Almost There…

I missed a week of posting, but you’ll forgive me, yes? And I will have to learn to forgive myself as well, because this past week was brutal. I don’t like being lenient on myself, but this week was so rough that I just can’t consider missing a blog post as being lenient. I had a 5-page paper due on Monday, a 7-page paper due on Tuesday, a 10-page paper due on Thursday morning and an exam on Thursday afternoon… on top of regular classes, meetings, readings and homework.

As I write this, I have only one day left of class, only one exam left to take and am just a few days away from my holiday. And as always, when it gets to this point in the semester and classes are wrapping up, everyone seems to talk about how quickly time passed by… but I really don’t feel like it did. I’m not saying that it was such an awful semester that time moved so slowly for me—it was challenging as always, but definitely still a good one—but as my friend Hui Jie reminds me, you’re not the same person as you were when the semester started. Which is to say that if I observe myself closely and keep track of the things I pull myself through, I personally have found that my life doesn’t fly by me, but rather, passes at the right pace. So it’s hard to look at who I was when I started and how much less experienced I was at the time and feel like time just flew because I think we really go through so much more than we remember. I don’t know, I could be wrong, but I tend to think saying “time flew by” means you’re not giving yourself enough credit.

I think we quietly grow in the moments we make little decisions. This semester, I’ve been rejected by a company I wanted to work for, lost my cat and spent a lot fewer hours in bed than I wanted to, but can I just say, nothing was as sobering as my most recent birthday. The clock struck midnight on 3rd December and I was propped up in bed with a slight headache and menstrual pain, working on my laptop making a study guide for my Communications exam. I wanted to go out and have fun and celebrate or at least just sleep in but I knew I couldn’t and I didn’t. I’m not saying that growing up means giving up merriment or not caring about my wants and feelings, I just think it means being able to say “yes, that’s how I feel, but I can’t give in to that right now—maybe another time” and then actually remembering to attend to it some other time. It’s small, but I don’t know that I would have been able to really do that 1-2 years ago.

With that said though, it’s not like I miraculously turned into a super mature adult overnight. At some point this week, I was so tired and couldn’t bring myself to go out to get food and I hadn’t had time to do groceries so my fridge was empty and had to just resort to making maggi for lunch. When I opened my packet, it bursted open and lots of tiny pieces flew across the kitchen counter. Have you ever felt like you were going to burst into tears but were just too tired to express any emotion? That’s exactly how I felt. I stared at the mess for like a solid 10 seconds, took this picture, then curled up on my couch, and fell into a 20 minute nap. It sucked. But I mean, progress isn’t always linear, right? Haha.

I’m having so much trouble concentrating while typing right now because I’m having difficulties breathing through my awfully stuffy nose and I’m coughing like mad. I can’t believe I’m sick around finals again, for the second semester in a row, but I also can’t say I’m surprised. I don’t want to glorify working hard at the expense of our health and stuff but this week was such a whirlwind that I just totally failed to be good to myself. I have never been one to skip meals, but even though I could feel myself getting sick (my body was quietly revolting against how much I was pushing it) some days I just forgot to eat. I haven’t exercised in over two weeks. Up until this morning, I was in the same outfit for 3 days straight because I needed to do laundry but had no time. Now, I feel so gross and I’m so sick I can’t properly hear myself speak, I’m having difficulty sleeping through the night and my body aches.

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Yes, I carried around that whole box of tissues in my bag all day.

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I just can’t help realising the culture I am complicit in creating that we criticise so often at Penn. I love that everyone here works really hard—I love that—but we also normalise such an awful lifestyle. It’s so common for people to pull all-nighters, to be sick but refuse to go to see a doctor because they “don’t have time” and to lie in bed unable to fall asleep because they feel guilty for not doing work. It’s exactly the thing about Penn that I kind of can’t wait to get a break from, really. This is going to sound super pretentious, but I think when you lump a bunch of high-achievers together in this little academic village and, in a sense, pit them against each other, you really send them into overdrive. Or at least, that’s how it feels sometimes. Which is why I’m so so so looking forward to break right now oh my god.

Honestly, it feels a little weird saying I’m looking forward to break because when I come back it will be my final—FINAL—semester here and I feel like I should be soaking everything in and relishing it because as crazy as things get, this life is a pretty darn good one and I don’t want to lose sight of that. There are a lot of things about here and now to miss when it’s over. Like, this week alone, I got two free books—because, you know, education!!! The English department has a Winter Reading Project program where they give out free books before winter break and have a discussion about it in January. This year, they gave out Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book, Between the World and Me about America’s racial history and I’m so excited to read it. I also got to attend another Authors@Wharton event today. They invited Michael Lewis, author of Moneyball, The Blind Side and The Big Short for a talk moderated by the wonderful Adam Grant (another brilliant author himself). They gave out copies of Lewis’ most recent book, The Undoing Project about two psychologists, Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky whose behavioural economics research has kind of catapulted the field to where it is today, I feel like.

So, yes, life is good and I’m grateful for everything this semester has brought (but I think I will still need that break before I can take on the final semester).

I finally had some fun.

Blogging this semester felt a lot harder for me and one of the reasons for that is I feel like every time I open a blank page to write, the first thing that comes out of my mouth is “I’m so tired” and I hate that. But I honestly have been so tired and I haven’t done anything fun at all, really (or, ok fine, very very minimal fun). I can even prove it because I put everything in my calendar, colour-coded. Classes are in peach, personal obligations like gym/errands/appointments are in purple, club events are in blue, meetings are in green. Social events are in pink and before this weekend, I had only 2 pink entries in my iCal. Both were on 6th Oct, during fall break hahaha.

So, I’m sorry to myself for saying this, but wow I’m tired. A good tired, but tired nonetheless. I’ve definitely mentioned this before, but I’ve had something due from week 1 to week 12. Tomorrow is week 13 and it’s technically the one week this semester I don’t have a paper due or an exam, but I do have 3 papers due and one exam on week 13 so I’m spacing out my work and writing my history paper this weekend.

With that said, I did manage to have some fun on Friday. I was honestly so happy about it. I don’t have classes on Friday, but usually I go to the lab to work on my independent research. This week, my supervisor/professor told us to take the week off partly because she was going to be out of town. That was the first plus.

I spent most of the afternoon doing readings and writing responses to readings as usual but then!!!! In the evening!!!! I got to see Anna Kendrick speak live at my school!!!! Ahhhh it was so much fun! She was here as part of her book tour for her memoir, Scrappy Little Nobody and we all got the book for free 😀 If you know me, you know that I love love love her movie The Last Five Years and of course, the Pitch Perfect series. She talked about how difficult the writing process was (she called it a “fool’s errand”), what she felt her most rewarding roles were (The Last Five Years and Into the Woods), a bit about her family etc. She was sooo funny and it was just a really good time, it felt like going to see a stand up show. I’m really going to miss opportunities like these when I graduate.

After seeing Anna Kendrick, I went to see Fantastic Beasts with May May! Oh my god, it was so good! I was a huge Potter fan growing up, like read all the books at least twice, seen all the movies countless times, so it was really cool to see the movie screen open up to that world again. I won’t spoil anything, but it was nice to hear Dumbledore’s name, hear Hogwarts being mentioned again after so many years telling myself we’ll never experience anything like that again. Because this is somewhat an epilogue to the Harry Potter series, it was also really cool to hear more about the backstory, stuff I’ve only read about in JK Rowling’s interviews, online fan forums etc hahaha. So thank god for profit-thirsty film conglomerates, I guess???

Then, after the movie, my friends and I went to midnight free ice skating at the Penn Ice Rink. The Muslim Student Association hosts one every year, and it’s my favourite event. I was very excited about it this year because I missed it last year due to paper-writing. It’s so much fun because usually in Malaysia, when you go skating at Pyramid or whatever, it’s just you and a few of your friends. But when the MSA hosts an ice skating event, I know so many people and it’s so much more fun because it feels so communal. Plus, it’s always really fun to see how good some people are and how not-so-good other people are. I usually suck at it, but somehow this year I did so much better! Like, I didn’t stick to the wall after the first round around the rink which is like a huge record for me. In past years, I’d be screaaaming at clutching onto the wall, which is fun in it’s own right, but I’m glad I did a lot better this time haha.

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With my Day Ones.

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Busra ❤

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(Our freshman year version LOL)

One with Sha, of course.

I was really sore when I woke up Saturday morning, but I had so much work to do I had to get out of bed even though I wanted to lie in all day. I went to South Street yesterday to do work at Ultimo with Hanna who I feel like I haven’t seen in ages. Ultimo has really good coffee and is such a cute spot to do work so that was nice. It was so nice just to catch up and do work together. I probably have mentioned this before, but Hanna comes pretty darn close to the older sister I never had. She’s so supportive and is always there for me.  After doing work, we hung out at her apartment which is honestly just the cutest place and it’s in such a nice neighbourhood, too. She provided me with a pesto and cheese sandwich, which obviously filled me to the brim with joy because hello, pesto and cheese!!! Ugh, love it love it love it.

Hanna!!

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Ultimo

So I guess that concludes my fun weekend 😦 I’m about to go back to paper-writing… oh! Actually, tonight, we’re having a ClubSG/Malaysians at Penn potluck for thanksgiving which should be fun! But I’ll write about that next week when I get a proper ~break~ haha. See you next weeeeek.

Impostor Syndrome Part II

Last Thursday, I went to Professor Feros’ office hours to catch up on what I missed in class the Thursday prior. He told me not to worry about it because it was an insignificant lecture, and that he thinks I’m doing very well. In fact, he urged that I stop worrying so much. I pushed back, “how do you know I’m doing well?” He insists that I am, that he just knows, while also citing my good grade on his last exam. I told him I actually thought I did really badly on it as I walked out of the exam that day and that I was very surprised and confused (albeit very grateful and relieved) when I saw my grade. He assured me he wasn’t doing me any favours. I was a little taken aback when he said that, and was going to say “I didn’t say you were” but at that point I realised I was asking him that, even if that wasn’t what I said out loud.

After I got my grade, I did think about how Professor Feros and I have a good student-professor relationship. Sometimes in the morning we’d bump into each other on our way to his class and we’d talk about things like my visit to Spain in 2014 and Alfonso de Albuquerque’s arrival in Melaka. It struck me how lowly I think about myself—to the extent that I’d think a professor I respect so much would do something quite unspeakable.

I’m thinking now about last spring, when Professor Pollack handed me my paper on the politics of rhetoric about trade in the current election cycle. It was a tough paper to write. I struggled with it a lot. He pulled my paper out of the pile, leaned in slightly, looked at me with a smile and said in hushed tones, “this was the best paper in the whole class.” I immediately laughed and said “you’ve got to be lying.” Another professor I respect, another baseless accusation with the aim of protecting my self-deprecating view of myself.

I don’t really want to live like this, looking down on myself all the time, but I also don’t know how not to. Rather, I’ve been doing it for so long—pushing myself with so much aggression (for better and for worse)—that I don’t know anything else. My professors keep telling me not to worry, but I worry that my worry is what has gotten me by. I worry that I’ve been riding on luck for so long, and I’ve been using some combination of anxiety to propel myself such that the minute I loosen up even a little, I will lose it all.

(I know I’ve written about this before but the situation presents itself again and again. A testament to how self-improvement can be such a piecemeal process.)

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.

The Recruiting Game | Fall 2016

It’s Friday night and I have so much work to do but I just can’t bring myself to do any of it because, well, Friday night has this connotation of like ~fun~ and whatever… so here I am instead. This week, I thought I’d talk a little bit about my (limited) experience with job-seeking in an American college because I’ve heard so much about the process since I was a freshman and now I’m finally starting to understand how emotionally turbulent it is.

At Penn, and I think a lot of other colleges in the U.S., we have this thing called OCR which stands for on-campus recruiting. Companies come to campus, give talks about their open positions, host events for students to interact with their employees and then we write cover letters and polish our resumes, apply online and wait anxiously to hear back. It sounds straight-forward-ish and I absolutely love how efficient this process is. Except, I don’t know, it seems like the whole thing is turning into a long dragged out game.

I say game because the process comes with so many rules, many of which are unwritten and unverified. People say go to the info sessions, sign in and try to make an impression on the representatives so they’ll remember you. Sign up for coffee chats for companies you’re applying to to learn more about the company. This is the book you should use to help you prepare. This is how you write a cover letter. Your resume should look like this. Email the company representatives you’ve met to thank them for your time and keep in touch with them throughout the process. Practice for the interview before you even start applying…

Just under a couple of years ago, I was at my friend Amanda’s for thanksgiving dinner. She was a senior looking for jobs at the time and I saw a post-it note in her kitchen that said “OCR is like Tinder” and I laughed, but her friend Iris (who I think wrote it) immediately exclaimed, “IT’S TRUE!” and I totally get that now. Like the dating game, it’s this idea that there are all these rules and subtle calculated advances you have to make, and it’s like you’re dating all these employers trying to court them to marry you into their company. And then you’re stressed and jumpy as you wait around impatiently for a call or an email or a resounding silence. I guess I just feel a little nostalgic for a job process I never experienced: you send your resume, and I don’t know, fill up a form, go for an interview and just get the job or not get the job. When did it all get so complicated? I mean, it’s just so overwhelming these days.

I hate going to info sessions because I tend to go alone and no one tells me whether I should or shouldn’t bother bringing a resume. Is a blazer too much, will anyone even care if I’m not wearing one? Are these flats too casual? I put on a shirt and pants and heels and just carry my blazer on my arm. I sit among a sea of people and look around realising they’re all interested in the same small number of available positions. Afterwards, I leave the room, sure to pile on as many crab cakes and cheese bites as possible on my plate while avoiding looks as everyone else crowds around the company representatives and then I just quietly slip out of the venue. If I bump into someone, I get the impulse to justify leaving so quickly (should I say I have a lot of work to get done? Or go with the vague “it’s been a long day”?) but the truth is I leave because I just don’t like fighting for a chance to speak to someone just for the sake of it and I don’t see the point! I almost don’t want to believe in the process. I want them to pick me because they like me from my interview, skills and accomplishments. I want them to pick me because they actually think I’m good. Because I really deserve it more than anyone else. Not because they remembered how charming I was at one of these events. Not because I knew someone who knew someone. Not because I knew how to play the game. So I just don’t try to participate. But then I wonder, maybe that is what it takes to deserve it? Maybe it takes pointlessly jumping through hoops just to show how badly you want it.

Part of me also just doesn’t want to do it because everyone else is already doing it, and they’re doing it so intensely that I almost volunteer to back off, to make more space where there is so little, to not fight so I can never say I lost. Part of me doesn’t want to show anyone how much I want it. And yes, that’s partly because I don’t want to seem just like everyone else but I think that’s also because I don’t want to be pitied and felt sorry for if everyone knew I tried my hardest for something I really wanted and then didn’t get it. I hate getting the “aww, it’s okay, everything happens for a reason” text. I’m always tempted to go like, “yeah, I KNOW, okay?” This is why I don’t tell people things. Everyone gets very mushy and it sounds like mosquitos at my ear telling me things I already know.

I don’t know, I wish I had the time to sit down and parse through these feelings and then start applying but unfortunately I don’t always set my own deadlines and whether I’ve figured it all out or not, I have to get ready to play this game.

After I submitted my application, I thought about how similar this is to Masterchef and Top Model and Amazing Race and all those other reality TV shows we guiltily love. A lot of people in those shows are really good and talented, they really want to win and they usually have a great reason for wanting to win. But in those shows, only one person gets the prize. And when anyone gets eliminated, they cry and we cry and they tell us how  frustrating it is because they had so much more left to give to the game, and how their journey won’t stop there and how much they’ve learned from the competition. And we feel sorry for them. But then we all collectively move on. I thought about how nothing so bad can happen to you for showing how much you want something even if you don’t get it in the end. Like, literally, so what? A lot of times we love the contestants who get eliminated just as much as the winner or the finalists, but we accept that’s just how the game works. Everyone moves on eventually.

That’s not to say that I’m now totally over the stress of the process… I go through this whole thing tangled in shame and anxiety still. I still feel like I’m really bad at interviews. I practised case interviews with my friend May May several times last week and I struggled and part of me genuinely worried May May wouldn’t be friends with me after she saw how bad I was at thinking through these practice problems. I resisted practising with her because I didn’t feel ready. But she looked me in the eye and said “you won’t be ready until you get ready” and God bless that girl, there’s a special place in my journal now where that quote deserves to be written in gold ink. We painfully pushed through a case and she’s still friends with me. I will never forget how she sat down with me last Sunday and was just like “ok, let’s think about how we can help you think faster” and I quietly realised how amazing that is. I was like wow, why does she still believe in me enough to help me? Why do people who love you believe in you when they seriously have no reason to? It’s honestly perplexing, but I’m so indescribably grateful to all my friends who have been so supportive throughout the whole process so far.

I’m so thankful for May May, Zohair and Michelle for “casing” me, Shahirah for listening to all my rants and even kinda offered to iron my shirt for me, Busra for getting desserts with me when I was about to fall off a cliff, Cristina for emotional support, Hui Jie wishing me luck from across the Pacific, Charis for giving me advice, Joanna for checking up on me, my new friend Yousra who has kept me company on multiple occasions at awkward networking events, Adriel who has offered encouragement consistently. Agh. Love them all so so so much and sincerely hope I can justly repay them for everything. (I think my point here is to not do things that are difficult for you alone, but you probably already knew that.)

The morning of my interview, I made a (salmon and cheese!) omelette, got dressed, did a little dance to psych myself up and walked over to the hotel with crumpled paper of interview notes in hand. I think it went okay although to be fair I don’t quite remember now how I felt as soon as I stepped out of the meeting room doors that morning because at this point I’ve had over 2 days to ruminate over everything: I paused too long at some points, looked too confused, misjudged some numbers… I hope I seemed interested. I hope I seemed organised. I hope I didn’t say something stupid without realising. I know there’s nothing I can do about it now, but the thoughts find ways to creep into my mind anyway. I cringe.

In the beginning of my first interview, my interviewer said “it’s always nice to be on campus speaking to all these smart people” and I heard it as “small people” so I said “haha, I’m happy to admit I’m a small person” and he was immediately like “Oh my god, no! Smart! Not small! Did I say small? I’m so sorry, I’m glad you didn’t walk out of here thinking I said small!” and then of course I was like oh crap I misheard something he said, oh my god. And in the second interview, I let the interviewer pour me a glass of water when the jug was right in front of me, you guys!!!! Oh goodness. It’s so irksome to think about now, haha. But in all honesty, I think I was confident and calm throughout the interview and maintained a genuine smile and at the very least I’m proud of myself for that.

The night before the interview, I naturally had a little trouble sleeping. But I said a prayer and gradually became really overcome by the thought that I had nothing to fear but God. Nothing. And I think walking into the interview room with an unshakeable faith really propped up my previously wavering confidence. It was less of a I-will-crush-this confidence, more like feeling truly at peace with the fact that everything will happen as it is meant to. And it always feels better when you genuinely feel it as opposed to hearing it from someone else.

I took this picture before I interviewed the last time in January (you can read about it here) and came back to it this week.

Ultimately, interviewing has been a very hands-on lesson in forcing myself to believe in myself and to deal with everything as it comes. It honestly is very difficult for me to walk up to a person, look them in the eye and say, look, this is why I’m good, this is why I believe I am a good investment for you. But I also know how it feels like to come out of an interview feeling like I didn’t give it my all, like I played it too safe, like I sold myself short in the name of being “true to myself” and then regretting it in the long term. It straight up sucks. So I’m proud of myself for pulling all the stops time and rising to the occasion.

Figuring It Out, Kinda (?) | Fall 2016

So, if you’re unfamiliar with how I do things on my blog: I generally write once a week, any point between Monday morning and Sunday night. This week, I’m here on Sunday evening, writing (or rather, typing) over my fried egg tofu dinner… feeling somewhat disappointed that something I enjoy doing has almost been turned into another thing to make a deadline for.

But I’m just so taken with how busy this semester has been—and one of my classes hasn’t even started yet.

I may have mentioned this previously, but I am effectively taking 6 classes this semester. Taking five plus TA-ing for one. I really like all my classes this semester and I enjoy being a TA so I really don’t want to sacrifice anything I have on my plate. I’m taking Critical Approaches to Pop Culture in the Communications department with an amazing professor, a Developmental Psychology seminar called Modern Young Adulthood about the process of transition to adulthood, The Rise and Fall of the Spanish Empire which is my very first history class since SPM (lol) and an intro creative writing class called Memoir and Literary Journalism. That makes four. My fifth credit is my independent research project in psycholinguistics which I can’t say much about yet because I haven’t gotten a full grip of what I’ll be studying yet.

A lot of my classes are reading-heavy which just means I have to read a lot for class every week. I don’t know, actually. Is 200-300 pages a week a lot? For me it is, because a lot of econ and intermediate-level psychology classes so far have not required much reading, if at all.

But like Hui Jie always tells me, it’s all about discipline! It has taken me like 3 years, but I think I’m finally getting a handle of it, you know? Ok I wanna apologise ahead of time because things are gonna sound a little preachy for a bit but bear with me as I tell you the most precious lessons I’ve learned:

Write it down. Whatever it is you have to do. A question that suddenly popped up about class material. A list of things you need to do. Some vague idea you have for your term paper. Write it down. It’s short and you think you’ll remember it? Write it down. You think about it all the time? Write it down. I’ve learned this the hard way many times and whenever I think back to it, I’m always like, wow how hard would it have been to write it down?! So yeah. My notes app is my best friend.

Get some sort of a calendar system if you haven’t already. This is a natural extension of my previous point, I guess. But a sophisticated to-do list eventually evolves into a planner, right? It’s really great to see all the things I have due in a very visual manner because it helps me prioritise and whatever.

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This is a screenshot of part of my Fall 2015 planner. I honestly have no idea if this is the best way to do things, but it works for me and it gives me everything I feel like I need. I list down all my due dates and exams and readings the first week of classes and make this super simple table. It was based on Weingarten’s (Penn’s Office of Learning Resources) calendar, just expanded to fit everything, beyond just exams. Using iCal is good because you see the week ahead of you, but I felt planning only a week in advance was a bit too, um, what’s the word, narrow-sighted, near-sighted? I use both. So on my desktop I always have my planner, iCal and a to-do list because I really hate missing anything or rushing work.

Look at what you need to do. This is something I didn’t learn until recently and here’s what I mean. Basically, I try to loosely designate my assignments etc to specific days to plan my week, right? But I kept running into this problem where like, I’d take longer than I thought I would on something because it was longer, more complex or more difficult than I thought it would be. And it just messes everything up. And I’d get upset. Then I fall behind. Cue the downward spiral. But at some point last semester, I realised I should invest like an extra 5-10 minutes when I’m planning to go through the things I need to do. If I’m going to put something off, I have to look at it first so I know what I’m dealing with. It’s super simple and you’re probably already doing it but to me it was like such a eureka moment and I felt so amazed when I made this improvement.

10 minutes counts. I used to always shrug off my free time whenever I had like 10, 15 minutes to spare because it’s like, oh what can I even get done in such a short span of time? It turns out, a lot. Especially if you’re super focused. Even if it’s just reading 1-2 pages, that’s like 10 minutes less of work I’ll have to do later, you know. It’s all just a matter of being able to get into that focused mindset very quickly—I feel like that’s such a precious skill I’m always trying to nurture.

Exercising matters. I read this book called The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg last month and he explains this great concept called developing keystone habits. The whole idea is that you focus on a habit you want to work on and because everything we do in our daily lives affect each other in some way or another, improving one aspect of your life will have spillover effects onto everything else. For me, exercise is my keystone habit. I always find that when I cement certain blocks of time in my calendar to exercise and commit to it uncompromisingly, I just make it work. I’ll get up earlier, I’ll cook faster, I have to wash my hair more often and even do laundry more regularly because if I don’t I’ll run out of gym clothes. Plus I also feel better and then I do better, etc, etc. Trust me on this one!!

~Reflection~ I know this sounds fluffy, hahaha. I cringed while I typed that! But constantly thinking back about what works and what doesn’t is very useful. Personally that’s not always easy because I magnify all the things I do wrong or don’t do well enough, and that just opens up the door to a slippery slope eventually leading me to wallow in my negativity. Clearly I need to balance. For me, part of that is writing about my week here. Feeling like there’s a public audience not only keeps me accountable but pushes me to see things (and then write things) from a more balanced perspective because no one likes reading about someone who does everything perfectly or someone who just talks about how much they suck at life. The truth is I do some things well and am straight up awful at other things and thinking about things like that regularly really helps.

Ok I’m done with that list, you have every right to agree or disagree with anything I’ve said, but those are things I recently realised were essential to me ploughing through my semesters. I know it makes it sound like in order to get through school you need to be super meticulous and boring haha but I promise that planning allows me to have more fun because I have more time. I think the amount of stress doesn’t really decrease (I think I’ve constantly been at least a little bit stressed for the last 10 years!) but the first thing to go when I decide to be more disciplined is time dedicated to stress. That is, I feel stressed but it’s very like, at the back of my mind most of the time. I have less time to be sitting by myself pulling my hair out because that’s just not on my list, hahaha.

To prove my point, I did manage to do some fun things this week! May May and I rented bicycles and cycled down the Schuylkill River Trail. I don’t have any pictures of my own of the view but it was lovely. It was sunny and there was a light breeze and people were all out being healthy and I loved it. I do have to say though, that it had been over a year since I was last on a bike so I was very shaky at times and very concerned about hurting someone.

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May May and me after cycling featuring my typically red post-exercise face.

The whole Philadelphia trail is (according to the website) about 10.5 miles long but I am still a weakling so we only went 3ish miles one way.

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The earlier part of the trail goes past the art museum but it goes into a less busy area as you continue on.

That evening, as if I hadn’t already had enough physical activity, Cristina and I walked all the way to 50th St for fruits and pizza. She made me try a pluot (which apparently is a plum crossed with an apricot!) and we got the best pear and brie pizza at Dock Street. We also got fries and leeks which I’m so glad she agreed to share with me because I know she doesn’t like fries haha.

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There was also a guy walking around selling carrot cake for $1 and everyone around us was raving about how good the cake is. He’s known in the neighbourhood as being the Carrot Cake Man. A local ice cream shop even has a carrot cake ice cream flavour named after him. The cake was so good, you guys. It’s funny because the day before that, I was thinking about how difficult it is to find a place in Philly I can go to if I just want a slice of cake, you know, like how all the cafes in KL do. I was just obsessing over getting a small serving of cake. And the next day the Carrot Cake Man and his tray of carrot cakes literally just comes to me. God bless.

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I asked if I could take a picture of him and he said “sure” and Cristina was like “SHE’S A BLOGGER” hahahahaha.

Anyway. I’m knee deep in readings and severely need to start practicing for case interviews so thanks for reading see you next week!!!

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.