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.


why it’s hard to let go

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


the natural cycle of friendships

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

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

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

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

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

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


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.


finding balance

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

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

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

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

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


living alone as an introvert

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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!