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.

Impostor | Summer 2016

There is a specific part of my Penn interview I can recall very clearly, and that is because I think about it all the time. My interviewer was a Penn alum, an American living in Malaysia. He worked at the U.S. Embassy in KL. We sat across each other by the window of Starbucks in Great Eastern Mall. I wore a yellow cardigan from Primark, and I had an iced green tea latte.

I can’t remember much. It was a decent, relaxed conversation. Nothing too exciting or stressful. I don’t know if this was usual of Penn admission interviews, but I would compare it to small talk at a family gathering. We talked about what I did in the time between completing my A Levels and getting into college. We talked about what I did for fun. We talked about why I wanted to go to Penn and what my parents do for a living.

This, I remember so clearly.

I told him my dad does corporate training and consulting–or something like that. He asked who my dad does training for. Among others, I mentioned Bank Negara. Now, looking back, I question the validity of this memory a little, but as I remember it, his expression kind of changed. He said, “Oh! The governor, Zeti Aziz, went to Wharton, didn’t she?”

And then I feel like the conversation got a lot better. It wasn’t necessarily bad before, but I just feel like it got better. So, when I found out I got into Penn, I attributed it to the fact that a) MARA was paying full tuition for me, b) I had a good interview and c) diversity.

I know this is a long-winded story, but bear with me. The thing about those facts is that I know I could get a MARA convertible loan because I have bumiputera status and I felt I had a good interview because I have an insanely loose association with Zeti Aziz, Wharton-grad and Bank Negara Governor extraordinaire. So I always felt like I got into Penn by slipping through some crack. I honestly still do, all the time. I feel like I’m an impostor. A fraud.

I think some people name drop Penn often, because it’s like spraying perfume in public, hoping everyone gets a whiff of the prestige that comes with an Ivy League institution. But while I am definitely proud of it, I feel like I don’t deserve it at all and am just free riding on the positive connotations that come with it.

Today at work, my supervisor introduced me to another guy who had spent a significant amount of time in North America, and is familiar with Penn and its reputation. My boss said, “Nur Dayana goes to UPenn” and the other guy turns immediately, saying “oh, so you’re really smart!”

Me, in my head: ughhh craaapppp.

I do not like it when people expect me to be smart because I really don’t think I am, and I haven’t thought of myself as smart in ages. I think of myself as lucky. Just extraordinarily lucky for a prolonged period of time.

I got through secondary school with good grades because the Malaysian education has an oversimplified syllabus. I made it through A Levels because my teachers spoon-fed me and held my hand through it all. I got into Penn because of all of these reasons and I mentioned the governor in my interview. I got my positions in clubs and organisations on campus because those interviews and applications are kind of a joke. I got all my internships because my dad knew someone who knew someone. Stroke after stroke of luck.

The thing about this is that I’ve spent years watching my back, hoping no one realizes I have made it this far by a little act of miracle. Don’t get me wrong: I believe that God is the best of planners and I’m not really questioning my fate, if that makes sense. I just sometimes feel I am in places far, far, far beyond where I think I deserve to be and I’m scared people will find out and be frustrated with or angry at me. What’s more, I even feel guilty for “taking” this opportunity from someone who might have deserved it more and then not making the most of my chance.

When I wasn’t sure if I could handle an intro level literature class in sophomore spring, I spoke to Professor Esty about it and he quickly dismissed my fears saying that if I got into Penn, I could surely handle the class… but I thought, “ok, clearly he doesn’t know that in school we read a less-than-a-hundred page version of ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ with large font and pictures.” If someone compliments me for doing a good job, I sometimes think “someone could have sneezed and accidentally done a better job than I did.” When someone uses an acronym I don’t know, I take a mental note of it and Google it later instead of just coming straight out and asking them what the hell they are talking about. I try to only make phone calls in private, because I am scared that someone will notice how inarticulate and incoherent I am when I speak. I also go to the bathroom or walk past someone’s desk or office 5 times before I have the guts to go in because I am scared they’ll get annoyed that I have a question to ask. I have pretty much stopped putting myself out there and volunteering myself for tasks because I think even my offer to try would be an over-promise preceding an under-delivery. When someone complains about how badly they’re doing in a class I just sigh and go like “oh yeah I know how that feels” but in my mind, I am one-upping them going, “wow if you knew how dumb am…”

So I feel like I’m hiding so much all the time. I’ve spent way too much time with a racing heart, sweaty palms and a straight face to keep the anxiety undercover. Because I go to Penn. I’m supposed to know all of this and I’m supposed to act like it. And if I don’t, I know (I just know) they’ll be thinking “wow how did she get into Penn?”

Anyway, I’ve just been thinking about all of this lately because I’m at my third internship this summer and every year, I have to deal with this “impostor syndrome” all over again. This happens all the time. In every internship. In every class. Someone gives me instructions and I think I understand until I try to do it and realise I have no clue. So after some convincing myself, I go and ask for clarification and when they seem remotely annoyed or disappointed, I immediately retract and abort mission, thinking “Oh no. They’re onto me. They’re going to find out I’m a fraud. Run.

“[The impostor syndrome is] always waiting for the other shoe to drop. You feel as if you’ve flown under the radar, been lucky or that they just like you. If you dismiss your accomplishments and abilities, you’re left with one conclusion: That you’ve fooled them.”

Valerie Young, author of The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women

Because I’ve dealt with this for so long, I have gotten so used to the impulse to run away (side note: this is one of the reasons why Princess Diaries is like, my all time favourite movie). I have gotten so used to wanting to run away from things that make me anxious that over time, I’ve stopped even approaching big things. “What’s the point?” I would think, “why try?”

I don’t know if I’ve written about this, but last December, I was at Heathrow Airport, queueing in line at immigration. If you’ve never been to Heathrow, the immigration queue is usually super long so they need a lot of immigration counters. They have so many counters that you might not be able to see which ones are free even from the front of the line. When I was there, it was fairly busy, so one lady stood at the front of the queue. Her job was to monitor the counters and direct people to the open ones. I saw her and I was like “now that’s a job I can do.”

You see, during this time, I was applying for a consulting internship and I felt super intimidated and discouraged by it. I didn’t really know how to do case interviews, I didn’t think I had what it would take. And as I so often have, I just craved to do something I already knew how to do.

Somehow, over time, I’ve begun to raise my hand less, retreating further into my comfort zone. People always ask me what I’ve gotten out of Penn and I don’t really know yet, but I think I’ve lost barrels of confidence. And it’s not just confidence. Lack of confidence was when I was in school and maybe I knew the answer but might not have wanted to say it. This is… I know that I don’t know anything. Or at least I think I know that I don’t know? I am never sure.

The other distressing thing is feeling like I’ve lost the ability to accurately assess myself and getting used to staying silent, so much so that I don’t like the sound of my voice in open spaces, the sound of my footsteps in quiet places… almost like I’m trying so hard to hide that I am aspiring to be invisible.

Recently, I took a test of the Impostor Syndrome and scored 83% which “means the respondent often has intense [Impostor Phenomenon] experiences” and I was just like “hahahaha yep pretty much.” But I myself will be the first to recognise how that is so deeply problematic. Trust me, I know, I truly know, that I can’t always just do things I already know how to do. I mean, I totally could. That’s easy. But I guess I’d never learn anything new, which I shouldn’t be and am not okay with. All of this just means I need to reconcile my fear and my ambition, and not run even when I am scared (unless there’s a cat, in which case, I will always run by all means).

And I don’t mean to scare anyone going abroad to study, starting a new job, trying new things or anything like that. Because I think if we know we think these things and feel this way, we can at least do something about it. It’s hard, of course. But I am a firm believer of consistently taking baby steps. With that said, I think I’ve gotten a little better at managing this feeling. And if you’ve felt this way, maybe you could tell me how you deal with it (or we could just talk about how much it sucks together) but I’ve done some of these things:

  1. I ask myself, “what’s the worst thing that could happen?” and I would sometimes go so far as to imagine that someone gets so mad at me for being so incompetent that they shout at me until I cry, and I don’t know, let’s say they’ll slap me (worst case scenario! Not that I know anyone who is actually that mean-spirited). And then maybe things will be awkward for a while. My face would hurt, I guess. But I will, ultimately, live through it, eventually gain distance from it and inevitably learn from it or laugh about it.
  2. I notice that I don’t pay much attention to other people talking on the phone, to their footsteps, or what they’re working on on their computers and I remind myself that unless I’m working directly for someone, most other people do not pay attention to anything I’m doing.
  3. I write down any thought that helps me. For example, this morning I read: “Half of getting there is having the confidence to show up and keep showing up.” It was one of those cheesy quotes on the advert page that shows up for 5 seconds when you get to Forbes.com, haha.
  4. I talk to friends about it! I usually talk about these things to friends who I know would understand how I feel and would just let me talk, listen to me without necessarily trying to meddle and fix things because that’s the kind of environment I need. Knowing what kind of support you like is good.

I mean, these are just things at the top of my head. I’m sure there are many ways to deal with it, to tackle the problem on a more fundamental level. I feel like I’ll regret talking about this so openly because I think people are not going to believe me, think I’m exaggerating (*rolls eyes*) or try to help me in ways I don’t want but I also think many other people feel this way and this could make you feel less alone, just like many other women, for example, Sheryl Sandberg and Julie Zhuo have for me. When, almost two years ago, I first heard Sheryl Sandberg talk about the impostor syndrome in her book, Lean In, I honestly could not believe I wasn’t alone. So even though there are a billion articles about this, I insist on writing another.

I don’t want to ramble on for much longer, but I want to add just one more thing to that list above. The most important thing I do for myself is to, by my own volition, recognise and celebrate small victories. It doesn’t really help when someone says “Hey look! You did that thing well!” because I find it so difficult to believe them. I have to practice spotting them myself, no matter how small.

During my first internship, I was so timid and afraid that I made minimal trips to the bathroom and never went to the pantry to even get myself a cup of water. But today, I got up, went to the pantry and made myself a cup of tea. That involves boiling water, getting a mug (this is usually nerve-wracking because I don’t want to be judged by my choice of mug, or take someone’s usual mug. It sounds crazy, but I kid you not), getting a tea bag, ripping a packet of sugar, stirring and then carry it back to my desk. Do you know how much sound that involves? For someone who kinda enjoys being invisible, I felt like this was a feat and I am so happy about it.

Consistently taking baby steps.

Week 17: DONE AND DUSTED.

Hi everyone!!!! I’m SO glad to say that I am done with junior year. I had finals throughout this week… On Monday, I took my last Econ exam ever. Then on Tuesday, I sent in my 7-page paper for Cultural Psychology. I spent Wednesday and Thursday preparing for my last two exams which were International Political Economy as well as Language and Thought on Friday.

My psychology and political science exams went well, I think! Or at least, as good as I could imagine them being, given the amount of preparation I put in. Econ was a brutal mess, though I can’t say I was surprised. I spent a good amount of time sitting there waiting for someone to leave first so that I could get out of there. Hahaha. I’ve never really been too good at Economics, especially since at Penn it’s basically 90% math. But it’s over!! My grades should come out within the next week, so whatever happens, happens—I’m just so ready to move on. Seriously. Very ready. Could not be more ready.

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Me studying with my usual Econ study buds the night before the exam. At this point we were all so exasperated and just started playing with our phones and stalking people on Facebook and Instagram.
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I brought food to eat during the exam, haha. I was so scared I would get nauseous again.
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Working on my paper.

It was a pleasant semester, I have to say. Usually, I come out of finals on my hands and knees, teeth gritted, exhausted from head to toe and just relieved to get out of it all. But this time, I was super relaxed. It took me a while, but I think part of the reason is I’ve finally started to get the hang of consistent effort. Another part of the reason is maybe I’ve stopped caring so much hehe. But also, maybe it’s because I really enjoyed my classes this year. I’ve learned to listen to myself and not force myself to take classes just because I think it’s important or it’ll help me at work or whatever, but I’m taking classes on things I want to learn about and really care about (on the most part anyway).

Also, not to mention, the professors I had this semester were AMAZING. I wrote them thank you notes because I couldn’t emphasise enough how happy I felt all semester to be in their classes. Especially Professor Pollack!!! If you’ve been following closely you know he is my absolute favourite at Penn everrrrr.

NOW HERE IS ME BEING SUPER AWKWARD AFTER ASKING A PROFESSOR FOR A PICTURE:

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Me, unshowered and awkward as hellllllll, with Vivienne, my lovely TA, and Professor Pollack, all-star professor.
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Just before our exam! One minute before, to be precise. This is captioned separation anxiety because even though I was happy to be done with finals, I could feel it in my body that I was going to miss this class so much.

I’m just chilling in my apartment now, grateful to be officially on summer break. I spent the afternoon just watching videos and clearing up my school stuff for recycling. Thinking about packing is making me really nervous though, because this summer will be the last time I go home before I graduate next year so I want to send clothes and books I’m not using back to Malaysia so that things will be easier next year.

My friend Hui Jie left this morning to go on a road trip with Selina! She’s going to the south, to New Orleans and some cities in Texas. It should be awesome. She’s not coming back next semester though, because she will be taking a semester to study in COPENHAGEN which is super cool for her but I’m going to miss my cafe/gym/study/pizza/maggi buddy. Seriously, that little girl is tiny but mighty. I respect her and look up to her so much.

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The last time we’ll hang out at my place until next January!!!!! 😦
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She left me with her prized possession, her lap desk for me to use my laptop on my bed more comfortably!! Ok fine, I may have put in a little plug for this earlier this semester, but she still gave it to me even though I later forgot about it.

She’s also such a great friend! I kinda mentioned this on Instagram, but I was insanely sick last weekend. I threw up everything from Friday night to Saturday night. Literally, as soon as I swallowed something I would have to run to the toilet—my stomach was absolutely NOT having it at all. So on Saturday night, we went to the Emergency Room at the Penn hospital. Our friend Shaun drove us over, and I’m so thankful to him for that. Hui Jie stayed with me the whole night. We played two truths and a lie while we waited for the doctor and watched Saturday Night Live together while I was getting the IV treatment thing. It was my first time doing that and I was a little scared. I felt so much better after that and thankfully we didn’t have to stay the night.

The one thing I will say though is that I really appreciate how in Malaysia, we can just go to a clinic when we’re sick. Student Health Services closes on weekends and at night, so we couldn’t go there and had to go straight to the ER. And even though I felt really week, I still had to do some paperwork and look up my insurance details and whatnot. I just want to be babied, to be honest.

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The last meal I had (with Jamie!) before I got sick.
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…and then later that weekend.
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We were both so sleepy 😦
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By the time we left to go home it was like 2.30 a.m.
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My friends are absolutely wonderful: my roommate Shahirah picked up my prescriptions for me from CVS and bought me bread + gatorade :’) Hui Jie cooked me alphabet soup with all my halal ingredients and pot and stuff, and the tea is from Christina from last year!

If you are wondering, I am feeling much much much better now. As good as ever, alhamdulillah 🙂 I’m looking forward to a relaxing week ahead with my friends and to being home soon!

As for this blog, THANK YOU so much for following it, whether you’ve only read one or if you’ve read them all, it has been one of my favourite things about junior year. And honest to god, I am typing this with a huge smile on my face 🙂 I highly recommend other people to do it too because writing helps put things into perspective and it helps with building my sense of discipline. Plus, it’s fun to look back and remember what happened when. I think I am probably going to take at least a week off from this to think about whether or not I want to continue blogging or if I do, what “direction” I’m going to take with this. But I just really want to say this has been so much fun!!!! And I appreciate everyone who has reached out to me to say they enjoyed it and what not, it really means so much to me.

Take care!

Week 15: Superstars

I want to start by acknowledging that I do complain about Penn a lot. It is overwhelmingly competitive, stressful, tiring and annoying. It’s like trying to take a sip from a waterfall, sometimes. But of course, waterfalls can also be wonderful. This past week was pretty great, and I am writing while looking out my window, realizing for the first time this semester that the trees are green again.

Today, I had lunch with Professor Pollack who teaches my International Political Economy class. Anyone who knows me knows that I rave about his class constantly. I have to write 5 two-page papers for his class (and again, if you know me, I utterly despise writing papers for classes) but even while I’m writing my IPE papers I’m like “OMG I love this class!!!” First, Professor Pollack is exceptionally engaging in the classroom and he’s so good that, quite ashamedly, it’s the first semester I’ve had a perfect attendance record for a 9 a.m. class.

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Pollack explaining that he searched for “Asian Tigers” on Google images and thought this was too cute not to use.

The course content is also really interesting; it covers topics like economic history, financial and sovereign debt crises, trade and multilateral agreements, monetary policy, development etc using the framework of interests and institutions. So like, what are the interests of the different groups of society when it comes to trade, for example? What are the roles of domestic and international institutions? I think the framework is also really useful to learn because I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know a lot about the world, but this class truly has helped me learn to become an informed member of society… if that makes sense.

Anyway, enough nerd talk. Lunch with Professor Pollack was so much fun. I understand professors are accomplished people with busy schedules so the fact that he willingly sat down with me and my friend Christina for two and a half hours just talking about what he’s learned from being in his field, from teaching, from parenting and from life in general really meant so much to us. He talks about the colleagues he admires and calls them “superstars” but oh my god, as far as Penn professors go, he’s definitely one of my superstars. I’ve said it before, but I think people who offer their time and their insights to others so kindly are so generous and I am thankful to know people like that.

And speaking of superstars, (wow, what a smooth transition!) apparently, Penn is full of them. In the past two weeks, I’ve gotten to see 2 shows put on by Penn students. The first was Memphis, put on by the African American Arts Alliance. It’s set in the 1950s and centers around a white DJ, Huey, who plays black music on the radio, and falls in love with an African-American singer, Felicia. I went to see it because my friend Habeeb was in the band, playing the drums, and I’m so glad I decided to go because I had so much fun!

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Me smiling super wide because I was SO proud of Habeeb!!!!
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I had just met Sylvia the week to prior to this but I was so thrilled to see that she was one of the dancers in the show.

This past weekend, I saw All Shook Up, put on by the Quadramics Theatre Co. It’s a whole musical built up of Elvis’ hits and it’s some kind of a love pentagon (?) kind of story which starts off with this “roustabout” coming to town and shaking things up. My god, I, love, musicals. LOVE THEM. Seriously, I had such a great time. And considering I went to see the show alone, I really had a great time.  Like the other show, I went because my friend Clare is involved with it. We had brunch a couple of weekends ago (at the place with the best hot sauce I’ve had in America) and she told me about how she’s assistant stage manager so I wanted to go support her and again, I’m infinitely glad I did. I’m so, so proud of her! Plus, I later found out that my classmate from cultural psychology, Nate, was also one of the cast members. I was also happy to see him perform and was just amazed by his (and the other cast members’) performance.

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Brunch with Clare at Renata’s Kitchen!!
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I wish I took better pictures of the show lol
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That’s Nate in the front/left 🙂
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With Clare after the show!

Not only were the two shows spectacular, but I also really love taking a step back to just be in awe of the amount of talent I am surrounded by here on campus. Because, I mean, on a day to day basis, it gets overwhelming. I sometimes feel like I’m the only one here who isn’t doing 50 things at once. But other times I get to realize how lucky I am to be around friends and other Penn kids who are just… remarkable.

Watching All Shook Up was just one part of a great fling weekend, though. So, if you’re not from Penn, Spring Fling is what some people refer to as a “weekend of debauchery” — there is a carnival in the Quad, a huge concert on Friday night (this year we had Chance the Rapper, last year was Kesha and the year before, we had David Guetta), and, from what I gather, many many many frat parties. As you can imagine, that’s not a lot of fun for me. I don’t love the crowd and I don’t wanna fork out the money to go see a performer I won’t enjoy, so I’ve never had the “conventional” fling experience. Instead, my friends and I do what’s fun for us. On Friday, I went to Fairmount Park with Hui Jie, Jamie and Selina. We saw the quaint little Shofuso Gardens and took lots of silly pictures. Later that night, Adel and Ahsen had a bunch of MSA people over at their place and we played Mafia and ate desserts and somewhat surprised Sanaa for her birthday at midnight 🙂 On Saturday, as is tradition now for the class of ’17 Malaysians, we have a fling weekend picnic! I think part of what I like about being a junior in college, is that I now know how to navigate parts of college I don’t enjoy by doing things I do enjoy and being with people whose company I value.

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L-R: Jamie, me, Selina and Hui Jie
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Haha Selina ❤
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The koi came to her because they thought she had food 😦

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Jamie, Hui Jie and I at the entrance of Shofuso gardens.
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The whole gang at Adel and Ahsen’s place!
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The birthday girl surprised with red velvet cake while eating hummus with a spoon!!
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LOVE these guys.

In fact the entire last week was pretty good. On Wednesday, I got to attend a talk by, or, well, I guess it was more of a conversation with Ben Bernanke. He was the chair of the Fed during the American financial crisis and given everything I had learned in class this semester, it was super interesting to me. He talked a little bit about how he got to where he is, defended the decisions he made during the crisis and talked about his book “The Courage To Act.” It was pretty cool to be, as Professor Pollack said, “in the same room with a historic world figure.”

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Sitting on the steps outside of Annenberg because the line to see Ben Bernanke was out the door over an hour before the event.
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Apparently Bernanke lost at the word “edelweiss.”

Summer break is fast approaching and as the semester is kind of winding down, people are trying to catch up with each other. It’s quite difficult to see all the people you care about consistently throughout the semester because we have a lot of papers to write, hundreds of pages to read, exams to take, meetings to run and etc… so I appreciate it when friends like Iman understand that and give me room but also let me know they’re there for me if I need them. Iman, exactly one year ago today actually, helped take care of me when I had my wisdom tooth extraction. Even though I don’t see her a lot, I know she’d still make time for me 🙂 we had the chance to grab dinner last week at Honest Tom’s (ahhh their sweet potato tacos!!!) and it’s really nice to end a long day with a good friend.

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The most generous serving of guacamole.
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Sweet potato tacos are so good.

Shahirah and I also got to catch up with Marcus, who’s a Malaysian graduating this year!! We always say he’s kinda like an uncle because of his mannerisms but we love him, he’s so nice. I also love that he’s the first guy I’ve met who is as scared of dogs as I am. He took us to Dock Street for pizza and it was one of the best pizzas I’ve ever had! Maybe the best but I’m refraining from making that statement because I know I have a tendency to overuse superlatives. The pizza I chose had brie and pear on it, which was a delightful combination. The one Shahirah chose had egg on it!!! I LOVE EGGS so yeah it was 10/10.

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Waiting for the trolley that never came.

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Next week is the last week of classes!!!! I am so excited because it’s Hey Day next week, which is when the juniors march down Locust Walk and are “declared” seniors. And also because I am tired and ready for a break. Anyway, so I think this post is long enough, and I’ll leave you for now. Byeeeeee.

Week 14: Memorial

[Trigger warning: this post talks about a recent tragic incident that happened at Penn]

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It was a nice morning in the spring of my Freshman year. My hallmate and good friend, Claire and I were having brunch at the dining hall in Hill when we got an email from our RA offering support in light of the recent tragic news. We didn’t know. Then, we found out that a fellow classmate had committed suicide the day before. She lived in the dorm we were eating in at that exact moment. We continued our daily lives, shaken, but ultimately, unscarred.

That was 4 semesters ago. I thought it would be the only time I’d experience news like that. But since then, we’ve lost way too many. I could say all of their names here, and I could even tell you the scary statistic that lingers over this institution but I won’t, because they were more than a list and more than a statistic. They were real people who walked on the same Locust Walk I use to go to class, people I’ve probably bumped into, people I have mutual friends with, people with vivid and complex lives.

Yesterday, we lost Olivia.

I didn’t know her, but it pained me to think about this loss. Like me and most of my friends, she was also from the Class of 2017, poised to sit on Franklin Field next May in a cap and gown. Like my friend Wendy, she was in the CSA culture show. Like my friend May May, she was in the PGN business fraternity. Like my friend Busra, she was in the APO service fraternity. She registered for classes, took midterms, was involved in campus organisations and had many friends. She was just like any one of us.

In times like these, my mind becomes somewhat naïve and child-like. “She was here. Now she isn’t. She was alive. Now she isn’t.” I grapple with this reality, and clearly all of my friends are struggling with it too. There was an outpouring of grief and support, simultaneously. At 5 p.m. yesterday, there was a support group held at Huntsman and hundreds came. Later that night, a vigil. Everyone was struck, and everyone tried their best to reach out to each other.

“Even if we’re not that close, feel free to come to me if you need someone to talk to.”
“I’m always here for you.”
“Given what just happened, I just wanted to see if you were okay.”
“You’re not alone.”

“You can always reach out to your advisor, counselling services, a professor, the chaplains’ office, your RA.”

But that raised so many questions in me. Questions that weren’t new, but questions I still could not answer: Why do we only offer support when something like this happens? Why do we not reach out to people who offer support when we need it? How do we stop things like this from happening again?

I certainly wasn’t alone in wondering about this. Coincidentally, the topic for my Psychology class today was mental health. There was an atmosphere of stillness, I would say. In class, we talked about “Penn Face”—a culture that immediately immerses you once you step foot here. It’s the idea that we all have so much we’re struggling with and yet walk around with this facade that everything is perfectly fine all whilst comparing our challenges to the seemingly-perfect lives of our peers. I mean, when I walk down the street and bump into someone I know, occasionally, we’ll strike small-talk. Usually it’s: “How are you?” followed by the obligatory “fine, thanks” or if you’re a little closer to the person, maybe “yeah, I have a shitty week with midterms, papers and OCR etc” to which they might reply “oh my god, ugh, same” and you end on “we should catch up some time” before saying bye and walking away. It’s well-meaning, and not always an entirely sugar-coated conversation but rather expectedly surface-level without fail.

I don’t know why “Penn Face” exists, to be sure. It’s partly about putting up our best selves at all times, whether in person or on social media. To me, it’s partly about persevering and not letting the negativity get to me or affect others. It’s partly the notion that we’ve worked so hard to be here, and now that we’re here, we have to make the most of it so that we can do so much more. I understand this culture and I have no doubts that I am complicit to some extent.

But that’s where it gets tricky, right? Because I do believe in putting my best self forward, I believe I always have to work very hard, I believe in maintaining a positive demeanor. So, where is the line? What do we change?

Some people talk about how the administration has failed us. Not enough resources, an environment that’s too competitive, not being responsive enough. Petitions are written and circled and debated and signed. President Amy Guttman sends out an email encouraging us to reach out for support. But what will be done and will it be effective quickly enough?

Some people talk about how Penn students need to break out of this cycle, that there needs to be a behavioural change in the undergrad culture. But the conversation tends to circle back to the fact that we don’t really know what to do. How do we consistently be a source of support to our peers and seem genuine when our schedules are so packed? How do we reconcile our internal monologues so that we can both push ourselves to do more and be more while being kind to ourselves? How do we destigmatise weakness?

I guess for now I don’t know the answers. But for now, we’re talking about it. We’re thinking about it. We’re reaching out to hold each others’ hands through this.

For anyone at Penn/even outside, if you need someone to talk to, please reach out. To me, if that’s what you feel comfortable with. You are stronger for it. Lastly, if this post was misinformed in one way or another, feel free to let me know.

Take care ❤

Week 13: I Really Like Using Italics

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

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

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

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

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Byeeeeeeee.

Week 11: Rejuvenation

If you’re reading this, I hope you’ve had a good week. 🙂

I had a great time last week. I was invited to attend Penn’s Women of Colour luncheon last Friday. It was really encouraging to see that Penn had an event like this, celebrating accomplishments of coloured women and acknowledging the efforts being made in bettering the lives of our communities.

There were speeches by Hispanic, Asian, African American and Native students. They were pretty good but I didn’t have my pen and journal with me, so I could only sneakily type brief snippets of notes on my phone. This is a tidied-up version, if you care for it:

  • There’s a Mayan saying that goes, “I am the other you” which speaks to how when you respect/love/care for me, you’re also caring about yourself and vice versa
  • It doesn’t matter where you are, there is something you can do for your community
  • Many people have created legacies of creating something from nothing
  • You can affect change in the hearts and minds of others when you feel empowered
  • Be the voice for people with a silenced history

It’s kind of cheesy I guess, and if you’re not “into” this sort of things, I can see how you think it is. But as I firmly believe, there is nothing bad about being able to see beauty in and draw inspiration from the cheesy things.

I also am part of a team that organised a dialogue event last week. We talked about the experience of minorities in college and the conversation touched on quite a number of things: the process of getting into college and what factors play a part in that, opinions on affirmative action, how easy/difficult the college experience can be depending on the background you come from, etc. How it works is that usually, 2-3 people would moderate the discussion by asking open-ended questions and people chime in with their experiences and opinions. I can’t and won’t say much because I respect that space so much and would not talk so openly about what people shared with everyone in the room that day. But what I appreciate about these events is when people warmly open up to share their stories, I think they provide empathy and strength to people listening without even realising it and to me, that’s such a generous act. On the other end, when people thoughtfully listen to others, it’s a sign of respect/solidarity somewhat (?) and I think that’s just really cool.

There were over 50 people at the Pan Asian American Community House 🙂

It really warmed my heart to see the room fill up with people ready to engage by sharing their stories and listen to other people talk about their experiences. Despite being on the team that does research on the topic, comes up with the questions and has a run through of the discussion before the event, I always learn so much from everyone and I always find it a, for lack of a better word at the moment, rejuvenating experience and I am so glad to be a part of this.

Another cool thing that happened this week was I got to meet Omi Vaidya! If that name doesn’t ring a bell, he played Chatur Ramalingam “The Silencer” in Aamir Khan’s Bollywood film, 3 Idiots. He was speaking at Penn as part of the South Asian Society’s Symposium for the Awareness of South Asian Issues. He mentioned how great it was to work on 3 Idiots. He also talked about his experience being on The Office. But mostly he spoke about being South Asian in America; about coping with discrimination/bullying in a constructive way, how being Indian American meant that he felt he belonged in neither India nor America and how he navigated a discovery of his identity. He also spoke briefly about how he plans to use his craft to tell important stories about people in his community. Currently, he wants to produce a movie about Dalip Singh Saund to tell the story of the first Asian American member of the U.S. Congress. I am so grateful to have been able to meet him. He was warm and funny in person, and I just had a great time.

So yeah, this week has been pretty good for me. My sister has been in town since the weekend! We’ve just been going around campus, watching TV, baking, cooking, shopping and making short excursions in the nearby area because I have classes this week. This is the reason I had to do so much work during spring break! Because I just have done so little work this week, since I just wanna go out and enjoy myself now that my sister is here. We are heading up to New York City tomorrow and I’m really excited about that, so I’ll write all about it next week 🙂 until then!