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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!



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.


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.


FOMO in college

Now that i’m in college, it’s easier to think back and reminisce about the things I liked the most about school: the consistent routine, the predictability of my school environment, and going back to my precious home at the end of the day.

As an introvert, I rejoiced in the alone time I had at home. Away from the buzz of school activities, I could work without major external distractions. Over the weekends, I gradually learned to say ‘no’ to outings with friends/acquaintances when I didn’t feel like going, in favor of more time to work on my passion projects.

During my gap year, while everyone else was progressively moving on with their lives at college, I learned to be okay with doing my own things. Long periods of self-reflection and pondering about my future allowed me to bring more meaning into my life. But getting comfortable with being alone by myself has always been a challenging phase at every step of my life.

College has not been an exception. The first 2 weeks of living on campus have made me realize that I can rarely be alone without feeling like I’m missing out on something. The nights that I spend working in my room, I can hear laughter erupting every few minutes in the lounge room a few walls away from my seat. Weekend (party) nights start on Thursday here, which means that these nights I go to sleep with loud music soothing me to sleep.

On top of being an introvert, I can also be shy and awkward in unfamiliar situations. My introversion makes me want to be alone most of the time. My awkwardness makes me recoil whenever I act or say something awkwardly. My shyness prevents me from approaching a group of people in the middle of whatever it is that they’re doing or talking about. The struggle is real.

Of course, there are moments in which I put myself out there. Moments in which I just shove my introversion aside, or go forth despite my awkwardness and shyness. But, oftentimes, I can no longer retrieve into my room without feeling guilty for not being or doing more of something. Should I be hanging out more with my floor mates? Should I be making more ‘social’ plans over the weekend? Am I doing enough?

FOMO and such feelings are not new to me, and I’m sure that all of you have experienced this at some point in your lives. Even as an shy and awkward introvert, having a well-balanced social life is crucial for my happiness and emotional wellbeing. It can influence my self-esteem, ability to focus on my work, and emotional stability. But FOMO in college is a new scene for me, and the novelty of everything makes this task extra-daunting.

But it’s now 3 weeks since I moved into campus, and these lingering feelings of FOMO and self-doubt are slowly being overcast by understanding what my priorities are. Though I can be vulnerable and tempted to my social surroundings, keeping grounded to who I am and what I want have been helpful in allowing me to make peace with the things that I miss out on. At the end of the day, I’m happier having control of my own actions, rather than just responding to my external stimuli.