Hope Tsai '23 - Introduction

Hi there, and welcome to my blog!  Me

I hail from Detroit, Michigan, and I have a deep fondness for anyone who's a Midwestern Mammoth, or a Taiwanese Mammoth (as I am Taiwanese). My hometown is exactly 662 miles away from Amherst College, so moving here has been a big adjustment; sometimes I find myself missing home and the flat "plains" that I once vehmently (and metaphorically) spat on. BUT, I've been really enjoying my time here, and I can't wait to tell you all about it!

I'm a freshman and a prospective computer science major. I'll see where the winds of academia take me; I might try a double major, or just dabble in every subject!

At Amherst, I sing in the chorus, am a Questbridge Scholar and Meikeljohn Fellow, try to participate in various clubs like Arting Club and Amherst Christian Fellowship, and try to go to as many events as possible. There's always talks happening, meetings with departments and resource centers, and free food somewhere on campus. Music and theater and dance (performing arts, really) are dear to my heart, so I love attending concerts and shows too! I write both creatively and in my journal; I try to go to the gym as often as I can muster enough motivation to (which, as of right now, is usually never), and I love reading (this is a hint for recommendations). I work for Reader to Reader as a reading mentor to K-12 students, and I also work for Student Security! Wherever you see me on campus, you'll catch me with a song in my head and my phone in my hand--I take pictures of everything.

Some More Facts:

1. I have an identical twin sister! Sadly, she's three inches taller than me. Also, she can handle spice better than I can. How did that happen, biologists? 

2. We have a mini Australian Shepherd (black tri colored) named Aiko! He's super cute. Aiko

3. My favorite author is Jane Austen. My favorite books are "Sense and Sensibility" by Jane Austen and "Anne of Green Gables" by L. M. Montgomery.

4. My favorite movie is "You Are the Apple of My Eye." It's a Taiwanese movie that I grew up watching. I also love "Crazy Rich Asians" and "Hindi Medium."  My favorite TV shows are "The Good Place" and "Doctor Who." My favorite drama of all time is "Sky Castle." You should definitely check those out when you want to relax!

Have any questions? Want to say hi? Email me at htsai23@amherst.edu!

Reflection

Dear Reader,

 

Welcome to my last post of the semester! I know I said this last time, but can you believe it’s almost over? Right now, it’s December 21st, 2019. I’m finally going home today! I actually don’t think that it’s set in, yet. I remember what it’s like to be home, but I’m so used to living in my dorm, eating at Val, walking the hilly terrain of Amherst... It’ll be strange, but nice, to be back. Before I hop on my flight, though, I wanted to write a quick reflection post and provide some insight into the mind of a freshman student done with her first semester of college.

 

“How was the transition?”

Honestly, the transition was hard. Moving from Michigan to Massachusetts was one thing, beginning a new chapter in my life with nobody I knew was another, and then starting college with no frame of reference is a completely different thing. I cried a bit at the start, and was so anxious. If this sounds like you, then I’m here to tell you that you have absolutely nothing to worry about! New beginnings are always a mixture of nerves and excitement, and such is life. You’re going to get through it just fine. There are going to be difficult, low points, but you’ll also find your place and what makes you happy. Don’t hesitate to say no to things you know you don’t like, but also try stepping outside of your comfort zone.

 

“Did you miss home?”

Not really. I have this weird habit where I (usually) adjust easily to new situations. Mostly, that’s just because it’s really easy for me to forget how things were before. So, I don’t tend to miss anything until I start looking back at my journals or photos. When I do, however, then I really miss my “old world,” whatever that may be. I think that if I had gone back home, then I would’ve missed home more often (since I would be able to more vividly remember how it was). Sometimes, it’s better to jump head first and leave everything else behind. We’re all so busy here, that it’s hard to miss home. The moments when it hits you will be when you’re alone, or when you’re just eating the food at Val, or when you’re with people, not when you’re stressing over your grades (which you shouldn’t be doing too much of!). Just know that it’s normal to miss home, but that there are also going to be lots of activities to keep your mind busy.

 

“Did you change a lot?”

I feel like I should have, but I don’t think I did. Lots of people I know say that college has really changed them, though, so maybe I’m the outlier (statistics lingo, ahaha--whenever I say anything that relates to my classes, I just feel the urge to laugh for some reason). I’ve matured, definitely, and I’ve learned how to take better care of myself and of others; I didn’t really learn to do that at home, since I was babied a lot. However, I haven’t had any “drastic” or “dramatic” experiences that really challenged my character or personality, yet. It’s okay if you don’t change a lot in your first semester of college; it’s okay if you “only” settle into yourself. Don’t feel like you’re late, or that something’s “wrong” with you. We’re all different, and we all encounter life on our own time.

 

“What advice do you have?”

  1. Don’t stress too much about anything. Just try to enjoy every moment. It’s hard to remember that at times, but I keep telling myself that it’s a privilege to be here. It’s a privilege to be at Amherst, a privilege to be able to go to college. It’s a privilege to be healthy, to be alive. And even though it might not seem like it, it’s a privilege that my main worry is my grades. There’s so many things to be thankful for! (And that is not sarcasm.) If you find yourself stressing too much, go to your advisor, residential counselor, or the counseling center.
  2. Give yourself time. Everyone develops at their own pace, so don’t compare yourself to others, either. “Comparison is the thief of joy,” isn’t it? Every flower blooms at a different time, and it doesn’t matter if one blooms earlier than another. I’ve wrestled with this a lot when I was younger, and I think that I’ve finally taken it to heart. Be kind to yourself! This is all “our first life,” so the best thing you can do is to try your best. (Awesome drama; try it during winter break!)
  3. Take care of yourself! Sleep. Eat. Shower. Take meaningful breaks from studying (but don’t do that thing where you keep switching between tabs, and you end up feeling guilty because you didn’t get that much work done). Also, exercising helps a lot with sleeping and stress-relieving! There’s a gym and even Zumba classes at Amherst, but if you don’t have access to either, there are multiple videos you can follow within the comfort of your own room. If I’m feeling particularly cranky or anxious or emotional, I take a guilt-free break and do one of the above. Afterwards, I can focus more on my work!
  4. Finally, don’t isolate yourself. Your professors want you to succeed, your advisors want you to enjoy your classes, your residential counselor is there for any questions or concerns you have, and your family and your friends want you to be happy. You don’t have to go through anything alone. 

 

Sometimes, I think that it’s so strange that I’m living. That I’m here, in this moment, with this group of people, and we’re all trying our best. That’s the most anyone could ask for, I think. I’ve really enjoyed my first semester here at Amherst; I did my best in my classes, and it’s okay if my grades aren’t as good as what I’m used to. I grew more “into myself” and found lots of amazing acquaintances and friends and dorm-mates. I survived a whole semester without my twin, which is pretty amazing and strange at the same time. 

 

Actually, I used to be scared of becoming an adult; if I had the choice, I know that my younger self would want to stay in sophomore year of high school forever (I was weirdly specific). However, just being around so many interesting upperclassmen and professors has made me excited to be an adult. There’s so many cool things to do and experience!. I hope that my posts this semester has made you excited to consider Amherst, college in general, or leaving the nest. I will see you next semester!



First Amherst Snow Day!

Dear Reader,

Welcome back! Honestly, I can’t believe that it’s already December. In fact, it’s almost Christmas! It’s almost time for me to finally go home! Where has the time gone? However, I won’t reminisce just yet--I’ll save that for the last post. Today, I’ll tell you all about what you can do in the town of Amherst.

On December 1st, the night our Thanksgiving break ended, Amherst College had its first “real” snowfall of the year! I actually remember when it happened--I was studying in the first floor of Frost Library, with my headphones in, completely oblivious to the outside world, when one of my classmates from statistics stopped by for a chat. (My professors have said that my sentences are too long, but this isn’t graded or academic, so hopefully it’s fine. If it’s too confusing, drop me an email!) As we talked, my eyes wandered to the window, and I saw a real flurry of snow! Multiple people on my floor actually took a break and went outside to take pictures, and I was one of them; I loved how everyone transformed into giddy, excited children, especially those who had never seen snow before. When the sun set, however, it was still snowing. We all got to wondering if we would have class the next day. After all, some people weren’t even able to make it back to campus. The PVTA buses were delayed, as were many flights. When we got the email announcing our snow day, I was in my dorm. Literal yells and screams of elation pounded through the thin walls, and I couldn’t help laughing out loud. We’re all college students, adults, and yet we still get so excited over snow and snow days. I guess that we’re all still children at heart.

So, what can you do in Amherst? More specifically, what can you do on a snow day in Amherst? Turns out, you can still take the bus! The next day, a couple friends and I took the bus to Hampshire Mall. Hampshire Mall is unlike any mall back at home; it has laser tag, bowling, escape rooms, Target, Cinemark, a taekwondo studio, and even a rollerskating rink. Near the mall was a whole plaza of other stores as well. There, we visited Barnes and Noble, Trader Joe’s, and PetSmart. I learned how much I missed my dog back home, how much I missed reading for fun (when I was younger, my mom would just drop me off at Barnes and Noble while she ran errands), and how much I missed home-cooked food. (The food at Val isn’t bad, by any means, but there is a difference between a home-cooked meal and food that is cooked for hundreds.) Even though it was still snowing, the bus system was dependable, and I got to spend a fun day outside of campus. While this isn’t New York City (which, actually, you can easily reach by bus), there is so much stuff to do, and I haven’t even talked about the long road of restaurants you see when you drive into town. On the rare occasions when you have nothing to do, the town of Amherst is ready to receive you! On that note, I’ll drop a few pictures below! Thanks for reading, and see you next time!

snow2 sno1

snow4 snow

My Thanksgiving Break

Dear Reader,

Welcome back! It’s been awhile. Now, there’s only 13 days until the end of the semester; we are careening into finals season, and it’ll be my first here at college! Today, I’ll be telling you all about how I spent Thanksgiving break here in Amherst, MA. While I spent my mornings and afternoons doing homework (mainly, the final project in Intro to Computer Science II, which is absolutely killing me), I freed up my evenings to relax and have some fun.

Day 1 (Friday - November 22): What better way to spend the first night of break than to have a movie night? I invited those who I knew were staying on campus to my dorm’s common room, and we watched “It” (as recommended by friend A., who’s reading the book for her Reader to Reader job). I’m pretty sure I missed 1/3rd of the movie, but I successfully watched my first horror movie!

it

Day 2 (Saturday - November 23): Friends T., H., and J. and I went to Northampton to watch Smith College’s fall faculty dance concert and eat some delicious ramen! Out of the 5 College Consortium, I still need to visit Mount Holyoke and Hampshire College.

dance  

Day 3 (Sunday - November 24): Friends T., H., and A. and I helped two upperclassmen cook for Friendsgiving! The only incident was when our rolls literally caught on fire in the oven, but other than that, we fed around 120 hungry people! (I feel like Amherst should have enough money to invest in oven mitts--we used paper towels, so I’m relieved that none of us got hurt.) This is what we were in charge of:

food food2  

Day 4 (Monday - November 25): Friends T. and J. and I ate at an event called Global Kitchen. There wasn’t enough food to fill us though, so we hopped on over to Val to finish dinner. Still, everyone did such a good job cooking foods from other cultures!

Day 5 (Tuesday - November 26): Friends T., H., A., and J. and I walked to Boltwood Inn to eat a fancy Thanksgiving dinner hosted by the college. Friend J. was particularly perplexed over the lack of mashed potatoes and macaroni and cheese; instead, we had lamb and turkey and pumpkin ravioli. We sat with Professor Hansen of the Chemistry department and residential counselor B., and learned much about how Amherst College was before we arrived.

thanksgiving1 thanksgiving
 

Day 6 (Wednesday - November 27): Friends T., H., and A. and I walked to Amherst Cinema to watch South Korean black comedy thriller “Parasite” for free! It was a really great movie, albeit a bit creepy and disturbing at times. Afterwards, we headed over to Keefe Campus Center to start on a 1,000-piece “Spirited Away” puzzle and eat some more pie.

parasite puzzle1

Day 7 (Thursday - November 28): Happy Thanksgiving! Friends T., H., and J. and I walked to Professor Jeong and Lee of the Biology department’s house. We ate dinner with them and their family, as well as four upperclassmen; we made over 200 dumplings, and left very happy and full.

thanksgiving2 group

Day 8 (Friday - November 29): Did you do anything for Black Friday? Friend T. and I, along with chemistry teaching assistant E., upperclassmen L., and fellow choral society member H., finished the “Spirited Away” puzzle with lots of hot chocolate, cookies, and pie! 

finish puzzle

Day 9 (Saturday - November 30): People have started arriving back on campus! I missed seeing everyone, and Amherst College felt like such a ghost town without everyone. It was time to get back to academics, but I’ll always remember my first Thanksgiving away from home!


Now, on to finals! Good luck to you, too!

Hope

Tests.

Dear Reader,

Tests.

Or, as Amherst Mammoths like to call them, “midterms.” However, I really don’t like that; it feels like there’s so much more weight to them if we call them “midterms.” Also, if it’s before or after the midway point of the semester, why are you calling them “midterms”? Am I the only person on campus who thinks this doesn’t make any sense? Okay, I’ll stop ranting now. 

Anyways, tests, midterms, whatever you want to call them, they’re back. A couple of my friends had their chem midterm on Thursday at 7 in the evening; I’m really lucky that all of mine have been during normal class hours. A few are having their multivariable calculus midterm this coming Wednesday, and I’m having my stat midterm this Tuesday. I. Am. Stressed.

Today, I wanted to step back from the retellings of a day-to-day routine. Today, I’ll just pour out my heart to you about the academic life here at Amherst. To start with, it’s tough, but for me, it isn’t because the classes are insanely difficult. Some of my courses are more difficult than others, but I can understand all the material if I try hard enough. The issue comes when I interact with my peers. Let me tell you, everyone here is CRAZILY intelligent. I must admit, I had a negative stereotype about athletes when I first arrived on campus, but even the athletes are just so smart. Sometimes, I just sit in class, and wonder why I’m here, or if the admissions committee made a mistake in admitting me. My peers’ minds go to places I didn’t even know existed! Adding to that, they’re all so accomplished in their non-academic hobbies, whether it is singing or dancing or debating in mock trial. It’s really easy to feel like you’re an intruder, or that you don’t belong. 

As a Questbridge Scholar, I went to the admissions office on Friday (November 15, 2019), Questbridge Day, to grab some food and talk with the admissions office; there, I voiced this concern to a woman named Jasmine Hardy (who I later learned is an assistant dean of admission at Amherst). At the time, I only knew that she was part of the team who decided our fates, but I asked her if this was a common feeling, a feeling that they made a mistake. She said that yes, it was common, but also that it was not true; they review our applications so many times, and deliberate until they are absolutely, one hundred percent, completely sure about their decision. Over apple cider and a various array of snacks, she taught me how to approach my advisor outside of registration period (which I didn’t even know I could do!) and how to schedule an appointment with the Counseling Center; she told me to remember to sleep (which I have been doing!) and to eat (which I sometimes forget) and to take time for myself (which I try to do, but always feel guilty about). 

Sometimes, I forget that moving to college doesn’t mean you’re an adult right away. I forget that everyone is stressed, not just me. I forget that I’m not the only one who gets stressed out about tests. (It’s not a midterm!) I forget that I need extra help in figuring out what I don’t even know I don’t know. Most importantly, sometimes I forget that there are places on campus designed to help me navigate through this new chapter of my life. I forget about the Counseling Center (or more accurately, I think I’m supposed to “handle this” by myself), I forget that my RC is here to help me, I forget about all of my professors who would love to sit down with me and talk any issues out. I also forget about my friends, who (although they’re incredibly smart and hardworking) also feel anxious about grades and tests.  

So, this weekend, I’m going to study for my stats test. I’m also going to eat, and go to the Sabbyes’ Show (acapella showcase with the Sabrinas and the Zumbayes), and to the DASAC show (dance group). I’m going to try to go to the gym (I’m laughing a bit about this one--it’s really cold, and I don’t think I’ll make it to the building, so we’ll see how that goes). I’m going to allow myself some time to enjoy my life here at Amherst without worrying about my academics. I’ll talk to you next time! 

Hope

It's Almost Thanksgiving Break!

Dear Reader,

Thanksgiving Break is almost upon Amherst College, and everyone is extremely tired but excited for their 9-day respite. Most people I know are going home, wherever that may be, but a certain few (including me) are staying on campus. During Fall Break in October, the campus became eerily quiet, so I’m really curious as to what campus will feel like this time around, when even more people are leaving. I’ll keep you updated!

As a low-income student far away from home, I wondered what happens during this long break. Could I still eat? Would Frost Library and the Science Center be open? Could I still receive packages from the mailing room in Keefe Campus Center? Would I be utterly alone and hungry on Thanksgiving Day? Most importantly, could I still eat? All of these questions, and more, were answered in an email from the Office of Residential Life just a couple days ago. Now, I know that most buildings remain open, but within limited times. Also, the college works to make sure that you can still enjoy the holiday season, with a Thanksgiving meal at Boltwood Inn, a cozy “Friendsgiving” dinner that you can help cook, free admission to Amherst Cinema, and mysterious events such as “Puzzles and Pies” and “Cocoa and Cookies.” Students who want to make some extra money can even work for the home soccer games this weekend. But do you want to know the coolest thing? Share a Family/Meal!

For Share a Family/Meal, Amherst staff, faculty, and local alumni open their doors to students still on campus; it’s a chance to enjoy some home-cooked food and get to know other students as well as members of the Amherst community. I signed up with three of my friends, and as we were a larger group, we got placed with a household that could fit us: Professor Jeeyon Jeong of the biology department! I’d actually briefly met her during department meetings during Family Weekend, so I’m really excited that now I have the chance to get to know her better (and maybe see if I’d like to take a biology class here at Amherst). Individually, we were given the chance to decline a spot, as Professor Jeong would be cooking Korean food instead of the traditional turkey and mashed potatoes and whatnot. I already would be having a traditional Thanksgiving dinner at the Boltwood Inn, so having a different version of a Thanksgiving meal felt right to me (and besides, it wasn’t too different from my usual Thanksgiving meal back home: Chinese takeout). Even though I don’t think Valentine Dining Hall is that bad, I’m really excited for some home-cooked food!

I still have homework for each of my four classes, but that’s abnormal. I’m looking forward to resting my brain a bit, watching movies and dramas without guilt, exploring the town of Amherst, maybe visiting the other colleges in the 5 College Consortium, and getting ready for the chaotic season of finals. I’ll catch you up with numerous photos in the next blog post, but until then, have a happy Thanksgiving!

Hope

An Atypical Friday

Dear Reader,

It’s November 1st. Wind is blowing across the First-Year Quad, and I get hit in the face by a large yellow leaf as I walk to Valentine Dining Hall. Let’s just forget about that.

After a good breakfast, I head over to the gorgeous Science Center for my first class, Introduction to Stat Modeling. Fridays are our lab time, so we split into groups for our upcoming debate. As the defense team, we have to present an argument on why statistical evidence should not be allowed in court. It’s fun to see statistics in the real world, and I’m beginning to like the subject more and more! The professors here are really passionate, and I could listen to them talk all day.

Science Center

I attend my stat professor’s office hours, ask some questions, and then head to lunch! I devour my poke bowl. Val is incredibly busy at this point--it’s Family Weekend, so all of the parents and families have arrived. Vendors from nearby shops are giving out free samples, and I get some delicious frozen yogurt and egg tarts. (Always look out for free food!) Afterwards, I attend my last class of the day: Introduction to Computer Science II. Today’s topic? Linked lists. Some parents sit in on this class, and seeing everyone with their families is so sweet; it makes me really miss my own family, who couldn’t make it.

Egg Tart

Right afterwards, I attend the STEM Path to Research event, get to hear from upperclassmen and professors about internships, and start thinking of what I want to accomplish this summer. It is super helpful; always attend an event if you can! You never know what you’ll discover.

  Walking on Quad

However, I can’t just be having fun all the time. I study in Frost Library for three hours, before heading over to the Center for Diversity and Student Leadership’s letter writing event at the Keefe Student Center. They have snacks and all the stationary to my heart’s content. I appreciate that Amherst College found a way to include students whose families couldn’t come to Family Weekend. I write letters to my parents and my twin, have my polaroid taken for the first time, and meet some great new people. 30 minutes after my arrival, I am off to Kirby Theater to catch the new play, “Medea.” My first-year seminar professor, Professor Bashford, directed it, so I am really excited. I’ve also loved mythology ever since I read the Percy Jackson series in elementary school, so it is right up my alley. By the time the curtain falls, I’m chilled to my bones. (And not because I remember that I need to walk back uphill, against the wind, to my dorm). Everyone is absolutely brilliant, and I love getting to see some fellow freshmen up on stage and behind the scenes!

Medea

And so now, I’m back in my dorm room after a long day. I should’ve studied more, but there’s still the weekend! Plus, it’s important to relax. Indulge yourself in some non-academic passions. Have a busy weekend every once in awhile.

I’m off to bed. Tomorrow, I’ve got a concert to sing in!

My First Visit to the Affinity Groups (Among Other Things)

Dear Reader,

Tuesday, November 5th, was hectic; I’ll post about a regular day at some point, but for now, I’ll show you what a busy schedule is like.

I had Statistics at 10 AM; we learned more about hypothesis testing and multiple regression lines. While I’m always happily awake during class, I have a feeling that if I had an 8 AM or 9 AM class, things would be pretty different. It’s getting colder, and I’m getting the urge to burrow into my warm blankets instead of going outside. With this in mind, I scouted for classes with good times during registration week for the spring semester, and if I get everything I want, then my first class will also be at 10 AM next semester. Success! (However, it looks like two of my courses are over-capacity. One of them has 42 people registered with an 18-people cap! I really hope I get into both, but there’s so many interesting courses here that I wouldn’t be too sad if I didn’t).

stats

My second class was my first-year seminar, Progress; I think this is my favorite class. I’m really comfortable with everybody, as we were Squad 50 during orientation week and thus knew each other before school started. Also, my professor, Professor Bashford, is in the theater and dance department, and has an interesting way of conducting class. We start every class by standing in a circle, and “passing looks” to everyone else in the circle; we have to step into a smaller circle, all together, silently, once everyone has exchanged looks with everyone else. Then, we reset and move on to the next phase of the process. I think it’s fun (though I know at least one person who disagrees), and I think it’s also made us more comfortable with each other than maybe the other sections of Progress are. Professor Bashford is so kind and friendly that I don’t even feel like I want to die of embarrassment when he’s tearing apart my paper. I look forward to this class the most, but I don’t look forward to the uphill trek I have to make from the Science Center to Webster Hall every Tuesday and Thursday.

All sections of Progress are required to attend the Point/Counterpoint series on campus; Amherst brings in one professor and two guests to debate about progress. It’s really interesting! Today, we listened to guests Stephen Carter and Nicholas Christakis, along with Professor Shah; unlike most of the readings we’ve done, such as Harari, Pinker, and Tylor, they (especially Christakis) seemed to have an optimistic view of the human race and its achievements, which I thought was refreshing.

progress   

Right afterwards, at around 6:30 pm, I trudged from Stirn Auditorium to the Science Center once more (I love it there), to study at the weekly Amherst Women in Science study session. I love studying around other people, and they always cater really good food, but you have to get there on time to eat! Since I’d arrived 30 minutes late, I wasn’t expecting anything to be left over, but my friends Joanna and Hee won saved me two spring rolls! I was elated, and thus started studying while munching on my food.

  study

At 8 pm, I packed my belongings, and headed over to the Multicultural Resource Center at Keefe Campus Center; the affinity groups were having a collaboration event discussing “cultural loss.” Affinity groups here are formed based on ethnic background; for example, there’s the Asian Student Association, Chinese Student Association, South Asian Student Association, etc. I enjoyed myself and got to connect with many new people, and really loved the catered food, but it can be difficult to go to these affinity groups alone since they all seem so tight-knit. I was lucky enough to go with someone I knew, and to recognize many of the people there, but I haven’t been as involved as I thought I would be. It doesn’t help that they always meet during my chorus rehearsals! I very quickly learned how often I’d have to choose between conflicting classes and events; that’s part of life, I guess. I'm trying not to think that I'm missing out though; I'm just enjoying the moment!

culturaloss arc

With that said, I’m logging off! I’ll talk to you next week.