Week 9: I Said I Would

Since I have the week off from school, I have more time to do things I usually want to do but don’t have time for. That is primarily cooking, but it also includes hanging out with some of my friends who are also on campus over break and exercising more frequently.

I made some amazing pancakes last weekend as my search for the fluffiest pancakes continued. I used this recipe and tweaked it a little (slightly less milk, more baking powder) and here’s what I  got! It was 8/10, I have to say.

   
I also made pasta with salmon, lemon, butter and herbs with a side of broccoli. This was like, only 5/10 though to be honest. But I’m all about trial and error when it comes to cooking and it was still worth it 🙂

I also made ginger-soy marinated cod (thanks, Trader Joes) to be eaten with rice with ghee and curry leaves as well as some steamed broccoli. It was the first time I used the steamer over the rice cooker and I was very excited about that! This is probably one of my favourite home-cooked meals because it tastes incredible and takes only 15 minutes to make. 9.5/10.


I don’t usually get cereal because I don’t love milk and I don’t usually buy it, but the other day I got milk because I wanted quick breakfasts. It was a busy week and I didn’t have time to be frying eggs and washing the pan etc. in the morning. I got this vanilla and almond clusters cereal (also thanks to Trader Joes!) and ate it with some fruit. Yum. 7/10.


My favourite breakfast though, incorporates 2 of my favourite things: salmon and eggs. I don’t really know how to keep my omelettes intact despite watching the Jamie Oliver video on omelettes like 20 times, but the taste is there for me and that’s good enough.

Apart from the food, I finally managed to jog my way down to the Schuylkill! I hate running outside because I feel super self-conscious about the way I look when I run, haha. But since it’s break, campus is relatively quiet. So, I thought there would be no better time to take the first step in getting over one of my irrational fears. It ended up being so rewarding because it was a gorgeous day, plus getting over a hurdle always makes me feel good.




Besides all of that, I also have been catching up on my backlogged work and trying to get ahead. I broke down everything I need to do in the next few weeks into little chunks, sprinkled across the 9 days of break and so far it’s going well. Something very exciting is happening in the next 2 weeks which is what I’m trying to clear my schedule for. I’m having such a good time with the quiet on campus and not having to be among so many people so often these past few days. Also, I’m really happy to be doing things I said I’d do if I had more time because I didn’t want “not having time” to be just an excuse; the only way for that was to make sure that when I 
do have time, I get things done.

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Week 5: Chinese New Year!

Happy (belated?) chinese new year! This year, the Hong Kong Student Association, Chinese Student Association and Penn Taiwanese Society put together a Lunar New Year celebration at Penn. It was really fun. So many cultural groups participated, and some of them were Club Singapore, Penn Philippines Association, Vietnamese Student Association, Koreans at Penn and even Malaysians at Penn. There were performances like the lion dance and some songs by the Chinese a capella group. Each club served a type of kuih or offered a workshop/game. We served homemade prawn rolls and fried wantan (or I guess, wonton) skins with sugar powder—so good.

Me and Ken, serving food at the event.

 

Han Yang and Marcus, the Malaysian seniors 🙂
Cooking at Ken’s house with the other Malaysians!

Festivities always give me major FOMO because I’m missing my family back home. They all went out to Jinjang to visit relatives last Monday. I haven’t gotten to go along in such a long time! But I’m glad I got to at least experience some festive spirit over here with my friends.  So that was one of the “highs” of my week.

My family on Chinese New Year!

My “low” was actually quite funny… I usually do laundry once every 2-3 weeks, but when I do laundry, there tends to be like a (small) pile of stuff I leave behind because it’s not important and I don’t need it haha. Last Monday night I decided to do ALL OF IT. It was like, 3+ loads. It was supposed to be done by like 12.30 am, but the dryer didn’t dry my clothes properly so I had to put it in for another round. I was so sleepy and could hardly believe that my first time staying up late this semester was for… laundry. It didn’t even fully dry after the second time around pulak tu! So I ended up having to hang my clothes all over my room and just slept without a bedsheet or duvet cover. Lesson? Um, make more money and hire someone to do it for me (hehe just kidding…).

I also went for the APSC Town Hall last weekend. APSC is the Asian Pacific Student Coalition—they are the “umbrella group” over all (or most?) Asian-interest groups on campus. They advocate for needs in the Asian community to administration and they facilitate the building of relationships within the community. My friend Majid who’s on the board of APSC said he’ll read my blog so Majid, if you’re reading this, I hope I explained that well enough. They explained some of the initiatives they’re working on. For example, trying to work with the University administration to promote faculty diversity, helping provide resources to minorities from low income families hoping to go to grad school and combatting Islamophobic rhetoric and sentiments on and beyond campus.

Since we’re on the topic, a lot of people ask me about my experience with Islamophobia at Penn and I just want to say I think it’s there and it’s implicit, which is to say that if it exists, it’s never really specifically and/or directly to me or others. And although I’m not optimistic enough to say it doesn’t exist here, I have received so much support from my Muslim and non-Muslim friends, advisors and professors. I also remain encouraged because there is a lot currently in the works on campus to further fight these sentiments and it’s great to be a part of that and to see my friends take active roles in this cause. I’m just super proud of my peers and the minority community at Penn for that. I mean, it could be so much worse and I think my experience is not representative of that of all Muslims in America so I actually am… lucky, in a sense.

The United Minorities Council discussing efforts to fight Islamophobic rhetoric.

On to a lighter note! Cooking! This week, I bought potatoes for the first time because I was craving clear vegetable soup to eat with rice and kicap so I bought potatoes to put in it. Well, actually, I bought one potato. After removing the potato skin and chopping it, I realised that even one potato was too many. So, I made (or should I say, attempted to make) breakfast potatoes. They tasted fine, but I wished they looked a little better haha.

I also tried Trader Joe’s creamy tomato and basil pasta sauce for the first time this past week. I added onions, garlic and more basil leaves and some cheese into it. I also put prawns in it to complete it. I made pretty much the whole jar at once, so I was eating it for meal after meal over the course of like, 3 days haha. It was decent, but adding real basil leaves made it a lot better. To be honest, I have to say I’d still prefer to make pasta sauce from scratch because the ones from jars just don’t taste real. Right?

Anyway, it’s Tuesday night as I’m writing this and I’m rather sore from my session at the gym this morning. God, this is going to hurt tomorrow. I have to get back to work now, lots to do. I have one exam each week for the next three weeks so… here goes nothing.

Week 12: Time Passes, Tables Turn

I have 2 full weeks and 2 half weeks of classes left, you guys. Can you believe it? BECAUSE I CAN. I AM EXCITED.

It’s been a great semester, though. I was so weary of everything, I was trying to make sure I don’t “slip” and mess up, lose control of my workload… but I’m grateful that so far, it has not happened and I think it’s safe to say I don’t foresee it happening soon. Granted, I have the easiest workload I’ve had in like 2 years, and that’s probably 90% of the reason why. I’m enjoying it either way. College has never been more fun.

Last weekend, for example, was excellent. I got to watch a play in Philadelphia for the first time on Friday night. I watched Disgraced, written by Ayad Akhtar who won a Pulitzer Prize for it. It’s about a Pakistani American lawyer navigating his Muslim heritage in the post 9/11 world. I don’t know much about theatre, but I really enjoyed it and I’m glad my friend Adriel invited me to watch it.

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PAACH, the Pan Asian American Community House, celebrated its 15th year anniversary on Saturday. It was a really great celebration and I’m glad I was invited to attend! I got to hear Amy Gutmann (the Penn president) speak, meet some alums who came back from homecoming weekend and listen to a great keynote speech by Vijal Patel. Vijal is a Penn alum, class of ’98. He studied finance and engineering but then went into a career in comedy writing. His speech was so funny. If (or when) I get my hands on a recording, I will be sure to send it to everyone I know. He talked about how important it is to have safe spaces on campus so that students have the freedom and confidence to explore their abilities in new and interesting ways. He also talked about how he took a huge risk, declining a huge Wall Street job offer to drive across the country and move to L.A. to pursue a career in entertainment. Sigh, I wish I could tell you more but my memory of it is super spotty so just trust me, it was hilarrrrious and inspiring. I got to meet him after, and he was really nice! (You can read a little about him here!)

The PAACH anniversary celebration in Huntsman Hall.
The PAACH anniversary celebration in Huntsman Hall.
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He took this with his phone and texted it to me. WHAT.

Homecoming weekend was also really great because I got to see Amanda again. She was a senior last year, and one of the first few Malaysians I met from Penn. It’s always really nice to talk to people who’ve been through the whole Penn journey and know what it’s like to make it out on the other side, but it’s a bonus to talk to someone who understands the path I’m on and part of where I come from. It really means so much to me to have such supportive and understanding people in my life.

Early Sunday morning with Amanda <3
Sunday morning with Amanda ❤

This past week, I’ve also started watching The Office and, well, I don’t know why I put off watching it for so many years because it’s an amazing show and I kinda squeezed in time to watch it whenever I could. For example:

Watching it while having breakfast in bed.
Watching it while having breakfast in bed (and yeah, that’s Nestum).
Watching it while doing laundry.
Watching it while doing laundry (I am also watching it while I type this).

It has also been a great week even though it’s only Wednesday so far. There is a farmer’s market every Wednesday in front of the bookstore on campus and today I bought some good fresh bread there. Conveniently, the farmer’s market is also next to Cosi which gives free coffee on Wednesdays! So I got fresh bread and free coffee, which is, *deep breaths* wonderful.

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What I did with my bread for lunch!
What I did with my bread for lunch!

Then, today after class, I went to see Rachel who is a freshman in Write On, one of the volunteer programs I’m in at Penn. We talked about the many difficulties of freshman year and reliving them sent chills down my spine. The overwhelming feeling of lostness–physically around campus, navigating new friendships, finding an area of interest and just generally finding a enclave on campus makes you feel like you belong. It takes time, I guess, but I genuinely believe it gets better. That’s what I told Rachel.

Gratefully and certainly, it has gotten better for me. Today, for the first time, I felt the tables turning a little. I’ve had the chance to meet with 3 freshmen girls so far this semester to talk about adjusting at Penn but it just occurred to me right now that I’ve kind of transitioned into a different, um, how do I say this, position(?) here. I remember talking to my freshman hall Resident Advisor, Cat, and other upperclassmen like Petra and Hanna because they reached out to me wanting to talk to me about how I’m doing in my transition into Penn. It’s hard to believe I’m now on the other side of that conversation. It’s really weird, because 2.5 years in, I still feel like I’m transitioning into life at Penn every day so I don’t know how it’s possible that I’m giving advice or whatever. I feel that this transition is never complete and so is always ongoing but I suppose, in some sense, I can’t really say that I’m adjusting anymore because I’ve been here for a while, and no matter how much more experience I have to gain, the fact is that I have gained some experience.

A few hours ago, I was at an Asian Pacific American Heritage Week event. We invited Vidya, a YouTube star to perform at Penn. She does mashups between Hindi and American songs and she performed a bunch of them earlier. I also got to meet her earlier and speak to her a little, it was really fun.

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Vidya’s performance.
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At the meet and greet with the planning boards after the performance.

It was great to be a part of an organising group that helped make this happen. That would not have happened 2 years ago. Also, as I was at this event, I was introduced to a freshman who asked to know more about what the club I am part of does. When she left, I again found myself thinking that 2 years ago, I would’ve probably been on the other side of that conversation as well.

In fact, when I left the venue, I walked on the steps between College and Cohen halls onto Locust and recalled the time in freshman year Saffa (who was a senior at the time) walked with me there. We were walking back to our rooms after the first MSA meeting that year. She was giving me a little tour of the campus. It felt like quite a long time ago.

For the first time, it feels like I’ve actually made progress. That’s a pretty difficult thing to feel here sometimes, you know. Everyone just seems to be doing amazing things that it’s hard to see my own progress at times. But today, as I walked home, I felt proud of myself because I know I’ve progressed here as a result of my baby steps–slowly, putting myself out there and steadily putting one foot in front of the other.

I know it’s not a lot, but if I don’t start feeling a little proud of me for something, then, well I don’t know. I gotta start somewhere and this seems like a good place to start.

Week 9: Don’t Trust Everything You See Online / My Girlfriends Are Made of Magic

Today's Chai Chat!
Today’s Chai Chat!

Today, I went to a Chai Chat (they’re monthly dialogues on issues socially relevant to students, basically, and they’re called Chai Chats because there is free chai!). It was a collaborative discussion on the way social media affects our perception of our peers and ourselves. I think it’s a really important dialogue to have because so much of the pressure we put on ourselves is derived from what we think everyone else is doing and the standards we feel we should hold ourselves to because of it. And let’s face it.. Facebook and whatnot, they all kinda make you feel like everyone else is doing a lot better than they usually are.

I mean, I love Facebook and Instagram and Snapchat. I think, to some extent, I like seeing what everyone else is up to because it gives me inspiration and ideas–a type of fashion style I could try out, a new restaurant I could visit, a good band I might want to check out. This is great. Seriously. I love it. Most of the time I’d say that in the moment, it makes me feel connected and happy or whatever. Plus, I like knowing what my friends and family back home or in other countries are up to! I miss them so much and being able to see bits and pieces from their “mundane” daily lives make me feel close and connected. I like seeing people having fun and being happy–it makes me happy. It really does!

But no one is really representing an accurate picture of what their life is like, you know? Most people try to put their best selves out there, and that’s fine. We’re always taught to behave nicely and appropriate around people, and so I can understand how it’s somewhat natural to “curate” a social media presence. I’m not saying it’s bad or that they shouldn’t, just that it might be difficult for us to remember, and so sometimes, when it’s 2 a.m. and, I don’t know, maybe I’m writing a paper that feels completely unwriteable or studying for a midterm that seems to have bottomless material to cover, pictures of people going out and having fun just slowly tip toes into my mind. It happens. And like a big fat caramel cupcake to my hungry eyes, it tempts me to think, “how do they do so much outside of school and still take 6 classes and do really well in all of them?”

We’re always comparing our blooper reels to our peers’ highlight reels and that’s not fair. But I get it. It’s hard. I know. I subconsciously do it a lot. Yet, I’m also guilty of putting my best self up. I try to make conscious efforts to be genuine and honest–I’ve been frank about downright crappy weeks and feeling stressed and helpless and lost. I guess those things just tend to be more “quiet”? I don’t know. Like I said, it’s kinda ingrained in me to treat social media interactions like I would real life ones, which means to lead a good example and what not, be collected and friendly, but also just a little bit open and frank about the not-so-great stuff.

I also personally don’t know if I would say I never want to compare myself with others, because a bit of awareness is useful I think.. but I guess all I wanna say is it’s never a complete picture. Everyone is going through something. For me, it really helps to remind myself that happiness isn’t a zero-sum thing; someone else’s success and happiness doesn’t stop me from having mine and likewise for you. We have different lives, starting points, priorities, personalities and different lessons to learn. Jealousy costs way more than its worth, and to quote the realm of adolescent wisdom (*cough* Tumblr *cough*), trust the journey of your life.

[Haha so thanks for bearing with me ’til the end of that whole spiel.. I am now going to ~*seamlessly transition*~ into talking about the rest of my week.. lol.]

This past week, I had my first session of Write On, which is the volunteer creative writing thing we do with kids from Lea Elementary. I missed being around these kids and seeing the clever things they come up with. The new coaches this year also seem really great at coaching the kids, so that made me really happy.

Working on collage poetry in small groups.
Working on collage poetry in small groups.
The kids performing their poems in front of everyone.
The kids performing their poems in front of everyone.

Besides that, this past week I was just constantly constantly constantly reminded of how lucky I am to have the friends that I do. I wouldn’t change a thing about them–they are smart, ambitious, hardworking, sensitive, kind and hilarious. Thank you thank you thank you thank you for friends.

Cristina walks 8 blocks with me to help me satisfy my cravings. Shahirah and May May lent me some of their clothes to wear and helped me pick out clothes and for hours even though they had a lot of work to do. Sofia is always there to crack me up with her random dance moves. Busra has my back and has real talk with me. Hui Jie is my pilates/gym bud who also goes on bubble tea runs with me and keeps me in check by reminding me not to procrastinate. I don’t even know if any of them read this but thanks for making me feel safe and loved all the time.

Cristina at lunch with me today.
Cristina at lunch with me today.
Some of the clothes Shahirah and May May lent me/weighed in on.
Some of the clothes Shahirah and May May lent me/weighed in on.
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At Sofia’s birthday last week.
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With Busra before we started contemplating life and why we’re in college and all that.
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Hui Jie sends me encouragement snaps when I have lots of work because she’s great.

Golden stars to all my girlz and everyone reading this. As we speak, I’m doing the thing where I spend an hour trying to pick a movie to watch and end up just watching 50 movie trailers and then decide not to watch a movie because I just wasted so much time trying to pick one. Haha, have a fantastic weekend! 🙂

Week 8: Sometimes Small Hurdles are Big Hurdles

Here we are. Week 8. I am at the midpoint of the semester, otherwise known as the time my to-do list reached puberty and went through a growth spurt.

Midterm next week and 200 pages of reading to do, remember to email the TA about setting up an appointment to ask clarifying questions, review material so that I know what questions to ask to begin with, email student groups about collaboration on event, go to Lea elementary for advertising 3 times this week, remember to print out flyers before you go, text Casey to coordinate where we’ll meet, email the homeroom teacher to tell her we’re coming, remember you have an appointment at Career Services at 1.30pm to talk about how to take control of finding a job, submit your resume and cover letters for criticism, follow up on advisor about transcript problem, cook lunch/dinner at 7 a.m. because you won’t have enough time to do it otherwise, call SHS to see if my appointment was schedule correctly online, make a dental appointment, see if I can squeeze in an extra gym session on Wednesday morning, drop by Marcus’ office hours to collect my midterm exam and assignments, see Professor Epstein to discuss the stuff I didn’t understand about his lecture on perception, remember to ask Mama about her medical appointment, email sponsors my transcript (!!!), make sure you’re drinking enough water, oh and water your plants check to see they haven’t completely died, do the dishes from yesterday morning please, oh and you really need to do laundry if not you’ll have nothing to wear to the gym tomorrow, also pick out classes for the Spring semester and make a mock schedule, which means you have to see Professor Connolly to approve some of your course selections, also see an ECON advisor to help figure out if you want to continue with that major, and see a PSCI advisor to see if you could accidentally get a minor in political science, and remember to write a blog post about your week in time.*

I hate to sound all ~oh I’m so busy~ but man.. the little things. It’s like that light rain which is more like mist, where it’s not heavy enough to warrant you staying inside, and yet an umbrella just will not protect you from it because it still gets in your face. It’s like a pile of books in my way for which I just need to figure out a system to stack them on their respective shelves. It’s like a being a waiter at those restaurant where they carry like 6 dishes on two arms (or is that not a thing?).

See, the thing is, none of those things really scare me in and of itself, and I know I can use iCal and my to-do list and reminders to help me get through all of them. But sometimes I wish someone would just give me a play-by-play of what I need to do on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis so I would just follow instructions, as opposed to having to always re-evaluate and re-consider and improvise. It’s like how the rubic’s cube was so much more fun once I had memorised all the steps, instead of having to think my way through it and calculus only became my favourite subject once I had gotten the hang of it.

Dude, this transition into being an adult is toughhh. It’s like I’ve spent my whole life riding those tiny aeroplane rides where you pay like a dollar or something to use and it just swings you back and forth for 2 minutes while playing some fun-fair type music, and then I blinked and suddenly I am in a real aeroplane and there are buttons on the dashboard and ceiling and floor and levers that serve functions I don’t know of.

It’s times like these I really need to just take a step back and detach from the street-level view of my life and “zoom out”. Yeah, they’re like a million tiny raindrops, but it’s just rain. Soak in it, wipe it off–it will stop, you will dry off. It will be okay. Deep breaths. One thing at a time. One step, and then another, and another.

Honestly, “baby steps” is like one of the most liberating pieces of wisdom I’ve ever received, which is why it’s on my Instagram bio thing (and that is clearly where all pieces of wisdom belong).

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

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


Sunday

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

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


Monday

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

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

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


Tuesday

View from class.
View from class.

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

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

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

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The other coordinators at the Write On! meeting.

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

Waiting for my laundry.
Waiting for my laundry.

Wednesday

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

Reading at College Green.
Reading at College Green before I panic.

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

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

Sangam board at the PAACH open house.
Sangam board at the PAACH open house.

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

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Thursday

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

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

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

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

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

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


Friday

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

9 a.m. deliberation meeting.
9 a.m. deliberation meeting.
Random stuff from the career fair.
Random stuff from the career fair.

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

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Rittenhouse Square.

Saturday

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

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

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

Adam and Fayaaz after unintentionally surprising me.
Adam and Fayaaz after unintentionally surprising me.
With the girls on the walk back to campus.
With the girls on the walk back to campus.

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


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

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

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

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

Week 2: I Listened to So Much Justin Bieber and I Don’t Know Why

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In 2013, I moved into my single dorm room on the 4th Floor in Fisher Hassenfeld. It was my first time being away from my family, and now I’ve been enrolled at Penn for two years. But this morning—in fact, most mornings—I wake up almost needing a moment to calibrate myself to my surroundings.

To put it simply, sometimes Penn just does not feel real and I felt that way this past week more so than usual. Call it denial if you like, and you would not be wrong. Like I said, I was hardly mentally ready to come back to school. My first week of classes went okay but I still found it difficult to digest the fact that I had readings and assignments to do because all I wanted to do was still to eat maggi, sleep, watch Korean dramas and listen to Justin Bieber (which is so odd for me–Justin Bieber, especially. What?!).

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Accurate representation of my first weekend back. That’s 2 packets of mee sedap btw, just so you know. Can you blame me? It really lives up to its name.
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I contemplated instagramming this with some sort of poetic caption or something (because I had nothing to post because I was indoors so much).

Not to be cheesy or anything, but I was really stuck in a post-summer daze. I mean, I guess that’s understandably normal, and I wasn’t alone. The day after we got back to Penn, my friends Shahirah, May May, Hui Jie and I stayed in Shahirah’s and my apartment pretty much all day talking about how crazy it is that we’re juniors in college now and still don’t have much figured out.

But we have to have discipline and responsibility and whatever, right?

So besides classes, last week I also took a couple of walks in the city, went to my gym classes, cleaned the apartment and went back to cooking meals for myself. Oddly enough, it felt strangely nice to be on my own again.

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Morning-ly omelettes.
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Lazy night salads.
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Fitting for 31-degree C days.
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I was craving pasta but refused to pay $30 for a bowl (what is that, RM100? *shivers*), so I made this and it was my favourite thing I made this week. (Not so) fun fact: I was very sad when I finished it.

It felt nice to cook myself breakfast, lunch and dinner again. It felt nice to reach 10,000 steps a day, to run errands on my own without waiting for someone’s car to be available, to be able to walk out to get froyo, walnut shrimp and dan dan noodles and to have so many of my friends from all around the world within walking distance again.

Honestly, I forget how much I like taking care of myself until I actually have to be independent. Although, that said, yesterday I was imagining married life and started crying because I don’t wanna ever not live with my parents, hehe (hashtag anak sulung paling manja). I miss my family so much but I’m not going to talk about that right now because I’m not really in the mood to entertain another one of my 20-minute crying spells.

So, anyway! For now, I have to fully snap out of my ~easy breezy summer~ mood. I need to accept that I need to work very, very, very hard. It’s going to be slightly uncomfortable to go back to pushing myself, but I think I’ve been doing the bare minimum for too long and want to step it up again. Plus, I don’t really have much time to spare for this annoying case of denial I have because the semester will pick up very soon. My first exam is in 2 weeks, I think. Yikes. Wish me luck!

Week 1: I Travelled 9460 Miles with a Bunch of Daun Pandan in My Backpack

Once a year, I count my last this and thats, pack 100 lbs of my things into two sturdy suitcases, force myself out of my bedroom fighting the temptation of a long lingering glance backwards and head to KLIA. Once a year, I cry until I feel like my lungs are about to collapse, stain my family’s shirts with my tears and take the Elevator Of Sorrow down to the departure gates.

As I walk towards the passport scanning thing, at the back of my mind I know my heart is heavy because I have so much I am (temporarily!) leaving behind. What an amazing problem to have. Because it means I have so much. I have so much love and support back home, from family and friends I admire and respect. I have so much fun, so much security and so much comfort back home. I guess I just really want to thank you all for that.

Thank you to my parents, for parenting me the way you have, such that I always have a wonderful home and family I love coming back to. My sisters, for being the cause of most of the times I laugh. Chik, for being like a second mother to me. All my other uncles and aunties for always bringing everyone together. My cousins, for being my best friends throughout my life. In my life right now, the best thing I have is a family that looks for multiple excuses to spend time with each other and request tables for 16-20 at restaurants.

Thank you to my friends who have set aside time to spend with me and helped make my holiday a really well-spent one. Special thank yous to everyone who helped me cross off everything on my craving list and to everyone who cooks amazing food. Thank you to everyone I had the pleasure of seeing over these past few months, you’ve all helped make my break everything I needed it to be. I’m sincerely sorry for missing those I did, and if I have hurt anyone over the past few months.

I know I’m no celebrity and I am cringing at the thought of sounding like I’m receiving some award at the Grammy’s or whatever but I just really wanted to start by saying I am so grateful to God for all of you. Home will always be where my heart is but it’s time to focus my energy on learning and growing at Penn.

As I write this, I am in the process of getting settled into my apartment at Penn. Shahirah and I arrived safely on Sunday morning (Sunday night Malaysian time). Classes start on Wednesday morning, and as per usual, I have that fresh new-semester excitement and a full bar of stamina. Right now, I have to redecorate my room, stock up my fridge and catch up with the friends I haven’t seen in 3 months. 

Landing safely in Philadelphia.
Landing safely in Philadelphia.

I have to say though, it feels really weird to be back. As the taxi from the airport drove across campus, I realised how distant my last year here feels to me. It felt like ages ago, like it happened in a parallel universe. I guess I was so shocked at how unprepared I felt to come back. I’m lying down on my bed as I type this, and at the back of my mind I’m thinking about the feeling of walking barefoot on a staircase, the touch of sunshine on my skin, marble floors, the slight hint of the smell of haze in the air, the sound of a ceiling fan turning. Little things that take my mind back 9460 miles.

Going home to Malaysia felt like resting my tired head on a pillow, like taking off my high heels after a long day, like eating an old favourite childhood snack. Coming back to Penn feels like crawling into a cold hotel bed, like eating solids after a week on liquids only, like eyes squinting when suddenly exposed to sunlight.

But the bed warms up, teeth strengthen and pupils contract. I will get better. I will be just fine.