My brother is starting university this year, which is a frightening idea. I asked him recently if he was excited or nervous, expecting a combination of both. “Numb,” he replied. Perhaps this was a truthful answer, but it felt somewhat lackadaisical to me, as I’ll never forget the fearful anticipation I had when I first left home.
Whilst most first years grow wide-eyed at the tantalizing idea of independence and alcohol-infused decisions, I felt terrible fear of leaving everything I had behind. I had built up my identity around certain aspects of my life in Singapore. I thought perhaps I had managed to somehow fake it up to this point, and wanted to cling on to my presence right there and then.
I had to get over that fear, eventually, and of course my time at Penn has evolved infinitely - from my first Halal food truck experience, to endearingly awkward first dates in a new part of town, to feeling entirely and completely out of my element through the cold winter, to (finally!) finding a sense of confidence to overcome the defaults put in place.
It’s the same-ness of Singapore that always gets to me. To return to exactly the same environment as I grew up in isn’t as comforting as one would expect. More often than not, it feels like a reminder of how I had safeguarded myself from pain. I once thought it nice if I could remain the same person forever - I don’t want that in the slightest anymore.
Many times this year I’ve chided myself for being too secretly sensitive (sensitivity isn’t a fault in itself, but repressing it too much becomes a burden), for not admitting what I want to myself (which is far worse than not admitting to others), for letting stupid expectations define my intelligence and capability.
But I’ve learnt to cut myself some slack - yes, I make many stupid decisions (and have to pay the consequences), and yes, I’ve acted childish and impulsive, but I’m getting better at it (I hope).
Still, and unwaveringly, the pursuit of chipping away at the obstacles that litter the path ahead. The silent humbling when someone more knowledgeable imparts their wisdom over a long conversation. The home cooked meals with friends over the warm glow of the kitchen lights. The impromptu soft-serve runs. The post-cider truthfulness. The late nights and early mornings (though they end up being one and the same). To two more years.