college

Happy, healthy, confident.

We've all heard those jokes about Asian parents and so-called "tiger moms."

I believe in open communication with my peers and my professors when I'm having a hard time, and because of this, I get a lot of feedback on why people think I'm so stressed much of the time. They want to explain away everything into something simple.

This is what I hear often:
"Oh, I totally understand - you Asians are all like that."
"You're a perfectionist. You're Asian. Of course you are."
"I'm sure your mother placed a lot of pressure on you to do well."

I know where this comes from; I was surrounded by people whose parents did pressure them. And yes, my mother had high expectations for me as a child, but she knew my potential and she wanted me to reach it and expand it. Would you be surprised to find out that she never once blamed me for my mathematics grades consistently being lower than those in musical and English courses?

In elementary and junior high school, our parents would occasionally get those cute little cards that they fill out to be given to their children later. When the time came, my peers would eagerly open their cards full of words and words and words, overflowing with affirmation.

Mine came from my mother and always contained only three words: "Happy. Healthy. Confident."

Back then, I couldn't understand why she would do this. Everyone else gets long letters, I told her. Her reply never changed: of all the hopes and dreams she could ever have for me, those are the only things she really wants me to be.

I still didn't get it during college application season, but the last three semesters in college have seen me sick and bedridden every few weeks. I come home stressed, overwhelmed, burnt out, sometimes so sick that I have to miss school but so obsessed with doing well that I feel the need to push myself into continued attendance anyway.

Now that I'm learning self-care and actually allowing myself to do it, I still ask my mother for advice on what to do with my future. Music therapy is the combination of my two greatest passions (music and service) and yet... I have so many more things I love, so many more activities I want to do and careers I want to pursue.

But when I ask for this advice, my mother no longer tells me much. She doesn't say what people think she would say as an Asian mom - none of that "go be a doctor/businessperson" kind of thing. Even now, with no card, my mother still reminds me: "happy. healthy. confident." Everything else will come naturally from there.

And if I'm all of these things, then what more could I ask for? 

In the dear words of my newest favorite character Eliza Schuyler Hamilton (the musical version): that would be enough.

The elusive freshman glow

Last year, I watched a stranger try to get ketchup out of a near-empty container. Being me, I couldn't resist saying "aww..." and quietly cheering him on. We introduced ourselves to each other by first name, and then he smiled at me.

"You're a freshman, aren't you?"

I was. How did he know?

"You have the 'freshman glow.' Don't ever lose that."

And he left. I'd heard that from several people by then - that I had the "freshman glow." No one I asked was ever able to tell me exactly what it was, so I shrugged and continued with my freshman life.

I'm a sophomore now and I finally understand.

It's the excitement that people show before they begin college. It's those Facebook posts that say "So blessed to announce that I'll be attending -insert school-! Can't wait to see where these next four years take me!"

It's the Instagram post a few weeks into school captioned: "I love this campus! Love my friends here already. So blessed."

Blessed. Yes. I am. But when did I go from "so excited to be here!" to "I'm so tired all the time and every week is so long?" Somehow, I look at these posts and immediately think, "That person is going to stop saying this soon. That's where I used to be."

I look at a freshman with so much hope and energy in their eyes and listen to them talk about all of the organizations they want to join and all the good grades they hope to get.

And then I think... I wish that never went away. And lately, I'm starting to get it: freshmen come in here and they don't have to see the underlying issues of (American, at least) campus life yet. We were here when racist posts started circulating; we were here for the pro-life/pro-choice arguments; we are still here, frustrated with rape culture, frustrated with so many things that we can't change that we now understand represent a national and worldwide issue.

It's also a personal issue. Somewhere, we forgot that we can't keep running on energy if we aren't recharging it. When did it become okay to lose our sleep, our eating schedules, and every second of "free time" to pursue the perfect grades and all of the organizations we wanted to join?

Yes, the freshman glow is a thing, but I don't ever want to see anyone else lose it. Can we start talking about self-care and actually doing it? Can we keep seeing the good in people and hoping for the best, knowing that great things lie ahead in the unknown, even if we think we have a good idea of what to expect?

This life is ours to live and ours to look forward to. There's a certain glow that we can always look toward, and it's still there - we can't give up on it just yet.