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studying at college is a hassle

College is different from high school in so many ways. The main difference is that you have greater freedom over how you manage your lifestyle; namely, you have more opportunities to do what you want to do. As someone who likes having a plan and sticking to a regular schedule, this was frustrating in some ways: everyday looks different to me,  and I have to make room for flexibility/change of plans. However, this has also allowed me to explore and experiment different things to do and different ways to do things.

I’ve also realized that, though I have fewer hours of class each day, I spend more time after class preparing, studying and reviewing for my classes. Part of the learning comes from lectures and class discussions, but a large part of it also comes from independently studying the material assigned to you. In order to do this effectively, it’s important to understand how you study and work best.

1. Schedule what you want to do as well as what you actually do.

Scheduling what you want to do helps you be more oriented towards accomplishing those goals. I use the iCloud calendar to schedule all my classes, office hours I want to go to, workout/exercise times, as well as personal time for socializing, blogging, and others. But rarely do I do things by my schedule down to the exact minute, I also schedule what I actually do to see the times in which I’m most productive and can work uninterrupted for periods at a time.

2. Take notes by hand in class, and paste your notes digitally after classes.

In all my classes, my professors emphasize the importance of taking notes by hand. At first, I was skeptical by this idea. How could I possibly take notes by hand as fast and as neatly as I do digitally?

However, over time I gradually switched to taking notes by hand 90% of the time. Why?

  • Physically taking notes forces your brain to process the information being presented to you better so that you can write it down as concisely as possible, whereas taking notes on your laptop often leads you to typing down everything you think is important, verbatim.
  • You can map out your notes, making it as visual as possible to aid your understanding. It’s harder to do that when you’re typing on a laptop.
  • You’re less prone to surf the web when you go old style, and less prone to distracting others  as well. Whenever I sit towards the back of the room, I always get distracted by people with laptops in front of me, surfing the web mindlessly. It can be really distracting, annoying, and definitely unnecessary.

You can use pen and paper or a table to write down your notes. Though I have a Surface Pro (a tablet-laptop) that I can use as a notepad, I noticed that I prefer the regular pen and paper style much more. Figure out what suits you best, and stick to it.

Additionally, it’s useful to practice taking notes by hand quicker by learning to write in cursive relatively quickly and neatly. This way, you can actually take notes at a regular speed and understand your notes when you go review them. Talking about reviewing, I have also found it helpful to pass (important) notes to my laptop after classes. I mix my class notes with my reading notes in such way that I can understand them, as having my notes all in one place is useful when it comes to revision.

3. Make a cheat sheet even if you don’t have to.

Similar to taking notes, making a cheat sheet forces you to narrow your notes down to the most important points. It’s impossible to remember every fact, formula or explanation down to the very last detail, so by creating a cheat sheet you’re actually forcing yourself to understand and jot down what you believe is most important to your learning. If you can’t fit everything in, you’ll naturally want to fit in what’s most important.

4. Note down the methods of revision that work best for you.

Each class tests you on different materials and in different ways. Thus, you can’t study for one class the way you study for another. This is how I study for my classes this semester:

Science: I am taking an Astronomy class that is heavy on Physics material, and the midterms and finals are multiple-choice. There are a lot of resources from my class notes, textbook, and online, and these are the ones I usually use:

  • Watch Crash Course videos on Astronomy, to refresh and strengthen my understanding
  • Re-write slide notes, as test material comes directly from the slides
  • Read “Concept Review” from textbook, which provide a nice summary of each chapter
  • Review multiple choice questions from each chapter as preparation for the tests
  • Learn formulas and when to use them, as a handful of questions comes from knowing which formulas to use and how
    • Revision sheets, from class activities/handouts

Language: I am taking Chinese, which means that I have to do at least some revision every day to strengthen my long-term memory. It’s a lot of vocabulary, memorization, and just practice. This is what I usually do pretty much on a daily basis:

  • Quizlet, to revise the newest set of vocabs and/or to revise old ones. I try to squeeze these review sessions in between my classes, when I’m waiting for something, or when I’m just procrastinating on my phone. It’s called good procrastination 🙂
  • Read the textbook, to see how the vocab is used in context and to practice grammar. Ideally, I do this every morning before heading to classes
  • Practice writing, as I have to hand write the characters for my writings and tests. It’s also good practice, as I gradually improve my Chinese handwriting and memorize the vocab better.

I recently found this “spaced repetition” memory technique on Thomas Frank’s website, which I think is really clever if you are seriously looking to expand your language learning beyond classroom usage.

History: This is a Hollywood class on both Film and History, very heavy on reading material and classic films. For this class, a lot of the revision lies in how well my notes are from class lectures, readings, and films.  I’m also taking a Philosophy class, and I study and review for it in a similar manner to a History class:

  • Read the assigned reading materials by noting down the argument, as well as specific examples. For Philosophy, I find it very helpful to read other people’s summaries on the Philosophers/texts that I have to read, as I can get different views on the same topic. However, there are pretty much zero summaries/reviews online for my Hollywood class, so I can only trust my reading skills to get the main ideas of the text before discussing it class.
  • Review my notes, especially while I copy my handwritten notes to my Word document with all my other notes for the class. This helps to refresh my memory of the material dealt with in class that day, as well as piece my thoughts more coherently.
  • Draft, draft, draft. For the writing assignments, it’s good to write one, two or even three drafts before turning them in. I do this by getting my first draft done days before the assignment is due, and then sleeping on it and coming back to it and seeing if my ideas have changed or not.

5. Use your school/college’s resources as MUCH as you can!

This means going to review sessions and office hours, signing up for peer-to-peer tutoring, and even conferring with friends about homework or test material. As an introvert, I’m not a fan of doing “extra” academic work that includes socializing. But more often than not, they have helped me understand the material quicker and with a different perspective:

  • Office hours: whenever I’m given an assignment and I have doubts or concerns about my paper, the best way to clarify them is to go directly to your source.
  • Peer-to-peer tutoring: some classes offer this service wherein another student helps you with your homework or assignment. Though the student may not always provide the help that you need as well as your teacher would, they are definitely helpful in providing you a different approach to your way of doing this.
  • Other resources that your school offers. It’s definitely ‘extra work’ to ask for help outside of class, but it really helps for classes that you have most trouble with and when a big assignment is to be due. If you’re particularly interested in the class, it allows your teacher to see that you’re truly engaged in it!

Good luck!

-Michelle

 

summer college classes

As summer is coming to an end, I thought I would talk about my experience taking summer college classes.

Personally, I decided to start college in the summer instead of in the fall because I have already taken a gap year ‘break’ from school. I wouldn’t have taken summer classes if I were coming to college straight after school; I like to spend my summers doing something different, or enhancing my skills in a non-academic context.

However, I love the experience that I gained from this academic summer session, and if you are considering doing it too, here’s a list of pros and cons for you to consider: (Note that this is solely based on my experience!)

benefits of taking summer college classes

You can move ahead in your major or explore other courses that may be too filled up during the year.

This is particularly so if you’re in a large school and have to ‘fight’ for courses during the academic year. The population at my university is huge, so enrollment for classes is always very stressful. For summer, however, I was able to enroll in the classes that I wanted without worrying about not getting in.

If you’re an out-of-state student attending a public school, summer classes tuition will be ‘cheaper’ for you, as you’ll pay the same as someone who is in-state.

I am an out-of-country student, so tuition is definitely more expensive for me during the academic year. But my summer fees are the same as that of an in-state student, so it’s a ‘win’ for me.

There are not as many distractions.

During the summer, most extracurricular activities are on a pause, so you’ll be able to focus better on your academics. You’ll be able to start exploring campus before all the chaos of the academic year kicks in – and that’s a pretty cool and different way to transition into college.

disadvantages of taking summer college classes

Summers should be spent doing something different.

Even if you’re not doing something to build up your resume, e.g. volunteering or interning, you can still use this time to work on yourself.  Time is valuable, but so are you.

I feel that the hardest aspect of college is not studying – everyone can buckle down and study (or cram) if they are under pressure. The difficult thing is in understanding why you take the classes that you do, what you can do with your education, and what your priorities are. You can only do this if you actually take time off the system and think about it.

So, go out, explore, and discover.

It’s harder to get an internship and/or work on other side projects.

If you are hoping to get an internship at the career that you’re intending to follow, or hoping to work on any other projects, summer classes might ruin this for you. At least half of your time will be spent attending classes and studying/working for them – which is not too much, but you will be left with less energy to work on other things.

Classes are very fast-paced.

There’s only 2 months (or less) to learn all the material that you would normally learn in a semester or quarter system. This means that you have to be ready to condense a lot of knowledge and information in half the time. This should be doable as you’ll be taking no more than half the classes that you would during an academic year, e.g. a normal semester workload is 4 classes; for the summer, it’s 2 classes.

You won’t be able to move around or travel too much.

If you’re hoping to travel or go on adventures, your possibilities will be limited if you’re physically taking classes at some college. However, this won’t be that big of a deal if you’re not from the area, or if you prioritize your academics over travel.

alternatives to taking summer college classes

Spend the summer abroad.

If you do this through your college, it can allow you to do two things at once: intern/take classes and explore the new country. It’s a perfect combination, and it’s a great and enriching way to spend your summer.

Take online classes.

Though online classes are not as much fun, it will give you more flexibility to manage your routine and accomplish other things, including traveling and working/living somewhere else. I would recommend this for a class that you are not looking forward to, as you’ll be able to get it out of the way quickly in the summer.

If you attend a 4-year college, you can take 1-2 classes at a nearby community college. 

If there are classes that you need to satisfy, you don’t necessarily need to do so at your (expensive) college – you could check out which community colleges can satisfy these requirements for you. The perks of this are cheaper tuition and cheaper classes. However, you will also need to find housing near the college, which may be a nuisance if you don’t know the area really well.


Personally, I am really happy with my decision to start college in the summer. Because orientation doesn’t start until fall, I had to explore my college campus by myself (or with friends), which helped me become more college-independent. As an international student, I also love having used this time to get used to the new environment, explore the area, and plan for my upcoming semester with the campus at my reach.

-Michelle

kindle voyage vs. fire

I recently got a new baby, the Kindle Voyage, after using my Kindle Fire for 5-6 years. As a bookworm, I love the convenience of using a Kindle. Not having to order books from Amazon and wait longingly for them to arrive from abroad, being able to carry a tablet-like thing with me at all times without anyone knowing what I was reading, and the fact that it’s always cheaper than buying a physical book completely bought me over. However, I do still own a collection of physical books so I can have the best of both worlds. If you’re a user of both forms of reading, you’ll see that they each have their own pros and cons.

In this post, I want to write a first-impressions review on the Kindle Voyage, in comparison to the Kindle Fire. Hope you find it useful!

kindle voyage PROS

  • SCREEN: Unlike the screens that we see on our laptops and tablets, this is an actual e-reader with an E ink screen (I think), which is less damaging to the eyes. This also means that the screen doesn’t give off a reflection when reading outside. This is a major factor for me, as I tend to read at night before bed, and staring at a LCD screen was neither good for my eyes nor for my sleep cycle.
  • SIZE & WEIGHT: It’s noticeably smaller and lighter than a Kindle Fire (it weighs just a bit more than the iPhone 6), which makes it so much easier to carry around and being Rory Gilmore everywhere.
  • FASHION: I definitely think the Voyage makes a better accessory than the Fire, but I may be biased. I got the marble case when I ordered the Voyage, and I love how it makes the e-book so much more stylish. It’s also very lightweight to carry around on your hand, in comparison to the Fire, which is heavier and more burdensome to do so.
  • PAGE TURNER: This one’s a pro and a con. You have PagePress pressure-sensitive sensor on both sides of the Kindle (outside the screen), which is convenient if you want to turn pages back and forth with the hand that you’re reading with. However, it’s not as pressure-sensitive as it could be – I often have to press a few times before I ‘hit’ the sensor. Most of the time, I just on the screen to turn a page, and this never fails me.
  • GOODREADS: I love that the Voyage can be connected to your Goodreads account, and automatically updates on the books that you want to read, are currently reading, and have read.

There are not that many benefits to getting a Voyage over a Fire, but the fact that the screen assimilates that of a book (instead of a laptop screen) really convinced me. There are probably more cons to buying a Voyage over a Fire – which you can read below – but, I am a heavy reader, so for me personally, the choice was clear.

kindle voyage CONS

  • PRICE: The Voyage is by no means a cheap item. And the starting price doesn’t include ‘additional costs’ that might add to the experience of the Kindle. Nevertheless, I decided to go ahead and buy it because I’ve used the Fire very regularly for the last several years, and getting a Voyage is a really good investment for me. However, the Fires are now much more cheaper than it was before.
  • COLOR: As you can see below,  everything on the screen is black and white. After having gotten used to the colored screen of the Fire, I have to admit that it took me a while get used to the b&w feel of the Voyage. However, it really isn’t that big of a deal, as most of the books I read rarely have colored illustrations inside the book.
  • (FEW) OTHER USAGES: The Voyage is strictly to read books. This means that, unlike the Fire, you can’t listen to music or play games like on the Fire. Personally I don’t mind at all, as I barely used the Kindle Fire for anything other than books. Though they are not physically books, I treat them just the same.
  • ADS: Ugh, this one is annoying. Book promotions/ads completely cover the lock screen (each time, it’s usually a new book being featured), and it also appears at the bottom of the Homepage. It’s very annoying, and you CAN get rid of them but with an extra cost. I chose not to pay the extra cost, which I’m okay with, but it’ just a detail that still annoys me a little.
  • TECH: The fact that the screen is different to that of a Fire means that the ‘feel’ of it is different as well. The touch is not as immediately responsive as the screens that we’re familiar with, but it’s quite good nevertheless.

Overall, the only con that really bothers me are the ads. The others I can bear, because I pretty much treat the Voyage as if it were a physical book. Ultimately, it really comes down to what you want from the Kindle, and choosing one over the other is just about what you prioritize more.

-Michelle

how i use my notebooks

I… like notebooks. My collection has started to grow in the last few years (though not as much as books), and I’ve used them in many ways, mostly to record memories and thoughts that come and go. Here are a few ideas that I’ve used in the past:

morning pages

Writing 3 pages of thoughts that come to your mind. Though I’ve moved this habit onto my Hobonichi Cousin planner and don’t adhere to the 3-page rule, this is something that got me started with ‘therapeutic’ morning journaling.

5-minute morning journal

Instead of buying the actual 5-minute journal, I simply wrote down the prompts and answered them on each page every morning. You can either write your answers down each day, or just answer them in your head during your meditative sessions each morning.

bullet journal

Oh, I love bullet journaling. I’ve stopped for the year as I’ve switched to a planner, but the creativity that I’ve learned from this practice is just everlasting. The cool thing about this? You only need a notebook and a pen. I kind of regret spending more money than necessary on these expensive notebooks – they are very nice, but not necessary at all. So please don’t look at my bullet journal and think that you need to get yourself an expensive notebook to make your bujo look nice. It’s about what’s inside that matters, after all. (Don’t be like me).

calligraphy & ambidexterity

This is kind of a notebook for random skills and brainstorming ideas that come to mind. At the moment, I use it to practice and track my progress on calligraphy/ brush lettering, and ambidexterity (left-hand).

memories

I have just gotten into doing travel diaries. I have decided to do them like collages: printing out my favorite pictures from the trip, spreading them out on several pages of a notebook, and adding some details, stickers and writing to these memories that I want to treasure forever.

swatches

This is a silly one, but it’s currently what I’m using this notebook for. My stationery collection grew from my last trip to Taiwan (and mini-trip to Japan), and I’ve decided to swatch some of my most used stationery here. I love the design of this notebook, and I might use this as a planner/bujo next year.

to-do lists

This is mainly for those of you who don’t like keeping a planner. This kind of notebook is small and easy to carry around – perfect for making and scribbling lists. I’m definitely a planner person, so I don’t use any other notebooks to make lists.

revision notes

I’ve used this for 2-3 years at school for final exam revision notes. I literally carried this around the house and at school during those periods, and I’m surprised that it still looks as pretty as ever. I’m definitely taking this with me to college!

notebook collection

Finally, I’m a bit embarrassed to say that I’ve got more notebooks than I need. But, just like books, I know that I’ll get to them some day. I’ll either fill them in with my rambling thoughts, future memories, or just any story yet untold.


😉

-Michelle

read the world | reading challenge

A few days ago, I listened to a TED talk about a woman who spent an entire year searching, seeking and reading 196 books from all 196 countries in the world. Her name is Ann Morgan, and she didn’t just read the world. She traveled across countries within her mind, got a glimpse of every culture and custom she came across with. She traveled the world through the eyes of people of different ages, nationalities, customs, and experiences. She did it with the help of many people who supported her along the way, but made the decision and took the steps herself. I want to take on this challenge as well.

I want to live inside the minds of those who have different values to me, who see the world in a completely different way than I do. As a bibliophile, I know how books have and can change a person. Though I’ve read books of different types and genres, but I have also enclosed myself within the Western-based literature. That will change now. As a wanderluster, my traveling experiences have always been intrinsically meaningful and unforgettable in their own unique ways.

By combining these two personal interests together, I shall travel the world.

How many books from how many countries have you read so far? How much do you really know about the world that you live in? Can you really call yourself a true bibliophile if you haven’t even books from most countries?

These were a few of the questions that I asked myself after listening to the TED talk. No matter how much I read and how many genres I touch, I’ll still be living in my happy little bubble if I don’t try to truly step out of my comfort zone. Read books of cultures that completely baffle me, written by authors I’ve never bothered to learn about before. It took Ann Morgan 1 year to complete the challenge, but it will take me at least a few years to choose, get hold of, and read all 196 books. And that’s alright, because the purpose is to achieve this challenge regardless of how long it takes me.

I have made a page to record my progress on this challenge – which I will start by May 2017.

-Michelle

stop studying & start learning

Learning should be our main focus, and studying should be a complement of it.

I think a lot of us who are still in school or have just finished school naturally use these two words interchangeably. I know I do, for the most part. Our education system is shaped in a way that we, as students, are obliged to comply with the system in order to succeed academically. And that means that whatever we ‘learn’ in class – oftentimes irregardless of whether we enjoy or find deeper meaning in that course – we have to study it at home prior to exams.

I was a good student throughout most of my school journey. I usually enjoyed most of the classes I had and, as I grew older, I also learned to see the benefits of learning classes that didn’t appeal to me as much. For instance, taking Maths Higher Level in the International Baccalaureate program allowed me to think so freaking critically about mathematical and logical problems, the type of thinking that I would never apply anywhere else. Though I have forgotten most of the formulas and math applications that I learned back then, I learned something even more important: the ability to deal with abstract, logical and mathematical problems. A skill that, when re-polished, will allow me to think broader in whatever I invest my mind into.

That is what I call learning. And though my Maths HL journey oftentimes got me on the verge of tears, I realized that I couldn’t just study for the sake of the grand final exam. I had to endure 2 years of this class, and the only way that I could get myself to not give up was if I saw Maths class for more than what it was. And so that’s what I did. I became fascinated with how my mind worked through these excruciating math problems. The way I thought, delivered and executed through these problems fascinated me, because it challenged me in a way that no other class did.

If I had just gone through Maths class solely by studying ‘maths’… that would not have been learning. That would have been plain surface studying, and I would not have survived. We cannot just ‘study’ a course for the sake of studying and hope to get out of it as much as we truly can.

During my gap year, my thirst for knowledge allowed me to learn without looking at it as ‘studying’. I read beginner books in Italian and Chinese to improve my linguistic skills through a medium that I thoroughly enjoy. I purchased a few piano books to polish my understanding of music theory, and to get me going on the most popular and easy piano songs. I finally got my first camera, and learned how to use it by reading the manual and using trial & error interchangeably. I read books of all types and genres every day, because I know that there is always something that I can learn more each day. I use reading – my main channel of self-education – to continuously challenge myself in the art of education, which is another skill that I have come to treasure greatly.

I learned to learn without limiting myself to classroom learning. I took charge of my own education. I made connections between them and with my own life, which has made me realize that nothing we are ever taught at school is useless. It connects to a part of our lives, whether directly or indirectly, and opens us up to a deeper understanding of what this world is made of. Studying shouldn’t be our center of focus; learning should be. If we have that drive and clear understanding as to why we are learning that specific topic, then everything else will become more bearable.

-Michelle

on keeping a journal

I think what makes a journal so precious is that no one sees it besides yourself. Sure, you can show it to others, but most of the time only you see it. You can write as trashy or as beautifully as you like, as badly or as neatly as you want, and doodle as horridly or artistically as you feel like – no one cares. This kind of liberation encourages me to find the purpose of writing when absolutely no one knows that I’m doing it. No one cares, but me.

The hard thing for many of us is being consistent with this task. I have had myriads of journals ever since i was young, from store-bought pretty diaries to online secret blogs, and for many years I failed to keep it up. Last year, however, I decided to pick it up again, and I haven’t stopped ever since. I journal at least 5 days a week (unless I’m traveling), and… it’s part of my life now.

After exploring different kinds of journaling, I have stuck with 2 ‘types’ so far:

  • 5 minute journaling: I spend about 1-2 minutes each morning to do this, and I’ve freed myself from doing it at night as I find it redundant.
  •  morning pages: I basically write whatever comes to my mind on my Hobonichi Cousin daily spread. I don’t write 3 pages – just enough to get my thoughts flowing.

As you can see, I’ve taken 2 popular types of journaling and tweaked them to my best interest, enabling me to journal because I want to, and not for the sake of it. Here’s what I’ve learned so far from journaling:

1. On lasting habits and self-discipline.

Making journaling become part of my morning routine has forced me to look at it as part of my everyday life. I’ve reached the point in which, even if I stop journaling for a few weeks due to external factors, I can get right back to it in no time. I feel that establishing a habit goes hand-in-hand with self-discipline, as it’s something that only you can reinforce. The benefits of journaling can only be felt after a period of time – just like many other habits – and if you can muster the energy to do it every morning knowing why you do it, I believe that you have learned to form a habit through self-discipline.

2. On mindfulness and emotional support.

There’s a certain sense of… freedom when you write without a structure. When you just let your thoughts materialize in paper. It has helped me solidify my troubling thoughts, and spark ideas that may have been buried inside me. As an introvert, I often ponder about things on my own, and having an outlet in which no one can judge me for it is very refreshing.

Additionally, by writing about stressful events, issues or problems that I have, I give myself the opportunity to step away from the event and reflect upon it more externally. The relief of passing my burden to writing, and reflecting upon it more calmly is a emotional support (for me, at least) in itself.

3. On your handwriting.

Journaling has also made me more conscious of how I present my writing. I’ve started to pay more attention to the type of pens that suit me best (gel pens, with tips no more than 0.4mm). Mainly, though, it allows me to practice my handwriting daily. Print or cursive. Calligraphy. Decorating writing. Any kind that I want. And though this is a more superficial point, it’s a small detail that adds to the perks of journaling.

4. On creativity.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned since last year, i that creativity harness growth and development. I hate doing things the mundane and rigid ways. I love routines, but I love making them my own. I love creating, tweaking and thinking about different ways to do things, because only then can I do them on my own volition.

It’s very important to do things, including journaling, because you genuinely want to do it. Not for any external factor other than the one that exists within you. I believe this is key to sustain any habit or activity that you wish to do in the long term, as only then can you pull through even if obstacles stand in your way. Only then can you use your creativity to make this activity yours, and yours only.

Good luck!

-Michelle

what no one tells you about applying to college

It’s that time of the year again. The long-awaited moment of truth when you feel that your dreams are either heard or crushed. Mine were crushed last year when I got rejected by all the US colleges I applied to. But it opened another door to me when I grabbed my gap year by the horns and spent this extra year getting to know myself.

But the time has come again, and it feels like deja vu. Rejected. Waitlisted. Accepted. Which will it be this year? Normally, US and European colleges release their admission decisions by the end of March. It’s not a nice wait. But here’s a few things of what applying to college can be like:

1. It’s f*cking expensive.

The application fee for one college can cost up to $90. Mine were between $60 to $90. But that’s not it. T

here’s another fee to send test scores too! As an international student, I had to pay $19 for each TOEFL test sent to an institution; $12 for each ACT sent to an institution (if I sent more than one test score, I had to pay double or triple that cost), $12 for all SAT scores sent to an institution, and $17 for my IB grades to be sent to an institution.

The costs don’t stack up too high when you apply to a handful of universities; but if you’re a millennial, you know that applying to competitive colleges is no joke, and you’ll probably apply to several more just to increase your changes. I applied to several this year and, needless to say, the costs made my heart hurt.

2. Applying for financial aid is hard.

When I applied last year, I was still working on financial aid papers up to the end of February. I had to fill in the CSS Profile (or the FAFSA for US citizens) – which asks in great detail about every past, present and future income, profit and expenditure in your household; my parents spent a great deal getting the needed papers; and I had to check the financial aid requirements for each university to ensure I had completed everything. The worst thing that it was a long, tedious process not just for me, but also for my parents.

Note: My perspective is that of an international student. I believe that there are many opportunities to get aid, not just from the university, if you’re applying for college aid in your home country. This means that you can be eligible for aid and grants that are not necessarily as complicated as the main one.

3. Your dream school will not always be your dream school.

Last year, I had the mindset that I would become an Ivy League girl. Asian, top grades, several top-notch extracurriculars, I was convinced I would make the cut. I didn’t, and with a crushed ego, I re-evaluated everything I had worked hard for.

I re-applied to college this year with a renewed sense of what I was looking for in college. Even though I had the extra time to think about how I fit into college before it actually happened, I believe this can apply to anyone: your dream school shouldn’t be fixed. Things change, people change, and you will change. More importantly, whether a college is your ‘dream’ or not shouldn’t define what kind of education you receive, because you will define it.

4. Always be open-minded. 

Applying to competitive colleges is becoming more like a reality Hunger Games for many of us. The best thing that you should do is apply for a range of different colleges: reach, fit and safety colleges. And keep your eyes open for other ones that may not necessarily fit with that profile, e.g. a small college in another country. You never know what you may discover in the application research process.

Being open-minded is also key when admission decisions roll out. Whichever college you get into, it should be a celebration. And if all reject you and you find yourself in a gap year – embrace this year to invest in all the things that you set aside during school. There are no wrong or right choices, so there’s no reason why you should close yourself to a fixed path.

5. It’s a chance to get to know yourself.

Despite the amount of work required for college applications, something that has helped me get through this process is by looking at the opportunity of growth within the application. When it comes to writing essays for each of the colleges – spend all the time you need to work on it. Researching, brainstorming, thinking, drafting and writing. Repeat. I realized that writing these essays in itself have helped see who I am.

When I compare the essays I wrote the first time I applied, to the essays I wrote for this year, I have become such a different person. My writing style and interests have changed to suit the passions that make me glow the most. Additionally, researching about a university’s programs has helped me see what the colleges really have to offer, and what courses I would probably be interested in.

All in all, it’s easy to see the admission process as a stressful and tedious task. Sending your profile and writing essays for other people to judge on your ‘worth’ is not exactly a fun game. But you can turn it around and make it your time to learn more about yourself too.

-Michelle

a quiet life | gift from the sea

I mean to lead a simple life, to choose a simple shell I can carry easily – like a hermit crab. But I do not. I find that my frame of life does not foster simplicity.

We owe it to ourselves to have a moment of quiet in our day-to-day lives. Amidst a world in which we are busier than ever, yet can’t seem to find time for ourselves . We should find somewhere we can retreat to in times of need, a place within us. In a world where we envision cutting edge technology making our lives easier, but often fail to see how it has isolated us.

We have willingly imprisoned ourselves in the modern Orwellian era, in which we anxiously clutch to our devices like precious treasures 24/7; in which we can’t live without being virtually connected, yet seem to forget about the physical one; in which we find it a need to know everything that is going on with those around us and beyond.

For it is not physical solitude that actually separates one from other men, not physical isolation, but spiritual isolation.

I think we owe it to ourselves to lead a quiet life at least every once in a while. One without computers and cellphones, TV’s and tablets, wifi and social media, and everything else that robs us of being in the present moment. We owe it to our family, friends and acquaintances to look at them in the eye when we’re talking to them and not our devices that excite us with every new ‘news’ that pops up.

It is when we put all of these distractions away that we can really live a life full of presence. Yes, our lives exists physically, virtually, spiritually, and god knows in what other form – but it is the physical one in which we feel the deepest of our human emotions, in which we learn to behave as a human, and not as slaves to our creations.

The artist knows he must be alone to create; the writer, to work out his thoughts; the musician, to compose; the saint, to pray. But women need solitude in order to find again the true essence of themselves: that firm strand which will be the indispensable center of the whole web of human relationships.

It’s impossible to be alone in today’s world. Maybe the elderly or those who haven’t given in to all the access that we have to technology are able to lead a calm, quiet life. But chances are that you can’t. But you can make space for yourself.

You can give yourself one moment every day. Whether it’s in your morning meditation sessions, afternoon jogs, or dinners, you choose when they are. Prioritize this time before you lose it to distractions that will make it harder for you to get away from. It’s not easy, it’s highly tempting, and you might not always care.

But as long as you’re conscious of what’s happening around you, consciously aware, the door is always there for you to make a turn for the better.


The quotes I used for this post are from Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s “Gift from the Sea“. It’s a book written in 1955, and directed mainly towards women and motherly struggles, but it has become a timeless book that anyone of either gender can find solace in when life becomes too chaotic. Though I haven’t yet finished the book, I have found plenty of lessons that resonate with me within the first few chapters already. I encourage you to read it, too.

-Michelle

create your ideal study space

If you don’t want to read the whole post, you can watch the video below!!

I’m lucky to have my own study space in my room where I can do all my creative work, writing and some studying. The thing that is great (or not so great) about my study space is that the WiFi of my house doesn’t reach this part of my room, so I mostly stick to non-Internet work, which is a great way to prevent myself from being distracted from my phone/laptop.

This also allows me to be creative with my desk area, which will – hopefully – inspire my work as well. Even though my desk does seem too cluttered/colorful/whatever, I’m so used to it being like this that it doesn’t really affect me at all. The good overall atmosphere of my desk area is good enough for my taste.

So, below I have compiled several tips on creating your ideal study space, as well as the most suitable study environment, so that you can create the ideal desk area for you:

On your study space…

Choose a place. Ideally, it should be somewhere where you can study and work uninterrupted for periods at a time.

Allow natural light to come in. My desk is directly below a source of natural light, which makes it perfect to work from the morning till mid-afternoon.

Invest in good lighting. This is so crucial for so many reasons. The main one is, obviously, so you can work effectively at night. The second one is that if you work under poor lightning, it will strain your eyes faster. As someone who is (very) nearsighted, I highly advocate investing in good lighting.

Have a trash bin near. This is very important if you really want to keep your desk area clean. I keep mine right below my desk, so it’s always there when I want to throw/recycle paper, random trash, and even dust. Anything that resembles that of a trash can will work.

Keep your desk as clean as possible. Mine is usually 85% clear, except for a few stationery storage pots and cases. If you can, store everything in your drawers and/or on your shelves.

Use your drawers and storage tools wisely. I love these Muji acrylic storage tools and displaying all my favorite stationery and notebooks. I got these recently when I visited my family in Taiwan, and, as you can see… I went a little crazy. Anyhow, I love how these can help you use your space more efficiently as well as give a clean feel to your desk.

I have the rest of my stationery and other materials in the table drawers. These include my journals and other materials that I want to have within my reach, but not displayed on my desk at all times.

Inspire yourself. Look for inspiration around you and online by observing how others organize their study spaces and why. Then surround yourself with inspiration: whether it’s organizing the bookshelf near your study space so it looks more study-friendly, hanging or pasting inspiring photos up on your wall, etc.

Your study space doesn’t need to be fixed. You may have ‘the one’ study space at home, but remember that it’s always a good idea to switch up your environment every once in a while. Personally, I find that studying at libraries and coffee shops – places where you visibly surround yourself with people who are working – forces me to get down to my work more. This is because I’m a very self-conscious person, but I know that this slight discomfort will wear away gradually. And hey – it works.

On your study environment…

Choose soothing, instrumental music. I’ve grown used to working with any kind of (pleasing) music, but the best ones will always be the classical and/or instrumental ones, as they provide a less distracting background noise. If you must listen to lyrical music, however, then choose ones in a language that you don’t understand that well (so you don’t subconsciously follow the music more than what you’re working on).

Have a glass of water on your desk. It is easy for me to fall so deep into my work that I forget to eat, and the best way to remind myself that I’m human is by putting my necessities in front of me. A glass or bottle of water is the #1 essential on my desk.

Put healthy snacks around you! Chances are, if you’re very busy, your mind will be more focused on your work than on what you’re eating. So just like having water on your desk, make sure you have some snacks available near you. Some ideas include: nuts, fruits (already washed and cut), dried fruit, dark chocolate, etc. Make sure to store all unhealthy snacks away, to prevent yourself from grabbing them from impulse.

Lastly, the important thing is that you organize your desk in a way that accommodates your needs and likes the best way. What works for me may not work for you. Having a “study space” is such a simple thing, as it changes all the time, but it’s a fun and easy way to get creative.

-Michelle