this little fish in a big prominent pond.

I am finally feeling sane enough that I can put my thoughts to words. So here’s an official hello as I greet you from sunny California or to be more specific – greetings from Stanford University!

stanford fall 2013

Today marks exactly a week that I’ve been here, the third day of school and already, you guessed it – it feels like a lifetime has passed. After the whirlwind of the first three days upon arrival in which I tried to make friends (didn’t go too well since yunno, I can be socially awkward…) and getting settled in to the apartment where I made three trips to Walmart, three trips to Trader Joe’s, a trip to CVS and Safeway each… There, FINALLY I’ve gotten myself set up – the studio is livable and homey. I’ve two pillows, a quilt and enough kitchen necessities to cook with.

Emotions though? They’re… a whole different matter.

I’ll openly admit that I am still an emotional yo yo – there are days like today and yesterday in which my heart feels at ease (and I made friends!), but there’s also days like Monday which was simply disastrous. I had a mini-meltdown and I’m currently battling peer pressure where cycling is concerned – everyone friggin’ cycles here but the irony? I suck at it. I used to learn as a kid but it has been so, so long that when I tried to ride over summer, I failed miserably. It doesn’t help that everyone here seems like they’re basically born with cycling abilities and look at you weird that you don’t 1) own a bike and 2) know how to cycle. I am trying to face my fears however, because this campus is just so darn big that I lose quite a lot of time just waiting for the shuttles and going around in them.

But on the upside – hopefully I will get myself a secondhand bicycle by the end of this week (do you know how expensive a brand new one is, without any accessories? Exorbitant!) which I have every intention to practice during the evenings… Fears begone, please be gone! Most importantly, courses and classes are so far, so good. In fact, to be totally honest – it really feels like business as usual, even if in reality I’m in the opposite coast, a different school and in a higher level program. For this fact alone, I am extremely, extremely thankful. So class-wise and materials-wise, I’m coping and managing fairly well – I just need to find my bearing again, which I will, and I think I’ll be fine.

Then there’s also the thing about the library – which must be mentioned, because I grew up as a reader (still am, although I am reading so much lesser now unfortunately) and part and parcel of dreaming of bigger schools is wanting to have libraries that look like they jumped right out of Hogwarts. I’d actually visited and toured the main library in Harvard and let me tell you – Harvard’s one’s is absolutely magical. UCLA’s one has a nice feel as well when I visited, but nothing like the former. Yesterday I did a self-tour of the Green library here and it took me a while to realize that I was actually holding my breath while touring around. It’s like my heart was caught in my throat and my mouth was agape the whole time. By the time I exited the library, I thought I was bleeding, in love and… felt that familiar tinge of happiness. The comfort of the familiar; I’ve found a sanctuary.

So that’s what it is, this school – it is beyond beautiful. The library? It doesn’t have that magic that Harvard’s one does with the antique, wooden tables and chairs but… Close. Close enough. I absolutely love it.

Things are so… Different here, though. It’s so, so different around here and sometimes I miss the simplicity of my alma mater and Philly – I miss the ordinariness of things and people. Don’t get me wrong, people here are fantastic – friendly and humble, I wouldn’t have guessed until I rub shoulders and speak to them as I do now but it’s like, despite the most unkempt person you see here… Surely his or her track record is impressive enough to be here, you know? It’s like… People seem normal and casual, but bam! They’re a whole different persona in class with the kinds of questions they ask and the way they behave.

There’s also another thing I am still fascinated by – in my alma mater, we use the same textbooks used here, no-brainer there. But I’ve sat in a few classes and already I realized that the difference is that this university actually houses the textbooks authors! Or if they’re not, the professor are on first-name basis with the authors or leading researchers in their respective fields… It took me awhile to realize that it’s not that they’re promoting themselves – they wrote the friggin’ books meant to be course references and textbooks so duh, of course they’re required texts! Plus, the schools the professors are in close connections with are obviously the Ivy Leagues, with Harvard and Columbia sounding like particular favorites. Where they casually and effortlessly mention their peers and the schools they’re attached to without missing a beat, these same big leagues roll on my tongue sounding foreign and awkward – the Malay term here would be jakun – even if I spent the past 3.5 years being neighbors with an Ivy League.

To be completely, totally honest? I feel extremely ordinary, like this small fish in this big prominent pond.

When I mention my alma mater, hardly anyone has heard of it. When I mention where I’m from, unsurprisingly as it’s always been – they would nod politely and smile, but it’s obvious I might as well just tell them I’m from Pluto. I’m aware I’m really still trying to find my fit in the mold, but when current statistics tell you you’re 1 of 9 Malaysian students in the entire university coming from a seemingly unheard of school in the east… It gets lonely. It’s funny, or weird – depending on how you look at it – that people keep assuming I am local. All I can think of by the time the nth person assumed so is, “Did my artificial American accent finally become real?” I admit I have an American accent but it’s deliberate ergo totally made up and thus, not natural. It makes it easier and more comfortable to strike conversations when I’m here but even I realize it myself that my accent is a dead giveaway that I’m not from here.

But maybe it is now? I doubt it, which makes it all the more odd and kind of funny. What kinda sucks though – or I personally find it so – is that because I’m only in the company of American peers thus far, I’m basically using American English (er, accent) 24/7. Not that the company sucks, not at all! My new friends seem like really wonderful people. It’s just that like I said, this accent is not something that’s natural to me – in my mind, I often think of it as switching something on or off – that my mouth feels tired by the end of each day…

In short: the adjustment phase is a bitch – even if this is my second time.

It’s better definitely, because as much as I am homesick, I’m not so emotionally out of it that I can’t function. For another, although I keep getting lost on campus – this place is massive!! – especially when it comes to finding my apartment (yes I get lost in the maze of the residential complex, how pathetic…) I’m so much more adaptable and know how to work the Google Map etc. It’s like I’ve acquired skills from the past 3.5 years that although the setting is different and I am forever giving myself a hard knock for not knowing how to drive or cycle, I know what I am made of: survival skills and a strong sense of self. I’ve gotten through it once that I know I can do it again, without question.

The long story short is that this adjustment phase is taking its sweet time and I am therefore, naturally emotionally out of funk. I’m trying my hardest to adjust to this current, impending and oh-so-present Real Life that without even realizing it, I’m already sidelining dramas, way more than when summer started (and noticeably ended!).

I want to get back to writing because I know I’ve made promises on certain things – and I keep my promises! – but like I said, at the moment my feelings are just everywhere that I suspect until the calm finally arrives… I don’t know what you can expect from me here. I hope to keep writing as usual, but I can’t promise what they’re about.

Apologies in advance because oh heck, this entry? I never planned on sharing my current state of being!


5 thoughts on “this little fish in a big prominent pond.

  1. “I feel extremely ordinary, like this small fish in this big prominent pond.” – Aw, I know that feeling too, jandoe, though not from the same experience as you are having now. Just remember your own assessment of the people around you – “Surely his or her track record is impressive enough to be here” – applies to you too. 100%. You deserve to be there as much as everyone else, so don’t let that feeling of ordinariness get to you. In fact, you should feel proud to be one of just nine Malaysians there. Well done!! *wild applause* Now keep your chin up, breathe deep, and smile wide. ^^ We’re rootin’ for ya ❤ Fighting!

    1. Aw thank you! You are really such an unni (big hug) o:) It’s just still bizarre, this entire experience of being here. I still feel like a visitor haha even as I amble and make my way back and fro from class etc, even when I’m holding on to my student ID.

      PS I think it’d make you proud to know that there are A LOT of Singaporeans here. In my program alone there’s 2, in the dept there’s about 4 and in the university I’m pretty sure they’re in the 20s to 50s. Very impressive! ;)

      1. Aw! Hugs back!! :D This season of unfamiliarity, too, shall pass. And I know you’ll ride it out with grace and strength.

        And wow.. I didn’t know there were that many Singaporeans there. Having some neighbors there ain’t a bad thing, I’m sure ^^

        1. “This season of unfamiliarity, too, shall pass. And I know you’ll ride it out with grace and strength.”

          Thank you, sincerely <3 <3 <3

          It totally isn't a bad thing! I can relax the accent, which is great (this has genuinely been bugging me haha). Although I added some Malay words to this dude I befriended and he responded, "Sorry but my Malay is really bad… What do you mean by that?" Le sigh aha. Guess you win some and lose some! :p

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