Notes from Stanford: Looking back on my freshman fall quarter

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Well, I did it. I managed to survive my very first quarter as a college student at Stanford—and I really do mean survive. I always knew freshman fall was going to be a struggle because I’d be trying to adjust to living on my own, meeting new people and making new friends, taking my first college-level classes, and generally trying to make the most of my Stanford experience. But I really didn’t expect the sheer amount of “struggles” I ended up facing over these ten weeks!

In a nutshell, the whole quarter can be summed up in one sentence: this quarter, I learned a lot about myself. Yes, I learned a lot in my classes, and I learned a lot from the many new people I met, but at the end of the day, the most valuable thing I took from this quarter was all that I learned about me.

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Outside the Caltrain station in San Francisco

Coming into my own skin

I walked into my first day at Stanford pretty sure of who I was, what my values are, and what I wanted from my college experience. But it was only a matter of days before all of that broke down, and I found myself spending much of the quarter just trying to pick up the pieces and rebuild.

It’s actually a little shocking to look back and see how much I’ve changed since high school, but at the end of the day the thing I wanted the most from my Stanford experience was personal growth, so in another sense it’s comforting to see how much I’ve grown in just the past quarter.

In high school, I considered myself a pretty strong introvert. I was definitely able to speak to people and to make friends, but I wasn’t particularly social—if anything, the thought of long periods of social interaction just sounded completely and utterly draining, which sometimes comes as a shock to people who know me (because I really do love to talk). But just this past summer while I was doing an internship at a Dallas children’s hospital, my boss (who’s known me for the past six years) said that I’d probably stop considering myself an introvert once I went to college. I didn’t believe her, but she ended up being completely right.

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Dorm trip to San Francisco

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Notes from Stanford: Surviving the first three weeks

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Picture this: a student bikes furiously through Main Quad, messenger bag straddling his hip, his wrinkly lab coat still on. In his right hand, he’s clutching a small paper to-go container filled with the tabbouleh that he’d just made earlier that day. And then, as he comes up to the turn to exit the main quad, he squeezes his left break, but then—the front wheel of the bike stops—the back wheel keeps spinning—BAM. Bulgur and chopped vegetables scatter across the floor, and passersby slow down and stop to make sure the student is okay.

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Pre-accident

In case you haven’t guessed, that was me on only the second day of classes. The worst part of my first bike accident (other than it being completely self-caused and not even a collision of some sort)? The reason I didn’t have any injuries was because I’m an embarrassing pre-med who was biking all the way across campus still wearing my lab coat from the chemistry lab I was coming back from.

My first three weeks at Stanford—New Student Orientation for the first week and two full weeks of classes right after—have been a roller-coaster that’s half “best thing ever” and half trainwreck. I actually won the dorm’s unofficial “Person Who Had the Worst First Week of Classes” award because I had to shuffle nearly my entire class schedule in the first couple days—and then of course there was the biking accident! Even though my preliminary study list had 17 units of classes, a fairly heavy load for first-quarter Stanford freshmen, I reached a low of 6 units—full-time students take at least 12—by Tuesday evening after my Tagalog class got moved to a time that conflicts with my chemistry lab, my Human Biology class ended up being only juniors and seniors (turns out it was an upper-division class!), and my class on Economic Policies of the Presidential Candidates turned out to be not right for me.

Ultimately I ended up at a resonable 14 units: chemistry, a class in writing & rhetoric that looks at the rhetoric of “success,” an introductory seminar on race and politics (a class I got off the waitlist for), a weekly lecture series in the medical school about physicians and social responsibility, and a once-a-week seminar offered only to residents of my dorm that explores gender, sexuality, and identity in American culture. Luckily, what started as an awful first couple days of class, mostly because I didn’t actually know which classes I was even taking, quickly became a first-quarter class schedule that I really love—even chemistry, whose workload continues to be the bane of my Stanford existence, has one of the most engaging and interesting professors I’ve met so far.

Of course, Stanford isn’t all academics, and if it was I would probably go completely insane because, at least for me, the classes are extremely challenging. In the past three weeks, I went to my first service event to help combat world hunger. I went to my first football watch party (Stanford vs. UCLA) at Stanford Stadium and sprinted across the field to get a free Snuggie. I went on my first boba tea run with friends. I rode on a hover-board for the first time. I made my first meal all on my own, did my laundry by myself for the first time, and learned how to quickly wash the glasses that I drink out of every day. I went to my first frat party (would not recommend), as well as a less gross party that had free samosas (would definitely recommend, even if the samosas went fast). I got to watch as friends had In-n-Out for the first time, and I got to eat greasy food at one of Stanford’s late night eateries. I went to my first Stanford home football game and sprayed my hair red for the first time. I got to go to San Francisco with my dorm and explore the city by foot. And most excitingly of all, I’ve gotten to know some really great people from all over the country and from all different backgrounds.

Stanford, and even just being in college, is by no stretch of the imagination easy. But already, nearly one month since I first moved in, it already feels like home.

Stanford: A New Chapter

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These past few weeks have been more grueling and difficult than I ever could’ve imagined. For many high school seniors, the months of March and April are a fairly exciting and nerve-wracking time since most college decisions come out in the second half of March, giving everyone about a month between acceptances and matriculation deadlines (usually May 1). But for me, the whole month of April came down to deciding between two colleges I had completely fallen in love with, a most difficult choice.

Over the past few years, I’ve written about some of the colleges I had been dreaming about—Columbia, Harvard, Georgetown, and the University of Texas at Austin, to name the major ones. I was guaranteed acceptance into UT Austin since Texas law requires them to provide automatic admission for Texas students in the top 8% of their high school class, but in February I was accepted into two honors programs I really wanted to be a part of: Plan II honors, an interdisciplinary liberal arts program, and Health Science Scholars, a departmental honors program in the College of Natural Sciences.

For about a solid month or so, I really thought I was going to UT. I was excited about the thought of living in Austin, getting to do research in my freshman year as part of Health Science Scholars, and having the opportunity to intern at the Texas Capitol (they only accept Plan II students) and do actual policy work (as my state representative explained). But then things changed in mid-March, when I got a letter from Brown University saying I can expect to be admitted on March 31, the day that all Ivy League acceptances come out.

Needless to say, I got incredibly excited about the thought of going to Brown. Brown had an Open Curriculum, which meant that I wouldn’t have any general education requirements and would thus have way more space to explore different fields of study. It was in Providence, Rhode Island, which fit my dream of being at an East Coast (read, Ivy League) school, and Providence itself is charming, friendly, and beautiful. And unlike the rest of the Ivy League, it’s quite laid-back and it doesn’t have the same pretentious quality around it, despite being one of the best schools in the entire country. But then, over Easter break, I got the most shocking and unexpected news.

I got into Stanford. Continue reading

Dreaming of the Future

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I’ve always been a dreamer, fantasizing about the future. And never have I done that more than now, with most of the college application process behind me—I just have to wait for decisions this spring before I can decide where I’m spending the next four years of my life.

Maybe this is the product of watching too much Scandal, the TV show about Olivia Pope and her crisis-management firm in Washington, D.C., but I’ve been dreaming a lot about living the White House. (Yes, the one the president of the United States lives in.) I love to imagine what it’d be like to be president, what kind of policies I’d push in my first term, and how I’d shape the future of the country. But as much as I like to joke about being president someday because of my love for politics and finding solutions to world issues, I know that a lot has to go right in my life for that to happen—the whole “political experience” thing is kind of a prerequisite to actually be taken seriously, so I’d probably have to work my way up to a governor or U.S. senator first.

Beyond just the White House, I’ve been dreaming a lot about Washington, D.C. I visited D.C. in 2014 and it’s definitely one of my favorite cities in the world so far—it has delicious food, it’s incredibly diverse, it has an abundance of resources (like the Library of Congress), and it has tons of things going on. That, and its subways are way cleaner than New York City’s. I’ve been picturing myself living there more and more, and since my dream career has always been something along the lines of international healthcare, being in the U.S. capital close to a myriad of international embassies can’t hurt.

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The U.S. Capitol from afar.

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Goodbye, 2015: A Year in Photos

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I’m just gonna come right out and say it: 2015 pretty much sucked. Very little went the way I hoped it would, and I definitely got thrown some major and awful curveballs. Luckily, 2015 is almost over and a new year is around the corner, and with a new year comes new opportunities and new chances.

However, I don’t want to end the year on a negative note, so I thought I’d look back through the better times of 2015… through pictures.

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My brother and I climbed 53 flights of stairs as part of the Big D Climb to raise money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Continue reading

It’s been a while: an update

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Wow, it sure has been a while since I’ve last posted—about half a year, in fact. The last time I wrote on here, I shared that my younger brother Jude was diagnosed with cancer for the second time. When I’ve shared about his first cancer experience, I mentioned that finding another bone marrow donor would be incredibly difficult considering Jude and I are mixed race. But miraculously, we found another donor who was also a perfect match—a woman in Germany. Jude had his marrow transplant in the beginning of September, and since then, everything has been looking pretty good.

As for the rest of my life, senior year of high school has been… an experience for sure. While junior year was incredibly stressful because of my classes and extracurriculars (I blame you, AP Physics!), senior year has been a small sigh of relief—most of the classes I’m taking are classes that truly interest me, I spend less actual time in class since most of my classes are four days a week instead of five days, and there’s just less general wailing and gnashing of teeth since first semester of senior year is one of the lightest course loads I’ve had since freshman year (although the flip side of that is that I have a much heavier course load—one of my heaviest ones—in the spring)!

But despite that, my classes are still harder than last year, and college applications have been eating me alive from the inside. I’m so incredibly excited about going to college next year, but I just don’t want to actually do the applications—writing essays and stressing out about resumes and activities aren’t exactly super fun. I applied to my first-choice school just yesterday, and I’m now just waiting until December to hear back from them so my fingers are crossed and I’m hoping for the best! (Also, if you happen to be an admissions officer from said school, I would be overjoyed if you accepted me!)

Yet even in the craziness that is the college admissions cycle, I’ve had a chance to really reflect on what I find personally important in my life—things like writing, advocacy work, and volunteering. And now that I must resign myself to a little over a month and a half of waiting for a decision, I’ll at least have the chance to take a break and do things for me without the threat of college application deadlines looming. And one of those things is sharing more on this blog and on Bok Choy and Broccoli.

See you soon!

It’s cancer. Again.

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This is my brother, Jude. He’s ten years old. And in December 2010, he had a bone marrow transplant that saved his life.

Today, I found out that his cancer has returned.

I’m just completely and utterly shocked, and never in a million years would I have expected this. I still secretly don’t believe this is happening, and I really think this could be just a really bad dream or an elaborate April Fool’s joke everyone is in on except for me. But the waves of guilt and anxiety and fear and anger have been crashing down on me, and no matter who I tell or how many times I tell people, I just can’t get these feelings to go away.

“It’s not your fault,” I was told by every single person I talked to today. “It’s not your fault.” It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault. The words sear into my head with the intensity and pain of a hot branding iron.

With each repetition of this phrase, I don’t feel any better. It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault that Jude relapsed. It’s not your fault that your bone marrow didn’t work. And it’s not your fault that he’s going through this again. My mind becomes numb as I hear this phrase repeated over and over and over and over. It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault.

But no matter how many times people tell me it’s not my fault, that I shouldn’t feel guilty for my brother getting cancer a second time, the feelings of guilt don’t go away. I feel guilty for every time he came in my room and asked me if I wanted to do something. I feel guilty for every time he asked if I wanted to watch a movie with him. And I feel guilty for every time he asked me if I would watch him play video games. If I could go back in time, I would’ve stopped whatever I was doing to just be with him, before he was in pain, before it became too difficult for him to smile.

KERA, Dallas’ NPR affiliate, did a feature on my brother’s cancer story and recovery that ended just last week about how we’ve moved on from the cancer experience and what we’ve taken with us. When I was asked whether or not I worry about Jude’s health, I answered with a resounding “No.” I don’t worry because Jude’s health will be fine. Yet, I was proven wrong in the worst way possible. The “He’s been cured” line I told everyone back then is now a lie.

“I don’t know how I’ll get through this” has been my anthem today. And as I write this, I still have absolutely no idea how I’ll be able to cope. All I want is a sense of normality. “Normal” is the result I’m searching for but one I know is impossible to achieve. Because “normal” means my parents come home, my brother goes back to playing on the laptop at his desk, I go back to worrying about my physics class, and my brother doesn’t have cancer again.

When I was told that Jude’s leukemia returned, a few thoughts rushed into my mind. How will I ever get through this again? It was a fairly typical response, a textbook reaction of someone in my situation. But what surprises me is what my next immediate thoughts were. Will I have to email my teachers and ask for extensions on tests and homework? What does this mean for my extracurriculars? Am I still allowed to be as involved at my school as I currently am? Has everything I’ve been working towards for the last three years just been thrown out the window for something that’s “not my fault”? It feels incredibly selfish to wonder about what happens to me first, and maybe it’s not what everyone expects—or wants—me to worry about, but that’s all I can think of. And I just can’t even fathom how much longer my brother will be a cancer patient, what that will mean, and whether we’ll both make it out of this mess.

At this point, what I really want is to clear to me, and there are only a few things that I really want right now. I really want a strawberry-banana smoothie that’s thick, but still thin enough I can drink it through a straw. I really want to go to the library and check out a book on sociology that I’ve kept on hold for the past few days. I really want to reach a conclusion on whether or not I’m taking psychology next year and which class I’d have to give up to take it. And I really want to wake up.