bit lengthy as it is so I’ll get to that next time. Until then, thanks for reading!

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Mental Leg Days

I joked to my friend May May recently that the learning curve has been so steep at this new place that it’s like mental leg day everyday…

…which is probably a good thing!

So, if you’re not familiar with the show I’m attached to, (why aren’t you though? Check it out here) it’s hosted by Guy Raz. I had lunch with him last Friday and during lunch, he talked about how we usually suck when we start something new (except he said it more eloquently than that). I think that should have comforted me, but like do you even know me? Of course it didn’t LOL. I hate sucking at things (!), especially the things I like doing and I really like this job.

At this point, my job has primarily consisted of writing promos for the show to go on the social media sites and preparing a write-up on the guests that Guy will interview… which means like a two-page thing about their life story and as many questions as I can think of (these write-ups are called passoffs). I’ve written two passoffs so far. I prepare them and then the show’s editor looks over them and gives me feedback and from that, I can tell that my second one was better than my first but that they’re still not good. And here’s the frustrating thing: I know it’s not good and my editor (bless her BRILLIANT soul) tries her very best to give me constructive feedback but she and I both know that it’s the kind of thing you just get better at with experience. So as eager and impatient as I am, I just have to keep doing more of them until I get better.

Everyone on the team has been asking me how everything is going and whether or not I feel like I’m “sipping from a firehose” and on the first week, not so much. In retrospect, that was probably because half the team was away doing a live show in Seattle. But now that everyone’s back, I’m starting to get a feel for the regular swing of things and I’m feeling the uphill climb on the learning curve as they give me more and more responsibility. In some ways, it’s about learning to do the tasks correctly but the other, equally challenging thing is learning to juggle different tasks that belong to different projects and have different timelines.

I came home from work the other day and was like… ok this is the homework I’m going to give to myself in order to try to get better quickly and I kinda laughed about it a little because I was weirdly glad that my anxiety-powered intensity is back in action. It’s been what, 5 months since my last exam? So yeah, I haven’t felt this anxious drive in so long and it was just like “lol ok hi, intense Dayana is back (after the chillest summer of her life)”.

Speaking of intensity, I was reminded today of all my bad habits from college. For example, eating while doing work is like the #1 thing that comes to mind. If it wasn’t for my team asking me out to eat, I realised that my basic urge is to just microwave my packed lunch and eat it at my desk because that’s kinda how I’ve been doing it most of the time for the past few years… which is bad, right? I remember sitting down to eat and being like “oh, my eyes aren’t really needed for eating so I could probably do my readings now” (admittedly, sometimes it was Netflix instead of readings, but you know…) and I think that “I should always be working” thing is actually pretty hard to shake off. Like, I’d come home at night and the other day I caught myself looking for my usual to-do list. It’s so weird. But anyway! New life stages come with adjustments lah kan.

In other, funner news:

Us interns still have training going on. It’s a bit more sporadic now but we still have a few here and there. Last week, my favourite training session was one on the Marantz. It’s a mobile audio recorder and we basically had like 1.5 hours on how to use it, which I thought was pretty comprehensive. It isn’t directly related to what I do on the job, but I absolutely loved it because remember earlier this year when I was working on that piece about graduation? I was using a Zoom H4N which is similar to the Marantz but less sophisticated. And I had all these questions, which I’d just look for answers to on Google and whatnot but this training was great because it let me know what I was doing right and wrong and gave me answers to all my unresolved issues. So yeah, that was really cool!

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Unrelated to work: I went to see Ed Sheeran in concert last Wednesday! I went alone and it. was. so. much. fun. I bought the tickets ages ago that I had kinda forgotten all about it. And I got like the cheapest possible ones so I was on the highest possible tier but still, even though the show is basically just Ed and his loop pedal + a guitar, his voice/energy really filled the room and I just had the time of my life because I knew all the words to all the songs. Plus, I’ve heard all of his records over the years and I can remember like listening to Multiply on repeat while I was on a 7-hour layover at Heathrow and listening to Divide while I was in LA last March. So hearing everything live was definitely an experience.

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I wore an Ed Sheeran tshirt to work the next day and my editor asked me about it and asked me about the concert and she asked me whether there were a lot of screaming girls and bored parents and I said yeah but conveniently left out that I was, 100%, one of the screaming girls. It was a miracle that I still had my voice the next morning lol.

That’s all from me this week 🙂 I’m off to try to finish watching 30 Rock before it goes off of Netflix next weekend, haha. Bye!

Identity is a practice.

And so it goes, I’m done with my second last semester of college.

I really dove in, you know? I did. I pulled all the stops. I think I really managed my time well; I did my readings on time, exercised somewhat regularly, didn’t have too many late nights… and this is going to sound a little weird but I almost don’t want to go on a break even though I’m exhausted because I don’t want to lose that rhythm. I would hate to lose this work ethic because I think a large part of a sense of accomplishment really comes from the work ethic, more so than the work itself. Like, the only reason I’m anxiously awaiting my grades is because I’m hoping to see that work ethic validated and reflected in something. Jamie and I were talking a few days ago about what we’re proudest of this semester and for me, it’s really my discipline.

Part of me is worried about losing that after I leave college, when my life no longer is revolved around it so directly. I want to continue reading hundreds of pages of interesting scholarly work and beautiful literature every week, continue pushing the boundaries of what I can do with my time and energy and be held accountable for it. I am so fearful that I won’t.

“What horrifies me most is the idea of being useless: well-educated, brilliantly promising, and fading out into an indifferent middle age.”

— Sylvia Plath

I’ve been having dreams lately of me, sitting alone in an busy, nondescript workplace cafeteria, with a nondescript plate of food, taking notes from a book I’m reading and it makes me happy. That’s kind of always been who I am. I remember being 15 in school, sitting in the library reading during recess. I carried that through to A-Levels, and even here at Penn. Good work ethic and hunger for learning, for doing better, being better… I’m worried I will lose that part of who I am in the 9-to-5 life. At that thought, part of me wonders how anyone can “lose who they are” but part of me also knows identity is a practice and not a static condition. And so that’s what I want for my life, what I want to commit to. I want to never stop learning voraciously. I want that to forevermore be who I am, as a practice. This semester made that clearer for me.

May May and I were talking a few days ago about this. It sounds silly to say, but we want to be renaissance women. We want to read broadly and think deeply and be well-spoken. We talked about how we can feel this anxiety about drifting into mediocrity and how we can feel ourselves defending against it. We make lists of books to read and documentaries to watch and sometimes it gets tiring but it’s always good.

Some days when I’m stressed, I stop myself and stare at my desk with my pages of notes and books and I think about how almost all my life, it’s been my job to just, learn. And I am deeply struck by the realisation that this is my life, and it’s a freakin’ good one.

Last First Day | Fall 2016

Preface: this is very emotionally graphic for me, and although it’s a relatively innocuous topic, makes me very vulnerable so 1) if you generally think people (or, God forbid, specifically girls) just like to be overdramatic, I suggest you stop reading and 2) I’d strongly prefer no one discuss this post with me in person because even though I’m okay, I don’t really want to talk about it- I feel like I’ve gone over it in my head too many times already and just want to move on. Thank you for respecting my space and I hope you appreciate this one in particular.



The day before I left for Penn, I drove myself to the dentist (cue shiver) and on the way there, “Save Tonight” by Eagle-Eye Cherry came on. I remember singing along, save tonight / fight the break of dawn / come tomorrow, / tomorrow I’ll be gone, thinking about how apt the song was because have I ever wanted to leave? No. The answer is no.

That night, like all pre-flight nights, consisted of me lying down in my bed looking around my room considering how bizarre it is that I have to leave this place again. I am almost confused by it. “I am here now, but tomorrow I won’t be.” Huh. OK.

Needless to say, I always leave with a heavy heart. I suppose I am lucky, right? Not everyone has something difficult to say goodbye to, and although that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I think it’s great that I do. Except then I actually have to do it. Say goodbye, I mean. Some people say it gets easier every year but I absolutely must disagree. I was telling Shahirah a few weeks ago (when the crying-about-going-back-to-school began again) that it feels like when you ride a rollercoaster and after you get off you know how scary and heart-wrenching it was, so the next time you queue up to ride one, the dread and fear becomes even more real because you remember so clearly the feeling.

But beyond that, this year was just a tad different because I can’t help feeling like it’s the last time it’ll be like this at home. Aida will be in London and her summer breaks will get shorter every year… she’ll be straddling two homes for the next 6-or-so years. That’s a long time. Julia will leave for college the fall after I graduate. That’s quite soon. I’ll (hopefully??!?!?!) have a job and it’ll never really just be us, just kids, just laughing about Princess Diaries in the living room anymore. Here, I would like to re-emphasise how apt “save tonight” really feels.

Then as time somehow always does, it just goes on, regardless of how fiercely you dig your heels in the ground. My lungs feel like they are about to burst and the pain makes me grit my teeth but moments later I still find myself on the aeroplane. I stare out at the window, waiting for the exact moment we take off… and I am off home soil. There is one clear line that separates me being home and not home and I take it all in as we make our way to Doha.

Some thoughts I jotted down on the plane ride there: The word “ache” is very appropriate because as this journey drags on, it starts feeling less like acute pain, and more like someone is kneading on my insides like play-doh. My back against this chair (though I think calling this seat a chair is a bit of a reach) is so warm but my front is freezing and it is disrupting my sleep to keep having to put this blanket on and off. People always say “it’s a small world” but how is that true if I have to fly over 20 freakin’ hours to get from one place to another??!!!??! I can feel my legs swelling like Aunt Marge in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. I miss bidets already. Our XC60 will not shut up until both people in the front seats have strapped their seat belts on so why the hell do stewardesses have to manually check if every passenger on a plane is wearing their seatbelt? Is it 1990? Clearly I become very sassy when I am stuck in a coach seat. The PA just mentioned “Malaysia” and immediately I realise it will be a long time before I will hear that outside of a private conversation again. I almost don’t want to leave this aircraft because once I step into Hamad International, I could be from anywhere going anywhere, and there will be little left to suggest I was just in Kuala Lumpur, that I was just home.

I make my way to the gate for our connecting flight to Philadelphia and I start to spot people who I know are fellow Penn students. I cannot help but stare because I am partly shocked. Clearly, it has not fully registered in my mind where I am going. But I have to deal with it, don’t I? I am going back to Penn.

Every year, I wrestle with feeling like I am being severely ungrateful for this experience because I don’t love it. What can I say? I wanted to love it, but I just don’t. I sit and think about how to be grateful about things you don’t love… what that feels like… whether I am actually doing that. I will concede, there are days I love, and I love what I’ve gotten out of Penn but I like to think a cake enjoys being a cake without enjoying being baked in an oven at 180 degrees for 30 minutes. The process is excruciating. But it’s okay. I remind myself that one of the things I place a high value on in people is the ability to do things they don’t love to do because it’s what they need to do, because it’s the right thing to do.

If there’s any time to think about the stark contra between being at Penn and being home, it’s here, in transit. Sometimes it feels like the only place I can properly juxtapose pictures of both ends of my world is here, in an airport somewhere in The Gulf. My lives seem so parallel that it can be difficult to imagine the other when I’m in one. I remember, about a week-or-so ago, after my family and I had just gotten back from Hong Kong (amazing holiday, by the way, I loved it there) I was washing the dishes after lunch or something and it was a very chill day. We were all tired. I didn’t leave the house. So there I was at the kitchen sink, just calmly scrubbing my plate when my mind started to wander and picture my many hurried walks past Huntsman on 38th street under the Locust bridge… and I realise how easy it always is to forget and to shed off the Penn pace. And that’s a huge contrast. These two worlds seem to run on their own separate clocks. When I’m at Penn, I’m always reciting my daily schedule in my head because I can never afford to mess up the order of everything I planned—there’s just always so much to do—and it’s never like that at home. At home, at least so far in my life, it would be weird to be sitting in bed staring at a Google Sheet of club expenses, weird to be up at 12 a.m. talking about MATLAB codes, weird to be rushing back from the gym to cook lunch. I just don’t do stuff like that at home. I don’t even walk so much at home (god, I miss being driven around).

This year at Penn is also different. It’s senior year, and for most of us, that means relentlessly reaching for opportunities to get a job. I mean, that in itself is a whole ordeal. I am not one for networking so putting on a blazer and heels to compete with intense Penn kids for a chance to speak to recruiters is just so not my thing. But it’s also just crazy to think that what I will be doing a year from now is a complete mystery. Next September, there will likely be a physical space I will be commuting to and spending lots of time in every day. It will be the income I live off of. It will be what I put on Facebook and LinkedIn, presumably. It will be what I tell everyone over and over again at raya. And yet, for the next I-don’t-know-how-many but-hopefully-not-too-many months, I won’t know what that is! Think about it! It’s normal, but it’s crazy! It’s difficult to face because I have loved having a structure, a plan, a procedure to follow. It makes me retreat into and cling onto my youth more and more because the road ahead is so uncertain and so vast, but the past is so tangible and safe.

One of the few certainties is the fact that a lot can happen in a school year. On a big-picture level, I have no idea what will happen, but on a micro scale, I am very aware that I am walking into a school year facing a calendar with overlapping entries and sparse empty spaces. It’s like walking into an abyss by first passing through a very real storm. (Does that even make sense? I don’t know)

I know I’m making college sound like utter crap but there are parts of this experience I will be savouring for the next 9 months. Of course, being with my friends is one of them, but just as notably is the fact that for the past 3 years, I lived with a mandatory irresponsibility that I know I enjoy more than I can currently fathom. Sure, I’ve had to be very adult about being my own discipliner and taking care of myself, but it was my job, I would say, to be prancing off halfway around the world every few months, usually (and coincidentally) whenever one place became too much. Tired of hearing about Trump? I’m off to Malaysia! The haze is back in KL? Hello again, Philadelphia!

In due time, this will no longer be my reality. I will no longer be living a life benchmarked by trips to airports and I will gradually be able to afford recklessness less and less. I do not enjoy this idea. Let me be clear here, I respect responsibility and I despise thoughtlessness. I came back to my apartment to find that someone stacked a baking tray on top of a wok and I cannot even accept the lack of thought that went into that arrangement. However, there is a degree of carefreeness that is still dismissible with my age and stage of life and this privilege is surely dwindling. To be blunt, that’s just like, really annoying.

Over the summer, I saw my cousin firmly embrace one of the traditional landmarks of adulthood—parenthood—and I, in my denial, retracted so steadily. Several times I stared at her baby (and I feel really bad for saying this) feeling perplexed at what is happening in front of me: why is everyone coddling her? Why are they all so happy? Because to me, this was a jarring sign that everything was changing. It was like everyone was throwing a party while taking down our childhood wallpapers and removing our toys while I just sat and watched as the only person retaining objectivity, the only one seeing what was truly happening here. I did not realise when we all left childhood and crossed into adolescence, and was later rudely awoken by all the change. This time, I had my eyes wide open as we were transitioning life stages again, determined not to make the same unconscious mistake. I just don’t want to grow up. I know that sounds immature, but I have never been one to lie to myself about how I feel. I know there’s nothing I can do about it, so I’d just like it to be plainly said. Maybe then I will stop resisting it so much.

I know I will focus on the more concrete things directly ahead of me and ease into it… basically, take things in one baby step at a time. And despite all my resistance and confusion, I will become an adult as seamlessly as I became a senior in college—not having a clue what changed when. I look at freshmen now and I am, at once, surprised and assured, when I realise I cannot presently relate to their concerns anymore. We are often blind to our own progress and, you know what, I’m thinking that can be a good thing because I can be so resistant to change sometimes that maybe I am better off not knowing when I am improving and growing.

As I list down my commitments this year though, I cannot help but again, realise that I’ve grown. This year, I’m a TA for Intro Psych. I am beginning my independent research project in psycholinguistics with Professor Dahan, who taught me Language and Thought last semester. I am attending info sessions and coffee chats and career services appointments. My friend Miru and I are taking on podcasting as a passion project. I am taking a creative writing class for the first time. I am practicing for a (theoretical, someday) 5K (haha). As always, I don’t know how I will manage all of these things but I’ll just have to see how that works out and hopefully be pleasantly surprised.

And so senior year started on Tuesday. Shahirah and I touched down in Philly a few minutes shy of 8 AM that morning and by 9.30 AM we were in our off-campus apartment. I changed clothes and instantly darted off to the chemistry lab building, dodging looks along the way because I didn’t want to meet anyone when I knew I hadn’t showered since Malaysia. I made it to Rise and Fall of the Spanish Empire with 2 minutes to spare: my laptop clock told me it was 10.28 PM. I change my timezone settings to Eastern Standard Time, and now I’m really back for the first day, for the last time.

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.

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.

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 🙂