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life

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i’m afraid of running into people i know

It can be so awkward.

I guess I’m talking more specifically about living somewhere where you will inevitably run into the same people at some point or another, i.e. college. The people you live with, take classes with, interact with – they all unwittingly integrate themselves into your life without either one of you consenting. And if you’re not friends, if you’re somewhere in between, it can be so awkward running into them somewhere else other than. Do they recognize you too? Should you talk to them?

It can be so awkward for me. Particularly so when I never knew that person well in the first place. Maybe I worked on a group project with them for a class, and then saw them in another one of my classes the following semester. Maybe we tried out for the same club, only to find out I got rejected and she got in; we also take the same class. Maybe it was someone I knew long ago but wasn’t really friends with, and now we kind of see each other regularly in class. I hate it when these occurrences are in a repetitive setting; you can’t run away, you can’t leave, you can only talk or not talk to them. Most of the time, I choose the latter. It’s easier. It’s most likely they don’t remember you, feel indifferent towards you, or maybe they feel the same way and just want to avoid that awkwardness.

Admittedly, this doesn’t happen with everyone. There are people, most people, with whom you just don’t feel that awkwardness around them. Who make it easy for you by deciding to just talk to you after not seeing you for a year. Who wave a simple hi, and avoid the small talk altogetther. Why can’t I be one of those people? Why do I pay so much attention to those that I’m not even friends with?

I  can’t tell if this is me being socially anxious, or simply being anxious. It’s just something that happens, and it’s kind of the reason what makes me want to move to a new city every once in a while. To restart, to forget about all those awkward interactions that could have happened. To not think about how awkward I am. Until I meet people again, and those faces appear again.

Everything is made easier when I’m with someone, though. I can be with someone and be fearless as ever, going to places I wouldn’t go by myself for the fear of being seen. Maybe I’m just afraid of being seen by myself. It’s not something I’m ashamed of per se, and I never think that about someone else. But it’s just hard for me to be by myself, outside, and run into someone who is not by themselves. All these thoughts about them thinking I’m a loner start racing in my head, and it makes me want to run back home, lock my door, and veg out, trying to forget about what just happened.

I don’t know where this fear stems from, and I know I’m not alone in this. I always hear people saying how they don’t want to do this by themselves, go there by themselves. Some of them are extroverts who find comfort in company. Others just don’t like to be alone. Many reasons. But it’s hard to tell whether that fear stems from insecurities that they can’t really put into words. I’m not afraid of being by myself, I like being by myself; I just don’t want to run into people when I’m alone and ruminate about them thinking how alone I must be. Why I am so insecure about what others could potentially think of me, I’m not sure. 

I know it’s all in my head. I have to remind myself that others are just as self-centered and insecure in their own minds to even care about seeing me. It’s hard to remember, though, when you’re so stuck in your own mind. Regardless, I tend to imagine the interactions to be way more awkward in  than they actually are, which has made me be more willing to put myself out there more. But it’s not always easy. I’m constantly going back and forth, debating whether I should go out or not, do this or not, for whatever irrational fears are residing in my head at that moment. It can be hard dealing with myself sometimes.

-Michelle

i struggle to make friends

I don’t think most friendships are meant to last, I really don’t. For the longest time, I thought they could. Or at least, I hoped they would. But they would all seamlessly leave my life just as soon as they had entered it. One stayed, even as she moved away freshman year of high school. We thought we’d see each other next year; no, maybe the following one. We continued talking often; but after several years of keeping in touch, she, too, faded from my life.

I don’t go looking for friends with the expectation that we will be friends forever and ever, because if I did, I don’t think I would have any friends left. I now see them as people who are meant to come in and out of your life at that specific point in time, and I don’t find the gradual distance that naturally separates most friendships as something to mourn over anymore.

Of course, as the unbearably sensitive soul that I can be, I still hesitate to let people into my life. There are the simple questions of Do I like them? Do they like me? Do I like spending time with them? How convenient is it for us to see each other? Do we “click”? that get answered as time goes by, and if they are welcomed by both parties, then the acquantainceship blossoms into a beautiful, complicated friendship. But then what happens?

There are so many layers and levels to a friendship, yet the one that we crave the most is also the one that can potentially hurt us most. When I considered someone my best friend in the past, their words and actions had more weight on me. Just like it’s easier to talk to them than other people, it’s also easier to get mad at them when they don’t seem to be reciprocating the same level of attention to you. It’s strangely comparable to that of a romantic relationship, minus the romance, obviously. 

As a junior in college, I’ve made several friends in the past 2 years of college, a few whom I consider close. I think this is the most natural progression in terms of friendships. As freshmen aka the “newbies,” we spent the most time trying to get to know people and broaden our horizons. But by the time junior or senior year comes around, a lot of us settle into the few solid friends that have accompanied our experience thus far. It’s the same for every aspect of our lives: everytime we move or start something new, we need to put in that extra effort at the beginning. We’re more willing to get out of our comfort zone, in the hopes of finding that sense of community. But as time passes and we get comfortable, we start being more selective about who we see and what we do. 

There are also those friendships that you know will end by the end of a period of time. It’s a strange feeling, befriending someone, both knowing that it will eventually come to an end. This past summer, I got unexpectedly close to a few people at the program that were all in. We only knew each other for 2 months, but we spent that time living, studying and exploring a foreign country together. It was an intense but incredibly fulfilling time, and the friendships were what made it hard to leave the place. But something that consoled me was that we left as friends, and though we rarely, if ever, talk nowadays, I find comfort in that if we get to see each other again in the future, we will resume our friendship just like before. Or maybe not. Maybe that summer spark will be gone if we get to meet again. This doubt is what holds me back the most, as it’s this melancholic desire to keep the memories as they were that often prevents me from reconnecting with old friends.

As you can see, through time I’ve learned that I’m not usually the type of person to make a lot of friends nor keep in touch with old ones. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you might meet someone with whom you have a connection that transcends any distance. But those are rare and hard to come by. So for the most part, I won’t let the fear of losing the friends that I have stop me from forming my own experiences. This is my choice, one that comes mainly from my inner drive, but also from the fear of being the one left behind. 

Essentially, I think we each have to find what friendships mean to us and the value we want them to have in our lives, just like being in a relationship. As someone who was born in one place, grew up in another, and is now studying college elsewhere, I don’t have a place where I call “home.” I have several homes, but none are truly home. I’m fortunate to have either family or friends in each of the homes that I have, but I will always be an outsider in those places, either because I haven’t lived there enough or because I’m simply not a local. This mentality is what drives me to want to live in different places, and maybe someday I’ll find a place where I would want to call home. Maybe someday, friends will be more than just a temporary part of my life.

-Michelle

the meaning of life

We are never truly present in the current moment. When we’re not mulling over the past, we’re dreaming of the future. We map a course for our imminent future, but sometimes those around us swerve our plans. We think we dictate our lives, but the truth of the matter is that we have limited say in what happens to us, what we do, who we are. From the moment we are born, our environment and the people we meet subconsciously push us towards one direction. Given this one life, we have no choice but to believe that this is the life we’re meant to take, that our deepest truth goes so far as we can reach.

I finished reading Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life a while ago, and the plot disrespects the common traits that define a book. On the surface, the story follows the lives of four characters in their 20s living in New York, slowly but surely making their way to the top of their fields. The book focuses specifically on Jude, a brilliant lawyer who’s also a mathematician, cook, musician, among other things. His very twisted and traumatic past is revealed to us in a series of flashbacks intertwined into the chapters. There’s no clear plot, not exactly a clear climax, and an ending that leaves you wishing you never opened the book in the first place.

If there’s something that this novel wants to convey, it’s that our relationships define us. The relationships that we have with our families (or lack thereof), our friends and enemies, our colleagues and acquaintances. They are the core of our existence. Yanagihara claims that our closest friendships are the only ones that subvert any rules and expectations imposed by society, and thus are the most powerful kind of relationship because they are limited only by the participants. It can be beautiful, messy, disastrous.

When you are a spouse, a parent, an employee, a citizen, you live by certain rules, some of them dictated by law, others by social expectations. But friendship is the one relationship available to us in which the laws and limits are defined only by the participants.

Something that Yanagihara asks the characters, albeit discreetly, over and over again is, What is your life purpose? Why are you here? Why do you exist? Who are you existing for?

There are snippets and themes of this novel that remind me of the sitcom Friends. A group of friends in their 20s, figuring out their lives in New York City. Most of them remain childless, at least for the earlier portion of their adult lives, which means that their social circle is essentially their second family. Some then go on to form their own circles or families, while some find their partner within this circle. Friends conveyed the idea of an alternative lifestyle, one in which your friends were all you needed. A Little Life seems to convey a similar message, but also shows the omnipresence of societal pressure and the eventual acceptance of this lifestyle.

This novel followed the characters from their early adulthoods to their last stages in life, and though my own life is distinct and free from so many of the challenges these characters had to face, I couldn’t help but see myself facing those challenges too. Fiction books have the power of transforming you into a character you didn’t know you could be – that’s why I love reading so much. Yanagihara allowed me to see what’s in it for me in the next few years to come, but most importantly, she allowed me to think beyond what I have already imagined for myself. While she was telling Jude’s story, she was also asking me those pressing existential questions. 

What kind of life do I want to have? This is the question I ask myself most often nowadays. Not What’s my life purpose? nor Why am I here? I think they essentially guide us down the same path, but the way we ask ourselves that question can help us manifest our goals better. I don’t think about what my purpose in life is, because I think it’s constantly evolving. I don’t think about why I’m here, because I’d rather appreciate the gift of being here. I think about the kind of life I want to lead, because it makes me focus on the values that I have and the messages I carry into the world. It makes me ponder about my insecurities and how my actions are a direct reflection of the past I have. It shows me that I may still be uncertain about my own decisions (and very insecure about my actions), but so long as I know that it’s the life I want to lead, I will do it.

-Michelle

guilty of privilege

I guess I’m posting this to put into writing for you to know that I’m aware of my privilege, and for me to find some sort of comfort in confessing my feelings through writing. There are different kinds of privilege, but the one I have and want to talk about is socioeconomic privilege

I was born to two loving parents, who built the wonderful lives that we have from the ground up. My mom raised my brother and I, and set an example for how a household should be run. My dad graduated from college not knowing what to do, but made it his goal to educate himself and support us financially. They struggled, but they conquered. I can say this now, but I went through none of that struggle. All I saw was my family together, always in a nice home to live in, receiving great education and healthcare. Ever since I can remember, I’ve had everything that I needed.

I grew up and have lived in Peru for most of my life, where I attended a private bilingual school. There, I met quite a diversity of people in terms of nationalities, but not so diverse in socioeconomic status. I did pretty good at school, was involved in music and community service – where I got a glimpse of the lives of people who lived in different socioeconomic circumstances. But I feel that they were just that – glimpses of what others’ lives were like. I wasn’t truly a part of their community; it wasn’t my reality. I knew I was priviledged, but I just believed I deserved it all along.

I took a gap year before college, with college the only thing on my mind at that point. I didn’t have to worry about finances, and my parents are (still) very much opposed to the idea of me working to earn a living before I graduate for college. I had the time, the resources and the ability to do what I think was best for my personal growth, a luxury that only few have. I’m still in college, so these conditions still apply to my life.

Then I came to college and what I came to discover flooded me with guilt. I arrived at my prestigious but public university, and though the ethnic diversity (or lack thereof) didn’t faze me, their diverse socioeconomic backgrounds did. I met people who were paying their way through college with work-study, working tiring part-time jobs to support their living costs, or simply having money being a constant anxiety in their lives. There were also people like me, who didn’t have to worry about financing their way through college. If they did, they sure didn’t talk about it. A lot of the talk around money was how little they had and how expensive life was here. It wasn’t like I have never been around people like this; it was the fact that we were all in the same environment, yet the person sitting next to me in class or even my floormate was struggling to make ends meet while I had little to worry about.

I internalized this as a sign that I didn’t deserve this privilege. All people would talk about was how hard they had worked to be where they were, how many hours they work to pay for food, how hard they work to build their lives from the ground up. There’s a sense of pride that comes with being the founder of your own success, and I admire that. And as much as I wish I could relate, I can’t. I didn’t come from an impoverished background nor deal with struggles that have left me to fend for myself. I owe my current and future successes to my parents, the environment and the opportunities that I was raised in. 

I struggled coming to terms with the fact that I was basically the rich kid at a boarding school. Don’t get me wrong – my family’s not gloating with money, nor do we “appear” to be rich. But few (if any) international students get any financial aid or scholarship at an American public university, so you can estimate how much I was paying. None of my peers ever bothered me about it, no one ever suggested that I did not deserve my spot at college, but there is a certain stereotype that comes with being an international student that bugged me. I knew I wasn’t “one of them,”, but… was I not?

I didn’t do great my first two years in college. I guess on the surface I seemed to be doing pretty well. I had pretty much decided that I was going to do a double major in Cognitive Science and Psychology, with a minor in Chinese, after my first semester. This meant that I had to plan my classes carefully – and I did. And although I am sure I have developed my academic interests in these two years, I also struggled in a lot of my classes. I had to drop, P/NP (pass/no pass) and simply give up on classes that I couldn’t keep up with. I had to face the reality that college was not like high school, and effort did not always produce the desired result. I was heavily involved in a community service organization as well, and I discovered my newfound passion for social good here. But my performance in academics continued to bother me, and I let it bring me down.

I know that this form of self-deprecation is not only unreasonable, but it’s also futile. I did not choose the conditions in which I was born in, and the fact that I was born into such great conditions is something that I should feel grateful for, not guilty. If someone else were feeling like this, I would tell them the exact same thing, so why have I been trying to make myself think otherwise? Secondly, this form of mindset is counteproductive. What do I get from despising myself for something that I have no control over? Nothing, other than time taken away, time that I could otherwise be using to improve upon my life, and potentially the lives of others as well. 

I once asked my dad, the breadwinner of the house, about us being “rich,” and he actually laughed at that. He told me that it wasn’t that we were rich, it was just that he just happens to invest most of what he earns into my brother and I. This includes education and healthcare, but also everyday things that I need – furniture, groceries, and any small things that I want. This act of love has a lot to do with the impoverished environment that he grew up in, and the way he has internalized is best for his children to grow up. So yes, I am rich. I am rich of loving parents, of a life that is full of possibilities, of first-world problems that I am thankful to have. I am lucky, so lucky, and can only hope that this luck is not wasted on me.

– Michelle

 

hustle till you burn out

I just finished my second semester of sophomore year in college back in mid-May, and it was possibly my worst semester thus far. I wasn’t really enjoying my classes, which were either too challenging for me to keep up with, or not really inspiring me. I questioned whether I deserved to be a student here, with my parents paying a sh*tload for me to be such a mediocre student. I took up a leadership position for a service organisation that I’ve grown to be genuinely passionate about, but the role exposed me to all the behind-the-scenes drama that often left me emotionally and socially drained. I was also in my second semester in the boxing team, and though I’ve been passionate about it since day one, I kept having really odd injuries (i.e. I would always get side stitches whenever I run, and running is a vital part of our physical training), which gradually made me not want to go to practice. I got the flu twice and a cold pretty much every other week, which always sent me spiraling down in a highly unmotivated state for days on end. And possibly worse of all, I developed binge eating habits that made my weight fluctuate about 12 pounds this semester.

Externally, I was okay. I still tried my best in school, I was still being active (enough) socially, and I let myself rest when I got sick. But I became incredibly insecure about my academic abilities, my hobbies, and most importantly, my self-worth. Of course, deep down I knew that the only thing wrong with me was how I was dealing with the challenges that I had. Instead of actively finding ways to deal with my (first-world) struggles, I let these problems get the best of me, and my body just… shut down. It’s not a coincidence that I was so sick and injured at the same time as I was so stressed and overwhelmed. My poor health and negative mentality was a negative cycle that I couldn’t break out of. I constantly felt like there was something wrong with me, and I couldn’t shake it off.

In essence, I was constantly burnt out. I wasn’t exactly hustling and over-exerting myself per se, but I wasn’t giving my mind and my soul a break. Even when I didn’t have any impending tasks due in the next few days, I would dwell on the homework, tests, and projects that I would need to do in the foreseeable future. I was holding myself hostage, without any way to liberate myself.

At last, sophomore year came to its eventual end. Summer break came and I was freed of the constraints by which I had naively bound myself to. My grades were okay, my physical health was questionable at its best, but my mental health found the light at the end of the tunnel. I left my college town and traveled to Taiwan, where I spent a month with my extended family. I ate grandma’s food, played mahjong with my grandparents, and bore the presence of my annoying (and maybe a little cute) six-year-old cousin.

It was in this month where I found myself… healing. I’m hesitant to say the word because I’m not sure something was “wrong” with me in the first place, and if physically leaving a place is all it takes for me to “heal,” then I really question if I was simply experiencing a circumstantial crisis. But I use the word healing regardless, because my body was showing some signs of recovery without my conscious awareness. My eating habits were once again normal and recognizable, and this was the main thing that kept my head up. My mind would often keep me awake at night and my sleeping quality wasn’t best, but I don’t think they’ve ever been optimal. I did get tonsillitis towards the end of my stay in Taiwan, which was unfortunate, but I blame the hot, humid, rainy and sometimes unpredictable weather in Taipei.

Currently, I’m studying at a language intensive program in Beijing. I’ve barely started, and though being back in this school setting makes me worry that I’ll go back to my unsustainable lifestyle, I think I’ll be okay this time. I mean, this program is known for its rigor and I know I’ll be learning and studying half the day every day, but I’m vowing to keep my stress at its bay. It will just be me and Chinese, and all the fun trips and activities planned for us in the program. It’s all taken care of, which is reassuring as I have little to worry about besides studying.

I guess the one good thing that has come out of my self-imposed stressful experience in college thus far is getting to know myself better. I live by routines and order, and I even schedule my “spontaneous” activity. I’m a live-by-the-book kind of person, as much as I hate to identify myself as one. I read books from cover to cover, have to floss and brush my teeth (in that order) every single night before bed, and I’m kind of a control and clean freak when it comes to certain things. When I took on several responsibilities in college – despite them not being that many – these responsibilities threatened my “flow state,” and I crashed. I guess my natural response would be to shy away from these situations, to prevent myself from being at risk of burning out in the first place. And that’s what I’m doing this summer.

But come junior year, and I’ll be back at it again. I will be taking the classes that I need to, exploring different fun classes and clubs, and ultimately pushing myself. Because only then can I stress the limits to which my mind is constrained to right now, and grow.

-Michelle

mid-college life crisis

As I am nearing the midpoint of my college career, I find myself at a crossroads in life – ambitious and driven, yet oftentimes feeling lost and confused. As a college sophomore, I will officially be declared as a Cognitive Science and Psychology double major and Chinese minor by the end of this semester. I hold an officer position for a service organization that I am deeply passionate about, and I am in my second semester of being part of the boxing club, which continues to push me physically and mentally. I am lucky to be able to have these opportunities and to have met so many inspiring people through them. I am also eternally grateful for the support my family gives me. But I’m confused.

I am confused about my college experience. In my first semester, I took classes in Philosophy, Psychology, History, English and Neuroscience, Astronomy – and I either loved or learned a lot from all of them; if I was lucky, I got both. I was challenged in the fields that I am naturally inclined to, and it felt like I was in control. Come second year, and I am confronted with two classes that have made me question my academic ability more than ever: Computer Science last semester, and Discrete Math this semester.

CS was a struggle, and I lagged behind as the weeks went by. I passed the class nonetheless, but I passed knowing that all that I learned would soon be forgotten. My attempts to wrap my mind around the concepts and apply them to the lab, homework and projects were ultimately futile, because I had little interest in them. But more discouraging was the fact that I was not able to even keep up with the class soon after it had started. I could watch the lecture webcasts and sit in discussion section, and leave not getting much out of them. I wasn’t being challenged in the way that my Philosophy or Neuroscience classes did; in my mind, I was threatened by this class that neither posed an interest in me nor gave me the opportunity to catch up to it in the first place. With this CS class, I learned that if I ever do learn CS, it wouldn’t be in a classroom setting.

Currently, Math is an ongoing struggle. I have always somewhat excelled in math in high school and got near-perfect scores in the standardized tests, but college is just a whole different thing. Not to mention that before this semester, I have not done Math for nearly 3 years. I enjoy the Discrete Math class I’m taking, and can see how applicable it is to my major, but I am also so far behind class that I often skip lecture to catch up on the textbook readings. One time not long ago, I broke down on a phone call with my dad, asking him what the purpose of me being in college is if I wasn’t even getting everything I could out of it. He explained that not all the classes are going to be as fulfilling as I think they will be, that it wasn’t about how much I “remembered” from these classes, but rather it was the skills that I got out of them. Most importantly, he put things into perspective for me. Talking to my dad made me see that my struggling right now is not the end of the world (duh), and that I shouldn’t base my self-worth on my academic performance as much as I’ve been doing.

Making peace with the fact that there are subjects that I don’t like and simply can’t excel in has been hard. Especially because the subjects that I’m a failure in are STEM – which my university is very prominent in. My parents used to be way stricter with my performance in school, and for most of my life, school has been the thing that I was good at. Or tried to be. It was the only way that I knew how to learn, the only way that I knew how to “succeed in life”. But that is so not the case now. After going through my gap year before college, getting involved in so many activities and experiences outside school, if there’s one thing I have learned it’s that learning occurs everywhere, anywhere. With this in mind, I have also realized that the only way I can make the most out of my college experience is to study the subjects that I truly, wholeheartedly enjoy. Not only because this is what we’re supposed to do, but because I will be doing a disservice to everyone if I forced myself to study a subject like CS simply because I think it’ll make myself look marketable. Even if that earns me the “skills” that I need to secure future employment opportunities, my dispassion for this career would not benefit anyone, and it simply wouldn’t inspire me to excel.

On the contrary, pursuing a career that I can passionately delve into will better equip me to serve the world in that field. It will enable me to wholly delve into my classes and actually remember what I was taught. And even if I forget most of what I learned during college, the person that I become because of it will continue to thrive. It will allow me to see the world in my terms, and to find solutions to problems that I am willing to take on.

With that being said, I’m glad I took that CS class. It exposed me to CS for the first time, and while I have no intent in pursuing it further in college, I might change my mind about the subject in the future – and who knows what could happen then? The reason I’m double majoring in Cognitive Science is precisely because this subject demands me to dabble in several disciplines, including (but not limited to) Psychology, Philosophy, Linguistics, Neuroscience, Education, and Computer Science. It challenges me to think in different dimensions, whether I like them or not.

All in all, I think I have gotten a lot out of college thus far. I have been challenged to think differently within my classes, about my classes, and outside my classes, and I might not remember most of what I learned 10 years from now, but the person that I am now has forever been shaped by these experiences. I attend a pretty huge university, and such environment has definitely made me realize what a tiny, average person I am amidst so many talented people. It has grounded me, humbled me, and ultimately inspired me to continue trying to be a better me.

-Michelle

why it’s hard to let go

In the last week or two before winter break ended and I was bound to go back to college, I did a massive cleaning of my room back at home. By massive cleaning I mean going through every cupboard, drawer and corner of my room, holding up every item I owned and asking myself whether I wanted to keep it or not. These things were mainly clothes, books, stuff, and a lot of sentimental items from my childhood. I put all the things that were still usable in donation boxes, and threw everything in the trash. I told myself that if I wanted to keep a piece of item, I had to bring it with me to college (aside from my collection of books built up since childhood). This reduced my chance of keeping things that I knew I wasn’t going use or wear in the near future. Of course, I ended up keeping a few things that I couldn’t bring with me to college anyway. I just couldn’t part with them yet.

Clothes was a relatively easy category to sort out. I would hold out a piece of clothing, wear it, and ask myself if I liked it. If I wasn’t sure, I would leave it in my drawer, come back to it a few days later, and make a final decision. It wasn’t too hard to discard the clothes that I did not like, as a lot of them no longer fit me nor gave me that happy feeling when I wore them. The clothes that I ended up keeping but am not taking to college are my childhood clothes, expensive pieces passed down to me from my family, or items that I wanted to keep but couldn’t bring with me to college at the moment.

Books were okay, I guess. I have a ton of physical books that kept me company in my childhood, stories that I will never forget. Jacqueline Wilson, Lauren Myracle, Nancy E. Krulik, Laurie Friedman are just some of the authors of the many book series that I lived for when I was younger – and this doesn’t even include the books that I borrowed from my school library. Needless to say, I kept all these books. I haven’t read them for years now, but whenever I look at them, my mind almost immediately travels back to the time that I read them. They evoke strong feelings both within the story and the context in which I read them too. I guess you could say that books are my most sentimental items. I also have some books that I bought during my later teenage years, some which I was able to discard, but others I kept for the pretty covers. Because, you know, I want to display them in my own library one day.

Then there’s all the stuff lying around in my room. There’s a lot of stationery, office materials, and decorations. It took me a few days to decide on all the items that I wanted to keep, but it was a relatively choice as I already have most of my most precious items in college.

Finally, there are the sentimental items. Items that I kept for years, because at some point in my younger self I decided that I wanted to keep them like treasure. Diaries, endless Hello Kitty collectibles, key chains, among others. Just like looking at book covers and being able to immediately travel back to when I read the book, these items also instigated an emotional reaction in me. With these things, it’s hard to let go because it feels like I’m abandoning a part of my identity if I discard them. They are things that I collected during the most formative years of my life, and a part of me fears that I will lose that part of me if I throw away the only physical evidence that I have.

All my life I have found it hard to let go. Letting go of people, belongings, my things. Funnily enough, my first word was “mine” (I actually said it in mandarin, which is “我的”). My parents say it was due to sibling rivalry; my brother would claim 我的 whenever my greedy hands would grab on to his things. But because I had an older sibling, I don’t think I grew up to be very greedy. I wasn’t and am not the most generous person either.

Even though I can place the things in my room into a few different categories, they all have in common one thing: sentimental items. Reading Marie Kondo’s book has been extremely helpful in helping me organize, but I still have a long way to go before I can call myself a minimalist, which is my ultimate goal (isn’t it everyone’s nowadays?). On the one hand, I want to reduce the things that I own so that I can reduce the burden that comes with moving and choosing the things I use. On the other hand, I am still too possessive of the things that I own. I can’t let go that easily yet. But at least I know I’m moving in the right direction.

Having moved places a few times in the last 2 years of being in college, I’ve realized that I cherish the moving to a new place. The change in my physical space hints at the dawn of new beginnings and new possibilities. It’s a wonderful feeling; but more than that, it’s an opportunity to let go of the things in the past that need to go, and to treasure the ones in the present that bring joy to my life.

I have now comfortably settled in my new room in a new apartment back in college. School and clubs have swamped me with more time commitment and responsibilities than I thought I would have; I actually wrote this post nearly a month ago and forgot to publish it. But even among the demands of my environment, I find that writing is one of those things that helps me put things into perspective. It nudges me to face my feelings word-for-word, and it has also become my way to mark my memories. The things I once had and cherished may not be physically by my side anymore, but the feelings that they instilled in me will continue to remain.

-Michelle

the natural cycle of friendships

People come and go in your life, and that’s the way it’s meant to be.

I used to be scared of letting people in my life, of getting too close to them, knowing that one day they would leave my side. It always felt like I was the one being left behind, left to mend the loss that only I seemed to experience.

In high school, I saw this happen to me almost every year. My best friend since sixth grade left freshman year. I then got close to another friend, whom left the following year. I got close to yet another friend, but she too left. I got close to a friend outside school, but when she left for college I knew that we weren’t going to stay connected. It seemed like each time I found someone I could talk to, they would leave. At this point in time at my school, I pretty much knew everyone and understood that I wasn’t bound to get closer to a lot of them. Don’t get me wrong – I liked most people at my school, but I wasn’t close to most of them. It felt like the older I got, the harder it was to connect with the same people I had known since primary school. Maybe it was a fact of being in the same environment with the same people you have grown up with, or maybe it was just me.

Every time someone I considered a close friend would leave my side, I would ask myself if it was even worth it. Getting close to someone, to then lose them. My friendship with my best friend from sixth grade lasted for years after she left, though we never saw each other again. We had Facebook and social media to keep us connected, messaging each other almost every day to talk about our lives, boys, and the silliest of things. But this friendship too came to its natural end as the years went by and we both settled in college – yet another new phase of our lives, for both of us this time.

When I talk about the loss of these friendships, I don’t mean in the strict sense that we never have or will never talk to each other again. I mean it in the sense that we both know that our friendship will never return to its original state, to the closeness that we once had. Physical distance may have been the cause of our separation, but it was ultimately our choice to leave the friendship behind. Aside from my best friend, I knew that the other friendships were going to fade away as soon as they left. It’s hard to stay in touch with someone that you’re not incredibly close with to begin with.

Then there are friendships that are in a sort of paused state. When I moved away for college, I said goodbye to a lot of friends, mostly from my school. Most of them I have never seen again, but some of them I do. With these friends, though I don’t talk to them when I’m in college, it feels natural to see them when I’m back home. The fact that we have this bond from having attended the same school for most of our lives means that we are bound to see each other again whenever distance permits. Not having been close friends with them means that there’s not much of it that can fade away. It’s hard for friendships to fade if they are not so strong to begin with.

-Michelle

being more empathetic to others

Having been in college for almost two years now, I have met a multitude of people. A lot of them are the kind of people that you wish to meet in your life: people who are incredibly amazing, talented, as well as caring. There are also people who worked extremely hard to be here, and don’t take their opportunities for granted. Then there are some questionable, shitty people. You would think that attending a globally well-respected school would have respectable people, and while that may be the case in some places, such is not at the university I attend.

My university accepts people from a multitude of backgrounds, cultures, as well as a wide range of ages. It has been incredibly humbling to see people get the opportunity to attend college, given that they may not have had the same opportunities as I have had. It forces me to truly look at myself and my past experiences, and feel so incredibly grateful for having the parents that I have, the support that I have, and the financial means that I have to be here. While we are all attending the same university, we come from very different backgrounds and contexts, and those experiences shape the person that we become.

Because of my exposure to such a diverse community, in virtually every aspect, I am learning to be more empathetic of people whose beliefs may be very different to that of mine. When you meet someone whose views challenge your own, it’s important to not disregard them, as much as you may not agree with them. Their view may be of something trivial or something fundamental, and it may trigger in you a desire to strike back with your own view of the situation. But it’s important to listen to what they have to say, and to accept their words without dismissing them immediately. It is important for you to do so because when your views are challenged, you learn to see things in a different way. It is important that you do this for them because they deserve to know that their voices are also heard. 

Whenever you find it hard to stomach someone’s view of a situation, try to understand the context from which they come from. What kind of life did they lead prior to coming here? What kind of environment and people were they surrounded with? What, if any, opportunities did they have? When you ask yourselves these questions about this person, you may start to see the situation from their eyes, and become more empathetic of why they are who they are.

-Michelle

finding balance

The first semester of my second year in college is coming to an end, and in moments like these I always find myself thinking back about all that have happened in the past few months. I think it’s always important to take time to self-reflect about how you’ve changed as a person, especially when you’re ending a (small) stage of your life and transitioning into the next one. It keeps you accounted, and it keeps you moving. Here are some thoughts that I’ve had lately.

I’m a pretty open about being an introvert, and have posted quite a lot about it on my blog in the past. When I’m out and about, I often think about the time I’ll be back in the comforts of my home, where I can do what I want, when I want, uninterrupted. Delve into homework without the chatter of people talking or walking by at libraries, eat by myself without fear of prying eyes judging me, wear clothes that I am fully comfortable in, etc. It’s so easy to be myself when I’m by myself. But just as much as I embrace my moments of solitude, I also fear it. I fear that if I don’t “put myself out there” enough, I won’t be able to grow as a person. So much of what I learn comes from my interactions with others, and since coming to college I have also become less of an introvert. I have become more comfortable at making plans with people and spending more days of the week hanging out with others, and less time by myself. And I have learned so much from these experiences and formed so many memories. But it’s also made me think deeper about how I spend my time.

Over the past summer, I experimented on this by keeping to myself for most of the time. I had the intention of learning to “adult” and wanted to focus on my myself, but this led me feeling pretty lonely at times. When college started again, I delved into school and my extracurricular activities, which involve a lot of socializing. It was like moving from one extreme to the next, and I am still confused about what I’m most comfortable with. I still fear being seen as a “loner,” and from this I know that I’m not yet fully comfortable in my own skin.

Something else that I did this semester was try to step away from social media even more. I have barely posted on my blog or any of my social media accounts since the start of the semester in August. I wanted to live my college life without feeling like I owed it to myself to be active virtually. But instead of focusing more on my real life, I became an even more active consumer of social media. The fact that I did not produce content meant that I spent more time browsing and scrolling through my feeds when I found myself bored. The more I did it, the more I realized that every time I did so I expected to be distracted by that notification, email, or post. A new distraction that would occupy your mind, even if just for a few seconds. My phone in particular became the friend that I reached to when I found myself in dire need of any distraction.

All in all, I am not as comfortable in my own company as I thought I was. I find it hard to be by myself – not doing much – without feeling guilty. Without feeling that I’m missing out on socializing, like I’m wasting my time. My social media consumption reflects this reality, and I am not happy with it. I want to focus both on myself and on the people around me, and not feel the need to fill my moments of emptiness with social media. It’s impossible to find that sweet “balance” in your life where you can do everything that you set yourself to do, as it’s that perfect imbalance that drives you to continue improving yourself. My wish to always balance things out will always tip to one side or the other, and I know that that’ll be completely okay. I can’t always be in control of what I do and the things that get thrown in my way, but I can take control of my situation in the bigger scheme of things. So from this imbalance I now want to take control of my life by finding a somewhat happier balance between solitude and social life, and be a director rather than just a passive consumer of what gets put out there.

-Michelle