Life At It’s Greatest Low

Hi friends.

This past week has been a trying one, indeed. With the start of a new job, petty dance drama, relapse into a depressive low and loved ones being in the hospital, my life as of late seems to be trapped in a shadow of negativity. That’s why I haven’t been active on my blog this past week, and I apologize for that.

As I make my transition into adulthood and begin dealing with more and more with people beyond my immediate family and friend circle, the following truth has unveiled itself to me, many times over: in life, you will face many sharks. Real unpleasant, obnoxious, condescending people. People who have no problem stepping on you to get what they want. People whom you once deemed friends, but at the slightest rock of the boat, turn the other direction. People who, no matter what you do or say, will just keep on disliking you, for no apparent reason.

I am truly blessed to have a family that, no matter what, will love me without bounds. There are very few people in life whom you can trust wholeheartedly, and family members are amongst the select few.

I won’t get into the details of what kind of drama– particularly within the dance world– I’ve been dealing with. Behind the limelight of sparkly gowns, theatrical makeup and magical, entrancing dancing, the reality of competitive ballroom dancing is in fact very ugly, fraught with drama and politics and pettiness all around. This is something I’ve grown to realize with experience. It isn’t a world I wish to be apart of. There was a time, this past week, when I was about ready to hang up my shoes forever. I was sick of dealing with cult-like loyalty ties, endless gossip, the exorbitant financial cost of lesson packages, and manipulative and disingenuous people. Everything bad and ugly about this world seemed to simmer and boil, until it hit me– slowly, at first, then with full force.

I don’t know if my wanting to quit dance was my depression talking, or Belicia talking. As I’ve told you guys before, my highly unstable moods have a way of affecting my day-to-day living and decision making. Sometimes, I’ll find myself riding the greatest of highs, accomplishing every goal I set my mind towards and functioning at maximum capacity with euphoric positivity. During these times, I really feel that I can achieve anything I set my mind to. On the other hand is the crippling depression that hits, seemingly out of the blue, but in fact stems from a mental and behavioral pattern I’ve yet to uncover the mysteries of. When such lows creep their way in to my life, I find myself lethargic, struggling with motivation and discipline, and unable to take hold of my negative thoughts of guilt, self-loathing and feelings of inadequacy. “Why can’t you just snap out of this shit and get back to work?”, demands the demon, though Belicia knows better than anyone that this is not the way depression works. Sometimes, the lows can get so bad that I’m driven to abnormal self-harming behaviors, like purging food or cutting my skin. This past week was filled with all those things. Last Thursday, in fact, was the first time I successfully vomited food; Friday was the first time I cut. Walking alone on the levee at 11pm, I thought to myself, “Is this really living? Waiting for the next low to strike? I used to have faith during my highs that I’ve tackled my depression for good, and that things would be better thereafter. Now, my highs are tainted with the expectation of an ensuing low… I don’t know if I want to keep fighting any longer.”

It seems to me that every time I’m faced with some kind of adversity in my life, I cannot handle it with level-headedness and grace. My emotions seem to usurp utter power over my life, and thus I am driven to engage in self-harming practices. Of course, I am working to take control of my extreme emotions– both highs and lows– with my therapist. I have faith that, with hard work, I will eventually be able to conquer my demons and regain control of my life. Now is where the real battle lies.

These past couple days, however, have shown improvement. The cloud of my depression is slowly lifting and I am finding enjoyment once more in dancing. While I have decided not to compete at next week’s competition, Embassy Ball, I am preparing for a wedding performance next month, which I am excited about. I have a wonderful dance teacher who genuinely cares about my growth as a dancer, and whom I can also call a great friend. I am back at my former dance studio, filled with my dance family whom I love dearly. Though I do not intend on pursuing a professional dance career, I know I will always keep dancing. Even if I quit dance, such intermittent phases will never last long, for dance will always find its way back to me. It’s ingrained into my soul. I love dancing. I hate the dance world, and having recently felt the effects of such drama and ugliness for the first time, was compelled to stop dancing altogether. But I know that doing so would be to empower the very people who have driven me to quit. No way will I give up, just because of the actions of some people. If I love dancing, I will find a way to transcend the ugliness of the world and dance for one person alone– me.

As usual, writing out my feelings and sharing the truth of my life– dirty socks and all– has lifted a load off my chest and made me feel immensely more at ease.

What helps me when I’m struggling inside is to look around at the tragedies of the world beyond myself. Hurricane Harvey. Typhoons in Macau. Violence in Charlottesville. Endless terrorism prevailing over Europe. My godmother, who is very sick in the hospital. All such travesties make my personal problems seem minuscule, at best. I also love going to the beach and looking at the ocean, as taking in the vastness of the infinite blue sea makes me, and all of humankind, seem insignificant. What is a human life, anyway? A mere fraction of the universe’s lifespan. Why spend your fleeting life, then, mired in stress and worry and sadness and hopelessness, when you have the power to choose a path of positivity and happiness? I am not disregarding the realities of mental illnesses like depression, and how they can cripple people into submission. In the darkest of times, the act of picking yourself back up and finding light in life once more seems impossible. But, with the help of loved ones, slowly but surely, you can dig yourself out of the hole.

This brings me back to the point of surrounding yourself with people whom you love. People who serve you. People who bring light into your life. You don’t have much of a say in what goes down in this world, but the one thing you CAN  control is yourself. You have the power to choose which people you wish to surround yourself with. You have the power to change your life into the one you envision yourself living.

I don’t know where this post is going anymore, so I’ll end it soon. My apologies, by the way, for the myriad of banalities and clichés I’ve sprinkled throughout this piece.

Concluding words: If anyone is going through a low right now, please know that you are not alone in this struggle, be that as it may seem. I am here for you, and I sympathize with you, and in me, you can find a friend to overcome this adversity with. Though human life may be short and seemingly insignificant, we can still create our own meanings and significance by living on our own terms. Enduring the hardships and inhaling positive energy with each breath we take. Life is truly a blessing. Just remember that, the next time you’re ready to give up. As long as you’re breathing, there is still hope.

 

Improv Comedy: A Metaphor for Life

Yesterday night, I conquered a huge fear of mine. I tried improv comedy for the very first time!

If you knew the old me, you’d do double-take upon hearing that I’d done such a thing as improv comedy. Belicia, the perfectionist, the perpetual planner, the girl who never cracked a smile and was petrified of the unfamiliar. How could SHE, of all people, do something as spontaneous, risky, and let’s admit– downright terrifying– as improvisation?

Believe it or not, I’ve wanted to try improvisational acting for the longest time. I am fascinated by how people can get up in front of a crowd without any prior preparation whatsoever, and effortlessly create spontaneous, authentically hilarious entertainment. It definitely takes courage, confidence, and a “just-go-with-it” mindset to do such a thing. Having battled social anxiety for most of my adolescence, I figured that improv would be the very thing to get me out of my shell. After all, what could be scarier than getting up on a stage, without a script, and acting?

Another reason why I thought improv comedy would be great for me is because it directly counters the Belicia that lives with a stick up her ass, lacks spontaneity, fears uncertainty, cautiously plans out her every step and chases perfection. For most of my life, I’ve struggled with crippling perfectionism. So intense was my fear of failure and fault that I was terrified of trying anything beyond my very limited comfort zone, as doing something I wasn’t good at would inevitably reveal my imperfection and deficiency.

In improv, the first thing to go out the window is your expectation of perfection. There’s no planning and dissecting and rehearsing a scene to saturation. The very nature of improv is to resist the temptation to plan ahead, for you never know what offer your scene partners may throw at you. Instead, improv calls for you to trust your instinct and embrace the spontaneity of the art. You throw your ego out the window, stop taking yourself all too seriously and embrace the inner craziness we all have buried deep inside us.

Improv is a real metaphor for what I need in my life– less overthinking and worry, and more trust in my ability to thrive no matter what comes my way. In fact, improv is a metaphor for life– you cannot plan out every step, and when a curveball rears its ugly head, you do the best you can to make good out of an unexpected, trying situation. Sometimes, the greatest, funniest, most genuine art comes from the most unpredictable offers and situations. So it is in life. One year ago, if you’d ask me to do improv comedy, I’d reel back in fear. Little did I know that one day, I’d amount enough confidence to do that very thing I feared most– and yesterday was that day.

At 6:30pm, my mother drove me to Palo Alto, where the three-hour workshop was being held. Of course, I was very nervous on the car ride there. I remember laughing to my mom and saying out loud, “What the hell am I doing? Improv comedy? Like who am I?!” I couldn’t believe I was actually doing something THAT out of my comfort zone. It seemed surreal. Was I terrified? Absolutely! A million thoughts raced through my head during the hours preceding the workshop. What if I make a fool of myself? What if I get really really nervous and lose my cool? What if I’m an absolutely horrendous actress? I was not alone in my self-indulgent worries, as I later found out. There is nothing easy or safe about improv. It is one of the most out-there things you could do! That’s why I am so proud of myself, and of everyone present at that workshop, for taking the hardest step of just showing up.

I arrived at Cubberly Community Center at around 7:10pm. After scoping the campus far and wide, I located classroom H-1, where the workshop was being held. I took a deep breath before walking in to a group of 16. The “ensemble”, as we called it, was already standing in circular position, presumably in the middle of an icebreaker activity, when I made my entry.

I was slightly embarrassed for being late, but what could I do but laugh and adapt gracefully to the situation?

The first game we played was one I had actually done in my Theater 20 class at UCLA. Each person in the circle stated their name and performed a corresponding gesture. We then went around the circle and repeated our own “signatures”, of sorts. After that part of the game was finished, we bumped it up a notch– each person in the circle would choose another person in the circle, and perform both their own name-gesture combination and the other person’s combo. As I had come in late, I still did not quite master everybody’s names and messed up quite a bit, but without any shame. TAKE THAT, PERFECTIONISM!

One thing I really loved about the class is its complete acceptance towards mistakes. As a rule, every time someone messed up in in some way or another, the ensemble would collectively shout, “Whoo-hoo!”, and the error would be quickly forgiven. In that setting, mistakes were not only tolerated, but openly embraced! How much more anti-perfectionism could that get? The exercise was perfect for someone like me, who used to fear making mistakes like the plague.

The first half of the night consisted of a series of improv games, done in pairs or in small groups, to get our brains “fried”, as the instructor called it. The idea was to get everyone as relaxed and uninhibited as possible, before jumping into scenes.

We took a ten-minute break at 8:30pm. Upon reconvening, we did a little check-in around the circle. Each person said a little about themselves and shared why they decided to attend the workshop and what they hoped to gain from it. As this was a beginner’s workshop for adults, most of the attendees were well older than me (I think I was the youngest one there). Some wanted to incorporate a little more spontaneity into their lives, and thus decided to take up improv. Others, like me, were introverts trying to get out of their shells. A cute couple, Robert and Gita, was there because their two children were very much into the theatrical arts, and the two parents felt just a tad left out. This shows that anyone, at any age, can pick up improv comedy as a hobby. Even the instructor, Pam, didn’t begin improv until she was a post-doc at Stanford, ten years ago! So it’s never too late to spice up your life and experience tremendous self-growth through such a fun, interactive activity as improv comedy.

After check-in period concluded, we went on to play the timeless game of “Yes, and”. We each paired up with another individual; partner A started the scene with an action, partner B built on that by saying something like, “Hello, ‘X’. Looks like you’re doing ‘Y'”, and partner A responds to Partner B’s observation.

My partner was a man named Robert (not the Robert who came with his wife). I was partner A, and he was Partner B. In our second scene, I opened by pretending I was writing a letter. He remarked, “Hey, Beth. Looks like you’re busy writing a letter, of sorts.” I then replied, in a hopelessly romantic tone, “Yes John… it’s a love letter… for Ben.”

We went on to do a few of these improvised scenes in front of everyone. It was a little nerve-wracking at first, as sometimes you find yourself drawing a blank when called to begin a scene, but eventually, you learn to have fun with just going with the first thing that pops into your head, and letting your instinct guide you instead of conscious thought.

The final exercise of the night was improvised storytelling. We were divided into groups of 4 or 5. Each group was given a story spine that began with “once upon a time”, and ended with “and the moral of the story is”. Each person in the group was in charge of filling in the blanks of the script with anything they pleased, making for quite the interesting end-product! We did three rounds of this within our groups. At the end, each group picked their favorite story and narrated it to the class. Meanwhile, another group stood close by, acting out the story as it was being narrated. Talk about double improv!

When it came time for my group to be the “actors”, I had already seen how it was done once, and was actually quite excited to see what story we’d be given. The story we acted out went something like this:

“Once upon a time, there was a very beautiful woman. Every day, she’d eat lots and lots of fish. Until one day, all the fish in the pond disappeared! And because of that, she was forced to turn vegetarian. And because of that, she became protein deficient! And because of that, all her fingernails fell off and she became ugly!!! Eventually, she learned that true beauty stemmed from within, and she made it her life goal to preach this truth to her peers. And the moral of the story is, what counts above all else is inner beauty. The end.”

Because my group and I had no idea what the story would be beforehand, we couldn’t possibly designate roles for each person. When the story began, someone had to jump right in to play the lead role of the beautiful woman. That person was me. When the fish were introduced, my three other group members became fishes swimming in the ocean. I proceeded to take imaginary bites out of their limbs. Then, all the fish disappeared, so my teammates ran away from me. I responded by looking crestfallen. Then, I became vegetarian; my teammates returned to the stage as vegetables, and I continued to bite chunks out of their bodies. Then, I became protein deficient. Unsure of how to act out “protein deficient”, I simply rolled around on the floor in a fetal position, which elicited many laughs from the audience. Then, my fingernails fell off, and I stared at my nails in utter horror, gasping shallow breaths and falling to my knees despairingly. When I discovered that true beauty stemmed from within, I looked up to the audience, smiled, and placed both my hands on my heart. I turned to my teammates and preached my findings to them, while they all nodded their heads in agreement. And that, my friends, was the first complete improv scene I’ve ever performed!

Overall, I believe last night’s experience was formative in so many ways. I learned the beauty of trusting my instinct, rather than methodically thinking and reasoning my way through life, as I am so used to doing. In the span of three hours, I gained a tremendous amount of confidence in my ability to handle myself in public situations. This confidence was acquired only by experiencing the gripping terror of facing a crowd, without a clue as to what to do or say and equipped with nothing but your instinct, creativity and ability to adapt, and STILL making it out alive. I grew markedly less inhibited of being shamelessly weird and comical. I expanded my repertoire of identities beyond Myself, playing characters ranging from a Navy SEAL trainee, a hopeless romantic, a neighborhood gangster to an admonishing mother.  Improv has taught me that, in life, sometimes the greatest beauty stems from the most unexpected things. Thus is confirmed my mantra of “leaning into uncertainty” and “embracing it with open arms”.

I highly encourage EVERYONE of all ages to give improv comedy a try, no matter how scary it may seem. Trust me when I say, I was so terrified that, an hour before the workshop, I had half a mind to waste my $50 by not showing up and remaining comfortably ensconced in my hole of comfort. Thank goodness I had the will to quiet that voice and go through with my commitment, no matter how scary it was in the moment. You all can do this too! I promise you– the feeling of accomplishment you gain . upon facing a fear– not out of necessity, but out of personal hunger to rid your spirt of that terror– is unlike anything you can imagine. For each time you are able to push yourself out of your comfort zone, you gain confidence and momentum to keep going and keep pushing. This is a potent form of empowerment.

My improv experience will not stop here, though. I plan on auditioning for an improv theater group at UCLA next year. To push myself even more beyond my perceived limits, I also plan on auditioning for HOOLIGAN Theater’s production of Cabaret and The Little Mermaid, and even some cappella groups (the latter is more of a dare I promised my best friend I’d follow through with). I’ve already enrolled in a public speaking class for fall quarter– that’s yet another low blow to my social anxiety. The momentum is there. Really and truly, I believe that life begins the moment you stop listening to the fearful, terrorizing, inhibiting voice in your head that screams NO, and start taking risks and challenging yourself to do the very thing you think you cannot do.

I think it’s appropriate to conclude this post with some wise words from my greatest role model in life:

“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”

~ Eleanor Roosevelt

 

 

 

 

 

Advice for Incoming College Freshmen, Part 2

Hello, my friends! Here is the long-awaited part 2 of my two-part advice for incoming college freshmen series. Sorry it took so long for me to upload– I have no excuse, other than the fact that I’ve been procrastinating with many of my blog posts in-the-making. Bad Belicia! Anyway, hope y’all find my two-cents at least somewhat helpful. I aim to ease college freshmen’s transitions into this new and exciting life chapter. Don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions at all regarding college life… or life, in general!

Hobbies/Extracurriculars

  • Extracurricular activities are a HUGE part of the college experience. It is through such that you make close friends, take a mental breather from your studies, delve into existing passions, discover new interests and grow yourself in various dimensions. Don’t study all day, if you can avoid it!!!
  • You may find that, in the beginning of your college experience, your studying-to-extracurricular ratio is something like 90:10, or even 100:0. This is completely normal, and encouraged, even. As a freshman, you want to give yourself sufficient time to adjust to not only college-level academics, but also to the newfound responsibilities that come with living independently for the first time. As a UCLA English professor wisely advised, “During fall quarter of freshman year, you should be focused 100% on your studies. Winter quarter, you can get involved in one extracurricular; spring quarter, add another, if you can handle it.” As you progress through college, the end ratio of studies to extracurriculars should be more like 50:50 (at least, that’s the ratio UCLA encourages its students to strive towards). As you become a seasoned student, you’ll become a lot better at studying efficiently, budgeting your time smartly, prioritizing responsibilities and saying no to activities that don’t serve you; thus, by the end of your college journey, you’ll find yourself better adept at balancing school with hobbies.
  • You WILL feel tempted to try every club/extracurricular your university has to offer. I know I was! Going into UCLA, I had a long bucket list of every club/extracurricular activity I wanted to partake in during my freshman year: undergraduate research; X, Y and Z pre-med club; the Daily Bruin school paper; HOOLIGAN theater; UCLA Dancesport club; UCLA Salsa Society; ICARUS contemporary dance group; Foundations choreography; Bruin Toastmasters; Campus tour-guiding; etc. etc. etc. The reality was sobering, as I soon discovered that studying left me little to no time to pursue all I wanted to. Don’t worry, though. You may not accomplish everything on your bucket list your first year in college, but over the course of four years, you will.
  • Greek life. Admittedly, I’m not the best person to ask about fraternities and sororities, as I am not one to partake. However, if that’s something you want to explore, by all means, go for it! I have many friends at school involved in social frats/sororities, as well as pre-professional, co-ed fraternities. As one floor-mate described, “You’ll never get another experience [like Greek life] than in college.” Many people like Greek life because it ensures you a group of close-knit “brothers” and “sisters”– a family away from home, of sorts. Many brothers and sisters remain close friends well after college. Of course, you don’t need to be a part of a frat or sorority to make long-lasting friendships in college. Many are also drawn to the party lifestyle that naturally characterizes Greek life. If you’re into that kinda thing, you’d probably be inclined to partake. During freshmen orientation, I met a UCLA alumnus who, during his UCLA undergrad days, was a very active member of his fraternity. While he enjoyed his experience, he advised college freshmen to “not commit to a frat/sorority during freshman year”, as doing so may hinder you from exploring other fields of interest. Indeed, Greek life is a large time commitment, not to mention being a money-suck. Regardless, if you’re at all interested in joining a frat/sorority, definitely try “rushing” a house– aka, participating in various social activities (parties, dinners, meet n’ greets, etc.) to get to know the members of the house. At the end of rush week, active members invite hand-selected individuals whom they believe would be a good fit for their house to “pledge”. Pledging is the initiation process of being accepted into a frat/sorority, usually lasting an entire academic quarter. Pledge quarter is notorious for being mentally, emotionally and physically tough on the “pledges”. Not everyone can make it through the pledge process, as pledges are “hazed”, with severity of hazing varying from house to house. Hazing is the process by which active members push pledges to the mental and physical breaking point, through various (cruel) tactics. One common technique practiced by many social frats is forcing pledges to drink to the point of oblivion. Actives often place pledges “on call”, during which time pledges must perform ANY task for actives, when called upon. Essentially, slavery. Personally, I am very against the idea of hazing, and have no idea why universities tolerate– let’s call it what it is– low-key torture. I had a friend who was nearly hospitalized for alcohol poisoning when forced by actives to drink beyond her physical limit. According to some, pledging is a great way to build character. I don’t know if forsaking your mental and physical health to be apart of an insular community that prides itself on its indulgent partying/drinking/licentious culture is worth it. But again, I won’t tell you not to try it out, if you’re at all interested.
  • On a related note, just because you’re surrounded by people who engage in, for want of a better phrase, worldly vices, you needn’t feel peer pressure to do anything you don’t want to do, like drinking, hooking up, drugs, etc.
  • And if you choose to engage in the above pasttimes… just be safe! Your university will do a whole spiel on that at freshman orientation, so no need for me to go into that.

R+R Advice: Romance and relationships. Oh, how I can talk ENDLESSLY about this topic! For many, college is the time when they begin hooking-up, dating, falling in love and even finding their “one-and-only”. It is here where many may experience their “first time”, however mind-blowing or downright cringeworthy (the latter, more often than the former) it may be. You often hear married couples tell you the story of how they “met in college”. There seems to be a lot of pressure to find your future spouse in your undergraduate days– albeit less so than in past generations– but for some, especially at big-name universities, the pressure still exists. From the (little) romance I’ve experienced during my first year at UCLA, here are some of the do’s and don’ts I’ve gathered regarding intimacy in a college setting.

  • If you live in the dorms, I highly advise against hooking up with your next door neighbor, as more often than not, it never ends well. In fact, try to avoid “floorcest” at all costs, lest you fancy a year’s worth of awkward eye-contact, hiding behind corners or in dorm bathrooms, and unbearable, face-reddening elevator rides with “he/she who shan’t be named”.
  • Wait wait wait, Belicia. What exactly does “hooking up” mean? I never partook in high school, and while I have a vague idea of what the activity involves, a clear-cut, Merriam Webster definition would be nice. Okay, fair enough. The thing is, I don’t have a definitive answer for you, for the term “hooking up” means different things to different people. To some, hooking up is equivalent to sex and sex alone. Others view it as an umbrella term covering anything from making out in a prostrate position to fourth-base, and all the gray-area in between.
  • If you didn’t know already… Hookup culture pervades college campuses across the nation. Whether or not you choose to partake in the action of hooking up is entirely up to you. But the CULTURE is felt by everyone. In a closed community where casual sex is normalized, you may experience a bit of culture shock when first arriving on campus, especially if you came from a sheltered, conservative upbringing, like I did. You’ll hear stories of so-and-so sleeping with a different person each week, and you may wonder to yourself… why am I not “getting any”? It seems like everyone’s doing it. Is something physically the matter with me, to have brought upon this lack of attention? Here are the facts: not everyone is “doing it”. Studies have shown that students highly overestimate the amount of hooking up going on amongst their peers. If one-night-stands are not your cup of tea, don’t feel pressured to do it! It’s as simple as that. You’re an adult, and you are in full control of whatever you do or don’t do. However, I speak from personal experience when I say, it’s easy to feel pressure to go with, rather than against, the tide of hookup culture. Some may come into college with very strict and conservative views regarding sex, but emerge after their first year with a completely different outlook. That is totally okay. Just remember– don’t feel pressure to do anything you are not comfortable doing. Know your own boundaries, and don’t be afraid to say NO to the other party. If you’re curious about the hookup-life that you’d shied away from in the past and wish to dabble… don’t feel shame in experimenting. Like I keep emphasizing, college is all about new experiences. You try new things, make mistakes, and hopefully learn and grow from the mishaps. Whatever you do, though, just remember to be SAFE. Life’s too precious to throw away carelessly.
  • Your first year of college is probably the first time in your life when you’ll meet so many different people in such close proximity. That’s another reason why hooking up is so common among college students. It’s accessible. Convenient. You’ve probably heard of the dating/hook-up app, “Tinder”. Well, college students love “Tinder”, as the app “matches” you with people located near you. So, if you’re living in the dorms, you can literally “match” with someone a single floor down from you. And, without parents or logistical limitations… nothing’s really stopping you from hooking up, except yourself, of course.
  • I highly advise reading the book, American Hookup: The New Culture of Sex on Campus, by Lisa Wade, before heading to college, if you want to learn more about hookup culture.
  • If you engage in sexual activity with multiple partners, I advise making use of the university health center and getting tested for STD’s after each hookup. Remember– do as you will, but above all, BE SAFE.
  • To date, or not to date? Again, it’s totally up to you. I personally did not get into a serious relationship my first year of college, mainly because I didn’t want to be tied down in my quest of self-exploration and meeting new people. Also, with the many new responsibilities and changes that come with transitioning to college life, I don’t think I would have had the time or energy to commit myself to another person, with school and dance and everything else on my always-overfilled plate. That said, I have many friends who’ve dated seriously throughout their freshman year of college and were happy as a clam. One especially heartwarming story is that of a friend I met during freshman orientation. Like me, she had absolutely no romantic experience before coming to college, and we were both equally clueless about boys. Not far into fall quarter, she met a very sweet guy, whom she fell in love with, and has been joined at the hip with ever since. They even have promise rings and everything. It’s so exciting, all the beautiful things college has in store for young people! So, be open to new experiences. You don’t have to make it a hard and fast rule to spurn dating or romantic relationships during your freshman year of college. If someone wonderful comes along, you may choose to date casually, and see where it goes from there.
  • What about long-distance relationships? I’m not the best person to ask about this, as I never had a boyfriend coming into college. However, I’ve seen the ups and downs of both sides. A good friend of mine broke up with her boyfriend of three years before leaving for school, and everything turned out fine for her– I can’t speak for him, though. On the other hand, many long-distance relationships between lovers  attending different schools have also worked out. I’ve also seen high school couples attend the same college, even living in the same dorm rooms, and have their relationship flourish. It’s really between you and your signifiant other to come to a mutual understanding of what you both want.
  • TA-student/professor-student romantic relationships do happen. Most college students are 18 years or older, so legally, there’s nothing stopping them from dating their mentors. Whether or not the university condones such behavior is a different matter. But yeah, just putting that out there, ‘cause I had a math professor who, at the time I was enrolled in his class, was dating a third-year undergraduate student. I remember being absolutely dumbfounded and mind-blown when I first caught wind of the gossip. It happens. Don’t be shocked if it does.

Physical Health

  • Prioritize your physical health over your studies. How can you do well in class if you’re sick in bed, barely able to sit up long enough to study? A healthy, fit body is a sound home for a fully-functioning mind.
  • Make it a habit to eat Vitamin C every day. You’ll be grateful when you’re the only one on your floor not dying during flu season.
  • Bring a water boiler to college. Technically, you aren’t allowed to have water heaters in your dorm rooms, as they pose as a fire hazard… but honestly, most students bring them anyway, and simply drape a towel over it during room inspections. Hot water is your friend, especially if you’re coming down with a cold or flu. Drink it religiously.
  • Get one of those hospital face masks that you use to protect yourself against airborne illnesses. Don’t worry about looking like a dweeb for wearing a face mask to class. Nobody cares what you do in college. If anything, people will think you’re smart for taking extensive measures to protect your physical health, and hop aboard your brain-wagon.
  • Wash your hands as often as possible. You don’t need me to tell you that.
  • Be prepared to get sick at least once each quarter/semester. It happens a lot, especially when you’re away from home for the first time, in an academically and socially stressful environment, without your parents making sure you’re eating healthy and caring for your body.
  • When you do get sick, don’t panic. Have friends close by who can buy you Tylenol from the student store or walk you to the student health center. You’ll find that your college friends do indeed become like a second family, as you have only each other to count on when you’re ill or in need of care.
  • Every diligent student’s worst nightmare is getting sick right before midterms or finals. That nightmare came true for me during fall quarter last year. I was sick in bed with a fever, cold sweats, sore throat, hacking cough and really bad stomach problems. I had a midterm coming up around the time of my illness’s zenith, and I freaked out because I didn’t know what to do. Study through my illness, at the expense of my physical health and risk of hospitalization, or rest and expedite my convalescence, so I could be well enough to perform well on the midterm?
  • To avoid the above scenario, you want to keep your immune system strong. Which brings us back to the first five points, aimed at preventing illness altogether.
  • Another primary preventive measure is to avoid pulling all-nighters. Study efficiently, prioritize your studies and don’t procrastinate. That way, you won’t need to resort to this highly unhealthy lifestyle habit, which really wrecks your immune system and, not to mention, hinders your ability to learn and retain information.

Mental Health

  • You guys, let me tell you this. Mental health is way more important than academic performance. I CANNOT stress this enough. You hear stories of college students not showering for weeks, going up-the-wall crazy pulling double all-nighters to study, and subsisting on Red Bull, coffee and Adderall to study during finals week. If you do any of these on a consistent basis, you are almost guaranteed to have a mental-breakdown before the quarter/semester’s end. It doesn’t need to be that way. You don’t need to go crazy in the pursuit of good grades. Though grades may seem like the only thing that matters in life, especially if you are a Type A, over-achieving pre-med gunner with perfectionistic expectations, there is more to life than academics, okay? Please, don’t place academics over physical and mental well-being, as I did during my winter quarter of freshman year. College is challenging, yes, but it was never meant to push you over the edge. At least, not if you are in the right state of mind. Which leads me to my next topic of discussion: the pursuit of perfection.
  • Ah, yes. Perfectionism. I know it well. Back when I was a crazy premed student, I was obsessed with earning perfect grades for medical school. The result: disappointment, burnout, self-loathing, and physical/mental downward spiral. During the peak of my perfectionism, I’d spend nights either at Powell library or the Hedrick Study, armed with my purple suitcase filled with textbooks/notebooks/study material. Oh, how I SO don’t miss those 6:00am treks back to my dorm room, sometimes through pouring rain. I’d get back to the res hall at around 6:30am, drenched from head to toe, looking like a zombie who has (literally) not slept for days. The cleaning crew members, who were just starting their morning shifts, would stare at me like I was a crazy person… and looking back, I definitely was going crazy. Moral of the story: never, ever equate your self worth with how well you perform academically, unless you wish to be like sleep-deprived, borderline-suicidal me. It is so easy for college students to fall into the tunnel-visioned pursuit of good grades, forsaking their mental well-being in the process. I implore you to try your hardest not to do this. Remember: you are not your grades. You are not measured by letters and numbers. I don’t care if you have a 5.0 GPA (not possible in college, btw)– if you don’t have integrity, it is all for naught. While you may very well be capable of earning A-plus’s in all your classes, you have to ask yourself if it’s a battle you wish to fight. Theoretically, you could study 24/7 and be a near-perfect student; but in doing so, you would necessarily be sacrificing time spent on things that make you happy and keep you sane. At the end of the day, will employers care about the difference between an A-minus, A, and A-plus? Even medical schools aren’t that nitpicky about grades. So why should you be?
  • I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: get enough sleep. That means, no all-nighters. Truly, from the bottom of my heart, I mean this. Take it from someone who’s pulled her fair share. Studies have shown that lack of sleep is correlated with increased risk of anxiety and depression. Be kind to your body and mind. Nothing is more important than health. Is staying up ’till 4am to get a 20/20 instead of 18/20 on the next day’s chem quiz worth it? I hardly think that two points is worth the cost of forsaking sleep.
  • Make use of your university’s Counseling and Psychological Services. Screw mental health stigma. In college, everyone’s gonna need a little help, at some point. Especially in the beginning. So don’t feel ashamed AT ALL for seeking professional help to get through a rough patch. It’s not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of being human.
  • Note however, that large public universities often face lack of funding in their psychological services, and thus are unable to provide long-term care for students with chronic mental illness, like major depressive disorder or anxiety. In UCLA, students with the UC Student Health Insurance Plan are granted six free therapy sessions throughout the academic year; students without this insurance plan are relegated a measly three sessions. This is the unfortunate reality that plagues universities across America. Too much demand,  too little supply. Therefore, severely understaffed psychological services cater mostly to those in need of short-term, immediate assistance– suicidal ideation, self-harm behavior, etc.

 

Last Words of Advice

  • Don’t worry about getting lost on campus during the first two or three weeks of school. Just ask around for directions! After a short while, your campus will feel familiar, and navigating your way around will become a piece of cake.
  • Google Calendar is your new best friend. Truly a godsend to help you organize your life.
  • Go in to college with an open mind. You may go in thinking you want to study one thing, only to realize that you are drawn to completely different field of study. And that is totally okay! From the age of 10, I thought I was going to be a physician. Mired in the illusion of “needing” to become a doctor, I felt like I had my entire life planned out. Two quarters in to my freshman year, I realized that premed was really a terrible fit and that, all those years I had told myself that I wanted to be a physician, I was lying to myself. While I was definitely afraid of the ensuing uncertainty when first renouncing premed, I’ve since learned to embrace the unknown of the future and relish in the freedom of exploration. Even now, I still have no idea what I want to do career-wise, but I’m open to pursuing anything, as long as it’s what my heart wants.
  • College is a time of uncertainty and questioning of your identity. For many, this is the first time their finding their “public” identity, away from the strong force of family. Embrace the journey of self-discovery and growth. It’s truly remarkable.
  • Grades are a big part of succeeding in college, but please, please remember: your grades do not define you. There is so, so much more to an individual than their academic performance. If you equate your self-worth with your GPA, you will live a highly unbalanced life, fighting an impossible battle towards academic perfection that’ll inevitably lead to emptiness, loneliness, burnout and disappointment. For college students, especially those at an academically rigorous institution, it can be so easy to get sucked into the obsession of earning that 4.0 GPA. After all, good grades lead to better pre-professional/graduate schools, which lead to better job prospects, right? But when you lose sight of the bigger picture– that school is a mere fraction of your life course, and it is character, not letters and numbers, that define you– you are more at risk of becoming anxious, depressed and miserable, the minute you start underachieving academically. Don’t freak out if you, a straight-A+ high school student, start getting B’s or C’s during your freshman year of college. College is naturally more challenging than high school, for many reasons. But challenges beget growth, and that’s what we all want at the end of the day, right? To grow and to learn.

 

Hope you guys found this pre-college advice useful. Again, please reach out if you have any other questions. Until then, have a great rest of the week and good luck to those embarking on their new and exciting life chapter!

When You Feel Down… Write It Out!

Hi friends. Today was a down day for me. It was just one of those mornings when, no matter how hard you tried to tell yourself to get out of bed, the very task seemed impossible.

I had had a sleepover with my friend, Leyla, the night before. We had a grand time catching up on college life, boys, boys, etc. We watched the Stephen King classic, “The Shining” well into the early hours of 3am. The film, hailed as one of the greatest horror movies ever made, really plays mind games on its spectators. I think I’d have to watch it one more time before truly understanding the plot, let alone the film’s meaning.

I had planned on waking up at 8am to start my day. As usual, though, I ended up hitting the snooze button, and slept in ’til the bright rays 10am infiltrated Leyla’s purple curtains. Leyla graciously gave me a ride home. At home base, I took a shower then headed to my room to plan out my set of daily goals.

  • meditate
  • write about my New York trip
  • read “Wuthering Heights”
  • dance
  • exercise
  • answer time-sensitive emails/messages
  • regain the former focus and discipline I’d practiced as a gymnast

Here’s the thing with me and goals, though. I am both goal-oriented and ambitious. Therefore, I tend to overestimate how much I can squeeze into 24 hours’ time. Oftentimes, I’ll have laid out in front of me 10 different goals to accomplish, without a clue as to where to begin. Ambition is a great quality to have, yes. But ambition alone will not guarantee success. It is ambition, channeled into strategic daily practice, that will bring about progress.

Goal-setting is indeed an art. As much as we like to believe we’re superhuman, the reality is that we all have our limits. It is important in life to know what you don’t know– I had a big talk with my father about this particular life skill, one that many of his physician colleagues seem to lack. But back to my point– you’ve gotta set realistic goals. Attempting to build Rome in a single day is impossible and will of course lead to disappointment. Not only do your goals have to be realistic, they also must be triaged, with the most pressing task placed at top priority, and all succeeding tasks lined up below in order of decreasing urgency. After deciding which goals to tackle and which to leave to tomorrow, you must create a detailed road-map as to how you are going to achieve this goal. It is not enough to say, “Today I am going to write.” Okay… but what are you going to write, and what do you wish to accomplish with that writing? Is your goal to finish chapter one of your next novel? Complete the first draft of your college essay? Point is, the more specific you are with what you need to get done, the greater the likelihood of you getting it done.

Man… that was a HUGE digression about goals. I should’ve just written a whole different blog post about strategies for effective goal-setting, huh… Oh well. Back to my day. So I laid out all these goals, without putting into practice all I had just preached about goal-setting, how-to. I started with the seemingly easiest one– meditate. I rolled down my curtains, closed the door of my room, sat on a chair and listened to a guided morning meditation from YouTube. Diversion– do you guys think guided meditations count as legitimate meditation, or are they just a dumb-downed version of meditation, made easier for laypeople? Anyway, after the 20 minute meditation video concluded, I opened my eyes, only to feel super drowsy. Eventually, I succumbed to the voice in my head and crawled under the covers of my untouched bed sheets. Have I lost all mental willpower to resist tantalizing temptation (in this case, the beckoning of my soft, warm bed)?

I woke up around 1:30pm. With the former bulk of the day gone, I felt ashamed for choosing sleep over productivity. I looked over at my “Goals” whiteboard; all I had accomplished thus far was meditation, which, if I’m being honest with myself, is but an excuse for me to close my eyes and stay a few minutes longer in la la land, before landing back to reality. But time doesn’t stop, and there’s no use in doting on wasted minutes. All you can do is make the most of the remaining day, right?

So I went downstairs and ate Japanese take-out lunch with the fam. As I am on a quest to lose weight– yes, I know I look perfectly healthy and absolutely don’t need to diet; but I am not yet happy with my bodily appearance and henceforth am taking steps to earn my dream figure, though I know that being “skinnier” will change nothing of my inner demons– I told myself to abstain from carbs. But oh my, that Japanese white sticky rice called for me… I needed something to balance out the rich, sweet and sour Teriyaki sauce richly coating the chicken and salmon… I relented, and stuffed my face with rice. Oh fie, fie, fie!!! “For shame, for shame,” cried the voice in my head. I grew weak. And because of that, I had to take measures to NOT eat the rest of the day, to lessen the blow of what I had just done.

Following lunch, my mother graciously drove me to San Jose for dance practice. I had brought “Wuthering Heights” with me, planning to read on the car ride to the studio. In one of my Griseldaish, self-loathing moods, however, I was intent on withdrawing into myself and my unhealthy thoughts. My mother is my greatest confidant; she is the one I turn to when I need help. I didn’t quite know how to express all that pent-up negative emotions I felt in that moment… It started with guilt and shame attached to not being nearly as productive as I wished to be, and giving into my terrible carb cravings. From there, the negative emotions took a life of their own. I’m telling you, guys– when I’m in my depressive states, it doesn’t take much for my emotions to spiral downward.

So, the car ride. I tried to convey to my mother all I felt. The low motivation to dance, though I had already committed to performing at a family friends’s wedding; questioning of my former identity as a disciplined, hardworking, strong-minded, focused individual– I am as far from that person now as I am from New York City; the immense guilt felt from causing my family members so much distress with all my mental health issues. Just… a lot of stuff on my mind, with no feasible way to appease my mental anguish. I mean, I could meditate, yes… but when you are so deep in the vortex, the hope of getting out is so slim, that it is so, so much easier to just succumb to the negativity and wallow in self-pity, than it is to say, “SCREW YOU, VILE VOICE. I WON’T HAVE YOU ANY LONGER. I CHOOSE HAPPINESS, AND BY GOD’S NAME I WILL GET IT.”

I had much I needed to release, in that moment, but my mother is no therapist. I expressed to her how I felt nothing but pressure and frustration with dance, and oftentimes thought of quitting the sport (why, I will get to in a later blog post). She responded angrily, telling me that I could not flake on my promise to dance at the September 23rd wedding. I told her I was never planning on quitting… but it didn’t mean I had to be happy about doing it. The conversation started there and went on to my impulsive tendencies, my inability to stick to commitments, my life being dictated by my untamable emotions.

All of the above are truths about me. I am undoubtedly a passionate and ambitious individual. If something inspires and strikes a chord in me, I will, at once, pour my everything into whatever the object of obsession is at the time. That’s the thing, though– at the time. Lately, I’ve realized that many of my life endeavors, beyond school and gymnastics, have been but mere impulses. Let us take dance, for instance. Earlier in the summer, I was inspired and motivated to dance for the Embassy Ball competition. I went all out into my training, spending entire days locked away in a studio, practicing. Pushing myself to my breaking point, I felt like my old self again– the little girl who’d never talk or complain at gymnastics practice, but just silently and resolutely fight towards improvement. Then, of course, the burnout ensued. It wasn’t but two weeks into my military-dance training, when I grew exhausted and reluctant to keep going. Then, I decided to not do the competition. That competition was the only thing keeping me training as hard as I did, which shows that, maybe, my goals are not aligned in the right place. I dance hard when faced with an external goal, like performing well at a competition, but when the external motivation is taken away, and I’m left with simply the motive to dance to IMPROVE MYSELF… well that just isn’t enough for me, now is it? Note to self– work with therapist on becoming more intrinsically motivated than extrinsically driven.

Again, I digress. Where was I? Oh yes. The dance anecdote illustrates how quickly I can go from 100% to nothing at all. Why can’t I just stay at a steady 50%? Consistently training two productive hours each day, whilst having time to enjoy other aspects of life, beyond the in-the-moment goal.

Consistency is what I lack. Shocking, right? It took me a while to recognize this fault in myself… My pride of being a “former gymnast”, with the mental toughness of steel, hindered me from recognizing that I have since fallen from my former self. What’s that quote they say? “It’s always a lot easier to let something fall apart than it is to try to hold it together.” The shield of armor that was my athletic discipline has slowly melted in the past five years I’ve been out of gymnastics. This realization is a bitter pill to swallow, but a necessary one at that. Dance is not the only instance of me wanting to quit when the going gets tough. What about the day-to-day struggles? Fighting, but ultimately losing the battle, to get out of bed at the sound of the alarm. Knowing I should be taking cold showers, but giving in to the hot water my body yearns for in the moment. Knowing better than to stay up late, surfing the net and doing absolutely nothing constructive, when I should be going to bed early to fix my nocturnal sleep schedule. Canceling dance lessons left and right, with the excuse of being “depressed”. [Side-note– depression is a real mental disorder, and as a person struggling with depression, I’d be the first to point out that the illness makes performing day-to-day tasks ten time harder than it would be under normal conditions. However, I also do not wish to let my depression take total reign over my life. It is so easy to fall into the loop of making excuses for yourself because of your “depression”. I know that when I do this, I am feeding my depression’s power, instead of fighting it. And I hate myself for being weak like that. Side-note, concluded.] What else, what else… eating junk food, when I’ve committed myself to eating a healthier diet. And yes, the competition. Committing to competing at the dance competition, then deciding not to do it, then deciding to do it once more, only to ultimately give up on it. I mean, how much more whimsical, flaky and impulsive can I get?

Obviously, the process of achieving goals entails one to do things one may not necessarily enjoy doing… take me wanting to transfer to Columbia, for instance. Do you think I relish the reappearance of the “Common Application”, which, a year and a half ago, I thought was the last I’d ever see of the monstrosity? Of course not. But, it’s something I need to do if I want to get into Columbia University. So I do it. Likewise, the journey to becoming a great dancer is an arduous one… the art takes years of patient, consistent training to master, and it is difficult for dancers to see concrete, day-to-day improvement. Do I jump at the thought of drilling my rumba walks over and over and over, for several hours? No. I absolutely hate it. The thing is, though, dance is something people do to ENJOY. Unlike school, which for me, is an absolute necessity, dance is something I do as a hobby, for fun. I don’t NEED to dance to make a good living. So, if I’m not enjoying it, why, oh why must I keep going? Especially when the hobby is SO FREAKING EXPENSIVE. There are so many reasons why I should give up… would it be great to become the dancer I aspire to be? Of course. But is the costly battle to get there one worth fighting?

This is the fourth big digression of this post. I apologize, guys. I just have a lot on my chest I must release.

So, here I find myself now. Still ambitious, still passionate, still capable, and still full of aspirations for myself. I am sobered, though, by my inability to stick things out to the end. It’s a real problem. I can’t become successful if I quit at the very moment I run into difficulty.

On paper, one would be surprised that I’d come to the following conclusion about myself. I was a stellar student throughout high school and college thus far; I was successful, in my own right, as a gymnast; I’ve made some not-so-bad achievements in the dance world as well. Of course, it would take a determined person to achieve, right? If you want to be successful, you mustn’t be weak. So how did I achieve all I’ve achieved in life thus far, if I’m now calling myself “whimsical”, “flaky”, “impulsive” and unable to commit long-term to a goal? Here’s my self-analysis. School was always something I had to do. I’ve gotten so good at separating my emotions from what I need to get done academically, that my grades and scholastic achievements are left untouched by the heat of my emotional ups-and-downs. Gymnastics, I started as a child. Back then, I thought little of “achieving” or becoming an “Olympian”; at the start, it was all fun and games. By the time I started training seriously as a gymnast, I had been doing the sport for so long, I just couldn’t see quitting as an option. I had my wonderful mother there to push me through all my rough patches. Just ask anyone how many times I wanted to quit the sport in my younger years, and how many times my mother had to physically force me into the car to get to practice. I look back on it all now, and I’m immensely grateful for my mother for pushing me so hard to stick with it, when I wanted to quit. But you see, already in my youth, did this pattern of “wanting to quit when the going got tough” appear. The difference is, though, when I was young, I couldn’t see myself doing anything other than gymnastics, because it was all I had ever known. So quitting was never a real option. Now, as a young adult, filled with MUCH more experience of life’s diversities, I am presented with so many doors beyond dance. No longer can I rely on my parents, or anyone for that matter, to push me to keep going. I have sole responsibility over what I decide to do in life. No one can make that choice for me, but myself. It’s terrifying, sometimes.

See, I really believe I can be successful at whatever I set my mind to, if only I knew what it was, dammit!

Maybe that is the basis behind my inability to carry out long term goals. I can’t seem to separate momentary impulses of euphoric excitement from genuine, long-lasting passion. I don’t know what I want to do, and because of that, I don’t know if the battles I am fighting are ones I truly want to fight.

And my damnable emotions… I am at the point where I can confidently say, I do not know how to control how I feel. Here is a reflective excerpt I wrote earlier today:

Emotional regulation. I’ve never been good at managing my over-the-top extreme moods– on top of the world, waking up at 5am for dance practice, training 6 hours each day; or sleeping in till noon, wandering about the house without knowing what the hell to do with my time.

Why, why, why… I just want to be steady. Please God, help me. This isn’t living. Waiting for when the next crash will happen is not living.”

My emotional highs are now tainted with the wariness of being too hopeful, for I know that, with every high, an emotional low will follow, and offset any progress I’d made in my euphoric state. Two steps forward, one step back. Such is the state of my life now, so it seems.

Thank goodness I am seeing a good therapist who will help me with emotional regulation.

Anyway, enough of my ramblings. It’s nearing 11pm– I’ve been at this post for the past 3 hours or so. Time to ride my bike back home and get some rest. No matter what, I will continue hoping that tomorrow will be a better, brighter day.

 

 

How to Handle Confrontation

Hey guys! It’s 6:12pm right now. I’m sitting in a local Starbucks, typing away.

I just finished working out at the gym. Had a nice swim, relaxed in the jacuzzi and did some sun-bathing. All was well, until I got to the locker room. I was talking on the phone with my best friend. The locker room has a no cell phone policy, so I will admit it was my mistake to be on my phone there. As I was talking, one middle-aged lady walked up to me and said, in the sassiest tone you could imagine, “Excuse me. You know there are no phones allowed in the locker room. Yeah– you see that sign? It says so right there.” I apologized to the lady and told my friend I’d call her back.

But the lady wouldn’t stop there. She continued, to her friend, “God. I can’t believe some people. They get memberships here and don’t follow the rules… They say they don’t see the sign or whatever… Puh-leez. If you want to talk on the phone, go over to the jacuzzi… drown the phone in the water, for all I care.”

Her friend replied, “Well you know, everyone does it.”

The lady continued ranting, and her friend just laughed along.

I overheard all this very rude banter, and I knew she wanted me to hear it. That part, I couldn’t stand. I walked over to the showers and placed my towels on the rack. I was going to let the whole situation go… but a part of me felt the need to defend myself. I wasn’t okay with that lady’s behavior and the rude things she said. It was neither decent nor respectful.

So I walked back over to the lockers, and after spending a few minutes contemplating what I’d say, I stormed over to the lady and her friend.

“Excuse me,” I said. The lady saw me and started rolling her eyes to her friend, without making eye contact with me.

I began, “You know, I appreciate you informing me that there are no cell phones allowed, and I will not do it again.”

The lady nodded her head in agreement.

I continued, “But you know, there is a nicer way to speak to someone. I’m 19 years old, and never in my life have I been spoken to in that way.”

The lady and her friend looked at me and gave a start when I mentioned my age. After I reprimanded her some more, the lady interrupted me and said, “Are you done? Is it my turn?” I nodded my head, handing the floor over to her.

She said something along the lines of, “I appreciate you appreciating me, and I do know that there is a nicer way to say things. I hope I can learn from you in the future.”

I was satisfied. I gave her my hand to shake, and she just ignored it and proceeded with her makeup, telling me, “Oh, we don’t need to shake hands. Nice meeting you. Have a good day.”

I walked away, a little bit shaken but immensely proud for asserting myself and standing up for what I felt was right.

The lady, needing to save her face in front of her friend, then continued: “Man, I wish I was that smart when I was 19. In another life, maybe. But god, people always say ‘You could have said it in a nicer way…’ Excuse me but I will say it however I please, and if you’re not okay with that, go to another gym!”

It just saddens me, you know? That other people have to put up with this lady’s negative energy. I pity her. She must not be happy with her own life and feels the need to take it out on others. Yes, I was in the wrong for using my cell phone in the locker room. Still, that is no excuse to treat someone with disrespect. I hope she will learn from this experience not speak to people in that way again. She probably won’t… but you know what? At least I voiced my opinion and rose above her.

I’m happy I encountered this lady, actually. In life, there are gonna be loads of really unpleasant people to deal with. Being so young and having lived a sheltered childhood, I never had to deal with many such people in my life… but I know that there will only be more and more of these crazy people in the future. The key is to stand up for what you believe is right– in this case, I did not think that lady should have spoken to me in such a manner, and I let her know it.

It’s true when they say, “Kill em’ with kindness.” I’ve learned that, when faced with confrontations, it’s important to get your point across without deliberately demeaning or disrespecting the opposing party. Be assertive. It’s a skill many have yet to master, myself included. Today was a great learning experience, though. It was my first time verbally standing up for myself– really, I’ve long struggled with doing so. In high school, I had the unfortunate experience of being made-fun of by some peers. The first time was a clique whom my best friend at the time and I would sit by during lunch. My friend and I were both into gymnastics, so we’d do cartwheels and other acrobatic tricks near them. They seemed to derive pleasure in making fun of the two of us, for whatever reason. At the time, I didn’t have the courage to stick up for me and my friend. I just took the blows. The same thing happened my senior year of high school. I was in my human biology class, home to many unmotivated students (I took the class over AP Biology because I wanted more time to dance that year). Anyway, there was one girl who sat in the back and would constantly be chatting during lecture, thus posing as a disruption to my learning. One day, I had had enough of her ruckus and called her out in front of the class. From that day on, she made it her goal to make me feel uncomfortable in that class. We had a final presentation, and I overheard her telling her friends that she’d sabotage my presentation in whatever way she could– make loud noise while I was speaking, be a rude audience member, etc. I reported her to the teacher, who I supposed talked to her, and later in the year, she apologized to me for treating me the way she did. I did appreciate her apology… but a part of me really wished I had called her out sooner and stood up for myself, instead of keeping quiet and enduring her bullying for as long as I did.

All this to say, I am pleased with my growth into a strong, vocal young woman, unafraid to stand up for herself and others. You must value yourself enough to not let others step on you.

Enjoy the rest of your day, and remember to be the bigger person when faced with crappy characters.

 

 

 

XOXO,

Belicia

Checking In With Myself, 8/15/17

As usual, when I’m feeling low, confused, angry, bitter or indecisive, I turn to writing as my catharsis. Had a rough couple of days emotionally– fighting with parents, craving independence, missing NYC, feeling guilty about the financial burden dancing puts on my parents, coming to terms with reality, obsessing over losing weight, etc. Got a lot on my chest, and while I usually turn to my private diary to release this much pent-up negative emotion, I’ve decided to share my sentiment with you all, this time. Here’s what’s been up.

Missing NYC

AS you all know, I recently got back from a week-long solo trip to New York City. I had the time of my life and could totally envision myself living there– dancing, writing, exploring theater, attending Broadway shows, living the life immersed in all my creative passions. More than that, I experienced for the first time what true independence felt like. No longer did I need to rely on my family members to drive me places. New York public transportation is a godsend. Getting around via subway was SO easy, and I felt LIBERATED, being able to go wherever I pleased. The independence and convenience of living in New York, I really really missed. I distinctly remember calling my mother one day, in the middle of Times Square, gushing about the amazingness of the city and predicting that, when I got home, I’d feel trapped once more, because I wouldn’t have such independence as I had in New York. My prediction held true. I resent the fact that my parents won’t pay for my car insurance. Of course, there are valid reasons for that– the reality of paying for both me and my brother’s insurance; them not trusting me to be safe on the road; the family insurance plan being a pain in the ass, as it doesn’t allow us kids to cancel our plans once we head off to college again, thus placing undo financial burden on my father. Still, without a means to transport myself across the Bay, I am effectively handicapped. I know how I must sound– spoiled, entitled, ungrateful, the works. I should be happy with all I’ve been blessed with, instead of being bitter over what I don’t have. I guess this is all just motivation for me to graduate fast and move to NYC as soon as I get my degree.

Dance and the financial burden of this very, VERY expensive hobby.

If y’all are not familiar with the Latin/Ballroom dance world, the first thing you should know is that everything– EVERYTHING- in this industry is so freaking expensive. Lessons can get up to $130 for 45 minutes of instruction. Cost of competing is exorbitant, especially if you are dancing with your professional teacher. My teacher, for instance, charges his students $3000 per competition, and that doesn’t even include the cost of covering his hotel, flight and meals. Competition entry fees alone can cost up to $1000, depending on how many dances you dance (most competitions charge $40 per dance). Dresses can cost several thousand dollars. The whole industry is a game of who has the most money. You could be so, so talented– but if you don’t have the means to take lessons/compete/travel… I’m sorry, but you won’t go far in the sport. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but it is the reality of Latin/Ballroom dancing. A rich man’s sport, it is. So basically, this reality really hit home with me these past weeks as I prepared for an upcoming competition, Embassy Ball, with my amateur teacher. Since he was still in the amateur circuit, he didn’t charge nearly as much as my professional teacher does, but still, the cost of lessons add up. My poor dad is paying for three kids’ college tuition. He’s older than most parents of kids my age, and thus is looking for retirement soon. No longer can I take dancing for granted. My parents have always financially supported me and my brothers in all our pursuits. We live a comfortable life in the Bay Area, but our resources are limited, especially while we’re in college. Bottom line– my parents can’t afford for me to be dancing as much as I have in the past, and I can no longer turn a blind eye on the financial cost of dancing. It is not just my parents’ problem. It’s absolutely my responsibility as well. So, the point– I’ve decided today to not do the competition, for the very reason of it being unreasonably expensive. It wasn’t my parents’ decision. They had already agreed to financially support me with Embassy. Whatever happened with my dancing after Embassy, was a different story. But because they had already committed paying for Embassy, it wouldn’t have been fair for them to back out at the last minute and tell me they wouldn’t pay for it. No– the decision to not compete was all mine. After totaling the expense of the competition, which amounted to a couple thousand dollars, I felt immense guilt and unease about spending my parents’ money like that. $2000… man. That’s a LOT of money– money that could be going to my college tuition. So, I decided not to go through with it. Of course, I was upset, as I had really been looking forward to competing, and my teacher and I had poured so much into prepping for the competition. I feel terrible for canceling on my teacher, who put up with my indecision for so long– one minute, I’d decide to compete, next minute I’d be backing out. Here is my public apology to him, and to everyone who put their energy into helping me prepare for the competition. Was it all for naught, though? No. I still improved a lot as a dancer in the process of training for Embassy. That’s the victory– not winning some ribbon. Still, though… reality sucks. My blood sometimes boils at the thought of how expensive ballroom dancing is… why can’t it be more affordable, so more people can learn this beautiful art? I know that, from here on out, I will have to support my own dancing. I need to get a job while in college, if I want to be able to keep taking dance lessons. Apply for every scholarship I can find. I’m not going to put any more financial burden on my parents.

Moving to NYC

Don’t worry guys– the big move isn’t happening quite yet. It will soon, but not yet. Basically, I came back from NYC on cloud 9, and all I’ve wanted since was to move back to my favorite city. I had planned on going to NYC one more time mid-September, before school started, but it’s the money issue, again. I have to be smart with how I spend. On my post-NYC high, I decided to apply to transfer to Columbia University next fall, so I could finish my studies in New York. I originally had not intended to tell my parents about my plan and apply secretly. Only if I got in would I break the news– otherwise, it was not worth putting my parents through another of my “crazy” plans. As usual, though, I can’t keep big secrets from my mom and ended up telling her. She, of course, told my dad. As expected, the two of them were not enthused about the idea of me finishing school in New York at a reputable university, for several reasons. Firstly, the money. Cost of tuition at Columbia is nearly double that of UCLA. If I’m so worried about not placing financial stress on my parents, then transferring to Columbia is precisely what NOT to do. Secondly, the distance. They aren’t comfortable with me being across the country, as I won’t have them to turn to, should I fall into another mental crisis. Though I have two cousins and their families living in New York, my parents told me not to burden them unnecessarily. Thirdly, they don’t trust me to live in NYC quite yet, as they deem me neither responsible nor mature enough to handle the Big Apple. To that, I call bull. I THRIVED in NYC for the week I was there– granted, it was just a week– but I adapted to city life in a matter of days. My energy is perfect for fast-paced city life, and whatever street smarts I lack now, I will learn quickly. Anyway, the past weekend consisted of a LOT of verbal arguments between me and my parents, regarding why they don’t want me to go to New York. Well, it started with New York, then turned into a fight about my so-called “ingratitude”, my “rebellious nature” (I told them I’d get another tattoo, pierce my belly button and take ipecac, a vomit-inducing medication, to lose weight, mainly just to spite them/get attention), and things of that nature. It doesn’t help that my two brothers are pure angels compared to me, and I absolutely hate it when my parents start the comparison game. “Why can’t you be more like Austin and Chris,” they say. It’s especially tough being compared to your siblings as a triplet (or any multiple, for that matter), when you’re all the same age and going through similar life phases. My parents just have to understand that we are all individuals, and even though my brothers have never dabbled with caffeine, alcohol, sexual activity and body art, doesn’t mean I have to be the same way. Hurtful words were exchanged, which affected me deeply and spiraled me into a whirlwind of self-hate. Now, a few days out of last Friday’s explosive argument, I’m feeling better and have reconciled my relationships with the ‘rents. Now back to the Columbia plan. My mother told me, if I do get into Columbia (and that is a big IF, as their transfer acceptance rate is less than 10%), she may support me, as the school has a big name. Anything less than Columbia though, she says is not worth the cost. Whatever. I will apply, and if I do get in, we’ll go from there. It took reality a few days to sink in, but I now realize that moving to New York at this moment is not reasonable from a financial standpoint. As much as I wish to go, I mustn’t act on whims, impulses and passions, without considering reality. This is part of growing up, and I absolutely hate it… How I wish I could be a billionaire, so I’d have the freedom to do whatever I pleased with my life. Oh well. If Columbia doesn’t work out, I will graduate UCLA with a psychology degree as fast as humanly possible– I’ve laid out a plan, and at this rate, I can still graduate in three years. I’ll keep dancing and working part-time while in school. It won’t be easy, but I believe I can do it. Once I earn my Bachelor’s degree, I’m outta here. I love UCLA and college life and everything… but New York, guys. That’s where my heart lies in the moment. I worry about my whimsical nature– one minute, my heart’s at UCLA, and the next minute, after a week-long trip to NYC, my heart moves across the country. Why is this so? I am a very passionate person… but I’ve always had a problem being grounded in reality and separating impulses from what I truly want for myself. Yes, graduating early will necessarily deprive me of all UCLA has to offer. And no way can I go forward with the English and Psych double major plan, if I want to graduate in four years, let alone early. It’s a gamble and sacrifice… at the end of the day, though, I have to ask myself if New York and its myriad of opportunities is worth it.

New Therapist

I’ve started seeing a new adult psychologist. Her name is Dr. Wang, but I call her Marg. I have faith this is going to work out– she’s been great so far. Though, I am going back to school in a month, which may pose as an issue for communication… but for the here and now, Marg is good for me. We actually just had a phone appointment this morning. Telling her about all my recent emotional tumult has been very helpful and cathartic. I told her about my newfound obsession with losing weight. First, it was mainly to prep for the Embassy competition. I wanted to look good on the floor, and I am not quite satisfied with my body just yet. I lost four pounds during my week in New York– lots of walking and not much eating (I didn’t want to waste money on food). When I got back home and stepped on the scale, I was happy with what I saw– 126.2 lbs. In my head, I thought… This is good. I wonder how far can I go with the weight loss? My dance teacher had also commented on my weight loss, especially around my arms, and that made me feel great. Seriously, guys– hearing his positive observation was probably the highlight of last Sunday. I treasured those words like diamonds. It motivated me to keep restricting my calories. I told my therapist about my rapid weight loss, and she was understandably concerned for my health. She told me to stop weighing myself on the scale immediately, as the number only feeds into my obsession. I won’t say I have a full-blown eating disorder… but obviously something is not right in my thinking. I wonder if this recent obsession with becoming thin is mired in the guilt and self-loathing as of late… guilt about the financial cost of dancing… resentment towards myself for acting ungrateful for all my parents do for me, even though in fact, I know I am very very blessed. So now, there are two obsessions in my life– weight and money. Both probably having to do with my inability to manage my overactive emotions.

Alright, guys. That was probably the fastest I’ve ever completed a blog post. I just have so much going on in my head… so much I want to share. Thanks for putting up with my rambling. I’ll talk to y’all soon.

 

 

 

Best,

Belicia

 

Advice For Incoming College Freshmen– Pt. 1

As we reach the middle of August many young adults across the globe are ready to commence a new, exciting chapter of their lives: college!

I remember the mixture of anxiety and excitement I felt last year, right about this time of the year. I was on vacation in China with my family, but my thoughts were as far from enjoying my trip as Redwood City is from Guangzhou. Day and night, my mind was occupied with one thing: college. How would I adapt to this new environment, away from my Bay Area home of 18 years? Would I make friends? What if I don’t fit in? How difficult will college classes be? Would I be forced to pull the dreaded “all-nighter” which, up till that point, I had responsibly avoided? Would I earn straight A’s? Would I be able to do everything on my bucket list the length of my leg? How would my dancing pan out in the context of an academically rigorous environment? Would my anxiety and depression act up, once away from home? What about laundry? I’d never done my own laundry before. What if I screw up and start a fire in the res hall laundry room?

A million questions bombarded my overactive mind. I was the kid who asked every college student she knew for advice. Most of my college friends told me roughly the same thing: balance studying with fun. Time management. Enjoy each moment.

Having survived my first year of college, I can now say that, no matter how much advice you receives from peers, you cannot truly be ready for college until you experience it for yourself. Equipped with the life vest of study skills, values and personal ambitions, you are thrown from the safety of your home ship, into the waters of college. You will struggle to stay afloat, at first, but eventually, you’ll find your own rhythm.

I believe that, if you go in to college with an open, learning mind, a willingness to challenge yourself with new experiences and meet people of different walks of life, you will be fine.

Many of my pre-college anxieties were mitigated within the first couple weeks of college. They stemmed mostly from my lack of life experience and the many uncertainties that followed. Transitions are always difficult, but once you regain your footing, college will soon feel like your home away from home.

Nonetheless, I found that getting as much advice as possible from others calmed my very anxious mind. Below, I’ve compiled a list of advice for incoming college freshmen (or third-year transfer students), based on my first-year college experience. I figured I’d split this advice column into two parts, to make it an easier read for y’all. Take what you will from the list; not everything I say will necessarily apply to you. You do you– I’m here to offer my two-cents, with the hopes of easing your transition to college life and soothing some worries you may have before move-in day! So without further ado, here are some words of advice on how to survive freshman year of college!

Study Tips

  • This is for you, all you pre-meds/engineers/overachievers. Don’t spend all your time studying. I made this mistake during my first two quarters at UCLA, back when I was still a  premed gunner. Not only will studying day and night drive you up the wall; it will deprive you of developing relationships and experiencing new and exciting things, all of which is integral to your growth as a human being. Most people’s priority in going to college is to get a degree– and rightly so. But to become educated entails more than locking yourself in a study room day and night, nose in a book. Grades are important, but they don’t define you. Your experiences, relationships and memories are what count in the long-run, as they teach you street smarts and shape your character.
  • Find your best mode of study. Whether it’s attending lecture, going to professor/TA office hours, forming study groups, studying via textbook, studying by yourself, studying in your room, studying in the library, studying in the café, studying several subjects throughout the day, or diving deep into a single subject for several hours, only you will know how you learn best. It may take a little experimenting in the beginning, especially if you were one to succeed in high school without having to study much, but the goal by the end of your first year is to have developed an arsenal of study tools to draw from for future use, as your classes become more difficult.
  • In high school, attending class was mandatory, and failure to show up to school bore severe consequences. In college, lectures are merely another study tool you may choose to utilize. While some professors check attendance, most do not, as there is no efficient way to keep track of 400 students. Thus, there is really no way your professor will know whether or not you attended lecture– at least not in lower division classes at large public universities. That said, it can be very tempting to skip that 8am lecture to get some more sleep, or to nurse last night’s hangover. If you feel you can learn the material on your own, without the professor’s reinforcement of the material, then you may choose to skip lecture. I personally attended most of my lectures, as I found my professors helpful in aiding my understanding of the material. Also, professors may discuss a topic in lecture that may not appear in the textbook. If such a topic showed up on the exam, and you didn’t attend lecture the day it was discussed, you’re kind of screwed. Then again, some professors are brilliant in their respective fields, but are absolutely TERRIBLE teachers. If faced with one such professor, you may find lectures to be a complete waste of time. It’s up to you to deem lectures worthwhile or not. Just don’t go complaining when it’s finals week, you haven’t been to lecture since day one, and you’re struggling to cram ten weeks’ worth of material in to three nights, all because, all quarter long, you chose to sleep in or party instead of attending class. My apologies for sounding like a total mom for saying that, lol.
  • Try not to study late into the night/early hours of morning. When your brain is exhausted or wired on caffeine, your studying will be unproductive. The most efficient studying happens when you’re awake and alert.
  • Studying on your bed often does not end well. Trust me, I know from first-hand experience. As a sleep-deprived college student, laying stomach-down on your soft mattress, textbook three inches from your face, is a surefire way to fall asleep. REMOVE the temptation, and study somewhere you know you will be productive. Like the library, or a study room.
  • Some people advise against studying in your room altogether, on the grounds that you should preserve your room as a safe haven and place to decompress, away from the pressures of academics. Separating personal life from professional “student” life may help you preserve your sanity as the quarter/semester progresses. In the beginning of the year, I did a lot of studying in my room. Eventually, I moved my study sessions out to study rooms, the floor lounge, or the library, as I found the bed right next to my desk to be wayyy too tempting.
  • If you can, avoid pulling all-nighters. They are very bad for your body, and your studying is sure to be inefficient as the minutes of the night drag on. Back in my crazy pre-med days, I pulled my fair share of all-nighters. Looking back, it was totally unnecessary. I wasn’t even falling behind in class; I was just so hung up on getting perfect grades for medical school, that I went completely overkill with the studying. I’d stay up all night to prepare for the following week’s chemistry lectures. I’d redo problem sets two or three times, to completely solidify concepts. Basically, I strove for perfect grades, at the expense of my mental and physical health. But more on the dangers of the pursuit of perfection, later.
  • Efficiency is key, especially when you’re learning to juggle multiple responsibilities: academics, chores, jobs, hobbies, self-care, etc. Once you sit down to study, FOCUS on nothing but studying. Eliminate distractions, like music, loud noise, open Web browsers, Netflix, etc. That way, you can get your studying done in a short amount of time, enjoy life and maybe even go to sleep at a decent hour. It can be done, trust me. I have yet to succeed, though.
  • Put in the work. This one is self-explanatory, but important enough to reiterate. It’s simple- how well you perform academically is directly proportional to how much time you devote to studying. There is a caveat, though. The more time you devote to studying, the less time you’ll have for engaging in deep conversations with friends; attending dance workshops; joining the theater company; playing intramural sports; working; dating; meditating; sleeping. The whole thing is a cost-benefit analysis. You learn to prioritize what is important for you. For most people at my school, that is academics. Just because you are a pre-med or engineering student, though, doesn’t mean you must forsake a life outside the classroom! It’s all about studying smartly and efficiently. Trust me, work-life balance is a life skill that takes years of experience to truly master. Don’t feel bad if you find yourself studying 90% of the time during your freshman year of college; you’ll get better at balance with time!

Declaring a Major

  • Don’t feel pressure during your first year to know what you want to major in. Most universities don’t require students to declare a major until the end of their second year. You’ve got time, so chillax!
  • If you go into college undeclared… GOOD ON YOU! I don’t think anyone truly knows what they want to do at age 17 or 18, and it’s in college where the magic of finding oneself transpires. So take some GE classes in new and interesting topics! A good friend of mine once said, “College is a balance between earning a degree and exploring.” Even if you are sure you know what you want to do going into college, I urge you to still take some time during freshman year to expose yourself to new fields. You never know– perhaps you’ll fall in love with a random class, and your whole life trajectory will change!
  • The world won’t end if you don’t graduate in four years. Don’t get so hung up on NEEDING to graduate in four years that you limit yourself in the scope of courses you take. You don’t NEED to do anything. If you need to graduate in five years, and have the financial means to do so, then there is absolutely no shame in that!
  • A mentor of mine once told me, “A degree is not your destiny.” What you major in does not necessarily determine the career path you will ultimately embark on. Here’s what I love about the U.S. You don’t need to know what you want to study by the end of high school (or, in some cases, middle school!), and what course of study you eventually decide on is not a definitive sentence to “X” career. My uncle is a case in point. He majored in electrical engineering at the University of Florida, but after he graduated, he ended up becoming a successful CEO in Macau. Just because you major in science, doesn’t mean you HAVE to do something science-related as a career. Those on the pre-professional track can major in anything, really; in fact, medical, law, and graduate schools eat up unique applicants who major in things they truly enjoy, like music, art, history, art history, English, dance, etc. etc. (not throwing shade at science majors or anything). Point is, we often place undue pressure on ourselves to choose a major that will open doors to decent-paying jobs. What can you really do with just a Bachelor’s degree these days, anyway? “Masters is the new Bachelor’s,” as my AP Language and Composition teacher used to say. Enjoy you undergraduate years, revel in the exploration, and settle on a major you are passionate about. I understand that not everyone has the luxury to do this, but if you or your family have the financial means for you to follow your heart, I say, go for it.
  • Your major doesn’t define you, and you shouldn’t judge an individual based on what they are studying. Of course there exist stereotypes about the “nerdy, antisocial” engineering students; the “cutthroat” premed sharks; and the humanities students who “won’t get jobs”. College is a time when you will meet SO many different people, and with the sheer amount of new faces and names storming our hitherto close-knit childhood circles, it’s natural for us to seek simplicity by placing people into boxes, based on what they study. The first few weeks of freshman year, you will find yourself greeting every person you meet with something along the lines of, “Hi! My name is “X”. *handshake* Pleasure to meet you. What year are you? Oh, you’re a freshman too? That’s awesome! So what’s your major?” Your new friend answers that last question, and then, boom. Into the mental box they go. Thing is, though, engineering students are not necessarily social hermits who tinker with machines and study all day. I’ve met several engineers on my school’s ballroom dance team. And, get this– not all pre-med students are sharks who will stop at nothing to get into a top medical school. One of the kindest people I met at UCLA is a pre-med student and is currently taking a year-and-a-half break from school to serve a mission in Chilé. And, believe it or not, many humanities majors WILL find jobs at the end of the day. Your major is simply one small facet of your multi-dimensional identity. So, I definitely urge you all to meet people with different interests. There is something special in every individual that is waiting to be discovered, if only we all devoted more effort to looking beneath surface level and really getting to know one another.

Finances

  • Keep close tabs on how much you spend with a budget book. I wish I had been a more responsible consumer my first year. Little naive me did not check her debit card account regularly, and ended up over drafting her bank account– seven times in a single day. The following fact may be self-explanatory to some, but it definitely wasn’t to me: just because your debit card transaction goes through at the cash register, doesn’t mean you have enough money to pay for what you buy!
  • Amazon is both your greatest gift and worst enemy. It is oh-so tempting to spend in excess when you’re stressed with finals and crave some instant gratification. I’m still haunted by my winter quarter Amazon mega-shopping-spree. I was going through one of many mental crises at the time and found comfort in impulse shopping. Now, I barely even touch half the things I bought that quarter. Do yourself a favor and remove the temptation altogether by ridding your search bar of Amazon!!!
  • You can save hundreds of dollars by buying used textbooks (check Facebook for your university’s “Free and For Sale” page), or finding cheaper versions of the book online. Brand new textbooks sold at university stores are real rip-offs.
  • If you’re like most college students, Uber is your primary form of transportation. Splitting the cost of Ubers with friends when commuting on/off campus is an obvious way to save some money.
  • Take advantage of all the free stuff your university offers. Whether it’s plastic water bottles, cardholders that stick to your phone, t-shirts or free planners, the words “FREE STUFF!!!” are music to college students’ ears.
  • Random side-note: the downside of cardholders that stick to your phone is, the magnetic strip on your university card may wear down because of close contact with your phone’s radiation (don’t ask me about the mechanism, I am no engineer). If you don’t want to risk this happening, don’t keep your university card so close to your phone!
  • If you haven’t done so already, consider downloading the app, “Venmo”. It’s an easy way to buy things from your smartphone if you don’t have your wallet on hand. Do exercise self-control when using this app, though, as it’s much more tempting to spend in excess when a transaction can be completed at the touch of a button (aka, impulsively buying a sugar-glazed doughnut on Bruin Walk while walking to class).

Dorm-life

  • If you live in the dorms… you’d better hope for some decent human beings as floor mates. You know… people who know NOT to take a dump in the shower stalls (this happened TWICE on my floor last year); get into 2am bloody fistfights; or blow up and slide down an inflatable waterslide in the middle of the hallway during finals week.
  • Roommates. I was blessed to have chosen a wonderful roommate my freshman year– she was clean, quiet and respectful of boundaries. Nonetheless, like with any functioning relationship, communication between the two of us was essential to making things work, or else our room would just be strained with a whole lot of passive-aggressive energy. So, rule #1 in dealing with roommates: COMMUNICATE! If something your roommate is doing does not sit well with you… tell them, instead of letting it fester. If your roommate is blasting their music too loudly, tell them to quiet down. If your roommate never takes out the trash, tell them to do so. If you hate constantly being “sexiled” or waking up to the sound of your roommate getting it on with a different person each night… TELL THEM. Just as you respect their rules, they should respect yours.
  • Living with roommates really teaches you the important life skill of communication and compromise. That’s rule #2, guys– COMPROMISE. You can’t expect your roommate to be perfect and abide by your every rule. No matter how great a fit your roommate is, differences in living habits/behaviors are inevitable. While it’s important to let your roommate know if something is bothering you, you also shouldn’t go into full dictator mode and call them out on every. single. thing. Just as you desire personal space, leave your roommate some wiggle room to breathe in their own. Don’t do things like scolding your roommate for tossing and turning in bed, or breathing too loudly, or simply existing. That’s a little bit extra and pretty unfair to the receiving party.
  • Rule #3 in dealing with roommates: you don’t HAVE to become best friends with your roommate. I know some people go into college with the expectation that they and their roommate will become best buds, and are disappointed when this does not happen. In my opinion, though, being best friends with your roomie may pose as a conflict of interest. As a roommate, you must assert yourself and draw lines when needed; but as a friend, you may feel bad about stepping on their toes. I won’t tell you if you should or shouldn’t be joined at the hip with your roommate. I personally liked my freshman year roommate very much, but we were not so close as to be considered “besties”. And I’d say the two of us got along just fine. In fact, the nature of our relationship made being assertive with her a lot easier.
  • Roommate rule #4: This one’s not such much a rule as it is a general observation. When you first meet your roommate, you may feel excessive pressure to act a certain way to get your roommate to like you. After all, you will be living with this other person for the next year, so you’d want to get off on the right foot, right? As the year progresses, though, facades will melt away and your true colors will show. Okay, I didn’t mean for it to sound that dramatic. What I mean is, you shouldn’t feel the need to impress your roommate, just because you’ll be living with them. In fact, it is for the very reason that you’re living with this other individual that you’d want to be authentic. Of course it’s good to make a decent first impression. At the end of the day, though, just relax and be yourself, and your roommate can either take it or leave it. Simple as that.
  • Roommate rule #5: Another observation. Oftentimes, inter-roommate tensions will mount as the year goes on. This is something I noticed among quite a few roommates. Towards the end of the school year, you’re exhausted from academics, crave your own room and personal space, and have long since stopped giving two hoots about pleasantries or politeness. Communication will take you a long way, but even that at times is not enough to clear the air of tension and negative energy. I’ve known of roommates who, by the year’s end, completely stopped talking to one another. If you guys are fine with giving each other the cold shoulder, then no harm no foul in doing so, I suppose. Just don’t do anything petty or dumb, like meddling with your roommates things, farting on their pillow, stealing their clothes or mixing up their lotion bottles, just to spite them. You’re an adult now, so talk things through. If the engine is running smoothly with you guys doing your own thing and not saying a word to one another, that’s cool too.
  • Is doing the random roommate assignment worth the risk? I personally did not do random roommate assignment, as I managed to find someone I knew beforehand to be my roommate. Honestly, it’s really up to you. Usually, your university’s housing application will ask you to fill out a lifestyle preference questionnaire, so as to match you to a good-fit roommate. Even so, there is no guarantee that you and the roommate you’re assigned will get along… I’ve seen both sides. Rest assured, though, that if you really despise your roommate, you always have the option of moving out.
  • Now, onto the topic of floor mates. I’d say, at least during the first week of school, make a genuine effort to get to know the people living on your floor. To me, knowing my floor mates by name, saying “Hello” when I pass them by in the hallways and sharing late night conversations in the floor’s lounge makes my dorm feel a lot more like home, as opposed to a room I sleep in amidst an ocean of other rooms inhabited by strangers. The beauty of living in dorms your first year of college is, it helps you make friends more easily. You’ll find that most floor mates– and freshmen in general– are very open to meeting new people. Take advantage of that and get out of your comfort zone by introducing yourself to your new “family”. It’s totally fine if you’re introverted or shy. As a self-proclaimed ambivert, I can be quite outgoing at times, but also withdraw into my personal space if bombarded with too much external stimuli. That’s what happened the first few weeks of fall quarter. Every day I was meeting so many new faces, and I felt overwhelmed. It’s completely normal to feel this way, and when this happens, take some time to recuperate and care for yourself. All will be just fine in the end.

 

Things to pack/not to pack for college

Do bring:

  • Toiletries: toothbrush, toothpaste, face products, shampoo/conditioner/body wash, feminine products, shower caddy, razor. Duh!!!
  • Wallet: driver’s license, credit/debit card, student ID. Double duh!!!
  • The usual stationary: pencils, pens, notebooks, binder paper, highlighters, flashcards, sticky notes, etc.
  • If you are in communal bathrooms, I suggest packing little plastic bottles to store cleansers in (so you don’t have to lug a gigantic bottle of shampoo to the bathroom every time you take a shower)
  • Shower shoes. I highly advise against walking barefoot in the res halls and communal bathrooms. You never know what kinds of vomit/other bodily fluids the res hall carpets have seen. Case in point– one of my brothers’ roommates peed in the middle of the hallway (while inebriated, of course).
  • Power strip. WHAT a life saver, especially when you’re cranking out those study sessions in the library!
  • A lanyard attached to a cardholder is a great way to keep your IDs and credit/debit card close at hand.
  • Tissue boxes. Lots of ‘em. Very handy during flu season, as well as during midterms/finals week, when you’re crying your eyes out over the five exams to study for and three papers to write. Just kidding about that last one– if you manage your time well, life will be A-okay!
  • Vitamin C. Keep that immune system strong! There’s nothing worse than getting sick right before exam time, unable to sit up long enough to study!
  • Face masks for flu season. I tried to buy some at Target during week 3 of winter quarter, but was met with an empty shelf. Buy em’ before they run out!
  • Duct tape: fixes everything, 100%.
  • Pepper spray. Never know what kind of weirdos lurk on/around campus, so it’s always good to have that on hand. Many people attach small pepper sprays to their lanyards, so don’t feel dorky about doing that.
  • Extra batteries (for calculators, flashlights, digital alarm clocks, your pillow pet, what have you)
  • Disinfectant wipes. A clean and germ-free abode is a comforting one.
  • Business casual outfit, for interviews and networking nights and the like (for ladies, a sharp blazer, pencil skirt/slacks, and heels/flats will suffice. Or whatever you consider business casual)
  • 1 formal attire (or if you are rushing Greek life, maybe 2 or 3. Don’t quote me on that, as I personally do not partake in Greek life)
  • Laptop! Literally my lifeline, aside from my phone. Make sure your laptop is not too heavy, either, as you’ll most likely be carrying it around with you… everywhere.
  • LOTS of comfy clothes. Come week 2 of fall quarter, I lost all motivation to dress up for lectures. My go-to outfit: Yoga pants, Ugg boots, a cute t-shirt and a pink UCLA sweater to top it off.
  • Notepads. I love the yellow ones with pages that easily rip off. Great for scratchwork. Literally filled up an entire pack while drilling problem sets for my math and chem finals!
  • Tide Pods. SO much more convenient for doing laundry than packing a massive, heavy tub of detergent.
  • Journal— trust me, you’re gonna wanna remember your college days. They FLY by. Each and every moment is so, so incredibly precious. You’ll experience so much growth during this time of your life. So even if you write just a few words each day, in your private diary or google folder, journaling is a sure way to immortalize the wonderful/crazy/new adventures you’re sure to have in college!
  • Noise cancelling headphones. I personally did not own a pair during my freshman year, but looking back, I think they would have been helpful. Especially if you’re living in a noisy residential hall, with next door neighbors blasting music into the early hours of morning (yup, I had the unfortunate experience of having rancorous neighbors).
  • An eye mask and ear plugs (for that one roommate who stays up into the early hours of dawn with the light turned on)

Don’t bring:

  • Your entire wardrobe. I made this mistake. Most of the time, I just stuck to sweats, leggings and t-shirts, with my fancy-schmancy attire collecting dust in the closet. I wore my blazer about two times last year, and didn’t even touch my red formal gown. Definitely a waste of closet space.
  • Your entire shoe collection. Guilty of this one too! If you pack every pair of shoes you own, you will definitely regret it, come move-out day. Remember, everything you bring to college, you also have to move out! Choose wisely what you decide to bring with you!
  • Your entire makeup collection. I barely wore any makeup my freshman year. Of course, this was a personal choice… but between studying and dance and self-care, I found it difficult to find time to get all dolled-up in the morning.
  • An excessive number of shower towels. I think I brought three or four towels to college. Why, I am not sure. Two towels– one to alternate each week– is more than enough.
  • An excessive amount of stationary (sticky notes, index cards, scotch tape, etc.). Again– bring what is necessary, and if you run out, there’s always the student store to turn to.
  • Fancy/bulky electronic gadgets, including: a blender, a face steamer, a steaming iron, etc. I brought all three and barely used any. The res halls may provide clothing irons and vacuums, and blender bottles for protein shakes are a LOT more portable than full-out Nutribullet contraptions.
  • Throw pillows. Unless you’re really into the room decor thing, or absolutely can’t live without throw pillows, they just take up unnecessary space. Remember– you don’t want to have too much stuff to move out of your dorm, so bring only what is necessary!
  • Graphing calculator. Unless you know you’ll be taking a math class that requires a graphing calculator, you should get by just fine with a small scientific calculator. It’s a lot smaller and lighter!
  • Trash can. Most dorms come with their own trash can and recycling bin.
  • Outside reading. Chances are, you will not have much time to do extraneous reading beyond your classes. Of course, if reading novels is a means of relieving stress, then by all means, bring as many books as you like!
  • A gigantic bucket of laundry detergent. Stick with the tide pods. SO much more portable, especially if your floor’s laundry room is at the other end of the hall (#storyofmylife). Then again…
  • Expensive jewelry. Again, up to you. I didn’t want to run the risk of having my late grandmother’s diamond ring stolen, so I left it safely at home.
  • Toilet paper. It’s usually provided by university housing. Obviously, if you are living in an off-campus non-university apartment, you’ll have to buy your own.