How are you? It’s me–or you–but four years in the future. You’re thinking: why am I writing this letter to my freshman self? If you listen to the story I have to tell, you’ll know why by the end. It begins freshman year at Illini Tower.
Chapter 1: Freshman Move-In Reflection
You’ll be happy to be away from home. More than you would like to admit.
Minutes after your parents leave from your dorm room, you will feel partly sad, but also partly relieved. No more helicopter parents–not that you actually listened to any of your parents’ warnings and scoldings in the last semester of senior year. You rebelled in every way possible: took the car without permission, started dating and even talked back whenever they made their usual wayward comments about your younger sister. You had only gained the guts to do so after you achieved the dream they had laid out for you: being accepted to a prestigious school with a scholarship, and on the way to becoming an engineer. It only made sense of course; since you were young your parents had put you on the path towards a career beyond what they could have achieved in the Philippines. In kindergarten, your dad had you practice writing full sentences and the basics of math as you ate breakfast. The rest of your pre-college experience consisted of Kumon worksheets, summer STEM programs, and science Olympiad meets. You partly think it was because of your pride that you worked so hard, but know it was also because you wanted to make your parents proud. At least you actually are interested in the major that you applied for: bioengineering. It had a good ring to it.
Chapter 2: Quad Day Exploration
You’ll sign up for more clubs than you can commit to.
Society of Women’s Engineers, Engineers Without Borders, UNICEF. These are only a few of the clubs that you’ll put your school email down for. You’ll go to maybe one or two of their general meetings, maybe even buy their club shirt or pay for membership. Then, two weeks later, when you see the emails from more than 10 clubs, you’ll realize you signed up for more activities then you could handle. You unsubscribe to at least half–or more. You would much rather spend your time with your friends in Illini Tower and focus on school. However, there is one organization that you didn’t think you would sign up for; on Quad Day, the Philippine flag randomly caught your eye. You will allow their officer board to talk you into writing your name down. You don’t throw out their flier. Instead, you thumbtack it to the corkboard on your desk.
Chapter 3: Class to Class Traveling
You’ll regret bringing six pairs of heels.
This isn’t New Trier, where your classes are literally floors apart. This is a college campus, and yes, after three weeks you will stop wearing heels to class. Don’t wear heels to parties either. You’re short. Everyone knows it, whether you’re wearing heels or not, so just go with the comfy option and throw on some cute one-inch wedges. In four years, your feet will thank you. Trust me.
Chapter 4: Philippine Student Association (PSA) Welcome
You didn’t know this organization would become your home.
Your inner introvert is going to freak out the first day you go to the PSA ice cream social. You will be so nervous that you leave before you get ice cream. Some will ask you the same question: name, major, and why you’re here. Others will get to know you beyond the standard question and ask to exchange phone numbers. Almost everyone encourages you to try cultural dancing and Battle of the Bamboo (no, it’s not a martial art…you’ll understand later on). Either way, you leave with a smile on your face. This was the first time that you met a large group of Filipinos–and other Asians–outside of North Shore. They weren’t snotty. They were pretty chill actually. But your inner introvert had enough for now.
Chapter 5: Physics Dilemma
You’ll fail your first midterm–but this won’t be the last.
Physics 211 will not go as smoothly as you had hoped it would be. You wonder if you should have just taken AP Physics back in high school rather than AP Biology. One night, your friends from Illini Tower complain about receiving a C on the first exam. You stay silent. You got a D. You got your first D in a science class, and it was only freshman year. You regret taking the As and Bs back in high school for granted. You start worrying about your scholarship. Your palms sweat and your forehead scrunches up. You excuse yourself from the lounge and lie on your bed. You’re supposed to be a fricking engineer, and yet you can’t even do well on a simple physics class. You ignore your mom’s text: “How was your exam?”
Chapter 6: Night(s) Out
You’ll party. You’ll drink. Even when you don’t want to.
Before you start drinking, you will consider the repercussions. Your mom hates, hates, hates alcohol, and reminds you at least once a month that it makes your heart pound like crazy and that your father is practically allergic to it. You think about your friend group back home, who enjoyed spending nights watching movies, window shopping, and reenacting Harry Potter/Hunger Games; partying and drinking were definitely not in your daily vocabulary. The first night you drink you take a total of ten shots (that will be the most shots you would take in one hour your entire college career). You go frat hopping every weekend for the first month (secretly, you think that frat hopping is a bit creepy). You didn’t know that from then on, you would think partying and drinking were normal parts of college. Sometimes, you would drink until you threw up (one time, even throwing up on your pants, and attempted to wash them in the person’s apartment). You’re such a lightweight, and no amount of drinking will change that tolerance. You will wake up with a slight hangover one morning, and wonder if you drink and party because it’s fun, or because you want to fit in. You didn’t want to be the girl who stayed in the library studying while everyone else enjoyed the “college experience.” You spent too many lunch periods in high school skipping out on your friends to study for exams. You didn’t leave home to repeat the mistake of being lonely.
Chapter 7: Dining Room Gains
You will experience the “Freshman 15” firsthand.
You’ll eat more than you should when you go to the dining hall. At first, it’s because you feel guilty that you aren’t eating more, since it’s buffet style; when you were younger, your parents brought you to Old Country Buffet and told you to eat until your stomach burst. Then, as the semester progresses, food will unconsciously become your ultimate comfort. You will eat breakfast, brunch, lunch, brinner, dinner, and midnight snacks. You will eat when an exam went badly, when you were getting the silent treatment from your roommate, when you were upset with your boyfriend, when your sister posted more pictures of her hanging out with your older cousin than with you, when your parents visited and told you that you got chubbier, and when you felt any other emotion besides happiness. But no amount of food will change how you feel.
Chapter 8: An Encounter with the Professor
You’ll skip classes. Only one teacher will notice.
You will begin taking BIOE classes your sophomore year and realize you’re falling behind partly because you don’t understand what some of the professors are saying (you’re bad with Asian accents), and partly because you’re not interested in the material. You will pass by your BIOE professor’s office to pick up the graded homework, and hope she doesn’t ask you why you haven’t been to class. But she stops you and asks what’s going on. You take a seat and give your usual cheery smile, but your bottom lip is twitching as you struggle to find the words to explain your absences. Your eyes begin to tear up and eventually you’re bawling. You apologize. You spit out the words: “I don’t belong here.”
You explain your doubt of your mental capacity to do well in your current classes, and whether you are truly passionate about your major. You had been researching about the nursing major on campus but were afraid of your parents’ reaction. She comforts you:
“Be honest with yourself. If you think there is a better major out there for you, then you should pursue it and tell your parents how you feel.”
She will suggest scheduling a meeting with one of the school counselors. You tell her you would follow up. You lied. You knew there was no good in talking to a counselor; nothing a counselor would say would change how your parents would feel. A part of you knew no matter what, your parents would reprimand you for ever suggesting switching out of engineering for nursing.
Chapter 9: The “Talk”
Your parents will tell you they are disappointed, just as predicted.
You sit on your disheveled bed with the lights turned off. The sun slightly peaks out from behind the blinds. Your ears are ringing.
“Why did we spend so much time on all your science-related activities if you were going to waste them in the future?”
“If you wanted to do nursing, you should have gone to community college.”
“We thought you were smart enough…”
“If your grades are bad, then you need to try harder. Stop wasting your time outside of your academics.”
Whatever you say, they will not want to to hear it. If only you tried “harder” (whatever that means), then you would succeed in BIOE. Not that you were already doing all-nighters to finish work. Not that you sacrificed time away from people that you cared about. You will sweat blood and tears…for a career path that you are not even passionate about.
But you will still feel selfish. Changing your major meant betraying all your parents’ hard work and investment into your future the past twenty years. It was not simply a decision of telling your parents how you really feel, but rather one of breaking their hearts.
Chapter 10: Eventual Silence
You will push away others–even when you need them most.
You sip a cup of tea at the dinner table at 1:30 am. You studied for your upcoming exams for hours, but still feel unprepared. You feel your heart beat faster from your anxiety. You close your eyes, attempting to recall the material, but drawing a blank. Your roommate, who is also attempting an all-nighter, interrupts your thoughts. She asks you how you are.
You hesitate, but decide to tell her about your last conversation with your parents. She’s shocked that your parents are resolute in how they view your career path. You feel your eyes watering but instead smile and reassure her, “I just need to work harder. I’ll figure it out. Don’t worry about me.”
You will repeat those same words to your sister, cousins, and friends. You will not burden others with your problems, even when they open up to you.
Yet, despite your words, you will skip an exam.
“I’ll be fine. I’ll figure it out.”
You will sleep and barely attend classes.
“I’ll be fine. I’ll figure it out.”
You will find yourself in a hole that you dug yourself in. Your uneasiness, self-denial and silence will lead you here. Yet you still refuse to argue for your future with your parents because a part of you is still waiting for their approval, for them to say, “I’m proud of you.”
And this where I will stop. I will go no further than the events of sophomore year, but there are no missing pages to this story. You may wonder if there were any good moments in your college career, and there are. There are a ton of good moments that you could not be more grateful for, and a handful of people that have blessed your life with their presence. So why end on a sour note? Why not tell the entire story? Why not skip the events in between and just tell you the ending?
These events are the reason why you ended in the place you are at today. Yes, it would be more appealing to avoid the emotional roller coaster of the next four years, but you are going to realize that hardships don’t stop happening when you graduate college. Realizing that life IS hard is more valuable than me telling you how to achieve an A in each BIOE class, who to date, how to get hired at your first job, etc. And despite how hard life is, you are going to realize you have the ability to make it through because:
1. You know yourself better than you think you do. You’re always in conflict with yourself because you think too much of how your actions will affect those you love. You’re not hurting anyone by choosing a career path, because it is your dream and where your passion lies. You have the ability to make that dream come true, and no one is worth giving it up for. If you let go of your dream, no one else will hold on to it for you. That is why if those you love do not realize the amount of dedication you put into the work you love, then unfortunately, they are not people you want to keep in your life–even if those people are your parents.
2. You will find the right people to surround yourself with. There will be people throughout your college career that will wander and drift away. They’ll take photos with you, but never hold a conversation longer than two sentences. They will only know the surface you: the quiet, somewhat strange but diligent Audrey. Then, there will be people who persistently stay by your side, no matter the circumstance. Seeing those people on any day will make you unconsciously break into tears or a smile–depending on what’s on your mind. They’ll see the side of you that people are unfamiliar with: the lazy potato, the Ate who prioritizes others over herself, the carrier of group projects, the pasta and leftover food lover, the K-Pop and K-drama obsessed fan, the nerd who watches game commentary, etc. You will meet good people. Don’t let them go.
As this letter comes to a close, the only request I have left is that you change the way you view yourself. Not just physically, but also mentally. You are smart, you are kind, you are important. Not everyone will notice or appreciate those aspects of you, but I will. I will always love the person you are. I will always believe in the validity of your choices when everyone else questions you. I will remind you every day that you are worthy of being loved, and that is why you must survive through the pain, the disappointments and the obstacles that are awaiting you. I will always be here for you. You are not alone.