Chasing a Feeling

sam_chasing_a_feeling

On day 4 of my trip to Taiwan, I visited Tamsui (淡水), and that’s where I got a watermelon bucket hat! We took a boat from Tamsui to Bali, a separate island. I thought it was super cool how everything was unified by the easy-card. I could pay for train tickets, food, and now a boat ride with just one card! It’s similar to the Bay Area’s clipper card, which uses NFC, and could probably (if not already) be integrated to add balance from a mobile device.

In Bali, we rented a four-seater bike and rode all around the island. We had no plans, no guides to follow, and no train schedules to keep track of. It was just biking on the island, following whatever looked interesting. We stopped to exercise at public workout stations, biked slowly to watch the city line on the other side disappear into the fog, and rode off trail to get better views. It was fulfilling to be free from the typical touristy trip structure – I have to hit city A, restaurant B, museum C, etc. Rather I was chasing a feeling inherent to those “touristy areas” – the joy of immersing in Taiwan’s nature and culture. The pleasure I would receive from visiting that famous art museum would be quantified by a scale of how fully I participated in the Taiwanese lifestyle there (at least that’s why I travel). And while riding that bicycle, free of any planned stops, I felt that I was chasing a raw curiosity and joy rather than trying to squeeze out enjoyment from lets say a popular museum or a recommended restaurant.

So I’m thinking that for my college experience, I want to chase the feelings. The feeling of challenging why I make certain decisions, the feeling of reflecting on my life (by writing this blog!), and the feeling of truly connecting with other people. I don’t want my life be bound by specific things in college like majors. I find myself not necessarily passionate about a specific subject like Computer Science, but more so passionate about the gears behind that subject like designing new things and logical reasoning. When I was biking in Bali, I ended up in alleys I would have never expected myself entering. As of now, I’m pretty set on studying CS, but who knows, chasing those feelings may lead me elsewhere. Finally, I feel that what’s most important is to not be afraid of ending up somewhere where you would’ve never expected because of the fear of leaving somewhere safe or whatever else.

After all, if you’re chasing a feeling you truly enjoy, won’t you be happy wherever you end up?

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Resonance

I don’t feel my previous post about why I chose Swat gives the full story behind my decision, it was more about what I didn’t feel comfortable with rather than the specifics I liked about Swarthmore. So in this post I’m going to be talking more or so about the idea of resonance, especially that among a group of students.

So to talk about this topic, I think it’s most fitting to start by talking about role models — the people I meet in real life and online that I look up to. The type of people I look up to most are the people that are constantly thinking about how to improve their lives, and that in turn makes me think about my life. When I first visited Quora to read about colleges, I honestly spent hours on it not even reading about specifically colleges, but also things about like growing old, finding love, etc. Things that ground us as humans. Reading people write about these things was sort of addictive, it was so captivating in the way that it would always bring me on the ‘feel‘ trips. I loved to get lost in my thoughts thinking about my life, asking questions to myself. It’s kind of like when you’re listening to a song and although you’re kinda tuning out the lyrics, you are staring off into space lost in thoughts about whatever the song is about.

So from just talking with students at Swarthmore, both in person and online, I was captivated by the fact that people were thinking about their lives in such ways. Questioning why they’re majoring in Computer Science, questioning why they are even trying hard in college. And I feel that at all the other colleges I was admitted into were so focused on the pre-professional world that this whole humanistic side of our lives is lost in that job-crazed vortex. I kind of realized this when somebody asked me why I would go to college if I could already make enough money to sustain myself and be happy. Huh, I was thinking about that question. My parents, (and I think I can safely say most asian families) see college as the just the transition to getting a high paying job. Pushing so hard in high school was important so that we could into top colleges, and then college will be a breeze, then we’ll be making bank. I think this is apparent by the fact that my parents (and maybe many other parents) don’t really care or worry about the actual events in college, they just care about trying hard in high school to get in. So going back to a Swattie questioning why she should continue pursuing computer science – that struck me pretty hard because I don’t think many people would even question something like that. Especially for me growing up in San Francisco / Silicon Valley where it is clear as day that comp sci is one of the most lucrative professions, seeing somebody question showed that Swatties do care more about just making money. And I talked about this in my previous post, how I would be interested in majoring in pretty much anything.

I’ve also noticed that students at Swat are actively trying to become the best versions of themselves, not just in their majors (programming, math, physics), but also in their humanistic side by challenging their values, developing meaningful relationships, etc. So I guess what I’m trying to say is that I look up to the people who embrace and want to improve their human side. And for myself, all of these things that I’ve talked about have been filtered through my lens, so developing that human side is something that means a lot to me. I will be going to a school where I would be surrounded by people with this sort of intrinsic desire, and it doesn’t even matter that we are studying different majors, since we would all be held together by that inherent glue.

So talking about all this stuff might make it seem like I have a whole set plan for myself in college. But it’s in fact the opposite. I have no clue what is going to happen to me going here, and I think what best sums it up is a metaphor regarding this legendary piston Tesla talked about. tl;dr it is about a tiny piston that, when moved up and down at the perfect frequencies in an oscillator, could even cause an earthquake. So at Swarthmore, how (maybe at least I think that) since I share that inherent glue, that matching frequency with everybody else,  even if I have no idea what’s going to happen to me, I know that oscillating at that frequency, that vibe I care most about most, will empower me to shake the world. And perhaps what I love most about this is that even if I end up in a place completely different from what I’m imagining now, I will be happy.

Casting away the chains of comfort

Why did I choose Swarthmore?

A question difficult for me to answer, and also the question that’s been on my mind ever since committing to Swarthmore. I’m going to take this time to put my thoughts of decision into words.

I come from a traditional asian family, with parents who don’t seen the point of going to a liberal arts school, especially compared to other top schools that I could’ve chosen. Given that I wanted to major in computer science, we all thought that it was going to be a no-brainer to choose a school with the more reputable computer science program.

When I visited Swarthmore, I wasn’t immediately captivated by the campus. I didn’t have that “love at first sight” feeling. To be completely honest, I felt pretty uncomfortable being there. I felt outclassed by everybody there choosing between Swarthmore and other ivy leagues. I was intimidated by the tremendous academic stress at Swat. I felt confined in the small campus. I had always seen myself going to a big university. I had heard many perspectives of the computer science program from other Swatties, and one thing that was apparent was that Swarthmore wasn’t really the place to go if you wanted to be surrounded by tech recruiters offering students internships left and right. Being in a tech internship right now, I am in love with the type of people I work with and I can see the definite benefits of having many internship experiences. My parents are constantly telling me how I’m going to make more money going to a technical school to study computer science. And to top it off, Swarthmore isn’t really a household name that is thrown around, so not many companies know about it. To the outside, these reasons should be as clear as day for me to not choose Swarthmore. But something inside me kept urging me to go to Swat, and what made it worse was that I knew exactly what that was.

Looking back, the people I looked up to the most weren’t necessarily extremely smart, extremely rich, etc. They were people who were grounded by their human values, people who could genuinely connect with other people, and people who truly wanted to expand their minds. During Ride the Tide at Swarthmore, I made a new friend with a senior who asked me to help with a dance choreography she was working on. I asked a Swattie questions over Facebook, and she invited me to video chat her over Skype for a more personal experience. I strive to be as friendly as them. This is the type of person that I want to become, and I noticed how there was nothing related to computer science here. Interests are plastic, and they will continue to develop or change as long as I’m open to them. Hell, I thought I wanted to study medicine for my whole life until I started my engineering internship at Caviar the summer before my senior year in high school. I pretty much had no experience with programming before officially starting my internship, but once I started, my dedication to it grew like wildfire. I would come into the office almost 10 hours everyday to learn from other engineers and try out new things myself, and the people I met there are some of the coolest people I know. How awesome is it to say that I loved going to work because I’m in an environment where I’m constantly challenged, where I’m surrounded by my friends. We had our own inside jokes, we knew about our quirky habits, and we had so much fun. As I have dedicated myself to many different hobbies: badminton, pen spinning, card magic, programming, weightlifting, etc, I noticed that each of these hobbies/interests had their own worlds that I completely immersed myself in. The pen spinning community had it’s own community, with its own inside jokes and even a language we developed over time. It’s kind of like that word sonder.

sonder – n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own.

In the context of academics, every major has a whole world and community behind it, and I want to be able to experience those worlds. And more importantly, I wanted to genuinely connect with these new people who were crazy in love with the things they did. Hanging around with students exclusively from your major would, in a way, feel confining. So I guess what I’m trying to say is that we can find passion or fall in love with anything, as long as we’re open minded and willing to enjoy it.

Going back to the discomfort I felt at Swarthmore, I knew that in order for me to grow as a human, I’m going to sooner or later have to face that discomfort. I knew that if I wound up attending an engineering school, I would be extremely comfortable there, I would have tons of fun with people who I shared interests with. We played the same video games, we had the same quirky internet behavior, etc. But at the same time, the thing I want most is to progress, to change. How much would it suck if I came out of college exactly the same as I was right now in high school? Something my Swat admissions staff told me and something I agree with is that yes, Swarthmore is going to be extremely challenging. Honestly though, that is how I’m going to grow. I’ve been coasting throughout my whole high school career, and although it was fun, it left me bored and ultimately unfulfilled. If I’m going to be coasting through college all four years, then basically it’s like me wasting my time at an expensive summer camp.

At a technical school, I see myself graduating, meeting people who will become my best friends, and probably working at some tech company — which indeed is a great life. At Swat, however, I honestly have no idea who I will become or where I will end up, but maybe that’s the why I want to go there so badly. I would’ve never seen myself going to a liberal arts college, but hey, that’s a whole new world that I will be able to be a part of.

I’m still scared of how much work I will be doing, how well I’m going to make friends, how far I will be away from home. I’m thinking: fuck me, this is going to be very, very hard. But that’s why I chose Swarthmore, I will face these fears in order to grow. My best friend told me something that I will hold onto as I go on exploring my life in college.

“You need to cast away the chains of comfort to become the man you never were.” – Andrew Guan