The End of the First

Part of the view from my research lab that I like to sit and stare at.

The rhythm of my life at home is always the same: kind of flat and boring. When I first started college, some people asked me what I did last summer. My answer was always, “house arrest”. I thought I was being witty, but technically I wasn’t kidding. Without a car or a license, I spent the majority of my days indoors, parked on the couch. That wasn’t to say I wasn’t productive — I coded, I designed, and I made memories with friends on the days that I actually did change out of my pajamas.

Now that I’m back at home and relaxing all day, I’m afraid that I will fall back into sync with that rhythm. It’s like I’ve come full circle to last summer, as if nothing’s changed. But much has, and I want to reflect upon what has.

In college, I’ve learned that responsibilities don’t just mean things to do, they mean trust. One Tuesday last February, I woke up at 6AM to earn Zone II clearance and a safety certification at the on-campus Brain Imaging Center. This was one of the first items on my agenda as a research assistant at the Cognition and Action Lab. In the basement of the building and next to a 3-Tesla MRI, I was introduced to all the possible ways the buzzing machine could endanger my subject’s life and my own. By my 8AM, I was already thoroughly awake and alarmed, but honestly ecstatic. I was in the process of learning how to run an MRI — I was not only being considered an adult in age, but also an adult in maturity.

That training process is still ongoing, and I am currently balking at the triple integrals (I didn’t know those existed) in my MRI textbook. Conducting research has otherwise been admittedly less glamorous; the bulk of my time so far has been spent typing simple commands on MATLAB and deciphering esoteric research papers.

Speaking of fancy technology, this year, I stupidly stared straight into lasers and carelessly touched hot beds in Jacobs Institute of Design. Last year, I thought everything I would ever create — be it writing or design — would either be two-dimensional or stuck behind a screen. Yet starting from March, I had the chance to give my imagination physicality. By that I mean, I got a Makers Pass, so I began laser cutting and 3D printing. I laser cut my mother and my aunt’s faces onto birch wood for Mother’s Day gifts. That was when I completely ignored the warning signs on the machine and watched light rip up wood (and probably my eyes) for a good minute. (But in retrospect, Sublime Text (what I write Python on) probably took a greater toll on my eyes this year.)

Another Saturday evening when it was raining not just cats and dogs but more like elephants and whales, I trekked across campus to 3D print Totoro’s. I had bailed on a club retreat, so I thought I should at least make something out of my weekend. So I literally did. That night, I printed a very sorry Totoro. It was hollow where I wanted it to be solid, and it started disintegrating on the way back to my dorm. When I pulled it out my pocket, it littered little, cyan, plastic PLA bits all over. But I printed again and again, watching molten filament harden into prints of more Totoro’s, Detective Conan, and hexagonal fused networks. And as those prints cemented, so did my capabilities. My skills are not yet ready for Etsy, but hopefully they one day will be.

Berkeley didn’t just make the rhythm of my days more exciting; it revived the rhythm in me. Two years ago, I stopped calling myself a dancer and settled with just being a cardio bunny at the gym. I told myself dancing Zumba with fitter moms and grandmas was enough — they were fabulous motivation. I started dance again through AFX in the fall and for the first time loved performing. Performing for hundreds in Zellerbach Hall, for the casual spectator on Sproul Plaza, for the rest of my teammates, who could cheer until I couldn’t hear the music over them.

Zellerbach.

These were three glimpses into my freshman year. There’s a lot more to be said, from imitating gecko adhesion to petting llamas to modeling by the ocean, and those words and posts will come in time. I will admit that in writing about these memories, I’m looking back at them through rose-colored glasses. Berkeley has not been a ball. I can’t say what others have said before me about college, that “there is so much diversity around me” or that “the people here are amazing”. What I can say is that since I’ve come to Berkeley, the tempo of my life has been faster, and I appreciate the pace it has pushed me to go.