i was rejected from every college i applied to

Four years ago, I broke into tears as I opened the last of my 14 college rejection letters. No waitlists, just rejections. I was absolutely crushed. I didn’t understand. I couldn’t take it. I sat there crying inconsolably, my mom shaking her head next to me and my brother at a loss of words in the video call. I avoided friends and people whom I knew were going to ask the long-awaited “Where are you going for college?” for the next several months, embarrased of myself. Disappointed. Angry. Ashamed. Lost.

I had molded my identity into the ideal college applicant, one that was unrecognizable to my true self.

All my life I had been taught to work towards college. I had internalized the idea that getting a higher education was my path to success. I had molded my identity into the ideal college applicant, one that was unrecognizable to my true self. I had the grades and test scores, the extracurriculars and that “spike” that I was told would made me stand out in the applicant pool.

In one sweep of a moment, the identity that had been crafted for myself throughout my teenage years vanished.

Turns out I was wrong, wrong, wrong. In one sweep of a moment, the identity that had been crafted for myself throughout my teenage years vanished. While the colleges that I applied were the most competitive in the world, and thus the rejections were not surprising – they didn’t sting any less. I thought I had lost it all, because I failed to achieve what was then my only goal in life.

The college rejections didn’t end once I got into college the following year; they followed me to my freshman year of college, in conversations surrounding our age and my background. They followed me to my sophomore year of college, in the looks of faces of people who thought I was still underage, when in reality I was already of legal age. The looks of disbelief on their faces never stung less, and I learned to be cautious about who I revealed my age to. It didn’t matter what they said after they got over the initial shock; the fact that they had been taken aback that I had turned 20 as a college freshman said plenty already. It felt like everyone was mocking me like I had been set back a year, like I hadn’t been capable of measuring up to their level when I was their age. To this day, I am still reluctant to share my birthdate with most people.

The thing that really ate away at my confidence was the privilege that I felt unworthy of. I have supportive parents in a financially stable household. I always have. My dad’s struggles growing up made him determined to provide me with a stable upbringing and enriching education, and I did. I attended a private bilingual school. My mom packed all my lunches and drove me to all my music practices and other extracurriculars. I even had private tutors for different test preparations. I did the IB programme in school, while also taking the SAT, ACT, SAT Subject Tests, and TOEFL. I could afford all the test fees. I could also afford the fees of applying to multiple colleges. I could afford to take a gap year while staying at home and not having to work. I was so privileged, which is why I felt like an utter failure when none of it had paid off.

Four years have passed since the day I realized I wouldn’t be attending college that same year. Four years have passed, and the thought of it still triggers my insecure self. Flashbacks of people commenting about how “surprised” they were that I was a year older than they were, yet they were a grade higher than I was, still sting. The privilege that I associated with my gap year only hardened the blow. I was the privileged brat who only got into college because she had the financial means to fund for everything.

The thing is, none of these insecurities are actually real. They were only a failure because I chose to see them as such; they were only a burden because I made them so. The truth of the matter is, I only entered college a year (and a half) later than most people. I ended up attending a reputable school through continued effort and hard work – though the reputation of the university means less to me now than it did back then. The extra time  that I had before college allowed me to solidify my career plans, and I was able to lock down my majors in cognitive science and psychology, with a minor in Chinese, freshman year of college. I may have “lost” time not starting college with peers my age, but I gained it by starting college with a plan that I was confident about. My financial privilege and supportive parents were the backbone to my subsequent successes, something that I am blessed with and am eternally grateful for.

The thing is, none of these insecurities are actually real. They were only a failure because I chose to see them as such; they were only a burden because I made them so.

Just like I am still working on letting go of the “ideal student” identity that I had been taught to internalize at a young age, I am also letting go of the judgment of others. I have lived my entire life trying to please everyone – my parents, teachers, friends, peers, strangers, society – that I internalized all their opinions about me without first questioning whether that was what I wanted to do. In many cases, I wasn’t given a chance to develop my own voice. But I also chose not to have a voice, because I thought that only others knew what was best for me. 

At the end of the day, the only judgment that I need to let go of is the one I have of myself.

I thought I was truly starting to get to know myself when I got into college, but the habit of wanting to do things for the sake of others, to please others, crawled its way back. I realized that, while everyone’s opinion matters, their opinion of me has no weight on my identity. None of the derisive comments about my age and privilege are real, just like none of the expectations of others are there unless I want them to be. Only I think so much about myself, only I can question and criticize and mold myself as much. At the end of the day, the only judgment that I need to let go of is the one I have of myself.

As I am approaching my college graduation in December of this year, I find myself thinking back to this transitional moment in my life. I find myself realizing that I have – again – put my self-worth, effort and values into my work. On whether I get accepted into said job or not. Whether they like me or not. If I’m good enough for them, or not. This continuous cycle of living under the mercy of others will be the death of me, and so I am killing it. I am killing the negative thoughts and insecure beliefs that have plagued my entire life. I am ridding myself of the people-pleaser identity that had grown on me. I am shedding my past, because my identity is no longer determined by the things that are no longer part of my present life. My identity is based on who I choose to be now, and I choose myself.


feeling inadequate

I’m not exactly sure where it stems from. Maybe it’s the culture that I come from. Maybe it’s the environment that I grew up in. Maybe it’s just my personality. But ever since primary school, I remember just dreading new opportunities because of this irrational fear of never being able to be good enough. It didn’t help that I was a very shy, nervous and self-conscious kid. There was always this unexplainable fear that I was never going to measure up to them, and even now this feeling can get so overwhelming it becomes unbearable. Even having conquered so many failures and challenges in my life so far, I am still that same scared kid every time a new situation comes my way. Let me elaborate.

I am currently a junior in college. I’m studying for a double major in Psychology and Cognitive Science, as well as a minor in Chinese. For the most part, I have been able to learn a lot and cope with my college life just fine. There are always instances in which I’m mentally challenged, and though there is always a solution, lately I have not been handling them as well.

I’m taking a computer science class for my major, and though the class is purely graded by assignments, I found myself spending countless hours completing just one assignment. Going to office hours and googling things did little to help me, as I could barely conceptually understand the material. I initially handled this situation by scolding and punishing myself internally, which led to a lot of thoughts of incompetence and “you’re just not good enough.” Eventually, I decided to reach out and get a tutor, despite my initial fear that even a tutor wouldn’t be able to help me pass this class. But now, I have a tutor, am (kind of) learning, and will be able to pass the class just fine. My issue was fixating too much on my inadequacy and blaming myself for my situation, instead of challenging that energy towards finding a viable solution.

This situation is a good example of being challenged with a task that is beyond what you can do, so much that you are tempted to find a loophole or give up. However, I was initially too focused on the task itself (i.e. the assignments themselves) instead of branching out and thinking of ways that would help me perform well in the class (i.e. reaching out for help and getting myself a tutor). There will almost always be instances in which the solution is beyond what you’re capable of at that moment. But there are also other ways to look at the same situation and approach it in a different way, even if all seems hopeless at the current moment. Let me provide you with another example.

I am trying to become a UX Designer when I graduate. The only work opportunity that my university offers is through a design consultancy club. I applied for it last semester, and got rejected. When I followed-up with my interviewers, I was told that my application was really good, but I wasn’t accepted simply because there were too many applicants. I worked really hard on my application, but was ultimately rejected due to the circumstances. But I told myself that I simply wasn’t good enough. I told myself that I didn’t have the skills that they wanted, and for several weeks I believed that I would never be hired because I just wasn’t good enough. I berated myself internally, punishing myself with words I would never whisper to a child. It was detrimental to my confidence level, and it did nothing to help me work towards my goal.

Nevertheless, this semester I applied and I got in. You would think that I would be elated after having gotten rejected the prior semester, and I was – for a few hours. Then the voices in my head awakened: “If you gave your all to get accepted into a club, how much harder can you work to measure up to their level?” “You’re going to have to work with other people, but are you sure you can do it? Are you?” “You still don’t have an internship.” They were vicious, they were brutal, and they were loud.

Several weeks have passed since I got into the club and the project that I’m working on (with a team and client) is ongoing. The problems that I feared weren’t as bad as I thought, and I have been able to cope just fine. The problem was never about them, it was always about me and how I spoke to myself. The self-degrading voices in my head made me recoil into the self that I feared the most – a self-sabotaging act of tragedy.

I have been talking a lot about not feeling good enough in the academic and career settings, but these feelings also surface a lot in my daily lives as well. 

As a college student, I am obviously surrounded by a lot of people my age. Parties and social gatherings where drinking is the social norm are a source of my insecurity as well. I can deal just fine with small gatherings where I get along with everyone, but at events with more people and alcohol included, I just cringe at myself. I understand that I don’t have to drink if I don’t want to, and that it’s fine if I don’t. The thing that bothers me is seeing others loosen up from alcohol and be able to dance and talk freely to others. I am a pretty tense person already; loosening up, dancing and talking to others rarely happens to me. In those moments where I’m surrounded by all these people, I wish I could just loosen up like everyone else. But I can’t, and more often than not, I slip away from the party.

Please keep in mind that all the situations I elaborated above do not encompass my entire life. For the most part, I enjoy my life thoroughly, even if by myself. The situations above create insecurities and fear within me that I am still trying to understand and deal with. Sometimes, all it takes is for someone to say something or act a certain way to make me feel self-conscious. I am trying to understand this deeply ingrained insecurity of mine, and I think constant exposure to these insecurities (i.e. challenges) is something that I will continue doing to help me achieve that. I’m a work in progress, and I’m okay with it.


lessons from this semester in college

I am halfway through my junior year in college. I’m still having trouble assimilating this, as I still remember sitting in the car with my dad, right outside my dorm room the start of my freshman year. It was not long after my brother had graduated from college. He told me, almost nostalgically, “In a blink of an eye you’ll be graduating too, you know?” I had nodded absentmindedly; I was more worried about my soon-to-be roommates and the new life I was going to have to adjust to. But, in the blink of an eye, 2.5 years of college have gone by and I’m baffled as to how it all went by so… fast. It’s easy to dismiss your parents’ nostalgic comments about time flying by, but you begin to know how they feel when you feel the fleetingness of time yourself. 

Every semester in college has brought me its own challenges; within the classroom, in the club(s) I was immersed in, among the groups of friends I made, and in the adjusting to living away from home as a young adult. Each semester has brought unprecedented challenges, each leaving lasting impressions in my psyche. I am grateful for these experiences, but also scared about the new knowledge I have unraveled around me. I have answered lifelong questions I’ve had as a child, only to find newer and more complicated ones. College has done little to solidify my identity; if anything, it has created even more disturbance in myself. But despite the trials I’ve had to face, I am hopeful.

The following are some of the classes I took this semester in college. I was lucky to get into all the classes I wanted to enroll in, and they made me fall even more in love with my majors, psychology and cognitive science.

Developmental psychology: This class took us on an odyssey about the developing years of a human life, from the moment the baby is in the womb to the crucial first years of their life. As a psychology class, we read a lot into the research of how and why we behave the way we do at certain stages in our lives. It turned out to be a surprisingly enlightening class, as I not only learned a lot about myself and my behavior as a child, but it also allowed me to be more compassionate of other, younger children.

I learned that we use infant directed speech (aka baby talk) when talking to babies not only to aid their linguistic development, but also because that’s what we have learned to do evolutionarily; in the “hunter and gatherer” era, our voice was a way to coax our babies to listen to us, especially when we couldn’t physically do so in times of danger. This may also explain why we also use baby talk with our pets – even though we clearly know they will never learn our language the way a baby does. 

I also learned that, as teenagers, we are inevitably plagued by the so-called imaginary audience phenomena, wherein we believe that we are the center of a story and everyone is paying close attention to us. This really helped explain why I felt so self-conscioius whenever I was out anywhere public as a teenager – and it also helps rationalize why I sometimes feel that way even now. 

Psychology of sleep: I learned the detrimental, sometimes even long-lastingly so, effects of sleep-deprivation. We delved into research on the different types of sleep-deprivation, its interactions with drugs, alcohol, and mental illnesses, and came to the solid conclusion that sleep has survived the trial of time because it is, unarguably, essential to our health and survival. There is no way to fight against sleep and no way to compensate for it with anything other than sleep. Sleep drugs that are marketed to help you sleep better cannot induce natural sleep – which is the only kind of sleep that is restorative for our system. We also explored the theories of dreams, from Freud’s interpretation that they were censored versions of our repressed wishes (oh, Freud) to the idea that they serve to help us forget some memories in order to make room for new ones. We learned of really interesting cases like Kenneth Parks, a kind man who drove nearly 13 miles, let himself in the house of his in-laws, and brutally killed his mother-in-law. He was asleep during all of this, and turned himself to the police station once he realized what he had done.

There is so much research about sleep and why we need it, and the detrimental and sometimes even deadly consequences of sleep deprivation – yet we still fight against it. I find that, especially among teenagers or college students, there is some sort of pride associated with sleep deprivation, “yeah, I don’t really need that much sleep” or “I’ve only been sleeping 5 hours this past week.” Gee, if you knew that your lack of sleep now significantly makes you perform worse on daily tasks and could even affect your risks of irreversible illnesses like Parkinson’s – you would think twice about it. It baffles me why we fight against something that is so essential, so important to our existence.

If sleep were a drug, it would be a multimillion dollar industry. It is what sustains our livelihood, our health, our most essential systems to function as a healthy and happy human being. Yet, we treat it like a burden. It baffles me.

Health psychology: This class basically delved into research dealing with mental health and simply the psychology of the medical field. It brought to light research that showed significant implications of depression, anxiety, social support, and other mental health related factors on our immune system, cardiovascular health, as well as predictors of future diseases. It was incredibly enlightening and relieving to see the medical field start to operationalize mental health factors into their research.

However, this class also brought to light the essential difference between Western and Eastern medicine. Western medicine is very much concerned with science and research; if something can’t be proven, it doesn’t exist. Eastern medicine – or Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), at least – is more concerned about the human knowledge that has been passed down for centuries. A lot of what is practiced by TCM hasn’t changed much over the years, because the foundations were built long ago. Western medicine changes every few years of research or so. Each has its benefits and flaws, and each treat the human body differently. Taking this class allowed me the pleasure to see how Western medicine may be approaching the field in a more holistic and individualized way, but it also highlighted that it will stick to its scientific, research-based approach. This seems to be the dominating approach even in Eastern medicine in the modern day now, but I have strong belief in TCM and the foundations that we have built centuries ago. There are things that can’t be explained by theories or proven by research; and most importantly, science is only true until it is proven otherwise. It doesn’t withstand the test of time as well.

Introduction to linguistic science: Basically, an introductory course to linguistics. Phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, pragmatics – yeah, I am still somewhat baffled by these terms myself. But they essentially break down languages to their very basic units, and through these units we were able to compare languages and how they came to be. Something that really fascinated me was sociolinguistics, and how the very specific language that we learn can determine how we see ourselves and others.

Let me explain with the famous example of the shooting of Trayvon Martin. Martin was a black high school student who was shot to death by an adult of mixed race. Rachael Jeantel was on the phone with Martin right before he was killed, yet her testimony was completely dismissed and ridiculed. She was a speaker of African American Vernacular English (AAVE), which has some variations from the English that is generally regarded as standard. The court couldn’t understand her – perfectly spoken – English because it wasn’t in the dialect that they knew and because they didn’t have an AAVE interpreter at the time. The court ended up misinterpreting and dismissing Rachael’s testimony because… well, because it was a tragic form of racism. Who are we to decide that our language, our dialect, is superior to others? Why is it that when one form of dialect is deemed as “standard,” the others suddenly become inferior, less-than? The truth is, language is a social construct.

This class really opened my eyes to the nuances of language and its power to shape our thought. As a Taiwanese person who grew up in a foreign country, I felt conflicted when I started learning Simplified Chinese (which used in China) instead of Traditional Chinese (used in Taiwan). I felt an unspoken sense of duty to stick to my roots, but also compelled to learn what the majority considered to be “standard.” I studied abroad at an intensive language program in Beijing where they taught me the “standard” way to speak Chinese, which really showed me how much of my Taiwanese accent stood out to others. It confused me for a long time, but this class showed me that no language is superior to another. It is only regarded so because we made them so. But every language and every dialect is valid. I may be learning Simplified Chinese now, but I still cherish and value Traditional Chinese, and am striving to be able to use both interchangeably, depending on where I am.

Cognitive psychology: This class was at the intersection of my two majors: psychology and cognitive science. It was another research-based class where I learned about myriads of theories about the human mind and behavior. It wasn’t so much depth as there was breadth, but I was surprised by how much the topics we covered unleashed new thoughts and novel ideas within me. One idea that really resonated with me was mental imagery, visualizing an experience in your head. This is particularly important for experienced athletes, musicians, or artists. When I played the cello back in high school, I would notice that the best players would often fall into trance-like states while they rehearsed musical pieces with their imaginary instruments, or just in their heads. Mental practice became just as important as physical practice – but only for those who were experienced, who had memorized the movements of their artistry so finely and so accurately. Mental imagery might very well be what distinguishes the mediocre from those who excell, because the latter are basically living half their lives immersed in their art. Amazing. I had known this phenomenon all along, but finally putting a term on it felt really good. 

This semester’s classes showed me that my majors’ classes are essentially consolidating years of solid research and evidence for the theories that have been proposed thus far. It has shown me that most studies are valid until proven otherwise, which means that new research will need to be done continuously. It showed me that most people who study these majors do end up pursuing a research position in a subfield that they’re passionate about, because research is the overarching foundation. It further proved that I have no interest in pursuing such career; while my majors are both considered STEM at my university, I see them as more holistic studies of the human mind. I am excited to see what I will learn in my remaining semesters as an undergraduate, but even more excited to see what I choose to do with all this knowledge.


i’m afraid of running into people i know

It can be so awkward.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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!