Tag Archives: columbia
Since my last post, I have made it through graduation alive and relatively sane. Although all the worries and doubts from before were still there, I tried my best to focus on graduation for what it was: a celebration of the achievements of me and my peers over the past 4 years. It was a hectic and frenzied 3 days, but sitting among the sea of light blue in my own matching cap and gown, I was happy and proud to be graduating from such an amazing university and share the occasion with my family and friends.
I don’t think the fact that I won’t be returning to Columbia in the fall has quite sunk in yet, but hints of nostalgia are already beginning to peak above the surface from time to time. But with so much change on the horizon I’m forced to look forward and not back. Right now I’m back home for a bit, before moving to San Francisco on June 9. So I’m busy looking for jobs and apartments and procrastinating on my dental school applications. I know I’ve said this for just about everything this past year, but I’m both scared yet excited about all this change. Look forward to more posts about starting this new chapter in my life soon! But not before a post about Yufei and my post-graduation vacation to the US Virgin Islands!
There’s finally a tiny little break for me! I still have a paper due on Sunday that I need to start, but at least midterms are over for now and I don’t have anything else major before fall break. Phew. I’ve been so burnt out over the last couple of weeks, and I got sick last weekend too so that didn’t help either (still recovering from a cough). But at least I feel like I have enough time to write a blog post, that must mean something, right?
Earlier this month, I went to a little reunion with some friends that I attended a summer program with in 2007 (wow that’s a long time ago). One of them goes to Cornell and another goes to BU, and the other 2 are in town doing co-op programs. Since everyone was in NYC that weekend, we decided to meet up! It was great catching up with them since I haven’t seen most of them since the program ended, which was 4 years ago!
Then later that week, Yufei and I celebrated our three year together by going to dinner at Cafe Boulud. The meal and the service were excellent, I especially loved the olive bread (I think olive is starting to grow on me!) and my dessert, the milk chocolate coffee parfait.
And the company was even better, of course! Thanks to Yufei for such a great evening, and I hope we will celebrate many more years to come!
The weekend after that, I went to Columbia’s homecoming game against U Penn. We didn’t win, but at least we were winning when we left the stadium. And that’s not the most important part anyway, because that title goes to free stuff! By being a senior, I got a free t-shirt and free beer, and by pretending to be an alum, I got a free scarf (for being an “engineering alum”) and a free stuffed lion. And a ton of free food, snacks and drinks! The weather was beautiful that day, and it was so lovely to spend the afternoon with friends bathed in the upsurge of school spirit that only happens about twice a year. Here are my friends Cindy, Ying, Jin, and me!
Photo credit goes to Yufei, with amazing post-processing by Jin.
Then last weekend, I had the chance to meet up with my fellow blogger friend Erin, who is attending NYU. It was so cool to meet someone that you’ve been talking with online for so long! Erin was so nice and awesome and I’m looking forward to seeing her again to do some cool NYC stuff together!
That’s about it for now! There will be lots happening over the next week or so, so if I find time I will definitely write about it here!
“Wow, we come from vastly different academic backgrounds,” said Ian, my fellow summer intern, at lunch.
“Yeah, but it doesn’t matter anymore now that we’re here, does it,” I replied. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the statement was mostly aimed at myself.
If I dare say so myself, I was a high school superstar. I consistently got the highest grades in almost all of my classes, many of them AP, throughout high school, taking home the top student award every year from grade 9 to 12. I was on the debate team, was a member and later a coach of the math team, served on student council, and was involved in numerous other extracurricular organizations. I painted and designed murals and other things for my school. I volunteered. All the teachers and principles knew me and loved me. I took and won math and science competitions. I only lost 10 points total on my SAT’s, including 3 SAT subject tests. And to finish off such a high school career, I was my class valedictorian, the winner of the Governor General’s Award, and got accepted to Columbia University. And all of a sudden, none of that mattered anymore.
And I was okay with it. After all, I was expecting to be just average at a school like Columbia. I still got good grades, perhaps even better grades than I had anticipated. But I can’t help but feel like an underachiever at times. Like when I barely get above average grades on an organic chemistry midterm. Or when I lose a prestigious summer internship to someone who wasn’t even chosen as a finalist. Or when I’m home, looking at the bookshelf in the study that’s filled with my plaques, certificates, medals, and trophies from high school. Sure, next year my Columbia diploma will join their ranks, and maybe that alone is a bigger accomplishment than all the rest of them. But still, I can’t seem to shake the feeling that I’ve been somehow under-performing since I graduated from high school.
Maybe it’s simply the fact that, at this point in the game, you don’t get gold stars anymore for a job well done. A nice looking GPA and the words “Dean’s List” on your online student account just doesn’t feel as great as a big ceremony with presentations and plaques. And nobody really cares about your nice internships or leadership roles when everyone else has the same or even better ones. I understand all that, and I accept all of it, but why do I still feel like such a loser sometimes?
I’ve been thinking about it for a while now, and I think I’ve come to a good conclusion. It has to do with losing sight of my goals. In high school, my goals were clear: get top student in physics class, get at least a 2300 on my SAT, get into a great college. I knew what I wanted and I knew what I had to do to get it. But now that I’m at Columbia, things have been different. I thought I knew what I wanted (to become a doctor), but along the way I encountered things that made me unsure. And so I’ve decided to become undecided, to just stay in the moment and focus on right now. But you know what? That doesn’t work for me. That’s not how I operate. I can’t focus on studying organic chemistry when I don’t see how it will contribute to a concrete goal. I just can’t. Recently I realized that what I need is something to work towards, something I really want, something that is going to motivate me and re-energize me. I miss the feeling of having a goal to work towards, and the rush of happiness when I know that my hard work has paid off. The reason why I feel like I’ve been underachieving is simply because I didn’t know what I was supposed to be achieving in the first place.
I’m not good at being undecided. It agitates me, worries me, and ultimately renders me apathetic and void of motivation. So this is what I need: a goal, a goal I truly believe and want to invest my time an energy in. By the end of the summer, I hope to have gained enough experience to make that choice with confidence. It’s high time I set my mind to something and just work for it. Because it’s only then that I truly feel like a superstar, even if no one else recognizes me as one.
Has it only been three weeks since the new semester started? It’s starting to feel like a drag already. The weather certainly isn’t helping either. I’m regretting not going to school somewhere warming every day (I’m only semi-kidding here). So I haven’t done a whole lot since I got back to New York, since I’d rather stay inside all the time and go into the snowy slushy mess that is Manhattan right now. But anyways, there are some things I wanted to share here.
I had lunch with a fellow Canadian girl a couple of weeks ago. I gave her some advice (she’s a freshman) and she’s so nice and gave me this cute little cell phone chain:
It has a charm of the mascot of the 2010 Shanghai Expo, Haibao, and a tiny little hourglass. I like pretending that it’s a Time-Turner :D
On Thursday I attended a scholarship reception at Columbia. I didn’t bring my camera, which I regretted as soon as I walked through the doors. It was the fanciest affair I’ve been to in a while; tablecloths, floral centerpieces, jazz trio on the stage, hors d’œuvres, a wonderful buffet dinner… the type of thing that was designed to make you feel special to be a Columbian. I met some wonderful new people and have a lovely evening. I even brought home one of the centerpieces (of course, in Columbia colors blue and white), as I was alerted of this possibility by friend and fellow Columbian Jin. Isn’t it gorgeous? And it makes my room smell wonderful.
Then yesterday, to celebrate Chinese New Year, Yufei and I went to have lunch at Wa Jeal Sichuan Chili House. Reviews on Yelp compared it to Szechuan Gourmet, of which I am a big fan, so I wanted to try it out. We ordered the Sichuan dumplings with chili sauce as an appetizer, and it was nice and spicy, very good. Then we shared shredded pork with garlic sauce and kung pao chicken as entrees. The pork was cooked with water chestnut and mu-er, which added interesting texture to the dish.
I could barely contain my excitement when I saw the kung pao chicken, because for the first time ever the dish contained green bell peppers!!! Just like the way we make it at home! This has never happened at a restaurant before, so that was a huge plus for me.
Both dishes were delicious, though I think not as spicy as Szechuan Gourmet, as well as less oily. Anyways, I really liked the restaurant, the decor was more upscale than the typical Chinese restaurant and it wasn’t cramped at all, the service was great, and the check came with orange slices and fortune cookies! I would love to go back there sometime.
After lunch, we headed to the Met a few blocks away, where they had Chinese New Year festivities. We were rather late so we only caught part of the youth orchestra performance and the tea ceremony demonstration. We walked around the museum some more, as somehow we had missed the Asian art collection during previous visits. I really liked the beautiful Astor Court, modeled on a Ming dynasty scholar’s courtyard in Suzhou.
Since we were in the area already, we decided to go to the Guggenheim after leaving the Met. We had attempted to go last semester, but they required a current sticker on our Columbia ID’s for free admission (hey, MoMA never asked). So now armed with our Sping 2011 stickers, we entered the giant spiral building.
I really liked the structure of the museum, as walking through it felt very natural, not like most museums where one feels constantly unsure of where to turn next. The main collection on display right now, The Great Upheaval, is great as well. Must go to more museums before graduation!
And now it’s Sunday, and as usual I haven’t gotten any work done, so I better be off now!
Ever since my catharsis and subsequent realization regarding who I am and what I want to do, I’ve felt like a huge burden has been lifted off my shoulders. A sense of freedom and choice, a kind of bravery I’ve never had before. A kind of “why not?” attitude towards the things I naturally gravitate towards. Before, when any kind of art related opportunities come up, which happens a lot at Columbia and NYC, my heart would long for it as my brain tells me no, it won’t be of any use to me. But things are different now. I’ve finally come to terms with it: I’m an artist, dammit, and the world is just going to have to deal with that.
So, as part of embracing my creative side again, a side of me that I’ve sorely missed, I’ve finally begun to take advantage of all the wonderful art opportunities offered by this great university in this great city. When I received an e-mail from Columbia about some free, non-credit workshops offered by Columbia’s Graduate School of the Arts, I immediately jumped on it and signed up for a couple of visual art related ones. One of the workshops is called Art/text, which examines the interplay between art and text in graphic novels and graphic short stories. Run by 2 graduate students, a fiction writer and an artist, the workshop will also help the students create their own graphic short story. How cool is that? Needless to say, I was ecstatic when I got an e-mail saying that I got into the workshop.
The first session was held last Friday. I walked into a small seminar room in Dodge, the arts building at Columbia. There were about 10 people there, in addition to the 2 workshop leaders. I was happy to find out that we had a really diverse group; our majors ranged from Biology to Statistics to East Asian Languages and Cultures. After introductions, we began looking at a few samples of graphic novels/short stories, including a chapter from Persepolis, which I enjoyed tremendously and would like to read more of.
After discussing these works, we were given a creative assignment. Copies of lithographs of things like classical architecture, natural scenes, geometric shape, and other random objects. We had to cut out one or more image and glue it to a piece of paper, and add to it and fill in the rest of the paper with our own drawings using a Sharpie marker. I ended up picking a figure of several hands pulling on interconnected ropes, as something one would see in a physics textbook. It was such a fun little exercise, and I was quite happy with my finished product: a dreamscape of children flying over a meadow, along with other things related to flight, including a flying hot dog and a blimp.
It had been so long since I was in any sort of art class, and I had nearly forgotten what it felt like to be sitting in a classroom but feeling so completely at ease and happy to be doing what I was doing. It made me so happy and excited about art again. I’ve already begun brainstorming and sketching some frames for my graphic short story, which will recount one of my favorite childhood memories.
This week we’ll be going to Butler Library, not to study but to go to the Rare Book & Manuscript Library to look at the collection of works by Edward Gorey that’s been donated to Columbia just this past May. Definitely looking forward to that!
(Continued from Part I)
Sometimes, it would be painful. The classes were tough, the stress of getting research experience gave me headaches, the MCAT was always looming on the horizon, application process itself, the insane competition, and even after all that, medical school and actually being a doctor… it would all make me incredibly upset. But I still believed that it was part of the process, that really, it would all pay off in the end. So what if I had to slave away to get perfect grades, be stuck in a lab every summer, put my life on hold to be in school for another 8 or 10 years? I was ambitious like that.
It wasn’t until this summer that I began to honestly question my decision. I was working in a lab, as any good pre-med student should be. And I was miserable. I was so miserable one weekend that I left as soon as I arrived at the lab and went home crying. I began to question everything. Why was I doing this? Why was I working in another lab when I didn’t even like last summer’s lab experience? Because I needed to do it for med school. Why did I want to go to med school? Because… I didn’t know. I didn’t know why I had been working on a goal for the past 2 years. I did not like many of the pre-med classes I had taken, doing research in a lab all day is not appealing to me, the idea of taking the MCAT and the whole application process sickens me, and I definitely do not want to stay in school until I’m nearly 30. Besides, as an international student, the chances of getting into a top American medical school is pretty much nil. And at the end of it all, to be a doctor? A noble dream; but it was not my dream.
My life felt so wrong. This was not what I was meant to do. This was not what I wanted to be when I grew up. Finally, I was seeing my life more clearly than ever before, but it was not a pretty picture. I had been carried away from my center for too long. I had lost sight of what I truly wanted in life. I really had believed that becoming a doctor was what I wanted, and everything that came along with it, I had to endure. But I was wrong. Now I understood why I never felt as enthusiastic as the other hopeful future doctors, why my voice grew weaker each time I told someone that I was pre-med, why I did not look forward to the life ahead of me for the next 10 or 20 years. This was not what I was meant to do.
I took a wrong turn somewhere along the road, and now I was lost. I didn’t know where to go, what step to take next, who to turn to. I’ve long lamented the fact that I probably should have gone to art school, but it’s too late now. And to be honest, I do feel incredibly luck to be at Columbia; I just haven’t been doing the right things here. But what now? I’ve already come this far down a path I knew was wrong, is it too late to start over? And if not, how and where? And has everything I’ve done so far in college just been a waste?
(Continue to Part III)
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
This is perhaps the most asked question of all when we were children. My parents often tell me of such a story: around the time I was 2 or 3, my answer to that question would be get my PhD and become a professor. They are fond of recounting the story year after year, as if it were a sign that I was destined to have a great and noble profession, in academia or otherwise. In reality, we all knew that my odd response was a result of constantly hearing my dad talk about his job as an academic; no one would expect a two year old, no matter how precocious, to understand what it means to obtain a doctorate.
By the time I actually begin to comprehend the concept of having a career, my answer changed. An artist, I would say; I wanted to study art in Paris and become an artist. Grown-ups would think that it was cute, probably picturing a little six year old Chinese girl in a beret in front of the Eiffel Tower. No adult took it seriously, but to me it was all very real. In the yearbook of my kindergarten, under “dreams for the future,” I had written: “I want to go to the Central Academy of Fine Arts and become an artist when I grow up.” (I guess Paris was going to come later). It was a veritable dream alright; I remember watching outside the window on tiptoes each year when the time came for the art students to take the entrance exam to get into the Central Academy in Beijing, thinking that one day I would be on the other side of the window. My parents were supportive enough. After all, it was good to have some kind of extracurricular talents; all the other kids were doing it. So I was enrolled in art classes in some form or another since I could remember. And I was happy with that.
Somehow, somewhere along the way, art fell by the wayside. Academics took over my life because people told me that it was what mattered. I had always been good at school, but now it was actually Important. The people that surrounded me didn’t help much; I was drawn into the hysteria of getting the best grades, of doing all the toughest classes just because, and later, of the craze over getting into a top American university. I had a science heavy course load; why not? That’s what all the other smart kids were doing, and I had to keep up, I was ambitious. Besides, Biology class was always interesting. My answer changed once more: I wanted to do something with science. My parents were glad. Being the daughter of a chemist and an engineer, this was exactly the path they wanted me to take.
Art was not entirely forgotten, though. I still enjoyed it tremendously, and I took art classes throughout high school. Every time I even considered doing art as a career, nearly everyone told me the same thing: it’s better to just keep it as a hobby; I was more ambitious than that; I was too good at science to give it up. And so I listened. I went ahead and worked hard. And all my efforts paid off: I got into Columbia.
I was happy too. Look at me! I’m an Ivy Leaguer now. I’m going to be successful. Sometime during freshman year, I became a pre-medical student. Look now! I’m going to be a doctor. People regarded you with awe when you told them that, and I enjoyed it. I never stopped once to ask myself why I came to that decision; I can’t even remember when or how it happened. Wasn’t that like just THE thing to do? So I shrugged and forged on, driven by my ambition, never looking back.
(Continue to Part II)