Life is Funny

Life tends to work in very unpredictable ways. Even if you feel like you are in a horrible dark hole, suddenly everything is reversed and the sun comes out.

Just 40 minutes ago, I received a very non-descript email, titled nothing other than “HSHSP 2014″. The High School Honors Science Program is a very prestigious summer program at Michigan State University. I had been pinning many of my hopes on this program, as I was looking forwards to a summer of research. Michigan is one of the nation’s most prestigious universities in regards to nuclear physics, a field that I was very interested in, and one that I was willing to pursue as a career. So when my phone buzzed that I had a new email, my mind was suddenly switched to full-adrenaline mode.

Opening up that email sorta ruined that dream.

To be fair, it was a very proper rejection letter. It was personalized, had flowing, looping signatures, official seals and proper documentation of all the wonderful positions that this program has been through. It was accomodating and formal and direct and just made me feel like a pile of feces.

I immediately began to flash back to all of the times that I have felt crushed by applications. Like history essays, I have had a history of failing spectacularly. I’d been rejected time and time again from these places that I put my full heart into. This new letter just seemed to be yet another nail in the coffin, another reminder to work harder.

But soon afterwards, I began considering all that I had written on this very blog in regards to failure. I started thinking about why I didn’t make it, and rationalized my thoughts. I tried seeing the situation from the viewpoint of those who were qualified enough to be accepted, and stoically decided to not give up. Giving up is easy in the face of hardships, but to persevere is to be strong. I plugged into my most motivational Macklemore music, searched up some inspirational quotes about staying hungry, and dived right back into my Math HL Practice Tests. Other people might try to find refuge in humor, I thought, but I will drown my emotions in hard work.

20 minutes later, I looked up from the sea of formulae to see my phone buzzing with another email. This email was far more enigmatic, stating nothing but a name that I had never heard of and a simple “Congratulations!”. Geez, what was it going to be now, another notification that I had “qualified to win ONE MILLION DOLLARS in our GRAND SWEEPSTAKES DRAWING!!!”? Or maybe it’s one of those Nigerian princes again?

Wrong. It was the Summer Science Program. I had just been accepted as a participant to study mathematics, physics, and astronomy for 6 weeks at New Mexico Tech, at the location of the Very Large Array radio telescopes.

It had been my dream to study at this location for several years; since watching “Contact” directed by Carl Sagan in middle school. I had imagined gazing at the Milky Way under the clear cloudless skies of New Mexico for years. It just..blew me away. I shot off like a firecracker to call my parents and to just celebrate.

Even in the post-acceptance euphoria, the dark mellow tones of my prior rejection were still lingering in my head. Like the words that I had just written, I still stayed resolved to not stop fighting. The world is not ready to open itself to anyone; it demands hard work and sacrifice. I couldn’t afford to stay celebratory; life is not made for the hard work in the valleys.

Made for the valleyI’m glad as to how the world worked out for me. If the order had been reversed, starting off with success and ending in failure, I would have been much more likely to shrug off the latter as just a minor setback. Instead, right now, I am painfully aware of the struggle that is always around me. I vow to stay humble and to keep on working hard on my tasks and duties.

 

“Stay hungry, stay young, stay foolish, stay curious, and above all, stay humble because just when you think you got all the answers, is the moment when some bitter twist of fate in the universe will remind you that you very much don’t.” – Tom Hiddleston

 

Sour grapes

Human nature dictates for us to have a sense of competition, of winners and losers. We create races, challenges, puzzles, anything to test our bodies and our minds. These competitions are great because they allow people to find ways to improve and be better, but in the end, there can only be one.

When there are winners, there are losers. And when there are losers, there are sour grapes. The murmur of indignation starts to bubble up just as results are announced.

“Well, everyone knew that the race was fixed. “
“Oh I didn’t study for this anyways.”
“I was too lazy to try.”
“I’m too tired to do anything.”

And on and on, the excuses flow.

I understand these excuses in my life. The idea that I am simply not good enough is feared. If I choose to measure my self worth solely on how I do in competitions, no doubt would these hateful statements slip from my tongue continuously. Why “hateful” statements? For one, muttering excuses is really hating on yourself. Rather than choosing to reflect on the experience, you are consciously pretending that it just wasn’t a big deal. Depriving oneself of the opportunity to improve and reconsider is a rather poor education – and life – decision.

Sour grapes turn the world around you sour as well. When you publicly announce that “This competition is rubbish”, what are you saying to the person who worked for hours perfecting their project? Or perhaps a snide “el oh el congratz I totes could have done wayyyy better :P :) :)” can hurt just as much. Although it may seem that the only way we can make ourselves feel better is by putting down others, it is very rarely a proper path.

Why would one intentionally bad mouth humans who are friends, colleagues, or coworkers? These are people who you should be celebrating with, not laughing at! A few heartfelt kind words would bring happiness, while a mocking tone only separates. Even if you are brilliant alone, it doesn’t hurt to be assisted and produce something better. Perhaps your ego may take a hit, at which point I’d like to ask: why are you competing? To learn, to discover, to play to explore to entertain to improve, perchance to dream?

The original fable from Aesop was about a fox who saw grapes right out of his reach. After straining to reach them, he eventually gives up and moves on. Today, it is as if all of us are reaching for those sweet jewels, but when someone succeeds, we shower lemon juice on everything. We cloud our own judgement and punish others out of spite and malice. At the same time, words of honey could have been used to brighten everybody’s day.

Happy Birthday!

I usually don’t see myself as one of the popular kids. Eating lunch with me can be an arduous task as I poke at my food, or if you get stuck walking down a hall with me, I’ll be robotically marching forwards. Instead, I’m usually in a million events because I love being around these amazing people who can bring a smile to my face anytime. Every class, every club is a joy because of the time that I get to spend with my class mates.

Seeing and hearing such an outpouring of love today really sorta blew me away. My memory is dirt poor; I can’t unlock my gym locker, remember phone numbers, not even to mention birthdays, so I really couldn’t believe that people would remember mine. Although it isn’t the numbers that make me heart melt, but the realization that I have so many friends out there that care for me. I truly appreciate all of your kind words, and hope that I can bring as much joy to you as you have brought to me.

I believe that about a year ago, I wrote something to the point of celebrating people every single day of the year. Even though I still hold that to be entirely true, tough times through this year has made me reconsider bits and pieces of that. It might be somewhat impossible to always stay positive, but bright shining days can make dark storm clouds fade into the past. When I am struggling in the future, I’ll keep the love of my friends in mind!

For everyone else, happy spring equinox! The world has once again equalized in terms of hours of light and dark, and for us in the Northern hemisphere, we are moving towards bright days ahead :)

PartyPic

This picture is 100% not photoshopped. (Photoshop is way to fancy for me; paint is the way to go!)

Train Wreck

What seems to be most terrifying of a train wreck is the inevitability by which it happens. It isn’t like a car accident, where the movements are spontaneous and fluid. Car accidents can be avoided by swerving to the side of the road, perhaps trading major damages for minor ones.

When I picture a train wreck, the stereotypical image I get is of two trains chugging full speed at each other because of a silly switch error made maybe 200 kilometers ago. But it doesn’t matter, because somehow two trains are in the same track, going in opposite directions. Crash is imminent.

What’s worse is that the people on the train can probably see the death and destruction that is coming ahead. They might try to get the engineer to pull the breaks as hard as s/he can, but it is no use. There is no escape from death here. The tracks are too forbidding.

I stand outside all of this, watching frame by frame as deadlines and due dates pile up. Sometimes, no matter how much I chug away at my stack of work, the readings never end. The vectors seem to multiply. The soliloquies go on for an eternity. The essays don’t have an end, nor a middle, nor a beginning.

I’ve gotta just separate myself out from all of this and try harder in slamming those breaks on, or else be ready to pick myself up from the rubble.

Petrichor

I crack open the window and it hits me-
Like a hurricane, like a sledgehammer-
Forgotten memories? Or lost dreams?
It does not matter.
The scent of wet earth, of dry rain
It haunts me! Brings back ghosts of
what could have been what might have been what can’t be what ohhhhhh
Drip.
Drop.
Drip.
Drop.

The rain does not hear me, it washes over she
who dares to defy, who dares to cry-
“Why Lord why?”
Why do I live in this brave new world
Of ashen dust and of shards of glass?

The patterns of projected paintings,
Illuminated by wrath and anger but shifted by the pittering-pattering persistent pouring of rain
covers the wall
As
I
Fall
And my years of tears blend with
Renewing spring rain
Salting the earth
And making this petrichor a different scent.

Sighing, I seal the windows
Renewed? No, recharged
To continue the fight
For what is right-for what is light!-
In this dark world of mine.

Stale Water

Gah, that previous post has been locked in my head for too long. Didn’t turn out exactly the way I would have liked.

Typically, Wednesdays during week-long breaks are the beginning of my demise; I start to get tired of the nothingness that break entails. It always feels like I start treading stale water around this time; listening to my own words repeat in my head does not do my sanity any favors. Although I recharge by being alone, I need to talk to people to be myself. It’s an odd and unbalanced dichotomy, to be sure!

So, uh, chat me maybe?

 

#TheStruggle

My former physics teacher posed a question to his students. A parent emailed him, and he wanted to know how we would respond to it. The statement was as follows:

 “I talked to a parent with a child currently at Interlake. His opinion is the top 20% of the middle school prism students will do well in high school gifted program. The rest will struggle.”

This statement seemed rather odd to me, perhaps because of the way that I interpreted the tone of the message. This parent seemed to be worried that many students at Interlake are not able to do well primarily because of the way that they have to struggle with the topics they learn. Perhaps this parent is concerned for the sake of his/her own child, and not sure if this would have been beneficial for the long term education of the child.

Alas, to struggle or not to struggle: That is the question! One that was very familiar to me, as I recall the arguments that led to my placement in Interlake. When our family moved to Seattle in the Spring of 2011, we were still in the dark in regards with the gifted education programs at Bellevue. It wasn’t until after I took the CogAt test – and barely qualified for the gifted program – did we begin to reconsider my educational choices. As I remember, my mother was pestering all of her new friends, asking about how difficult high school might be. The tales of late nights, loads of homework and excessive competition concerned her, and quite rightly. She strongly opposed entering this “den of lions”, worried for my happiness, and perhaps as an afterthought, my eventual GPA.

On the other hand, I was desperate to try something new. My second semester of 8th grade at Tyee Middle School wasn’t the best experience for me. I’ve arrived late in the year and was sadly limited by the courses I could take. My schedule had a period of chorus, orchestra, Teacher Assistant, Drama, and PE: Too much activity for me. Every day seemed to blur into the next; there wasn’t the intellectual straining that I so desired. I was ready to try something new and exciting.

Over the past three years, Interlake has been as challenging and imposing as perhaps I thought. The number of essays that I have written exceeds my wildest dreams, while the amount of research that I do surprises even my dad. There isn’t a single class that I can claim to “coast” by in; every teacher demands my full attention and diligence with respect to studying and homework. More than once, I considered life if I haven’t willingly joined this program, or even if I stayed back in Knoxville. Would I be happier, relaxing and exploring on my own?

But as time went by, I began to adapt. An anthem of mine for much of one year was Kelly Clarkson’s song, Stronger. The more I learned, the more excited I was to learn. The struggle didn’t leave me in ruins, it opened up new worlds for me to discover. The more that I had to work to learn, the more I appreciated what I had. I couldn’t rely on my talents to get me by; I was forced to critically think at all times.

I embraced #TheStruggle.

I made it part of who I am.

A driving force for my reconsideration of this topic was my recently completed Mathematics Internal Assessment – henceforth known as the most number of hours I have ever put into understanding a topic. I put so much research into that paper. I poured my heart, my brains, my guts, my sweat, my blood into figuring out how to write it. I gave up three times in the process. With help from my parents and my amazing math teacher, I picked myself up each time. I painfully deleted a week’s worth of research because it didn’t fit into the paper any more. I wrestled with format, with word choice, with the logical conclusions.

I have never been so proud of a paper!

The easy things and the gentle rewards are not what we remember later in life. We aren’t made to live off the fat of the land. Rather, #TheStruggle should be real for all of us, and should eventually be a part of who we are.

 

Late night reflections

I’ve been working on an essay all day, so when I looked out the window around 11pm, after hearing about the snow from numerous friends, my first reaction was, wow, can’t believe I nearly missed the snow!

But then I looked out again, and noticed something peculiar. See, I like to call myself an amateur astronomer, and one of the things we astronomers like to do is look up at the stars at night. So. I’m pretty familiar with the darkness of my backyard around 11:30ish!

But rather than my eyes taking a couple of minutes to adjust to the dimness and mystery of the backyard, today’s scenery was different. I double checked my clock, just to make sure i was in the right time zone. Yep, still 11:32. But then why was it sop bright outside?

Perhaps it is because of the relatively newness that I have with snow, growing up in East Tennessee, where you might get an inch a decade. I never realized just how bright snow could be, in the way that it reflects light. The white flakes that our eyes see are really just reflection and refraction of the light that has always been around us. But if it wasn’t for those small flakes, perhaps I would have thought that nighttime was always a time for darkness?

A little bit of reflection can go a long way in illuminating the true path. Not all of us necessarily need to find a path that no one had ever walked on; it is more than satisfactory to build on and improve the light of others.

The Smartest Kids in the World [Review]

Alright, I’m already calling it. This will be one of the most impactful books I read this year.

In The Smartest Kids in the World, Amanda Ripley uses her investigative journalism skills to artfully craft a story as rich with personal narrative as with statistics, figures, interviews, and everything else that is needed to make a story sell. And boy, is this story convincing!

Ripley follows three American teenagers as they engage in study abroad programmes, in 3 separate countries: Korea, the powerhouse for exceptional student grades, Poland, the emerging country for students, and Finland, the globally accepted leader in education. (In a quick google search, the first autocomplete option for Finland is in fact for “Finland education”!) But Ripley goes farther than that: She investigates all sorts of different perspectives, from the teachers to the government, from reforms in the past to the plan for the future.

Originally when I read this book, I thought that it was a convincing read, but focused far too much on a single test and the lives of three single students. And while it is not a comprehensive book on education reform, this author did her research. What inspired me was that while the book is 306 pages, the actual narrative is closer to 200 pages. There is a good 100 pages of footnotes, of a “selected” bibliography, of references and of research! That immediately made the book “pop”, in my opinion. Having substantial amounts of research is always beneficial to your story!

Americans need to read this book because we are too often constrained within our own perspective of what education should and will look like. I am a watcher of Korean dramas, and often in school scenes, I would see students flat out sleeping on their desks. I always believed that this action was more creativity based on the producer rather than the truth. Boy, was I wrong! Students in Korea practically live at school, and most of them do in fact live in this fashion: cramming all day and catching a quick nap in the middle of class. I was also rather surprised to learn about the limited activities in Poland and Finland. I thought that my crammed afternoon schedule was the norm, not the exception.

Another one of the key points of the book is that selectivity and wide spread reform are the only things that could bring about change. Rather than the incrementalism that is taken in America, only a sudden shock could drastically change what the world looks like. The Poland reforms did not have a perfect transition. The change in Finland is almost just as dramatic, but only after such events could the future become brighter! As for the selectivity of teachers, I was always brought up to thoroughly respect anyone who taught me. The culture that I had at home always placed the teacher as one of the most important people, close to the parent in terms of raising me. What if we implemented the same reforms as they did in Finland, limiting the number of teachers produced per year from colleges?

This book also refers to the process of tracking, or in my world, “gifted education”, as something that inherently harmed students. For me, this was a definite, but expected, shock. As a junior in the Bellevue School District, one of the most prestigious public school districts in the country, one might expect all of the students to be equally amazing. And that is entirely true! All of my friends seem to possess phenomenal skills of reasoning, of understanding, of being human. Yet, we are divided into two distinct programmes at my school: The gifted and traditional tracks. I witnessed an all-out flame war on the internet as the page “Interlake Confessions” provided an outlet for all of the pent up frustrations students had towards other groups of students. There were pointed fingers of superiority, of being happy or miserable, and I was dismayed. How could students who were united in learning act this way?

I reconsidered a situation where my parents would constantly claim that some other kid was always better than me. No matter what I do, regardless of what rewards I earn, s/he would always be better than I for some odd intrinsic reason. How would I feel? I realized what Ripley was speaking to: by separating students in this fashion, you are creating lines of division that are not so easily forgotten as a student.

When I was introducing this book to Mr. Millhollen, one of my favorite teachers, he asked me: “How should I be reading this book?” When I responded with a puzzled look, he gently prompted “Should I be looking for ways to change my teaching, or …?” Immediately, I understood. This book was not intended to change the way that things are in America, at least not for this decade. I read this book not with the purpose of immediately changing the world, but rather, with the goal of learning how change could be possible. I don’t believe that this book was meant to change the opinions of education leaders of the world. It doesn’t go in depth enough to do so. Rather, it is for people like me, students who are struggling to understand why they are learning what they do. It is for parents who are wondering where America is in regards to the world for education. It is for the common person who is interested in learning some history and who may be inspired to take action.

I’m not sure if the majority of Americans want to listen to these words that are said here. I’m not sure if even I want to. America has been a conservative country on the whole, preferring to take changes slowly and guarantee the success of as many people as possible. It often seems as if our motto is “Do no harm” rather than “Create a better world”, for creating a better world is often rift with mistakes and possibilities for failure. While I disagree with these ideas, I think that this book helps address these points. You don’t have to be devoted to a new system to appreciate how others have built up their lives. No matter what your stance is, this book will be a good read!

[link to goodreads]

Life has a Deadline

It’s nice to know that my life has a deadline.

I don’t work very well when I face the future. For the past month, whenever I look at the date February 14th, I see deadlines. Deadlines everywhere, piling up, crushing, suffocating, destroying my very self.

Pic1

The confusement.

Feb20141

The date

Pic2

The shock.

So what do I do? I’m usually rendered incapable of working, so I do my best to empty out my brain and focus on the here and now: Get this homework done first. Make that study guide. Finish your essay. Baby steps.

But the relative calm doesn’t last forever. In the last week, I’ve had a slightly different reaction to that date, and for the most part, all of February.

Pic3

The concern

Feb20142

Walpurgisnacht

Pic4

The Sheer and Utter Terror

What do I do?

Keep Calm and Study On

[okay maybe this was just an excuse to play with a webcam in the library DONT JUDGE ME]