PEER Mentoring Excitement!

I’m incredibly excited to be the Board Chair for the PEER next year! PEER (Promoting Enriching Experiences and Relationships) is a first-year mentoring program for Asian Pacific American students at UPenn, run through PAACH (the Pan-Asian American Community House). This year, I have been the Vice-Chair of Social Programming, and for the coming year I am going to be Chair. We recently had our board changeover process – the outgoing board met with the incoming board and discussed what each of the positions would entail, and talked about individual visions for what these roles could achieve moving forward.

Later on today, we’re going to have our first official meeting as a new board. There are a couple of logistical issues that we need to cover – discussing how we want to structure interviews for mentors, and planning for our End of Year banquet. I’m most excited to be having a conversation with the rest of the board about what our collective vision for the program is for the coming year. Having the ability to positively shape the PEER experience is something that I am really looking forward to. (At the same time, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that I am a little bit nervous! PEER has set consistently high standards over the past several years, and I really hope to be able to live up to these expectations!) I hope that we’re going to be able to form a cohesive idea of what we want to do with the program – it obviously doesn’t have to be something that gets done by this afternoon, but by the beginning of the fall semester, I really hope that we can set tangible goals for us to achieve.

As a multiracial individual, I haven’t always known where I fit in when it comes to racially specific categories. With my light hair and light eyes, I’m often seen as more “White” than “Asian”. And I realize that this bifurcated identity comes with a different set of privileges and problems. I identify most strongly with my Asian cultural heritage, although I know that my version of Asian American identity is vastly different than a lot of my friends. Becoming part of the APA community here at Penn has been a strange experience. I don’t know many other students at Penn who are Asian multiracial, and I know fewer who are active within PAACH. At any given point, I’m almost guaranteed to be the whitest person in the room, and that can be an alienating experience for me. However, I have to say that getting involved with PEER in my freshman year as a mentee really helped me to understand myself and know what my multiracial identity meant.

Over the past two years, PEER has been a deeply personal experience for me. I’ve made some of my closest friends at Penn through the program. My mentor from Freshman year is someone who I can talk to about anything – and (as clichéd as it might sound) I really consider her like an older sister. Although she graduated last year and is no longer in Philadelphia, she still finds so many ways to be present in my life. I am really inspired by how she values her friendships, and I hope that I can be as thoughtful and considerate as she is to me. This year, I was also able to be a mentor, along with my responsibilities as Social Chair, because of the number of mentees that we accepted into the program. Although my mentee and I don’t have many academic interests in common, I am so glad that we have found common ground on so many other levels, and I am so excited to have another two years on campus together to continue to strengthen our friendship.
Given all of this, I am cycling back to the sentiments I talked about at the very beginning. I really can’t express how excited I am for the upcoming year. The relationships that I have built through PEER have been so important to me, and especially in the last year as a co-chair, being able to see our mentees grow and succeed in different ways has really made me feel like I am able to have some kind of positive impact on other individuals.

Fingers crossed for the upcoming year!


Talking with Andrew Bird

This week’s assignment was to write down everything you overhear over the course of an hour. I don’t go exciting places and have things to drop eaves on though, so I spent the hour thinking about different sorts of conversations and sound, as well as the interplay between thought and silence. I ended up with something that is not really that much of an experimental piece of writing – instead, it reads much more like a short non-fiction essay.

Perhaps because non-fiction and essay writing is a familiar form to me, I found this to be a lot easier to work within as a means of conveying my own thoughts to myself. At other times in the semester, I’ve written in a stream-of-consciousness style of writing, and while I think that it helps to express a sense of excitement or of continuity, it doesn’t necessarily help to depict the concrete ideas that I try to capture. While I think that experimental forms can reflect multifaceted issues, I often feel that trying to force writing to adhere to one form over another (rather than organically moving into different forms) often makes the pieces of writing too opaque.

That being said, here is my not quite experimental piece of writing for the assignment. The original was significantly longer, because as I was writing it developed into something that was highly personal. This piece contains the beginning of the thought process, and I hope that you can enjoy reading it.

Talking with Andrew Bird

I’m in the lounge on my floor in the high-rise dorms on campus. I’ve not moved much in the past couple of hours – a few times to change the laundry in the machines across the hallway, and twice to refill my glass of water. I crack ice cubes out of the blue plastic tray and drop them into the cup. They roll like dice when I turn the faucet on, and things become quiet again when the glass is filled.

I wish that I had something exciting to overhear. To eavesdrop on a coffee shop conversation, and to take down everything that is said between people. That’s a genuine form of dialogue. Eavesdropping is now something I’ve been assigned to do twice for different English classes, so that I can better understand realistic human interactions in writing.

It’s close to my twentieth birthday, and I would have hoped I knew what realistic human interactions were at this point. Instead, I’m left in conversation with my washing machine, which ticks as the large plastic buttons on my long blue cardigan hit against the metallic inside. Click-click-whirrrr. My best friend uses this onomatopoeia to describe the sounds of his DSLR camera. I used to develop film, but the one by one click and twist was a slow process, and not something I had the patience for. It didn’t make the same type of music.

All evening, I have been listening to the same album on repeat. It’s Andrew Bird’s “Andrew Bird & The Mysterious Production of Eggs”, which contains only one song that I have known before today. “Skin is, My”, was put together on a mix cd that a friend made for me a couple of years ago. He called the mix ‘assorted audio comforts’, and wrote it in blue permanent marker across the face. Retrospectively, I realize that it was an incredibly romantic gesture.

While I’m sitting here, listening to all the different kinds of sounds that are being made by non-conversationalists, with the sounds of a vaguely familiar artist drifting in through the speakers at the sides of my computer, I start to think more and more about silence. I don’t spend much time being quiet anymore.

a day in New York

I went to New York City yesterday morning with a couple of high school friends, as a day trip to begin my weeklong spring break. Not a great deal of planning went into it at all – we bought bus tickets a few days in advance, and didn’t make any arrangements for what we wanted to do until we got there. The last time I was in New York, every detail was planned out perfectly. (Of course, it made sense to have a strict schedule – the last trip was a mid-year retreat for an organization I am on the planning board for, and we had to coordinate a group of 40.) Yesterday’s trip was just a group of four of us, and we could do with a certain degree of freedom.

eating a very tiny piece of pizza.

eating a very tiny piece of pizza.

So we got off the bus in the morning, and walked to Times Square. It’s something that I usually avoid, but it was the first time that Andrew had gone to Times Square, and sharing in something for the first time with a friend made it exciting.

DSC01752  DSC01738


We walked to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, going through Central Park. We stopped a couple of times just to sit and watch, and it was really relaxing. There is always so much to see at the museum. I wouldn’t know how many times I have been there before, but it seems like I always come across something new that I like.

There is a visiting exhibition about ink art, and I thought that Eric would enjoy it. We saw it last, and I sat in the garden room for a little bit and just waited and felt calm. Eric is going to spend the next two years in the Korean military, and I am going to miss him when he is away.

Book from the Sky, Artist: Xu Bing. From "Ink Art: Past as Present in Contemporary China", temporary exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Book from the Sky, Artist: Xu Bing. From “Ink Art: Past as Present in Contemporary China”, temporary exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

From the museum, we walked back across the park and took the subway back to the Penn Station stop. Kane said that it was his first time on the New York City subway, and I was surprised by that, though I don’t exactly know why it was a shocking statement. I spent a lot of time riding the subway in my junior year of high school for a short internship in New York, and I took a liking to the subway system there. We walked to movie theater and watched the Lego Movie, which was incredibly good. The theater was mostly empty and I didn’t feel bad about laughing as loudly as I did.

We got burgers from the Five Guys right next to the theater and walked to catch our bus, which we made in plenty of time. Andrew and I sat next to each other on the ride back home, and we got to talking for a while, just asking questions of one another. It’s nice to have those types of conversations with old friends.

skyline from central park.

skyline from central park.


Last week, I cried for the first time in what might have been months. I was feeling homesick, and didn’t want to deal with the things I was dealing with. I used to cry a lot when I was a child, and it’s something that I didn’t grow out of entirely as I grew older. Realizing that I haven’t cried in a long time also filled me with a type of sadness in its own way.

It was mid-afternoon, and it felt like everything was exploding and imploding. I felt huge and small and contradictory. I was anxious about things that were out of my control (always a dangerous place to be, and always a frustrating thing to fixate on) and needed someone to tell me that everything was going to be okay. I was tired, and I wanted to not have a sink overflowing with dirty dishes that were not my own, to go to sleep in my bed, and to be back at home. Vocalizing the distinction between dorm and home was a funny thing for me.

I spend a fair amount of time in my dorm – cooking, sleeping, and studying. I host friends in my kitchen and we cook together over a crowded coiled stovetop. I sit on my couch with my roommate and watch television, when we both get the free time to do so. I listen to music at loud volumes, dance in varying states of dress and undress in the mornings and at night. I live in my dorm, but I don’t feel like I occupy it, which is a far more difficult and more conscious decision to make.

It’s strange to feel homesick for something that is so close by. When I’m stressed out, I miss my childhood home. The distance from my neighborhood to my campus is a little more than a dozen miles. (I’ve biked back and forth on several occasions over the summer.) And I feel selfish for missing it, because it isn’t inaccessible in the same way that home is inaccessible for my international friends. Still, it’s a brand of homesickness all the same, and I am deciding to dissect it.

I’m writing this all out from the couch in the living room of my childhood home, drinking tea and wearing the more embarrassing printed pajama pants that I don’t let people see. There are pictures in frames on the mantelpiece, and pieces of furniture that don’t look exactly the same as the standard set issued by the dorms. It’s unique, but what’s more is that it’s familiar and concrete. Knowing that my parents are at home to keep me company and protect me from the occasional meanness of the world also keeps me coming back. I need a place where I can feel safe feeling vulnerable.

Next year, I’m moving off campus into a house that I will share with friends. I wonder if being anchored to a house and a lease will change the way that I look at home. When I get my own picture frames and buy my own end tables, maybe I won’t feel the same dependency on my parents and on routine.  I think that it’s an obvious part of maturation, when one no longer feels homesick. I wonder when I’ll reach it.

Sharing a meal with friends

Last week, I cooked dinner with friends at an apartment off campus. J. and G. met with me at my dorm, and we walked over together. I brought over lentils, a box of pasta, and a mix of vegetables. Bobby, whose apartment we visited, taught us how to make bread. In the second grade, my class used to bake loaves every week to bring down the street to the men’s rehabilitation mission, but I hadn’t done it since.

B. bakes bread frequently, and knows how to fold the dough into itself with ease. I didn’t quite have the style yet, but shaped it to the best of my ability. After the dough had risen again, we slapped it experimentally and cut the letter X into the tops of each ball with a large sharp knife and put it into the oven.

I cooked lentils and pasta over the stove, and we chopped our vegetables into rough chunks. I have never made lentils before. Truth be told, I can’t remember ever eating them before I went over to M.’s for brunch this January. (She lives in the same apartment as B., along the other side of the building and several floors above. She let me in through the fire escape door and we climbed in through her bedroom.) Once the bread was baked we mixed lentils and pasta shells together with the vegetables. L. had arrived by this time, and we sat down around the wooden kitchen table and shared our meal.

I really enjoyed it, and am glad that we spent the time together. It made me happy, and I hope that we do it again soon.

Lately, a lot of discussion on campus has had to do with mental health and wellness. I understand that it is an incredibly important topic to discuss, and am glad that it is getting the recognition that it needs. The culture at my university is frequently a stressful one – at an Ivy League institution, the competitive and pre-professionalism can sometimes make moments of relaxation and restfulness seem like wasted time. We have high expectations for grades, responsibilities to our organizations, and aspirations for summer internships and jobs. However, in our pursuits of prestige, I think we can very easily lose sight of purpose.

This isn’t to say that my peers (and myself included) aren’t purposeful. I have met some of the most driven and well planned people here at Penn, whose plans for the next several years surpass most things that I could imagine doing in a lifetime. To me, purpose has a lot to do with emotional and intellectual fulfillment, both in the present and for the future. I need reminders, sometimes, to seize opportunities for “wasted time”, to spend a few hours in a conversation with a friend instead of on another application for summer research funding.

One of my goals for the year was to be more mindful, and spend more time connecting with the people around me. Dinner was part of that. This weekend, spent on a trip to Washington, D.C., with friends, was part of that. Taking a few moments from my day to write this is part of that.

Gong Hay Fat Choy! Thoughts on Lunar New Year.

red and gold fireworks

The house is cleaned thoroughly before the Lunar New Year to sweep out bad luck, but not on New Year’s Day, for fear of cleaning out the good luck in store for the coming year. It’s apparently a traditional practice, or so I hear from the internet. My family didn’t adhere to a lot of these traditions growing up. In a multicultural household, it’s hard to keep track of all of the things you’re supposed to do, or the days that you’re supposed to do them on.

Still, I find comfort in traditions. Although the ways that we perform them may be different, and although my interpretations of their meanings may not be universally shared, it is something that I grew up around and appreciate. This year, as a sophomore, I am living in a dorm with a full kitchen. While it has a pitiful amount of counter space on which to work, I have enjoyed being able to get off of the dining plan and cook my own meals. I decided that I wanted to celebrate lunar new year by cooking dinner with my older brother. My mother sent me her recipe for wonton filling a few weeks ago, following a conversation that we had over the phone.

Although I could likely approximate many of the ingredients at the grocery stores around Penn, I made a trip out to Chinatown to purchase most of the things that I needed. As a note, I can’t read Chinese, and the small amount that I can say always tends to comes out convoluted and incorrect. (My garbled American tongue doesn’t know the accents it ought to use, and fails to replicate the proper tones.) Still, grocery shopping in Asian stores has a sense of familiarity with it. I spent enough time shopping with my mother in the Chinese grocery store to recognize labels and packaging, to know what brands we always liked and disliked.

I cleaned my apartment – washing and folding laundry, sweeping the floors. Although I know that these are behaviors that we should ingrain in our day to day lives, I sometimes fail to pay sufficient attention to the small tasks associated with cleaning and washing. One of the things that I know I need to work on in the coming year is mindfulness, and working on being present. Appreciating

I prepared food – pulling out bottles of sesame oil and soy sauce from my pantry, and oyster sauce and green onions from the refrigerator. I try to cook Chinese food whenever I can, but as a college student with time constraints, heavily involved meals don’t tend to happen too frequently. My dinner crowd increased from just myself and my brother to my three roommates. And, overall, it was really nice. I made wonton soup and a rice noodle dish, and enjoyed both the processes of cooking and sharing. We got to talk, and to listen.

It certainly isn’t tradition in its strictest sense – I don’t think that my ancestors had originally pictured that the new year would be ushered in by a mix of students in a crowded living room, looking out over the skyline. Still, I can’t imagine having it any other way, and feel that the purpose of the festivities (a celebration of togetherness, and remembrance) is one that has been maintained. I’m glad to have spent the day and night with friends and family, and am looking forward to continuing it throughout the rest of the year. Tonight, I’ll be cooking a second time for a dinner with friends in a student group I am part of. I mixed more wonton filling, and have hard boiled eggs sitting in my fridge to turn into tea eggs. Some more friends are coming over to help me prepare the meal, and walk it over to the halls together. It’s certainly starting my new year off right.

Gung Hay Fat Choy! Happy Year of the Horse! Wishing you and those you love a happy and rewarding year ahead of you.

Mid-Autumn lion dance