I usually wait until the end of the week to blog but when your week starts out so strong, sometimes you just can’t resist pulling up that blank page on a Monday night.
Ken, Hui Jie and I are in Astronomy together which is kinda fun and kinda not. It’s not fun because I find phases of the moon super difficult to visualise and understand. It’s fun because I get to go through it with my friends—classes are always more fun with friends. Ken got a basketball, some chopsticks and a lamp to act as a makeshift solar system model (basketball was the earth, chopsticks were the earth’s axis and the lamp was the sun). We did our homework. It wasn’t easy. We had to explain why the U.S. experiences winter when Australia is going through summer and had to resist the temptation to say “BECAUSE IT JUST IS?!?!?”. It’s funny how you sometimes can’t explain the things you’ve taken for granted.
They ate some of the ricotta pancakes I made. It feels nice to have people eat the food I make. We sang along to The Last Five Years (one of my fav movies of all time) and dissected Jamie and Cathy’s relationship experiences for parts we found relatable so that was fun. It reminded me of lazy Sunday evenings in my aunty’s living room in Klang with my cousins. I guess these people are kind of like my family now.
Speaking of family, my friends Lisa and Nate are currently in Malaysia as Fulbright Scholars and they’ve both hung out with my family recently. That just makes me so happy and I can’t quite explain why? I like that Lisa and Nate are getting a little taste of my life back home just as I’ve somewhat had a feel for their lives here. I like that my friends are spending time with my parents/aunt. I just like it, it gives me good vibes all around. I hope they’re having a good time and are enjoying my homeland hehe.
Anyway. I had a really good day today as well. I woke up early to go for Professor Pollack’s International Political Economy lecture. I’ve already taken IPE with him so I know it seems strange that I’m attending his classes again but I honestly don’t think I can get bored listening to him explain about Bretton Woods and the Gold Standard and the shift towards Keynesian economics. It feels like re-watching your favourite movie, you know? I can’t wait for the part where he talks about Dispute Settlement in the WTO and the Asian Financial Crisis!!!
After class, I did some reading (still reading The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr) and then Hui Jie and I went to the city for Restaurant Week. Restaurant Week is basically when restaurants offer a selected range of items from their menu for a fixed (cheaper) price so people usually go to try places they wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford. Our birthdays are less than a month apart and since we both weren’t together for our birthdays, I liked today because this was kind like our belated pseudo-celebration. The weather was horrid today and I usually hate getting wet socks on rainy days but I had such a nice time that I didn’t mind.
I just got back from Jamie’s. She was telling me about her New York trip while I did some work. I really wanna take a moment here to express how much I appreciate this girl. People always credit their friends for being good listeners but I love Jamie for coming to me to tell me about things, whether it’s the trivial stuff like finding a Chobani Cafe or a sale she’s excited about to the more serious ones that she trusts me with. It means so, so much to me.
It was the best Monday to have after a great weekend. I went for a morning run, cooked shakshuka, got a white chocolate peppermint drink and binge-watched series 1 of The Missing (watch the trailer!). It was so good. Zoe and Alfie (the vloggers, haha, my guiltiest pleasure) kept recommending it and when I saw that they only had 8 episodes I was like, “eh why not?” and oh my god it was so intense but so riveting. I saw a review that described it as “watching an insect slowly suffocate in a jar” though so maybe it’s not for everyone lol. But I think they say that because the shots are beautiful but the plot line is, again, intense and also emotionally taxing (it’s a show about a missing child, after all).
And while we’re on the note of pop culture/media stuff, might I recommend a few podcast episodes. On the Media, a podcast about media (like how the media covers/does not cover issues, how people react to media etc) ran a series called “Busted: The Poverty Myths” where they explore how poverty has been treated in the media, myths about poverty, and etc. It is just super informative and humanising—I highly recommend it. I also have been following The Truth for a while, but have only recently listened to their episodes. I listened to the one called “Dark End of the Mall” and it honestly blew my mind in a way I didn’t know audio shows could. They’re a fiction show, and their episodes are not serialised so you can listen to any one of them. I’ve only heard a few but I feel like “Dark End of the Mall” stood out as being above the rest. I also love Planet Money and this past week I’ve listened to “Jubilee! (?)” (Iceland “forgiving debts” of some of their citizens), “The Kansas Experiment” (aftermath of a Kansas senator dramatically lowering taxes) and “Don’t Believe the Hype” (about why people hate the Dow). I think some/all of these were reruns of old episodes but Planet Money is full of gold episodes so it’s always worth a listen.
Ok I thought I was going to write about some of the cooking recipes I’ve played with this past week but I’ve gone overboard with this post once again—maybe I should just dedicate a whole new category for weekly cooking posts lol. I just don’t think I’d be able to keep up with that! I don’t know. Maybe I’ll try it out soon.
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.
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 somefun 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.
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.
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.
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.
Anyway. I’m knee deep in readings and severely need to start practicing for case interviews so thanks for reading see you next week!!!
Something interesting I realised about blogging is that I feel like I’m actually talking to someone through this thing, and when I take a longer gap between two posts, I feel like I haven’t spoken to this person in a while and I miss him/her. So, hi! It’s nice to speak to you again. I hope you’re well 🙂
I don’t have much to say this week because I haven’t done much other than stress out about my “analysis” of India and Nigeria… I mean, seriously, I haven’t even done the actual analysis. All I have done is just stress out about it. I know it’s kinda silly, but writing critical essays is a huge fear I need to get over. The two things that pose the greatest deterrent for me to take a class are: having to write a paper for it and it being held in DRL.
The best thing that happened to me this week happened on Monday. I was feeling rather upset about something I can’t even remember now after a meeting in Harrison. As I was making my way out to go home, I saw Adam studying in the mezzanine. I sat with him for a while and he told me the Harrison cafe was giving free coffee so I got a cup. And then Adel came by so he sat with us and we all did some work. Well, they did some work. I did a sudoku puzzle in the newspaper. It was really relaxing and yet also challenging at the same time. Then, I started taking on the crossword puzzle below it just for fun. When I started it, I had no serious intention of completing it because I had never done one before, but it was so much fun to get one or two answers here and there. A few minutes into the crossword puzzle, Adel somehow started solving it with me. Together, we finished the whole thing!!! And right as we finished, someone offered us free cookies!
I don’t think anyone understands how happy I was at that moment. First, the crossword puzzle was so much fun to solve! I was so happy every time I remembered some obscure fact or made a guess which happened to fit perfectly into those tiny boxes. It also always feels good to finish something I start without the slightest idea as to how I will make it to the end and chip away at it slowly. Plus, it also felt nice to have someone sit there with me quietly solving problems; not really conversing but just accompanying me. It also kind of reminded me of my sisters and I playing word puzzles at our kitchen table at home on my mom’s iPad.
It made me feel so happy that I asked Adel to take a picture of me with my free cookie, solved puzzles and free coffee. He laughed because he doesn’t understand just how much I appreciated him working through the puzzle with me, but he took this dorky picture of me anyway because he’s nice.
When I got home, I placed the newspaper on my desk (yeah, I kept it) and got a pleasant surprise.
Just like this crossword puzzle, somehow I’ll make it through writing this paper. I will figure out how. I always do.
DRL is the David Rittenhouse Library, it is the math building all the way on the opposite side of campus. I never have any other classes near that area and so walking there always involves a lot of speed walking and panting.
Harrison is one of the college houses on campus. A lot of my meetings are held here somehow. A lot of my friends also live here.
I’m done with my second round of midterms! I had exams on Monday and Tuesday this week, so even though it’s only Wednesday right now, I feel like it’s already Friday. To those of you back home who don’t know, in American colleges we have midterm exams throughout the semester. Instead of having one set of exams at the end of the semester, we’re kind of being tested by stages. I used to think I prefer to be tested this way, but it’s so tiring. I spent the whole weekend staying in and doing work. I missed out on some fun, but it’s okay because I felt really good walking out of those exams. I don’t know how I did, but it just felt nice to know I gave it everything I could.
Monday was a particularly long day. Reviewing, exams, class, more class, and then office hours, review session, a meeting, reviewing more exam material and getting help from Adel. I mean yeah, that’s what we do in college I guess. But having everything going on back to back like that.. ahhhh. I was so pooped out.
I’m glad I managed to squeeze in some cooking over the weekend though! I made pancakes and fried rice for Hui Jie and myself. We basically spent the whole day in the apartment eating all the food slowly. I also made chicken sandwich filling the way my mom makes it, and I was so happy about it because it made me feel like home a little.
By Tuesday night, I was done with exams so I slept super early because I was tired. But I had some readings to do for my political science class and had to start doing them at 6 a.m. the next morning (i.e. this morning). I felt so restless though because I hadn’t been to the gym since last Thursday and after being done with my exams I just really wanted to go so I got to make it out to a PiYo class today.
I was super excited about this because I used to go for PiYo classes at 7.30 a.m. every Friday (ok, most Fridays) last year. This year, it got moved to a 12 p.m. slot and it doesn’t really fit with my schedule and I spent all semester missing this class because I loved Angela, who is the instructor. Plus, the gym classes I’m doing this semester really lack cardio stuff — which I hate doing, but I mean, it’s good for me or something like that.
I’m not the fittest person on earth and am nowhere close, so I probably shouldn’t go around touting the merits of exercise… but honestly, it’s wonderful and we should all be doing it consistently in some way. I hated exercise before I discovered the type of exercises I liked and the setting I like doing it in. Since sophomore year, I started going to group exercise classes and it’s been so much fun.
Just like cooking, it really forces me to be present and to focus on what I’m doing. It lets me practice being intentional about every single movement I make. Also, it hurts. A lot. Everything burns: my thighs, my arms, my abs. But that’s what I love about it most–not because I love pain or discomfort, but rather, because it teaches me to keep pushing. I think I manjakan (have babied) myself a lot. I would do work and get sleepy and go, “maybe I need a break” when I don’t. So I need to remind myself that some discomfort and pain isn’t a good enough reason to stop. Just wanting to give up isn’t a good reason to stop. Feeling tired isn’t a reason to give up. Not being very good at something isn’t a reason to give up. I keep going, and that’s what will make it better. I know this sounds motivation-speechy which is like *gag* ugh, but I’m getting at something here, I promise, and that is, knowing when to give up is really not easy. There are times when I really do need to step back and let go a little, but knowing when to do what requires listening to myself and being super super honest and confrontational with myself. That, is what I love about exercise.
So there I was today, walking out of the gym, dripping in sweat, wobbly legs and feeling very satisfied.. when I remembered that Viraj (one of the staff at PAACH) baked cookies and made a post on Facebook about it saying we should drop by if we want some. Naturally, I did. Usually, I would’ve gone home for lunch but today I decided to stray from my routine.
As I was waiting for my next class at PAACH, someone walks into the room with Jenny Yang and introduces her to everyone. Jenny is an Asian-American comedian and writer. You may have seen her on BuzzFeed, like here. This is a cool article about her, and this is her website. I am glad to have gotten a chance to speak to her today. She was talking to a girl I know, Caroline, encouraging her to put herself out there with her photography (Caroline is amazing, check out her work here!). I kinda just joined in.. She talked to us about how we should put our names on the work we do and believe in, and fearlessly put it out there. She also talked about how everyone has a valuable story to tell, how you don’t know who you will reach/move with your work, and how it helps to be in contact with the world you want to be in because even being around the thing you love will help a lot.
It was really cool to get to speak to her even though I only saw her for about 20 minutes. Interestingly, this happened at a time when I was contemplating whether or not I would want to continue blogging/writing next semester and onwards into the future. I think Jenny gave me some good things to think about, which was awesome because I didn’t even know when I woke up this morning that I was going to meet her today. And if I hadn’t gone to the gym, if Viraj hadn’t baked those cookies and made an announcement about it on Facebook, I might not have. It’s also amazing to see what resources can reach you once you open up about your hopes/dreams and the things you care about. If Caroline hadn’t been brave enough to tell Jenny, “hey, I want to show you my website” we probably wouldn’t have ventured into that conversation.
God, it’s the little moments like this that make me trust in every crooked step of my life path. Earlier this year in February, I wrote this in my journal:
And this really feels like one of those times.
I always try, or I always want to refrain from publicly giving advice on here because if there’s one thing I know, it’s that I don’t know much at all. But sometimes I learn simple things which can be so profound to me–as simple as the cliché “everything happens for a reason”–and I just feel like it would be a waste not to share, so there it is.
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).
It was a long week, you guys. It feels like a month crammed into one week, and I think that’s partly because I don’t know how to tell you the story of my past week in a coherent post.. many things which are pretty different and somewhat unrelated happened this week.
Dropping a class
This is my 5th semester at Penn. Every semester apart from my very first one, I’ve taken 5 classes/credit units. The typical semester is about 3-5.5 credits, although a few of my friends take 6. This semester, I was enrolled in a class I absolutely wasn’t enjoying. I felt the class lacked a good sense of structure/direction, and that the professor was not very organised. It didn’t fulfil any requirements for me–it was something I’d registered in just for fun. Except, it wasn’t fun at all. But because I had waited so long to realise how much I couldn’t stand the class, it was too late to add another class to replace it if I dropped this one. So I hung on because the idea of taking only 4 classes made me feel like I would be slacking, like I would’ve wasted the opportunity to be in another class. I felt so ashamed because it made me feel like I would be such an underachiever. Luckily, I accepted the fact that those were awful reasons to be doing something I don’t even like, and so I let it go; what felt like a shameful idea now feels like a triumph against my ego or whatever.
The safety threat
Last Sunday, the entire Penn community (and the communities of many other colleges around Philadelphia) was notified of a vague “safety threat” made on social media. Colleges were alerted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the FBI about a threat of violence against a university which mentioned the time and date of 2 p.m. on October 5th (you can read about it here). The university ensured us that they were taking this seriously–and they did. On Monday, there was a noticeably heavy presence of police and other security officers on campus. People cut class to stay home, and everyone was in some kind of subtle panic. It was a weird feeling. Everyone walked quickly. It seemed quiet and tense. Classes were cancelled. I was scared, too. Shahirah, Hui Jie and I stayed home studying and eating takeout, trying not to check the time. Nothing happened that day, alhamdulillah, I am so thankful. Everyone was relieved, but I think we all were also perplexed? intrigued? at how such a vague threat had such a huge effect. We all learned how little control of our lives we have.
On Wednesday, campus was back to normal, and I had my political science exam. I’ve mentioned this before, but this is the first PSCI class I’ve taken and so I was a little stressed out because (a) I didn’t know what to expect or how to prepare for it and (b) I love this class (like LOVE IT so much that I question if I am in the right major) and so I really wanted to do well. I prepared for it sufficiently, and so I am not too worried about how it turns out, nor do I care as much because at least I know I did what I could. It was 50 minutes of frantically writing a 4-5 page essay? I can hardly remember, but it caused my arm much pain. By the time the proctors called for pens down, the way my arm felt tired gave me a flash of what it was like to be in school in Malaysia, sitting at our tiny wooden desks spaced out evenly for exams in our tiny cement-floored classrooms, writing on our kertas kajang (foolscap paper), tying them together with strings when we were done. I thought it was cool how the way my muscles felt could bring back memories of things I haven’t thought of in years. But the end of that exam also marked the start of Fall Break 🙂 (!!!!!!!)
I don’t know how many of you follow me on Instagram, but I have been documenting (overdocumenting, possibly) my four day weekend on it. On Thursday, I went to King of Prussia to go hunting for a new pair of boots and it was really fun.
I spent Friday in New York City. Honestly, New York is electric. I think this was my 5th or 6th trip up there and every time, I appreciate it a little bit more. People talk about the energy, but honestly, I don’t care much for that. What I like about New York is looking at the diversity–there are all sorts of people there, all sorts of stores, cuisines. Everything is cutting edge. There is always more to discover and so much inspiration to get from that city. I know this is what everyone says.. and I’m annoying myself for saying it because I know I’m blurting a bunch of clichés and am not really giving you a great description of what NYC is like.. but I hope someday you get to experience it for yourself!
We walked so much yesterday and it was a little tiring, so today I took it easy and just did groceries, watched TV, read and stayed home.
It’s back to the grind on Monday (boo) so I’m really going to enjoy my last day off tomorrow. For now, I’m gonna end with this picture of my cousin’s adorable baby when he was at my house in Malaysia last week because he is the cutest and I miss him. Bye!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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..
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.