Almost There…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 16: Finals

I’m so thankful to be in such good health this finals season. Last semester, I had a wisdom tooth extraction around this time and it was awful. Also, last weekend, I had such a terrible cold. I was a bit worried I wouldn’t be able to study properly for finals what with being sick and all, but I’m all good now, alhamdulillah. On Friday night, I slept for like 14 hours. It was insane, even I couldn’t believe how tired and sick I was.

But my friends were so great to me while I wasn’t feeling well!! Hui Jie got me cough drops and kept me company at home. Cristina also came by with a wonderful care package consisting of flowers, honey, lemon and camomile tea.

These were such a delight to have when I was sick.

So yeah. I can hardly believe we’re at the end of the semester! There were definitely times where the semester seemed to be endless. Yet, here we are. My last day of classes for the Fall semester was yesterday, and it’s officially finals season. We have Wednesday and Thursday off for what we call “reading days”—time to prepare for final exams—and finals start on Friday.

It’s been pretty busy, I guess. Nothing really interesting has happened. Regular end of the year stuff, like for example, a lot of the club boards are turning over during this time. The board for the dialogue group I’ve mentioned before, Sangam, just ended our “term” or whatever you call it. I decided to reapply, so I’m still going to be doing that next semester 🙂 the outgoing and incoming boards got to meet last week, and we made posters for the newbies! I’m a little sad that I’ll no longer be working with the old board. Andrew was such a good president and I think he leaves big shoes to fill. However, I’m also excited to work with the new board – they all seem really wonderful and I’m genuinely excited to get to know them better over the next year.

Also, this time of year means people are starting to look for summer internships. Eek. I needed to write a cover letter for an application this past week and it was so difficult. I had to like… talk about what I’m good at… and why they should pick me… when I honestly don’t think I’m good at anything and don’t know why they should pick me.

It’s just really frustrating to feel like I don’t have a selling point despite being at a good university. It’s also frustrating because I’m not sure if that’s the problem or if the problem is that I don’t know how to see myself in a good light. There are definitely moments when I wonder if I’ve spent my whole life pushing myself by being too harsh, to the point that I don’t even know how to objectively evaluate myself anymore.

Sitting at the coffee shop trying to write the cover letter was kinda agonising. It made me want to change my mind and not apply at all, because why bother? But then I remembered how I’ve always believed that courage is deliberate, not the default. So I decided I’m going to go ahead with it anyway because I can’t just stick to doing things I’m already comfortable doing and I need to actively be exercising bravery.

On a lighter note, however (!) I bought a new pair of ~girlfriend~ jeans during the sales on Thanksgiving weekend and they just got in a few days ago. I absolutely love them!

I wore them today to the Tea House event. Four of the cultural groups at Penn (Malaysians at Penn, Chinese Students’ Associations, Hong Kong Student Association and South Asia Society) came together to have a tea-themed “study break” where people could stop by and take a break from studying to drink tea, meet new people etc. It was really fun because I got to meet some friends I haven’t seen in a while and lots of new people. I also met two freshman girls who are actually half Malaysian! They were really sweet and I was really happy that they stopped by–I can’t believe I hadn’t met them before today.

Meerie, one of the girls I met today, making teh tarik with our makeshift teh tarik kit, haha.

So that was my week! Largely uneventful, but still a good one. Guess I have to quit procrastinating and get started studying now 😦 bye for now until next semester!

Week 15: Up at 4.23 a.m. for Clarinase

Once again, I find myself writing on here in the dead of the night/in the earliest of mornings. I was sleeping in a rather uncomfortable position–head propped up to help with the whole blocked nose situation, and the sound of my own cough happens to be more effective at waking me up than my alarm sometimes is. I had a pretty bad dream; I dreamt I was at some international negotiation on behalf of Malaysia and had no idea what I was doing. My neighbours haven’t gone to sleep yet as usual, and their laughing makes me summon bucketloads of patience and wish I had earplugs.

But, whatever. I want to back track about 24 hours.

I woke up with this cold (is that what you call it? I’m not really sure what Americans refer to as “cold” or “flu” to be honest… I used to just say I’m sakit and if I had a runny nose, I would call it a flu and if I had a cough, I would call it a cough) that came without warning yesterday morning.

I planned to get some work done but I felt really weak, so I had breakfast on the couch and the next thing I knew, I was asleep again. I woke up right before my class started, but I wasn’t ready for class and I didn’t feel like bolting to get ready for it so I missed it (side note – don’t worry parents, the class is recorded and I will responsibly watch it this weekend and I wasn’t that sick).

As was the tradition this semester, I had lunch with Cristina because it was Thursday. ……… Then I went back to a nap before my next class, heh.

Slightly later in the afternoon, I felt much better and proceeded with the rest of my day normally. I went to my last Cognitive Neuroscience class yesterday evening. I always get really anxious about the last class of every course because the professors always try to impart some wisdom on us and it always makes me really emotional and I always feeling like tearing up in the classroom, haha. Professor Epstein has been really great and I think he’s one of my favourite Psychology professors. To think that I started out really apprehensive about this class because of the biology-related content, only to find myself enjoying it immensely because of how interesting and well-structured he made the class makes me a little less scared of taking on new and challenging things.

He ended the class by reminding us all the things we learned about the brain; from the fact that there are billions of neurons in there undergoing complex processes to how studying the brain leads to understanding the way each of us perceives the world and ourselves. This was what he said:

“From the Homeric Greeks who didn’t even have a word for the mind, we now have a glimpse of how the mind comes into being… how the movement of ions across the membrane can eventually lead to a thought, and a self. We are far from understanding how the link between the ions and the self work, but what I like about this field is that it at least provides a start. And if I can leave you with one thought, just one thought, it’s this: the fact that our minds work, the fact that you can understand what I’m saying, the fact that you can perceive this room and the people in it, the fact that you can remember things that happened to you 10 years ago [is] really kind of.. remarkable.”

This made me really happy, so I thought I’d put it on here in case it makes you happy too. It’s true, we take for granted the fact that we are “walking around with one of the most complex objects in the universe sitting on top of our shoulders” and sometimes it’s nice to be reminded of that, don’t you think? When I heard this, I thought, “wow do I just have really low self-esteem that just reminding myself that I have a brain can already entice my tears to come out?” But then I realised, no, it’s not really that. It really is a remarkable God-given gift.

So then, I went home, feeling pretty content. Plus, what’s more, Thursdays are also gym days! I love Barre Fit classes. I mean, I think I’ve said this before, but I’m always checking the time during class because it feels like it will never end (it helps that the clock in that studio has been broken for months!) and it feels painful and I want to give up every 5 minutes. But I only feel accomplished if I push through, and I always do and always feel better for it.

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We got to take a picture with our instructor Evangelyn! She’s really great; Hui Jie (on her left) and I love this class so much.

We came home after the gym and quickly got ready because–oh, did I mention? It was my birthday yesterday! So I went out for dinner at Audrey Claire with May May, Shahirah and Hui Jie.

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I don’t really have good pictures of our food but this is us huddled together in a grocery store, haha.

On our way back from dinner though, we were in a Lyft car when we stopped at a traffic light in the city nearing campus. Shahirah, riding shotgun, sees someone she knows at the sidewalk next to her. Our driver rolls the windows down and Shahirah starts talking to him, like “hey how are you” etc etc and she even takes a Snapchat video of him saying she saw Ryan on the sidewalk while in a Lyft. We get home and she gets a text from our friend Abdala. He saw her Snapchat and he says no, that is not Ryan. So we all burst out laughing in just utter agony because we were already so full from dinner and so tired. But it was so funny! She stopped to talk to someone while she was in the car, like celebrities do, only to realize it wasn’t him!!! It turns out it was some other person she knew but she had not known his name… I can’t tell you the story really well because I left out some details but if you know Shahirah, you should definitely ask her about it, haha.

So really, despite the irritating “cold” I have (again, assuming I’m using this term correctly…) I had a pretty good day. I really want to go back to sleep now because I have such a long weekend ahead of me. Board turnovers for clubs are happening soon, which means reviewing applications, interviews, elections etc. Plus, just 2 more days of class–a last for all my other classes this semester, and then it’s finals!

Just a little bit longer, now 🙂

Week 5: I Used a Disposable Thermometer for the First Time

My MSA friends praying in Hustman Hall. I wasn't there because I was sick :(

My MSA friends praying in Hustman Hall. I wasn’t there because I was sick 😦

Hey friends! Selamat Hari Raya Aidiladha, Eid al-Adha Mubarak 🙂 I’m done with about a third of my junior fall semester alhamdulillah. I think I’m still doing pretty well, and I’m still on track, and I’ve learned now that I need to pat myself on the back when I am doing good. However, I’m experiencing a little itsy bitsy minor hiccup as we speak because I’ve fallen sick 😦 I think it’s just a normal cold/headache/fever thing, and the doctor said it could be due to stress. I had the same headache for 3 days and yesterday Panadol didn’t even work on me so I was very worried and went to Student Health Services (SHS). They gave me a painkiller shot which should make me better soon, but I’m also eating lots of fruits and drinking warm milk with honey so insya Allah (god willing!) I will be up to my normal level again in no time. I’m writing this as I’m cozied in bed with a body temperature of 39 degrees C, at 5 a.m. on a Thursday morning because I’m supposed to “take a break” but I can’t sleep.

I'm usually not one to wear socks indoors, but this sure feels niceee.

I’m usually not one to wear socks indoors, but this sure feels niceee.

Interesting things that happened this week? I had my first exam for the semester and it was on Evolutionary Psychology. It went okay, I suppose. I did my best and I think I did everything I could to prepare so I’ll be fine with however it turns out.

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I went to my friend Ken’s house for the first time for his housewarming party. His roommates Lian Han and Shaun were very nice and hospitable. They had longan and lots of my childhood snacks, which really made my day.

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My friend Cristina had a simple presentation on the history of Palestine, and I went to support her. I think she was quite nervous because as she said, it was her first time “taking on more of a role”. But she did really well and I’m proud of her! I love being around people who are passionate about great causes.

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The most exciting thing that happened to me this week actually didn’t really happen to me. My sister started university! She’s now a first-year medical student at Barts in London! I’m super proud of her, because it has always been her dream to study medicine. She has known what she wants for the longest time and worked consistently towards it for years and years. I know many of you who are reading this know her personally, so you know what a hardworking person she is and has always been.

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Earlier this week, she texted Julia and I saying she feels like an ant in a sea of elephants. My heart kinda sank a little, because I remember that’s how I felt throughout my freshman year at Penn and it sucked. I never felt like it was okay to not be working because I needed to catch up, to measure up to all the other kids. I always felt like I needed to be doing 5 more things than I knew I could handle. I would turn to the mirror, confused, when people called me “capable” or “smart”, because I was aching to see that in my own self. I can’t say I’ve completely stopped feeling that way, but it has gotten a lot better as I’ve gone through a couple of years here, and I’ve mellowed down a lot.

Of course, it takes a lot to learn to shake that feeling off. Too often, people say “just be confident” or “nah, you can do it” or even “I believe in you” to remedy that. I understand that they’re well-intentioned, but these phrases never did anything for me other than frustrate me because they failed to recognise how far I felt I needed to go to feel confident. I thought I couldn’t “just be confident” because if it were really that easy, I would’ve done it a long time ago. I remember always mentally retaliating, “Well, tell me how! Somebody tell me how.

So I’m not gonna say that to my sister. What I would say though, is to implement “circuit breakers”. Something that you know will help you when you feel that way. It’ll take time, naturally, to figure out what that is for her. For me, it meant keeping a note, and I mean like a physical piece of paper that lists a bunch of things I know will comfort me. There’s something to remind myself that the sincere and true effort of trying to get where I wanna be is worth so much more than actually getting there, because at the end of the day God knows what’s best for us. I remind myself not to compare my progress to how other people are doing because we’re just different. I write a favourite doa (prayer) asking for patience and strength. I try to tell myself that if I had what it takes to get here, I can make it another mile, and another mile, and another mile–one step at a time until I’m done. And so can she. I have so much faith in my sister, and I think she’s gonna do just fine.

So I’m gonna sign off now, get some rest and focus on getting better. The pope is coming to Philadelphia this weekend so we have Friday off (yay for long weekends) and that gives me some time to prepare for the craziness that is next week (I have 2 exams and an 8-page paper to write, eep!). But autumn has officially started and I can smell fall break around the corner, so that’s some light at the end of the short-term tunnel to look forward to 🙂