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A letter I wish I had as a college freshman

A small note before you begin:

After graduating from college and finally taking the time to reflect my past four years, I wanted to write a piece that can ground me, no matter what stage in life, when I feel lost or hit rock bottom. Whenever we enter a new space, the uncertainty of how you fit in the bigger picture can feel incredibly intimidating and lonely, but I think that sometimes we just need to remind ourselves that we’ll be okay and that everything will work out in the end. With that, I wrote a letter for myself:

***

Kim, 

You’re probably nervous about starting college. This is your first time away from home. You’re probably done setting up your room in Jameson, wondering where your roommate is. I’ll cheat a little and let you know that she’s super nice and that you’ll get along just fine.

I’m sure you can’t wait to meet your life long friends and to finally figure what your passions are. You’ll realize that some clubs weren’t meant to be, but you’ll also learn and do new things that never would have crossed your mind because of chance! Your openness to trying new experiences will bring you lots of hidden gems, and maybe lead you to a certain career path…not to drops hints or anything. 

Your next four years are going to be exhilarating and tough–for reasons you didn’t anticipate. 

I know you’re worried about classes and whether or not you’ll be smart enough. In all honesty, this should be the least of your worries. You will definitely feel dumb and yes, you will fail, i.e. bomb a couple of exams. A lot. You will be stressed out of your mind and want to drop everything 24/7 (even in your senior year so brace yourself).

But you’ll realize that you’re actually pretty smart. What’s holding you back is your mindset. You’ll find yourself in an endless loop of feeling like you can’t do it, that you’re not smart enough, and so on, but you need to realize that this isn’t productive thinking (and is imposter syndrome)! Your struggles are valid and you will get through it. You are exceptional and bright! Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, including yourself. Telling yourself what you can’t do will hold you back–and you’ll eventually realize that you are so much more capable than you think

I also know it’s hard not to compare yourself to your friends and feel inadequate, but I promise you that you are enough. I know that being surrounded by brilliant people all the time is intimidating. But I need you to realize that each person has a different journey with a special timeline, so focus on yourself and be the best version of yourself.

What many people don’t talk about are feelings of loneliness and sense of belonging when you first settle into a new space. College is such a huge place with so many people from different backgrounds. You’ll make tons of great memories with your friends, but sometimes you’ll also feel out of place because you just can’t relate. You’ll learn how much one’s upbringing can influence the hobbies, talents, and perspectives that they have. You’ll see stark differences between you and your peers because of the history that you carry. 

All of these factors can feed into imposter syndrome and make you feel like an outsider at an elite institution. I want you to know that you do belong, and that you will excel. I promise you that you’ll eventually find a community that loves and supports you. I know it takes time, but once you find your people, they’ll make you feel right at home.   

I also know that you have no idea what you’re doing most of the time. I promise that you’re on the right track and that it’s okay to still figure things out. Honestly your future self is still doing some figuring out so don’t expect to have everything mapped out from day one. Yes, it will seem like everyone around you is doing great and has set plans, but I guarantee you that the majority of those people are screaming on the inside just like you. 

Take care of yourself physically and mentally. Yes, it is very tempting to skip meals to study a bit more, or sacrifice a few hours of sleep to finish a problem set. Please remember that you’re not a machine. You need to take breaks and rest. In the long run, a couple of lost points on a lab report won’t stop you from getting a job or internship in the future. Treat your mind and body with care. You deserve to eat and sleep. Self-care is a necessity. Don’t ever feel feel guilty for spending time to do things besides school. College will romanticize all-nighters and other sacrifices for the grind, but your physical and mental health deserves much better than that. 

On the same note, don’t feel guilty for having fun and seeing friends. I know the grind is important but there are so many exciting events happening on campus all the time! Get some food with your friends. Go to a student-run show. Over the next four years you’ll be surrounded by so many talented people. You’ll soon realize that your time in college will revolve more around the people you meet and the things you do outside of class more so than your studies, so go out there and try something new. 

Your time in college will fly by and it’ll be over before you know it. So do things that interest you and don’t waste time on anything that doesn’t make you feel happy or feed into your passions. Your time is limited and you can’t do everything in 24 hours. Prioritize yourself and don’t feel bad about saying no. Your time is so precious, so fill it with activities and friends that your care about. 

I wish you the very best and I’ll see you on the other side…I won’t spoil anything for you, but I will say this–you’ll never guess where you’ll end up after you graduate, and even though you’ll feel like you’re struggling to make it through each semester, everything will fall into place because of your hardwork and willingness to try something new. You have such a bright future, so hang in there and take it easy for me.

Your future self,

Kim

Projects

[SEWING] DIY Pleated Shorts with Pockets

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted but I’m back with an exciting project! I’ve been sewing quite regularly now after graduating back in May. I’m still working on my craftsmanship as usual but am improving gradually.

The summers in Boston have been pretty brutal because of the humidity so I figured I could whip up something practical and comfortable to wear in the sweltering heat. I never made shorts prior to this project so it was a great learning experience for me in terms of 1. installing an invisible zipper, 2. making pleats, and 3. making invisible pockets.

I also decided to make shorts because most don’t fit my figure, are too short, are too long, are too tight, and so forth. Practical pockets also seem to be an issue for pants in general so in reality this project was born out of frustration with a society that refuses to make shorts that are inclusive of all body types. With that I hope you find this post useful and perhaps inspire your next sewing project!!

For this project you will need:

  • 1 yard of fabric
  • 1 zipper (at least 6+ inches)
  • 0.5 yard of lining fabric (for pockets)
  • measuring tape, ruler
  • pins

Begin by finding a pair of shorts that fit you well. Trace the back and front panel of the shorts onto your fabric. To determine the new width of your panels, divide your waist measurement by 4 and add 2 inches. We will be taking in 2 inches on each panel for the pleats so double check your numbers for this step! You should have four panels in total. If your fabric has a right side AND wrong side make sure the panels are mirrored!!!

As for the length of the panels, you can make this as long as you would like. The leg of my shorts are ~ 2 inches from the crotch and has a total length of ~ 14 inches. Draw out a pattern for the waist band (final width ~ 1.5 inches), belt loops (4) and pockets (4, with lining fabric). Allow ~ 0.25 inches for seam allowance and cut + serge each piece as needed.

Sewing the Shorts

Basic shorts after sewing along the crotch and side seams

Start by sewing the two front panels together along the crotch (but not the leg), right sides together. Repeat this step for the back panels. Join the “legs” of the panels along the crotch and then the side seams to create basic shorts.

Creating Pleats

Pleat tutorial, from left to right

There will be four pleats in total, one on each panel. To create a pleat, mark out the midpoint of the panel. Mark out the 1 inch and 2 inch point from the midpoint for a total of five marks. This will help you align the pleats and keep them uniform.

Fold along one of the one inch marks and align the 2 inch mark with the midpoint mark and sew along the midpoint mark. In this tutorial I only sewed 0.5 inches, but for the front panels sew ~ 1 – 1.5 inches and the back panels ~ 4 – 4.5 inches.

Fold the fabric along the other 1 inch mark so that the stitches from the previous step are still visible. Sew along the pre-existing stitch and be sure to back stitch near the end to secure the pleat.

Repeat these steps for the remaining pleats. Make sure that the final waist measurement is correct. If the waist is still a bit large, take in the waist by tapering the new seam into the original side seam to give the shorts a flared style.

Shorts after creating the pleats. Again, note that the seam along the midpoint marks should be 1 – 1.5 inches for the front panels and 4 – 4.5 inches for the back panels

Adding the Waist Band + Zipper

Seam rip a few inches from the top of the joined back panels to make space for the zipper. Sew the waist band along the waist of the shorts, right sides together. Fold the band in half and topstitch along the top of the waist band. Topstitch the bottom part of the waist band. If you don’t have enough fabric to cut out the whole waist band, you can cut out three separate pieces and sew the long piece on the front panels and the other two on the back. Be sure to join the pieces together before actually attaching it to the waist of the shorts. Seam rip part of the top-stitching where the zipper will be added so the waist band can be folded over the zipper during the next part.

After adding the invisible zipper

To install an invisible zipper, sew along the seam-ripped back to the point where you want the zipper to end. Iron out the zipper and position it so that it begins at the middle of the band (~1.5 in from the waist). Use an appropriate zipper foot to sew the zipper along the edges, making sure that you sew the right side of the zipper onto the right side of the fabric. Fold the waist band and re-stitch the top stitches. Be sure to top stitch vertically/next to the zipper on the waist band for a clean look.

Adding Belt Loops

Belt loops

Fold the serged edges ( 0.25 in) into the center and iron them down. Serge the ends so that they don’t lose their shape while you sew the belt loops onto the waist band. Top stitch along the sides.

Attaching the belt loop onto the waist band

Sew the belt loop onto the waist band, right sides together. Fold the belt loop over and topstitch to help the loop lie flat. Fold the end of the belt loop of the other side and top stitch this part down so that the stitching is aligned with the waist band top stitching.

Finished belt loop

Adding Invisible Pockets

Pocket lining sewn onto the pockets

Sew the pocket lining onto the pockets as shown above. Seam-rip 5 inches on each side seam of the shorts (starting ~ 1 inch from the waist). Backstitch the corners of the opening to secure the hole. Align the right side of the edge of the pocket (the side with pocket lining) to the right side of the pocket opening on the shorts. Sew along this opening, start and ending about 0.25 inches before and after the opening.

One side of the pocket attached at the side seam of the shorts

When you flip the pocket over the pocket should be joined as shown above. Top stitch along the seam you just created. Repeat this for the other side.

After attaching the other side of the pocket, sew the pockets together and trim any excess fabric. Repeat these steps for the other pocket.

The finished invisible pockets

The Final Piece!

The finished pair of shorts

Hopefully at this point you now have a nice pair of shorts that fit you well and have pockets you can actually use. As a finishing touch, I sewed a small dart at the center front of the shorts so that the fold you created aligns with the seam that joins the front panels together. I love the fit and look of these shorts so I’m excited to wear them in the summer. I hope this tutorial is helpful for you! If you have any questions please let me know 🙂

Blog

Reconnecting with the loose strings of my mother tongue

This past weekend I woke up to my dad telling me, “Chú Chu muốn nói chuyện với con. Lâu lắm chú không thấy mặt con.” Uncle Chu wants to talk to you. It’s been awhile since he’s seen you.

As he tells me this, the phone is already in my hands and trying to connect to the other side of the world.

To be honest, I freaked out a little bit. Ever since I moved away for college, I didn’t speak Vietnamese on a daily basis anymore and could feel it slipping between my fingers. While I waited for my uncle to pick up my dad’s call, I vividly remembered a phone call I had with my mom last summer. I wanted to tell her that I was finally learning how to ride a bike. For some reason I couldn’t come up with the word “xe đạp” during our phone call and instead told her that I was riding a motorbike…without a motor.

At this point if I can just survive this conversation, I’d be set.

Once the lines connected, I saw my uncle for the first time in 13 years. Even though it’s been so long, I can still recognize uncle Chu. He greets me with a warm smile and tells me that I’ve grown so much. I smile back and tell him that I still remember him.

Uncle Chu graciously guided our conversation, asking how school was, my plans after graduating college, and so on. He was surprised to find out that I was cooking my own food while I was studying, and at the fact that PhD programs pay you to get a degree. As the conversation went on, I was relieved that even though my Vietnamese wasn’t the best, I knew enough to still share important snippets of my life with my relatives. It felt nice to connect with my uncles despite the amount of time that passed.

There were definitely points in the conversation where I would try my best to translate answers that I had in English into Vietnamese…which were poorly executed. Uncle Lãm, who was also on the call, wanted to know what type of chemistry I do at school, to which I vaguely answered, “I try to find different ways to make chemicals that people already make better, or in other words, without making more trash during that the process”. Not wrong, but not the best.

After a few hours of them learning more about my life as a student and me learning about the strict educational system in Vietnam, my uncles head off to sleep and wish me the best in school. I thank them and wish them a good night.

When I hung up the call, I realized that my fear of speaking with my relatives was more trivial than I thought. Despite the amount of time that passed, my relatives were more than happy to see me in good health and vice versa. Even though I can’t connect with them at a deeper level because of my limited vocabulary, I think our genuine love and care to stay connected with our family despite the physical separation transcends language.

I’m incredibly grateful that my Vietnamese is enough for me to communicate on a basic level and to kind of read and write, but I always wonder what it’s like to actually talk with your parents. What’s it like to be close to your relatives, and to have them physically present during important milestones in your life? Generally speaking, I know a lot of Vietnamese college students who can’t speak their native tongue at all or confidently. In contrast, I also know a lot of people who are bilingual but come from other ethnicities.

My experience growing up in America was dramatically influenced by my coming from an immigrant family impacted by war. My family’s survival mindset, adopted from war, emphasized the need to assimilate to American culture and values. This led to me only taking classes in English despite being offered a bilingual option in the first grade. If I spoke in English without an accent, I’d probably be judged less by the rest of society and fit it, therefore increasing my chances of succeeding…right? If Kim watches television in English, that would also help. Kim should focus on reading books in English. It’s okay if she knows enough Vietnamese to talk to us, so long as she can fit in with society and succeed. Knowing how to read and write Vietnamese is optional, but not important.

The choices that my parents made for me as I was growing up made sense from a practical standpoint, but because of it I feel less connected to my Vietnamese identity. We still celebrated holidays like Tết (Lunar New Year), but now we also celebrate American holidays. We still ate phở and bún riêu, but we also ate burgers. Those decisions made me become a foreigner to my own culture and left me clueless about my sense of belonging. In an effort to stay connected to my culture, I still celebrate Vietnamese holidays and am still active with the Vietnamese community on campus. I’ll occasionally practice my Vietnamese using Duo Lingo (not sponsored by the way). But at the same time, I don’t feel confident speaking Vietnamese and feel very much disconnected to my relatives who still live in Vietnam.

Deep down I’m very proud to be a Vietnamese American, though I always wonder how different my life would be like had I learned how to speak Vietnamese fluently, or even grow up in Vietnam. I guess the trade off of a chance at the “American Dream” was worth it enough to leave a piece of your culture behind, but is it really? Is it really worth it if you can’t even speak to your own parents and family comfortably in your native language? I still don’t know how to navigate this to this day, but I hope that I can continue making an effort to reach out to my relatives more and spend more time with my family whenever I’m home. For the folks out there who share similar experiences, how do you navigate your relationship with your family’s native tongue? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Aside: thanks again for reading another non-craft-related post. The topics for each of my posts have been pretty all over the place so at this point I won’t guarantee that my blog will have a cohesive theme, but I do plan to post more knitting/crafting in the future. Thanks again and hope you have a wonderful day!

knitting

How I Picked up Crochet and Knitting

When people first think of knitting, we might imagine a grandmother knitting a sweater for babies, children, adults, or maybe even you. Knitting is often seen as a “feminine” hobby reserved for older women, but knitting is so much more than these stereotypical assumptions.

In fact, there’s a wide age distribution of knitters and crocheters across the U.S. according to surveys done in the past (a somewhat recent report was done in 2014 which is summarized in this article). I also find it rather silly to think that knitting is a gendered activity.

When I think of knitting, I think of patience and creativity. When I was in high school, I had a conversation with a friend about a scarf that I was wearing. It was one of my first few projects when I began to teach myself how to crochet. I told her that crocheting was a really neat hobby and that you can make all sorts of things with just a ball of yarn. She seemed impressed, but went on to say “yeah I think that’s really cool. But if I wanted a beanie, I can just buy it”.

She’s not wrong. But I also felt that she overlooked why crocheting, knitting, or any kind of craft is worth pursuing. The time investment and process involved with making something with your own hands is rewarding. The end product is a visual representation of all the time you put into making it–something that you won’t get from purchasing a mass-manufactured beanie.

For me, knitting is a medium for exploring my creativity and learning how to breathe an exciting idea to life. I found it rewarding to see a sweater begin as a few skeins of yarn that eventually turned into a fabric, a sleeve, and finally a whole sweater.

I actually didn’t knit when I first worked with yarn. I first learned how to crochet when I was in my freshman year of high school. I bought a skein of brown yarn to use for a puppet for an English project.

After the school year ended, my first instinct was to repurpose the yarn. I knew a few people who used to crochet, so I asked a friend to lend me a crochet hook. Little did I know, this opened up a new love for crochet and eventually for knitting.

I became obsessed with learning as many stitches as I could through tons of youtube videos, slowly graduating from granny squares to scarves, hats, and amigurumi.

An amigurumi project I worked on in the past. I made my own pattern for these so stay tuned for the post!!

After a few years of crocheting countless of projects, I began to pick up knitting.

It took some time to get used to knitting but eventually I got the hang of it and ambitiously pursued multiple projects. My favorite few included infinity scarves with eyelets, gloves that actually fit my hand, and soon my very first sweater.

After I started college, it became more difficult for me to knit as often as I did in high school, but I recently picked it up again in the middle of my senior fall. Picking up crochet or knitting as a hobby can induce soothing effects caused by repetitive motions of knitting and purling your stitches, which may explain why I found solace in it during a stressful semester. There are a few reports like this one that share why knitting can have other several health benefits too!

Now that I’ve sold my soul to the physical sciences, pursuing creative hobbies like knitting has helped me stay grounded whenever I felt worn out from problem sets or research.

I’ve been working on a few projects these past few weeks and am excited to share a some that I’ve also worked on in the past, so I hope you look forward to my future posts. As always, thanks for tuning in and best wishes in everything!

Blog · Projects

My First Costume Commission

I made this blog with the intent to make more knitting related posts, but clearly that hasn’t been happening. I do plan to work on more knitting posts soon so thank you for putting up with my now-I’ll-post-whatever-I-feel-like blog. Anyway, today I wanted to share an exciting sewing project that I worked on back in January!

My mom tried to teach me how to sew a few years back, but actually never finished my training. I embarked on a few “easy” tailoring tasks on some pants and a few shirts, but when it came to actually making clothes…that just never happened. Not until I was ambitious enough to try it on my own (cue nervous laughter).

As the closet costume manager for the ballroom dance team, I take care of copious amounts of sparkly dresses that are worn at competitions. We have costumes that are brought to almost every comp along with a few that don’t live to see the light of day. The dresses that collected dust were the ones that I experimented with.

Long story short, I began to play around with the costume design process which brings me to today, actually getting paid to make costumes from scratch.

My suite-mate wanted to get new vests for her Bollywood dance team, but despite traveling everywhere in India she had no luck. She messaged me over winter break to see if I was interested in making them new vests if she gave me the fabric and embellishments. I was a bit hesitant at first because I never made a vest before, let alone get paid to make four.

Eventually I got on board.

I modeled my vests based off their old vests which looked deceivingly simple to make. I quickly learned how wrong I was after lots of trial and error.

It took a few hours of sewing and seam ripping to settle on a good strategy. Once I finalized my method it became much easier to make multiple vests. I didn’t document the process very much, but below is a general schematic of what I did. As a disclaimer, I am by no means a professional, but just wanted to share my design process:

Diagram of how I made the vests

Each vest is made of six pieces: Two pieces for the back of the vest and two pieces for the left and right front parts of the vest (not really sure what the actual name for the section of the vest is, if there even is one), one using the lining fabric and the other using the main fabric. In my case, I just used the main fabric for both.

After cutting out the pattern on the fabric, I positioned the back pieces so that the right sides are on the inside and sewed along the neck, arm holes, and bottom of the back. I flipped the sewn back pieces inside out and ironed down the edges to keep it flat. You don’t have to do this immediately, but I found the vests easier to work with if they were ironed. It also makes the top-stitching step easier later on. Similarly, I sewed along the neck, arm hole, and bottom of the front parts of the vest with the right sides together and inverted it.

The trickiest part was definitely sewing the left and right front pieces to the back part of the vest. Before sewing the shoulders together, I pinned the back and front shoulders together and began to sew them (starting from the outside edge of the shoulder, beginning of the green line in diagram) such that the sides indicated by the green lines were aligned and sewn. I then continued to sew so that the sides indicated in orange were aligned until I reached the outside edge of the shoulder again.

If you leave part of the seam open at the top of the armhole section (front and back piece), you should be able to do this with some ease. This leaves the section that connects the outside shoulder edge and upper armhole open, but this can be sewn together during the top-stitching part.

I used a similar concept for combining the sides of the vest together. I left about an inch of un-sewn fabric from the bottom of the front and back pieces for this step. I sewed together the sides facing the inside first, starting at the point marked on the diagram and sewing up to the bottom of the arm hole (also making sure that the right sides are together for this step). I continued sewing along the same direction which then closed up the sides that were visible on the vest.

After sewing along those edges, I top-stitched the back of the collar, the neck, and the bottom of the vest as shown in my diagram. This also lets you top-stitch together the remaining parts of the vest that weren’t sewn during the previous steps, including the corners of the vest that were left alone when the sides were sewn together. After finishing the base of the vest, I added embellished borders along the collar.

Despite the material limitations (all the fabric and bands were from India) and supply limitations (I used a flimsy card-stock ruler instead of a real one), I’m pretty satisfied with the way that it turned out! I think I could’ve done an even better job with the craftsmanship (using exact measurements instead of tracing/eyeballing), but overall I was satisfied considering that this was my first time making a vest.

Front view of the gold vest

Incorporating the band was a bit tricky mainly because of the rhinestones. Unfortunately I broke a few needles in the past when I worked with rhinestones, so I made sure that I didn’t make the same mistake with this project. Essentially I lined the V of the vest with the band and continued to line the collar up to the midpoint of the vest. I added a small segment to the end of the extended band to for a more “finished” look.

The red vest was made similarly, except for the fact that I had enough of the decorative band to line the whole vest.

Close up of the decorative border

The decorative band had sequins instead of rhinestones, so sewing them onto the vest was much less pain-staking and time-consuming. Back home I had a much wider arsenal of threads to choose from, so working with a more limited supply was slightly annoying. The closest thread color I had to red was maroon, so the stitches are visible on the red vest. Luckily I had just enough gold thread to finish the gold vests seamlessly.

All of the vests!

I’m pretty pleased with how all of them turned out! In an ideal world I would’ve had more material and supplies to work with, but overall I did the best I could. I had a lot of fun thinking about the construction of the vest and coming up with different ideas on how to decorate the vests with the embellished borders. My craftsmanship is starting to improve, and I think with more projects and practice my work will be one step closer to looking cleaner.

Not too long ago my suite-mate’s dance team had a showcase in April that gave me the chance to see the costumes I made in action. It was incredibly satisfying to see what they looked like on stage and felt very proud of myself. I definitely want to keep sewing in the future and am really glad that I decided to pursue this project. As always, thanks for tuning in and see you next time!

Blog

12 lessons I learned in 2018

This year I decided to start 2019 strong by prioritizing my personal growth. Before I naïvely jump in and try to radically change myself with “new year new me” talk and unrealistic New Year resolutions, I’ll be reflecting on everything I learned in 2018.

To be frank, I don’t reflect on my past often. The most reflecting I’ve done was reliving flashbacks of awkward interactions with people that make me want to sink into the earth and disappear.

However, almost a year from today I made a conscious effort to journal. Journalling was a meditative routine for me to sort out my thoughts and slow myself down. Unfortunately my daily journalling become biweekly, and barely monthly by the time I started my fall semester.

Although my routine quickly fell apart as my schedule became more hectic, journalling taught me that I needed to take a step back if I wanted to make positive changes in my life. I needed to understand the reasons behind how and why I interact with the world the way that I do before changing my habits.

2018 was both a storm and a breeze. I went through lots of emotions, epiphanies, and conveniently timed existential crises. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been confused and frustrated with myself, but there were also countless times when I was happy and grateful for everything and everyone in my life. I’m thankful for all of the experiences that I had, and with that, here are twelve things that I took away from 2018: 

#1: You miss 100% of the chances that you don’t take. 

This is super cheesy and cliché but it’s true. If you don’t try, how do you know if you’ll succeed? Sure you could fail or not get said opportunity, but life is full of chances for you to try again.

I spent January applying to a lot of different programs to do summer research. There were a few advantages for staying on campus, but I decided that pursuing new experiences will be beneficial for my own growth. Even though I had pretty low expectations in terms of actually securing any of these positions, I applied anyway because the possibility was still there.

I stopped applying after I got an offer to work at a Pharma company. However, a more exciting opportunity rolled around that I couldn’t say no to. I wouldn’t even have had that option had I not tried to pursue it in the first place. This opened a ton of (important)doors for me down the road, so again, take those chances because you’ll never know where they lead you!

#2: Your hardwork and passion will lead to great things. Be grateful and proud of how far you’ve come!

It’s hard to realize how amazing you are when you’re in a constant state of struggle. February was the month that I began to journal and revitalize a huge cultural event on campus.

Throughout my years at Brown I led a lot of ground work for the Vietnamese Students Association with the help of amazing executive board members. Looking back, the stress was all worth it in the end. I’m extremely proud of our work and how we transformed our community. I learned what it takes to be a firm and decisive leader, but also one that listens and fosters a healthy team environment. I definitely faced a number of setbacks, but those mistakes became valuable learning experiences that helped me emerge as an even better leader.

#3: Your happiness stems from a healthy balance of everything and everyone that you care about.

At this point I finally had a taste of a work-life balance after what felt like a constant cycle of exhaustion. For a while I convinced myself that it was normal to feel defeated on a daily basis. That it was acceptable, maybe even admirable to take all the hardest classes you possibly can, live in the library, all the while hustling for the next internship or leadership position.

My long awaited “chill” semester was a complete eye opener for me. For the first time in so long I felt happy because I prioritized other important parts of my life. I spent time with people that I cared about. I went grocery shopping and made time to cook for myself. I found my happy balance and was truly thankful for everything in my life. There’s no point in being successful with one pillar if the other two are crumbling underneath as a consequence. Happiness stems from multiple revenues.

#4: Your mentors and advisors will fight and advocate for you.

The most transformative experiences I had during my years in college were hands down during the summer. I was born and raised in the northeast for the entirety of my life, so living in different parts of the U.S. during my summers gave me new perspectives and experiences.

These defining moments wouldn’t have been possible without all the mentors and supervisors who supported me. My research advisor was there every step of the way and even sent me opportunities that might have sparked my interest.

In April, I was offered a sponsorship to present my research at a national conference thanks to him. I really can’t appreciate him enough and everyone who continued to look out for me to this day.

#5: Your stress should not validate your productivity.

My spring semester was the most stress free semester I’ve had at Brown. During finals week, I was working on a few projects simultaneously but I didn’t overexert myself to the point of burning out. Productivity without stress? For some reason I had no idea the two could co-exist.

A part of this is because students try to casually one-up each other’s struggle. Why should we be proud of all the all-nighters that we pulled off at the library? Why you haven’t showered in over a week? Romanticizing the ways in which we destroy ourselves can create a toxic, workaholic environments that no one should partake in.

#6: Stepping out of your comfort zone and keeping an open mind can lead to unexpected rewards.

Back in February, I found out that I was offered a position to do research in California. Between making big bucks at a Pharma company and spending the summer in SoCal doing innovative science, I opted for the latter.

I’ve never been to the west coast before so this was the perfect opportunity for me to explore uncharted territory. As cool as it was to work in a newly renovated lab with an enthusiastic team, my most exciting and memorable experience from the summer was learning west coast swing.

I started doing ballroom during my freshman year of college and have been to a lot of social dances since then. I’d remember that whenever a west coast swing song would play, about three couples out twenty would go out to dance. In the meantime most of us would wait for the next song.

I initially thought west coast swing was weird and maybe even inferior to jive, but I was so, so wrong. After looking past the mysteriously similar counts and different footwork, I fell in love with the vibe and dance that is west coast swing. As cheesy as it sounds, I was swept off my feet.

#7: You learn something new from every conversation you have. You’ll also click with some people better than others and that’s okay.

I don’t see myself as the best conversationalist. I’m also quite reserved so I can only withstand and initiate so much small talk with people I just met. For the first time I found myself in situations where I’d sit in complete silence or figure out ways to desperately save a failing conversation before I could escape.

The beauty of leaving my college bubble is that I could meet people that I would otherwise never interact with, but that’s not to say that every encounter is smooth.

Despite this, I’m thankful for meeting and talking with new people because it helps me keep an open mind. It’s fine if you connect with some people more easily than others. You have control over how you interact with people but not the other way around, and that’s something you just need to accept. You can improve your connections but can’t force one to happen.

On the bright side, when you do find a genuine connection with someone, those encounters will undoubtedly outshine your awkward ones. At the end of the day, both experiences are valuable!

#8: It’s never too late to learn something new.

I get pretty self-conscious when I tell people that I don’t have my driver’s license yet. Up until this month, I had no idea how to ride a bike.

It’s interesting how we set universal timelines for when we should know how to do certain things or when we should have certain experiences, but I think it instead leaves us with expectations that have or haven’t been met. Expectations can motivate us, but when we fail to meet those expectations we start to tie our self worth to such “achievements” and resort to unhealthy comparisons between us and everyone else.

Another unfortunate consequence of these social constructs is the feeling of not wanting to learn for fear of judgement. Honestly who cares if you don’t know how to do x, y, and z? Even if you’re the nicest and smartest person in the world there will be someone out there who will judge or gossip about you. Are you really going to let that one person take you down?

This is obviously easier said than done, but if we put in the effort to look past socially constructed time tables and fears, we can achieve even greater personal heights. Such as learning how to ride a bike well into your young adulthood.

#9: Our emotions are situational and can cloud our current reality.

I left the summer feeling pretty optimistic so I naturally carried that mentality with me. Back in September I actually looked forward to starting my fall semester. I expected it to be stressful but also manageable. I was kind of right in some ways. But clearly wrong in others.

My schedule looked deceivingly bare until I realized that I signed up for a pretty rigorous set of classes. On top of that I was also studying for the GRE, applying to fellowships, and applying to graduate school. I made the unfortunate mistake of biting a bit more than I could chew.

The most frustrating part was that I thought I knew what I could handle after my traumatizing sophomore year, but I clearly didn’t learn my lesson. Looking back, I don’t regret the choices I made but I did wish that I was more mentally prepared for the ride.

#10: Stress will exacerbate your emotions and expectations.

October was pretty rough. I was finishing up my fellowship applications, taking my standardized tests, and studying for my midterms. My research which quickly dropped in priority after I living deadline by deadline. I was overwhelmed, tired, and questioned every decision I’ve made in college. Why did I choose to study something so niche? How much longer can I tolerate academia? Am I really cut out for this kind of lifestyle?

The stress dropped my confidence and intensified my inner emotional turmoil. My perfectionism took a huge toll on my well being. I would constantly beat myself over for not meeting my unrealistic expectations.

We have a finite amount of energy that also needs to be replenished every now and then. Constant overexertion can do more harm than good. I’m still learning how to be more forgiving with myself, but I’m also starting to accept that I simply can’t do everything well all the time. I’m a human, not a robot.

#11: It’s okay to not be okay. Our lives are precious and fragile, so keep your friends and family close.

My emotional distress peaked in November. I was desperately trying to solve a research problem that I was working on for weeks. I didn’t make any progress and one day I just came home defeated.

Those kinds of days usually don’t bother me because research is difficult and demoralizing by nature, but I just broke down in my room. I was so tired from everything and desperately wanted a break that I couldn’t have. I overworked and pushed myself way too hard. I was incredibly toxic to myself and let the stress get the best of me.

Luckily on that same day, I called a close friend from back home who helped me relieve a lot of the distress I kept bottled up.

During this same month, a high school friend also passed away.

I never had someone I knew and someone so young leave the world unexpectedly. Even to this day, I still don’t understand what it’s like to not see and talk to someone ever again. Humans are so strong and capable of amazing feats, but we’re also so vulnerable.

After experiencing this, I’ve been more appreciative of friends and family. I try to reach out more often. I realized that I’m not alone and that the people who care about me will support me at my lowest. But beyond holding people closer to me, I’ve also pushed myself to continue living with less doubts and fears…which led to the start of this blog!

#12: It’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but things will get better when you least expect it.

I felt so free after I submitted all of my applications, but unfortunately I wasn’t free from the grasps of finals.

I was worried about my last few weeks mainly because I took a pause on my “active” learning to take care of my non-academic business.

While sifting through piles of notes and handouts, I realized that the amount of stress that I was dealing with is just unnecessary. Why am I so worried about my grades? Why do I need a percentage to validate my knowledge which somehow correlates to my worth? The more I question it the more ridiculous it sounds to me.

I was fed up with the copious amounts of unhealthy thoughts that stemmed from reading through slides and reaction mechanisms, so I stopped studying. A part of me didn’t care anymore, and another part of me was tired of complaining about my stress and wanted to do something about it. I have no regrets to do this day and left campus pretty happy.

Despite the rough semester, my year ended in the best way possible. Literally a few hours after I arrived home in Boston, I got accepted to my first graduate program. About three hours later, I got into my second. The next day, I got a phone call informing me that I got accepted into my top choice program (and an email confirmation later in January).

Final thoughts.I didn’t expect to end on such a good note considering the downhill trend that is my senior year, but I’m incredibly grateful for it. If I could go back in time, I honestly wouldn’t change anything because it’s through these moments of agony that we grow. The pockets of joy and happiness became even more precious to me and I’m so thankful for all of the new and old friends that have been with me every step of the way. I wouldn’t have made it without their love and support, so from the bottom of my heart I wish you the very best and thank you for everything!


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Reflecting on Michelle Obama’s Becoming Pt. II

If you haven’t read my previous post yet, I’d encourage you to check it out before reading this one (if you care about continuity).

If you decided to continue reading this post anyway or have already read part one, I’m happy to have you for part two on Michelle Obama’s Becoming:

Meeting Barack Obama. Michelle Obama met Barack Obama during his first day as a summer associate. She humorously recalled having Barack’s resume in her hands after being assigned as his mentor. She imagined him to be a bit nerdy and weird, only to be charmed by his charismatic voice. 

Throughout Michelle’s Becoming, she often used the term “swerve”. Swerving meant pivoting your current situation toward your desired end goal. Swerving was a mechanism to adapt and push forward whether by choice or by force.

Michelle quickly realized that Barack was the living representation of swerve. He was born in Hawaii, spoke fluent Indonesian, and graduated from Harvard Law. He planned to run for office. The way that Barack lived his life seemed anything but linear. Michelle’s relationship with Barack meant that swerving was always in the back of her mind, and it wasn’t until she became First Lady that she learned to swerve. A lot.

Entering the White House. Becoming the nation’s first African American First Lady was both unexpected and unintuitive for Michelle. Even when Barack was running his political campaigns, Michelle was set on returning to a normal life. She didn’t think that Barack would become the nation’s first African American president. She instead looked forward to moving on with their lives with normal jobs and raising their two daughters in peace.

Obviously, life didn’t unfold the way she expected.

Michelle had no idea that she’d become First Lady for eight years. Naturally, she sought advice from former First Ladies to learn about their experiences, only to realize that the role was also more fluid and undefined than she expected.

I think something important to note here is how this detour was both in and out of her control. It is entirely possible that your life can stay unperturbed, but more often than not life has a cunning way of sliding curveballs at you.

Michelle saw those curveballs as challenges that she can learn from. She realized that her role as First Lady was very much in her control and leveraged this opportunity to make a difference.

Finding her place in the public eye. One of the challenges Michelle faced was learning to deal with the public scrutiny she received during her time in the White House.

It’s important to realize that life shouldn’t revolve around our career–our family and relationships also provide experiences that are irreplaceable and important for our personal growth. Michelle prioritized her role as a mother for her two daughters before becoming First Lady despite receiving criticism. In a society so demanding and imposing toward public figures, it was refreshing to see her fierce dedication to her family.

As First Lady, Michelle created initiatives to support young students, especially for young black women. Of the initiatives that she led, her efforts to bring students to the White House was the most inspirational for me.

When underprivileged folks are constantly bombarded with messages telling them that they’re not good enough or that they don’t “belong” in elite spaces, it’s difficult not to internalize these words.

Michelle’s enrichment program breaks down those barriers and tackles those misconceptions. When her students left the White House, they felt empowered and unstoppable. In her words, they “walked as if they owned the White House”.

She had a lasting impact on these students because she not only provided them access to elite spaces, but also a support system to thrive in those spaces. A support system is absolutely necessary to meet the unique needs of students to navigate and succeed in spaces that weren’t initially created for them. Michelle blazed her trail and is now helping others to blaze theirs. She actively uses her privilege to foster future leaders who would’ve never fathomed the idea of it. Her dedication to leveling the playing field is admirable and inspirational, and I hope to do the same throughout my own journey as well.

Practicing self-care. Despite her hectic life as a mother, wife, and First Lady, Michelle took the initiative to start running with her close friends. She prioritized her health and well-being by sharing these goals with a supportive, tight-knit community. It was through this sisterhood that she stayed forgiving and grounded with herself.

I often compromised self care for the “hustle” that ended up promoting an endless cycle of exhaustion. I normalized a lot of wear and tear from college, telling myself that I was strong and that I can handle it.

But even the strongest people can break and use a helping hand. In our vulnerability we find hope and solace in each other. It is through our struggles that we can grow even stronger together.

I admired Michelle’s approach and perspective on self care because she came from a similar place of wanting to achieve the American Dream. Both she and I were raised by strong role models who readily sacrificed their own personal needs for the sake of their children’s success. It’s hard not to emulate those characteristics if that was what inspired us to work hard toward our dreams. Michelle decided to break out of that mold to prioritize herself, and I aspire to do a better job of taking care of myself without any remorse.  

Final thoughts. Michelle is honestly a blessing that I really needed during a stressful semester. Her experiences and outlook during each stage of her life truly hit home for me. Her vulnerability and insecurities reminded me that no matter what point you’ve reached in your life, there will always be a person or obstacle that will spark self doubt. Criticism, whether self imposed or not, can break you down if you let it consume you. However, if those negative thoughts become your motivation to improve and work hard, your best self can truly thrive.

Michelle’s story reminds us that even the strongest people can break. Relying on others for help doesn’t mean that you’re weak. If anything, it can uplift and make you stronger than you’ve ever been.

I personally struggled a lot with being open to others and seeking help for years, but I’m learning to become more vulnerable, honest, and forgiving with myself. With the turn of the new year, I hope to continue pursuing my passions and keeping those I hold dear closer to me throughout my journey. Thank you for reading, and I hope that you also start the new year strong with positivity and vigor!