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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!

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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!

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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!

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Reflecting on Michelle Obama’s Becoming Pt. I

I was graced by the resilient, strong, and warm presence of Michelle Obama a few weekends ago. Her Becoming tour had been advertised on facebook for months, but I never thought I’d get the chance to actually go!

I got a community ticket a week prior from the APIA Scholars program as a former scholarship recipient, so I thank them and Michelle Obama from the bottom of my heart for giving me the opportunity to hear such an inspiring story from a strong woman of color. 

I can’t even begin to describe how much of her story resonated with me, which is why this post will be broken up into two parts: her journey before entering the White House, and how she is becoming herself today:

Becoming. A diverse set of speakers started the show with their own becoming story. I didn’t expect this at all and was blown away. I loved how all the speakers were locals in the Boston area, with some even from my own neighborhood. After each speaker shared their story, Michelle Obama took the stage and opened the talk with the meaning behind the title of her memoir:

She never became something. She was becoming something.

She emphasized how our journey to find our purpose in life isn’t linear nor finite, and that it shouldn’t be. People, especially at an early age, are often asked who they want to be. We’re often expected to know what to become but in reality we’re not supposed to know. In fact, we don’t simply become one thing. This is why we continue to live and to seek answers–to find our true selves and to continually learn and grow each day. There is so much comfort in hearing these words during a time where there is so much pressure to have a perfectly carved path as a soon-to-be- graduate. At the end of the day, it’s fine to not know and it’s okay to not have the answers all the time.  

Living in South Side Chicago. Michelle Obama was raised in a working class household by loving, hardworking parents. I loved her perspective on her upbringing: “We either had everything or nothing–it’s how you look at it”. To me, I felt that growing up in Dorchester with friends who were also from working class, immigrant families built a sense of camaraderie. Sure, we didn’t have the luxury of attending rich private schools or had access to a “prestigious” network, but what took us far in our lives was our resilience

She also emphasized how inspiring and hardworking her father was despite struggling with a disability. He took pride in coming to work every single day and kept his fire of resilience burning strong. This was the fire that helped Michelle Obama through her highs and lows and is the very fire that she is still kindling for so many people in this world. 

The guidance counselor who tried to set the bar. Michelle Obama was a straight A-student who had her eyes on Princeton when she was applying to college but her guidance counselor thought otherwise, thinking that she wasn’t “Princeton material” despite all of her academic achievements.

What surprised me the most was hearing how much that had hurt her, and even today as someone so successful and confident in herself, how those comments still stung her. She shared how those assumptions and doubts have the power to prevent young people from achieving and striving for greater things. The bars that people place upon you can stir self-doubt in your capabilities and feed into your inner demons. Giving into the thoughts that tell you that you’re not good enough or that you don’t belong will become seemingly high barriers toward the aspirations you want to achieve. 

What kept her going was her fire. Her stubbornness. Her desire to prove to the guidance counselor that she can very much attend and succeed at Princeton. More importantly, she proved to herself that she was capable and good enough. She got accepted to all of the colleges she applied to and went on to Princeton to continue her journey to become a lawyer. 

Her struggle struck every single chord in me. Honestly this couldn’t have come at a better time than now in the midst of my graduate school applications (all of which have been submitted!!) and my fleeting time at Brown.

I would often let my own thoughts and ridiculous quantitative measures of “success” define my bar of intelligence and capabilities. My assumptions of not thinking that I belonged in elite spaces as a first generation college student from the working class still haunts me. Even now, I still have doubts on whether I’m good enough to succeed in graduate school, but after hearing her story, I want to prove to myself that I’m so much more capable than I think. I want to rekindle my fire and prove that my resilience will take me far in my own becoming journey.

Checking the boxes and achieving. This part particularly resonated with me mainly because of all the existential crises I’ve been dealing with lately. Michelle Obama was set on being a lawyer and sought out to do this early on. Her classmates on the other hand had pursued different paths or more roundabout ways toward a career that they wanted. For instance, she recalled a friend who wanted to be a high school coach for a sports team, to which she reacted “You’re going to use your Princeton degree to do that?” It simply didn’t make any sense to her at the time, or in other words, that unconventional paths toward success even existed or should be pursued.

I think a part of this is the grind for social and economic mobility. In my case, I feel a never-ending need to continually “succeed” to work towards a future with financial security and happiness. I feel indebted to the pain and work my family went through to give me the opportunity to shape my life into something meaningful, so naturally I wanted to use my resources to the fullest. However, being on the grind and reaching your checkpoints doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re also achieving happiness, and that’s something important to distinguish if there is a clear mismatch between the two. The end goal is also not always as well defined as you may imagine it to be, which was most definitely the case for Michelle Obama. 

When she graduated from Princeton to become a lawyer, she realized that being a lawyer wasn’t what she thought it would be. She had been on the grind for so long and ended up in career that wasn’t well suited for her, and that wasn’t the end of the world. She realized this and adapted. She changed her trajectory. She wasn’t confined by the decisions she had made in the past, which again shows that having a non-linear life is perfectly normal. As someone so caught up in doing the right thing and wanting to end up in the right place, this was such a nice reminder for me to let go of these obsessive thoughts and to be more accepting of where my life wants to takes me. Life decisions are not as permanent as we perceive it to be, and it’s fine and normal to have multiple detours along your journey. 

To prevent this post from becoming extremely long, I’ll end it here but thanks so much for reading and please stay tuned for part II! 

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A warm welcome

Hi there!

I’m happy that you’ve stumbled upon this blog, whether you’re an old friend curious about what I’ve been up to since the last time we saw each other, or someone perusing the internet for a *hopefully* interesting read.

I’m Kim and I’m currently a senior in college. In a few months, I’ll be graduating with a Bachelor’s of Science in Materials Chemistry. Although I’m always strapped for time, I’ve managed to hold onto a few hobbies such as partner dancing (ballroom, west coast swing, etc.) and crafts. I’m a huge introvert that finds comfort in knitting all sorts of projects with a side of Jasmine tea, though I do love spending time with old friends and meeting new people. Given the opportunity and resources, I’d love to travel and hike more often.

You may be wondering why I’m starting this blog. A part of me also wonders why I’m doing this instead of studying for my classes and applying to graduate schools (which is a story for another time). Well, now that one chapter of my life is closing soon for a new one, I found myself reflecting on my life and the future that awaits me.

For as long as I’ve been a college student, I’ve lived day by day. If I have an exam coming up, I’ll be sure to camp out at a library for a few hours before retreating back to my suite.  I’ll schedule meetings with my mentees between classes and research. If my afternoon was free, I’d spend some time in the lab and hopefully leave without feeling too discouraged about my pending thesis. More or less, I’ve been running a constant marathon for the past few years without slowing down.

Now that I’ve decided to walk for once, I started to notice everything that I’ve accomplished thus far. I also noticed everything that I’ve always wanted to do but either never made the time for it or made excuses not to do it. The more that I poke and prod at the underlying reasons in how I approach my life, the more I see how much I’ve restricted myself from being the best possible version of myself. I’ve lived my life safely and stayed complacent to achieve a sense of security, but I have yet to reach my full potential because of my unwillingness to take more risks and try new things.

For the longest time, I allowed many of my insecurities and fears to dictate me. Being constantly surrounded by brilliant and talented students across the world often made me feel inadequate and incapable by comparison. I would never say a word in class, or even ask questions unless I was in office hours. I convinced myself that my opinions didn’t mean much, that my answers are probably wrong, that I’ll never be good enough, and that there will always be people out there who will do a better job than I will, so why even bother?

My toxic thoughts prevented me from learning, growing, and improving myself. So today, I decided to make a blog. I want to share my thoughts on an open platform because I am fully aware that what I write here can be read by others. I can receive positive comments and affirmations from readers, but I can also attract critics and people who simply disagree. Regardless of the response, I want to be comfortable with sharing my ideas, improving my ability to write, and communicating to an audience like you. I hope that building this blog will push me to grow, and perhaps inspire you to continue or start living a more authentic lifestyle. I hope to continue sharing my journey in self discovery, passions, and other related topics in this space.

Additionally, I’ve always wanted to make and share patterns that I really like on a public platform, or even create tutorials that are easy to follow along (for knitting, crochet, and embroidery). In the midst of all my future existential crises posts, I also hope to use this space to share a small passion of mine. This decision may make the blog appear to be unfocused, but I’m willing to give it a shot and bring you along my journey!