Category

life

Category

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

living alone as an introvert

For the past 3 months this summer, I have lived in a studio apartment by myself. My roommate recently moved in with me, and I thought I’d share some things I’ve learned from my first taste of adulthood. I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to have a place to myself for the summer, as renting around this area is ridiculously expensive (but still cheaper than living in the dorms). Living alone has forced me to be more aware of how I cook, use my space, and spend my time all by myself. Waking up to myself every day has forced me to become more aware of how I truly behave when no one is watching. It’s been truly liberating at times, yet imprisoning in moments of insecurity. But all these experiences have naturally led to lessons that I am grateful to have learned:

To appreciate my parents’ support more. I was determined to stay in college and move into an apartment on my own with the hopes that it would allow me to not only learn to become more independent in all aspects of my life, but to also appreciate those that have made it possible for all this to happen. Ever since coming to college, I phone my parents at least once a week to update them on my life, as well as ask for their suggestions on issues that I’m dealing with.

Over the summer, I have come to rely on their mentorship even more. I would often phone my mom to ask her if it was still okay to cook a sprouted potato or what to do about the mini-slugs that kept appearing in my bathroom, and her answers always reassured me. I grew up watching her maintain the clean, beautiful and organized home that I was raised in, and I have naturally grown accustomed to living in such conditions when I came to college. Though not having her by my side made things more difficult, it forced me to tackle every issue on my own (after having googled it or asked my mom first, of course). I would phone my dad on issues about academics, health, and other issues of living alone. My dad has always guided me throughout my academic career, and though we certainly have differing views on education, his words never fail to comfort me. When I’m feeling frustrated about my classes or confused about what I’m supposed to do about anything, he gives me his take on the situation and lets me think about it myself.

My parents trust me enough to let me make my own decisions. Though I would like to believe that I am a very independent person, more often than not I’m very insecure about the choices that I make. But I notice that whenever I resort to my parents for their guidance and they give me a nod of approval (or disapproval), it eases my anxiety. It makes it easier to make a decision when I know that my parents support me. This has made me realize how similar I actually am to my parents, and how much I rely on their support and confidence that I have not yet fully developed on myself.

To listen to myself and nurture my needs. I don’t think I will ever stop surprising myself with newfound feelings and emotions. Living by myself meant that I was stuck with myself even when I didn’t want to. I did not truly put myself out there socially this summer, mainly because I wanted to spend a lot of my time cooking, reading, writing, and just seeing how much adulting I could do by myself. But as much of an introvert as I am, I think I may have secluded myself too much. It made me realize how bad I am at keeping in touch with people, at making plans with others, and simply initiating conversations.

This summer I also experienced some minor health issues; I started experiencing knee pain (on both knees, lucky me), an old injury in my left foot started up again, and I was also waking up in the middle of the night almost every night. I was working out more and pretty active most of the time, but beneath it I was and am not handling life as well as I could be. Though I had successfully moved into a very nice apartment, there were issues with the current tenants that intruded my thoughts almost daily. Unfortunately, I let my thoughts get to me, and I did not handle them as well as I could have. This showed me how intricately connected my mental and physical health are, and the dangers of dwelling over things for too long.

Understanding my relationship to food. I spent a lot of my time learning to cook, planning meals, and understanding how to feed myself balanced meals of protein, carbs and fats. I think this is a huge investment for anyone at any point in their lives, as you get to use it for the rest of your life. It’s one of the most essential survival skills, and one of the most healthy and helpful ones that you can cultivate. I learned to buy weekly groceries, plan meals, try out new (albeit simple) recipes, and mainly learned to not be afraid of cooking, which is a big victory for me! I experienced a few burns and small cuts here and there, made some disgusting and/or failed meals, but nothing that would deter me from learning more about cooking.

To be okay with not being clean all the time. Back when I was living in the dorms and sharing a room with two other girls, I only had to make sure that my desk, bed and closet space were clean enough for me. We vacuumed the carpeted floor one or twice a month, though it didn’t really matter because the carpet’s dark color masked any dirt on the floor. My dorm floor shared a co-ed bathroom on the floor and I ate at the dining hall, so cleaning the bathroom and kitchen were not an issue.

But now that I’ve moved into my own space where I have to clean my room, in addition to the kitchen and bathroom, I noticed that I had a slight obsession with keeping things a little too clean. The first few weeks of living here consisted of me cleaning and wiping every surface immediately after using. It seemed like a reasonable me-thing to do, but I gradually accepted the fact that not only was this unreasonable, it was also needlessly time-consuming. I had enslaved myself as a maid to myself. I gradually told myself to just stop it. Now I only clean my apartment about once or twice a week, and wipe the surfaces and vacuum whenever I think it’s necessary. A little mess doesn’t really bother me, as long as my bed and desk (my precious areas) are clean enough on the surface.

It’s absolutely liberating at times, imprisoning in others. Not having to close the door when going to the bathroom. Not putting on clothes immediately after showering. Playing soft background music all day long. Watching videos without ever having to put earphones on. Knowing that no one will ever walk through the front door, but me. Dressing up in different outfits and being able to walk around the apartment in them. Putting makeup on myself poorly, and laughing at myself about it.

But it also meant that I had to take extra precaution about my living environment, ensuring that I locked the door when I went out or came home, or making sure I hadn’t let anything turned on. Coming home and not having anyone to talk to. Not having anyone drag me out when I was stuck in my introverted shell. This led me to…

Dealing with solitude. As much time as you have to work on yourself when you’re living alone, solitude can be imprisoning at times. I feel that I am my best working self when I know that no one is watching me, judging me. But sometimes it was hard to keep up my motivation when I wasn’t feeling very perky myself. However, this feeling of solitude led me to reflect upon the type of solitude that I wanted for myself in the future. Somewhere not too busy, not smack in the middle of a city. Maybe in the suburbs, surrounded by parks and nature, where I can go to whenever I’m seeking some alone time in nature. Where I can drive or commute to convenience stores that are not too far away. Somewhere where my thoughts are not easily distracted by random external factors all the time.

This reflection on solitude also made me realize the type of company that I want in my life. Earlier, I talked about how much I have come to appreciate my parents’ presence and support in my life. I feel more appreciative of them now because there is now a palpable distance between us. The physical time that we spend together is limited, and they understand me enough to call me no more than a few times a week. Our relationship has become sustainable and satisfying, at least from my side. That’s the type of company that I want when I look for friendships and relationships.


During the academic year, I meet lots of people who easily become acquaintances and, some, even friends. But few of them will ever become close friends; not because they’re flawed in some way, but simply because. But their company will bring me a lot of memories and experiences, and that’s the beauty of meeting new people, regardless of how long they stay in my life. Though I certainly have a lot to learn about meeting people, making friends, and just putting myself out there, this reflective period has enabled me to see the value of company as what keeps us alive, inspired, and happy.

Living alone these past few months has also showed me how I’m not fully ready to live on my own – just yet. It has also made me realize a lot of things about myself (even if in a hard way), which are things that I can now work on. As much of an introvert as I think I am, I depend on the few important people in my lives to thrive. I still get FOMO when I see what others are doing on social media, I still let negative thoughts get me down, and I’m totally not fully comfortable in my own skin yet. All of these things have truly surfaced in these past months, so I guess that means that I’m still my parent’s little girl 🙂 Even though I’m almost 21!

-Michelle

 

what i learned my freshman year of college

As I’m nearing my one-year anniversary of moving from Peru (my hometown) to the US (my new home) for college, I often find myself reflecting about this past year. Every year is special in its own way, but this past year was particularly so in the aspect of moving away from home for the first time and officially starting another stage of my life. Overall, I am very happy about the progress that I have made in this past year, and am feeling quite optimistic about my future.

The following are a list of things that I have learned in my 20 years of life, but more so during my first year of college:

The value of a liberal arts education.

For most of us, college is the natural step after high school. It’s where we start to focus our interests in a particular field, with the hopes of honing it into a career. For me, college is more than that. Yes, I absolutely want my college education to provide me with some career path. But beyond that of attending college for a career, I want to broaden my horizons as much as I can. I want to take classes outside my majors, explore non-professional clubs that align with the values that I want to live by, and continue developing the hobbies that express the creative side of me.

A liberal arts education allows me to do this. It has already allowed me to take classes on sociology, astronomy, history of Hollywood, Indian literature on the ancient texts of yoga, and English literature on food (yes, food). They have made up about half of the classes I’ve taken in college so far, and I am tremendously grateful to have taken them. Some of these classes have been challenging and have made me doubt about my choices – but looking back, I am certain that they were worth my time. I may never need these subjects for my career, but they have provided me with a lot of questions to ponder about.

I have also noticed that these classes have ended up relating, in some way or another, to my majors (psychology and cognitive science) – which is exciting! It allows me to step out of the bounds of my majors and see how they can be applied in the real world. Taking astronomy exposed me to the vast complexity of the universe that we live in; reading and watching films about Hollywood taught me how to interpret classic Hollywood films; and the literature class on yoga helped me to understand so much about one’s spiritual self, and to appreciate the practice even more. I love how much I have learned from these classes, and they have taught me that to get an education goes beyond being educated in your career field – it’s about learning anything and everything that you are interested in, as much as you can. This has led me to a second lesson:

A college education may last just a few years, but my education doesn’t.

By the time I graduate from college, I will hopefully be educated enough in my majors (psychology and cognitive science) and minor (Chinese). I will have taken some classes outside my major – but most likely nowhere as much as I would like. But this doesn’t meant that I will stop learning, because I can carry this onto my own life, through – wait for it – books.

Reading a book is like taking a seminar or taking one of those 1-2 unit classes that you take for fun. A book is worth a person’s decades of life experience, condensed into several hundred pages. A book is worth years of wisdom, if communicated well. My love for reading, especially during my gap year, has undoubtedly allowed me to enjoy the classes outside my major that I’ve taken so far. They have both taught me that educating myself is about gaining knowledge, asking questions, and expanding the way I think about the world I live in.  They have made me interested in all sorts of topics and subjects, some of which I have never even thought of before.

Now that I know first-hand the value of my liberal arts education, I will do my best to translate it into my personal life, in my free time. I will continue learning more about the subjects that I’m passionate about, and read books that hone such passion. Learning is not something that I will ever ‘stop’ doing; rather, it’s a lifestyle that I want to continue cherishing.

Being true and compassionate to myself.

I know we all have different reasons to choose the career that we’ve chosen. Some of us may feel like we don’t have a choice but to choose the career path that seems most profitable; others may feel like we may not be good enough for that career that we are so passionate about, so we end up choosing one that we think will be best for us (but that we don’t really like). Some of us may not even know what we like, and our indecisiveness leads us to making a choice that we’re not wholeheartedly satisfied with; and a small percentage of us may actually find that one thing that we love, and be lucky enough to pursue it.

If you can, please do yourself the favor of choosing the career path that you are truly devoted to. If you don’t know what that is yet – take advantage of your resources and find it. Explore, discover, learn, and repeat. Even when you think you know what it is, never stop exploring. You owe it to yourself to study something that you can pour your mind and soul into. Don’t let other people’s perceptions of your career choice define you, because I promise you that you will regret it. It doesn’t matter if your interests change 5, 10 years from now – it will work out if you choose to live by your own decisions.

I am very lucky to be able to choose a career path that I am very happy about. My parents have always guided me in my academic career, and though I didn’t always have the freedom to choose what I wanted to do back in school, I am able to do so in college. I can choose all the classes I take and the majors/minors I want to specialize in. My parents know that the most important thing, when choosing a major, is passion. If passion is there, then everything else will work out for the best.

I would be lying if I said that I chose the career path that I am completely in love with, with complete disregard to the functions of our society. I have taken into account my long-term academic interests, my skills, career options, and several other factors to come to this conclusion. But I don’t think I could be happier now. Yes, I have discovered other promising career options since coming to college, but I have also become more certain about my majors. I can both specialize in my majors and be interested in other fields. This leads me to the following lesson:

Adhering to my values, both in and outside class.

Values. I see them as a set of rules to guide my life. I may not know what I want to do after I graduate from college, nor have the vaguest idea as to where I’ll be 5 years from now. But my values will help me guide towards a direction that I know I’ll be happy with, regardless of my circumstances.

In class, I choose the classes that spark my interests and satiate my curiosities. I take into account the difficulty of the classes, of course, but I’m more concerned about how much I will learn and enjoy the class. I owe it to myself to take classes that I like, knowing that my parents work so hard for me to attend college here.

Outside class, I involve myself in the activities that I think will enrich my life the most. One of this decisions has been to join a community service fraternity. It’s pretty much a club where you do social and community service activities with people who want to contribute to the community. Serving others and each other has allowed me to detach (if even a little) for my own egotistic interests and see the community around me with a clearer mind.

In my own time, I devote myself to enriching my soul and body as much as possible. I aim to sleep, eat and exercise well every day. It’s hard to find a balance between these factors, on top of schoolwork and other activities, but I found that it has been possible. I may not be able to adhere to all my values every single day, but so long as I am generally living by them I am a happy soul.

One of the most important values to me right now is to learn. This may not be a ‘value’ per se, but it’s definitely something that I live by. For instance, over this summer break, I want to learn to cook, skate, read, become healthier and stronger, write, among other things. They are skills and things that I’m constantly breaking down into tasks that I can accomplish right now, one step at a time.


I think one of the great things about reflecting about the past year (besides the things that you have learned) is how much you have yet to learn and discover. It allows me to become even more motivated and ambitious about the goals I have set myself, and to pursue them intentionally.

-Michelle

quirks of living in university

I go to a big school with more students than it should have. The number of people that swarm the campus ground is oftentimes overwhelming for a midget of an introvert like me. Having just finished the first half of my freshman year already, here are some of the quirks of living in uni that I’ve discovered so far:

The co-ed dorm bathrooms. Some bathrooms on campus are also coed, but most of them are single-gender. This can result in a lot of confused people rushing out of the bathroom as soon as they see someone of the opposite sex in the same bathroom as them. I guess this is what happens when you move to one of the most liberal states in the US *sigh*. (I’m kidding. It actually becomes second-nature after a while, if you’re not homophobic.)

Your (weird) habits come into light. I always shower at night, so I can go to bed all nice and clean. I also brush my teeth before eating breakfast, to get rid of the bacteria that has accumulated overnight (aka morning breath). But apparently most people here do things the other way round: shower in the morning, brushing teeth afterwards. Initially I thought it was an American thing, but then I realized that it’s probably an Asian thing. But now I don’t even know.

Dorms are all spread apart outside campus. Most dorms are short walking distances away from campus, and walks under the sunlight can be refreshing and calm if the wind has mercy on you that day. However, locations surrounding your dorm can influence the type of environment that you have. My dorm is the closest one to campus, very close to restaurants and convenient stores – and it’s also next to the frat row. So though it’s convenient, it’s not exactly the most peaceful location for me.

It’s a (kinda) lovely college town. The campus is pretty big, and it’s surrounded by (dorm) buildings and houses, as well as lots of restaurants, convenience stores, bookstores, cafes, among others. I can walk or take the bus to most places by myself safely (though you can never be too careful). It’s not surrounded by towering buildings and it’s not too far from most places. My favorite time to go out is during the earlier hours of the day, as the surplus of students takes over the town during the rest of the day. For the most part, it’s not too bad.

Except for the hobos that live in nearby neighborhoods. The college town in itself is pretty safe, even during nighttime. Police patrol around campus regularly, so security’s not a massive issue. The presence of hobos in certain blocks, however, gives off a sense of discomfort. However, I’ve come to see them as characters (if this even makes sense). They rarely cause any physical disturbance or threat to our environment, so they kind of fade off into the background like everyone else.

Weekends start on Thursdays. This means that people may be more… perky on a Thursday night, when all you want to do is just prepare for classes the next day. My uni is pretty big on the social and frat scene, so this is unavoidable.

Being part of the majority, yet not feeling like so. I’m Asian, and 40% of the students are Asians (it seems more like 60%, to be honest). There are Asian Americans, Asians that come straight from Asia, Asians from non-Asian countries, etc. Before coming to college, I was hopeful that this statistic would allow me to relate to more people. But I feel nearly the same as I did back at home. Being surrounded by more people of my “kind” has not made me more sociable nor talkative, and the friends that I’ve made come from different origins and backgrounds. My mistake was reducing people to their race, even if I did so indirectly. Oh, how naive I was.

You’re not really independent. A lot of things change once you move into college, namely the sense of freedom and independence that you must own up to. But the dramatic ordeal of moving across the continent and being freed of daily parental micromanagement is not so dramatic after all. You must plan and do things based on your own needs, but a lot of your decisions are still tied to your parents. They may not be there with you physically anymore, but they’re still there.

My parents not only pay for my tuition and other expenses, they also advice me on how to prioritize my work, take care of myself, and even on things like making friends. It is once I leave their side that I realize, even more, how little I know about life in general. But this is also what makes living away from home, whether it be during college or not, fun. You start to realize how the little decisions shape your life, and through your own experimentation you learn to adjust your actions to suit your lifestyle best.

-Michelle

studying in 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

 

staying healthy in college

Sleep, eat and exercise. Three simple things, yet when life’s demands get in the way, it’s easy to push these things aside. But for me, these three things are non-negotiable. As someone who fusses over the smallest things, mulls over assignments and stresses about school work easily, I have learned to prioritize my health. I may not always be able to control my emotions or how I react to particular situations, but I can control my lifestyle. By controlling the physical aspects of my health, I am also helping keep myself mentally and emotionally sane.  Now that I’m in college, it’s easy to fall into the temptations of social pressure and delicious food places that surround me. But, as my life has gotten more regular and stable, so have my habits. This is what I *normally* do to keep that up:

Sleep. I need at least 7 hours of sleep each night to function like a normal person – ideally 8-9, so I go to bed between 11pm-12:30am, and wake up around 7:30-8:30 every day. All my classes start in the morning and end early afternoon, so it’s crucial that I wake up feeling rested in order to be able to focus well.

I often find myself in need of a mid-afternoon nap. I combat this by letting myself take a nap, for ideally 30 minutes. Even though power naps can help you focus better, they can also be dangerous. Over-napping is a real thing, and it’s an awful feeling waking up from a nap and seeing that it’s already dark outside. So other times, I drink coffee during lunch if I have the stomach for it; however, it’s not always the most efficient option for me, and personally I would rather not grow ‘dependent’ on it.

So, the best way to combat this is by actually getting quality hours of sleep at night, and finding other activities to prevent me from falling prey of z’s, such as taking a walk after lunch before heading back home to do work, doing some light exercising to increase blood flow, or just pausing from whatever task I’m doing lest I grow even wearier.

Eat. I live in my college dorm, which comes with a meal plan, so I eat most of my meals at the school dining halls. The tricky thing about this is that all the dining halls are all-you-can-eat, so it’s easy to overindulge in foods when you’re really hungry or stressed about work. So this is what I’ve been doing:

  • Breakfast: I make porridge with milk and granola (or just milk with cereal), paired with a fruit (usually a banana) that I eat later in between my classes. About once a week, I have a full meal at the dining hall with eggs, pastries, and bagels (and other yummy food).
  • Lunch: I am hungriest at this time of the day, so I eat at the dining hall and get most of my nutrients of the day: veggies, eggs, some meat, sometimes a bagel (if I haven’t had it for breakfast) and coffee.
  • Dinner: Sometimes I buy a wheat wrap with chicken and veggies from the school’s food cafe/market. If I’m not too hungry, I have milk with cereal, coupled with a fruit and/or a pastry that I brought home from the dining hall.
  • Snacks: I have a big Kirkland Mixed Nuts jar sitting on my desk, and I snack on it every time I crave something. I also take small packs of nuts or granola bars in my backpack in case I get hungry in between classes. I also have chocolate, sometimes cookies and other not-so-good snacks lying around in my room. The way I control my intake of these snacks is by limiting myself from buying such snacks to 1-2 times a month.

One thing to note is that because I’m living in my college dorm, I can’t really cook. My meal plan allows me to have 10 meals a week, but because I’ve used part of the meal points to buy groceries (milk, cereal, and other foods), I have started to ration my meals so I have enough points till the end of the semester. I make my breakfast most days and don’t eat at the dining hall for dinner (when it’s the most expensive), but I always make sure I eat there for lunch to get my nutrients of the day.

Even though campus is surrounded by myriads of food places, I don’t eat out by myself that much. Lately I’ve been eating out about once a week, and if I eat out it’s usually with someone else or to treat myself. I spend money on groceries, because I believe that eating well is worth every penny, but I don’t think eating out is that worthwhile, especially as most restaurants (and even the dining halls themselves) don’t offer the healthiest food options.

Exercise. This is where I like to have the most fun in. I like to mix exercising with sports, so I joined my uni’s recreational figure skating team at the start of the year. Besides that, what I have been doing on my own is explore the exercise opportunities that I can do. As a student at my university, I get free access to the gym – including the myriads of cardio, strength-training and other group classes that it offers. Lately, I’ve been very into power yoga, which I do about 2-3 times a week. On other days, I like to combine nature with exercising, so I go hiking or for a run. I don’t exactly live in the safest neighborhood, so I can’t really go that far, but I can go far enough.


All these three things are bound together: if you sleep well, you will eat well, and you will exercise well. If you fail on sleep, you will need to compensate it with a nap during the day, depriving you of your exercise-time. If you don’t eat well, you will most likely not have the energy to do things as well, such as exercising. If you don’t exercise, I find that it makes it harder for me to sleep at a consistent time every day, thus disrupting my sleep cycle.

I was down with a cold for nearly 2 months since the start of the Fall semester, and it most definitely took a toll on my performance. There were some weeks in which my cough prevented me from falling asleep peacefully at night, or I coughed so much during class that I found myself not able to speak up when I had something to say, or not being able to breathe normally because my nose was so clogged up. I would come home from school tired and beat. This persistent told made me realize that I have a weak immune system, so it’s even more important that I take care of the aspects of my health that I do have control over. Stress, anxiety and other worries affect my immune system, but if I take control over my lifestyle, I will be able to manage my health much better.

This just comes to show that we each have different needs, strengths and weaknesses that are individual to each of us. I’m prone to getting cold (and getting a cold) easily, which means that I have to pay special attention to how I take care of myself accordingly. Understanding what your body needs and finding your own balance is the key to keeping you healthy.

-Michelle

summer days in college

It’s a strange feeling, starting college in the summer. When everyone’s leaving school, and you’re just starting. But this is also what makes it all the more special. Waking up everyday to the sun shining and going to bed not too long after the sun sets. This made the days seem longer than they were, and it helped me seize the day after classes.

Students were from all over the place. Most of them were incoming freshmen or transfer students, but a lot were from other places too. Some were international students – they were just here for the summer. Others were from community college, and there were even high school students taking the same classes as we were. The thing I loved most about this was the diversity that was naturally created. The diversity in class, personal background and experience, even if many of the students came from similar ethnic and racial backgrounds. But it was a bummer, meeting great people only to learn later that they were just there for the summer.

After a few weeks of moving in, I grew comfortable with my being in this new setting. I woke up and went to bed at regular times, ate my (healthy) meals everyday, and exercised by trying out all the martial arts clubs and taking all kinds of group exercise classes offered at my university’s gym. As for academics, I gradually became more comfortable as I learned to handle the workload based on the difficulty of the class. Fortunately, none of the courses I took were excruciatingly difficult, unlike other (STEM) classes I heard about. I spent the first few weeks of school studying and working in the comforts of my dorm room. My (lovely) roommate was an extrovert who spent most of her time in the floor lounge, so I often had the room to myself. I could work on my desk or on my bed with comfy clothes on, nap whenever I needed (or wanted) to, eat food I took (*stole*) from the dining hall, and stare longingly out my window.

But then I started hunting for other study spots. I am in a triple room for the academic year, so holing myself up in my room is not always a viable option. I have found some great libraries on campus and outdoor spots to work peacefully, but I don’t know how that’s gonna work out once the influx of freshmen come in.

Though I decided to start college in the summer to get a head start with my courses right away (after a long gap year), my days in summer were not defined by my classes; rather, it was working out my new life and seeing how my classes fit into them.

As summer was nearing its end, however, my ‘disciplined’ life was completely thwarted. I stopped sleeping 8-9 hours a day, but I often found myself more awake than I had been when I did hit those hours. I stopped exercising regularly, and instead tried to make the adventures that we did into some form of exhilarating activity. I stopped eating with a healthy conscience, and instead enjoyed each meal that we tried together. As a pretty uptight girl, I would have been pretty concerned with this sudden change of self.

But it all happened from one day to the next, and it happened all so naturally. Though I will continue to see most of the people that I’ve met in the summer, I will rarely (if ever) see some of them again. So I tried to make the most of it with them, and it made this summer an incredible one. Some of our days were filled with sunrise yoga, feeding squirrels all over campus, and a (long and tedious) hike to see the night sky, while others consisted of taking (adventurous) walks, watching films and having late night (sleepy) talks. It was exciting and heartwarming exploring my new home with people I had just met, yet become so close with. They taught me that it wasn’t really about what or how much we did in the time we had, but rather about how we did them, together.

As summer has ended, I look back at it with a pang of nostalgia that I’ve become familiar with. But this time, though I’ll continue to live here for the rest of my college years, nothing will be the same as it was this past summer. The faces I used to see everyday – even if I rarely interacted with them – will now be faces I see amidst a crowd, rarely. The people I used to have class with, some I might not even see at all. Those I used to dine and play ping pong with, will no longer be there. As much as I wanted to deny it, I had become more attached than I had intended.

But that’s ok. It’s the fleetingness in our life that allows us to treasure our times together and make the most of it.

Love, 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

things i did in my gap year

One of the hardest things about my gap year was keeping track of my progress by myself. With no teachers grading me and no classes to attend to, with what means do I even measure my progress?

For me, it was a matter of trial and error before I found out what worked best for me. I started my gap year with a list of things I believed I wanted to accomplish, and every month I would review and tweak parts of it. You can see how my goals changed from 2016 to 2017 on this page. Below, I will comment on each of the 5 categories that I worked on in the past year. I hope you enjoy!

work

This involves college applications, classes I took online, and anything academics-related.

2016: A lot of my focus inevitably went towards my college applications – retaking a few standardized tests, researching for colleges, drafting dozens of essays, and all that stuff. The only part that I truly cherish from this arduous process are the essays. I could see how much my thoughts, mentality and writing style had changed since the previous year. As someone who writes, blogs and journals frequently, it was really uplifting to tangibly see my progress.

Additionally, I took some classes that I was interested in academically. This included psychology (one of my intended majors), coding, and a little of web design. I took these courses on Coursera and Codecademy, and though I didn’t love taking classes, they gave me the general insight I needed to become familiar with these fields.

2017: This year was very different. I focused a lot of my education in other ways (that you’ll see later in this post), and mainly brainstormed and planned long-term goals for college. I realized that I am very much interested in psychology and cognitive science in college, looked into other possible minors, researched the clubs and organizations available at my college (once I knew where I would be attending), looked into the ‘different’ types of classes and opportunities available, and mapped out a general 4-year plan for college. So, very college-focused, but also very concentrated on my interests.

health

This includes activities directly related to my emotional, mental and physical wellbeing.

2016: I tried out so many activities and classes this year: meditation, yoga, Pilates, Systema (a Russian self-defense martial arts), ballet, and strength-trained jogged, biked and roller skated on my own. I did not stick with all of these, but they allowed me to understand and take care of my body much better.

2017: I continued taking classes on ballet and Systema – both which I absolutely loved. I learned about beauty and poise in ballet, and the myriad of bio-mechanic skills that Systema taught me opened my understanding about the human body. I also started jogging more, and experienced runner’s high in my first 10k (6.2 miles) race for the first time! I continued to meditate when I needed to (though not as religiously as before), and strength-trained when I deemed it fit. This year was a continuation and consolidation of the activities that I believe helped me most.

personal

All about things that I deeply love and cherish: books, mistyprose (blogging), writing and creativity-related activities

2016 and ’17: I read 100+ books and started a new challenge of reading the world. I got more into photography and learned more about my ‘aesthetic’. I joined the bullet journal community, explored different styles of journaling – morning pages, 5-minute morning journal, gratitude journal, among others. I loved all these activities.

But my proudest personal achievement was creating mistyprose. It started out as The Sapphire, a blog about books, but as my passions started to shift during my gap year, so did the focus of my blog. Earlier this year, I ‘re-branded’ my blog as mistyprose, and realized that my content was varied, but also with a touch of my own style. I promote my blog through Instagram and Tumblr, platforms where I could share my photography too. A few months ago, after getting my (first) camera, I decided to try making videos. As more of a blogger person, this became a new but exciting field to me that I’ve yet to explore further.

wanderlust

This is about traveling, learning new languages, socializing, and volunteering.

2016: Fresh out of high school, I was so eager to travel during my gap year. I thought that backpacking around the world would make me into an independent adult, and I couldn’t wait to get started. However, my (tiger) mom thankfully prevented me from making such rash decisions, as I am a young and naive girl, fresh out of high school. So I started learning languages. I got into German, but couldn’t find my connection with it so I dropped it. I took up American Sign Language (ASL), having learnt Peruvian Sign Language already. I then also started learning Italian, and I loved it.  I also became the translation coordinator for this huge and admirable NGO, something that makes me proud to say.

2017: This year, I realized that I don’t need to physically travel to satisfy my wanderlust soul. I travel when I read books. I travel when I walk to the park and see the sky and the trees with a renewed sense of wonder. I can travel whenever and however. Traveling can be fun, and it’s always an amazing experience to have. But the fallacy in only wanting to travel is not seeing the value of the things that are surrounding you already.

Additionally, I continued learning Italian and ASL, by taking online lessons and/or reading about them. The most important step, however, was my decision to start learning Chinese again. Mandarin Chinese is my first language, but I barely know how to read or write in it. It was after visiting my family in Taiwan in early 2017 that I realized that I needed to learn to communicate properly in Chinese.

music

Instruments and music-related endeavors.

2016 and ’17: Music has been an integral part of my life ever since I was young. I still remember seeing a cello for the first time back in 3rd grade, and watching my cello teacher play the instrument with such expertise and ease. Thus, I learned the cello for several years at school, and then got into the national music conservatory. A year later I joined the national youth symphony orchestra, and then went back to taking private lessons again.

Though I am far from being able to call myself a true cellist, my journey with my cello has been a wholesome one. I learned what ‘passion’ means from other musicians; I saw the hardworking class of the music industry in Peru; and I learned a valuable skill that I will try to cherish for the rest of my life. My gap year allowed me to understand why music is important to me. I went out of my comfort zone and taught violin at a public school; violin’s not my specialty, but I know the theory well enough to teach beginner students.

Something new that I started doing in 2017 was teach myself the piano. My brother used to play the piano a lot, so we have a keyboard at home. I purchased a few beginner books and easy pieces on the Kindle, and that got me started. I love the sound of the piano, but whether I will continue this during college is another matter that I’ll have to decide later on.


So. I read, learned and discovered many things in my gap year, but I did not do so without endless nights of pondering about my personal interests and periods of self-doubt and distress. However, as I look back into this year with sweet reminiscence, I cannot help but be grateful for all that I’ve gained since then. My ‘hardships’ cannot compare to what many have to endure in their lives, but it has allowed me to see past my insecurities with greater faith. As Viktor Frankl once said,

If there is meaning in life at all, then there must be meaning in suffering.

-Michelle