As the first round of midterms reaches its peak, I find myself overwhelmed by my commitments. Again. It seems that every semester begins smoothly, but time management only helps so much to balance a life that, frankly, is overbooked. As I learned in my gender studies class, Americans have the longest work week in the world. We can boast of our high GDP and standards of living compared to many other nations, but economic benefits come with hidden costs. This workaholic culture trickles down, and is especially concentrated at a university like USC. People who triple major, invest thirty hours a week e-boarding for several clubs, rushing and pledging in the Greek system, or work a full-time job alongside a full course load are our role models — the hard working ideal. Squeezing maximum productivity out of every day is the norm. Is this mindset of high-intensity social, academic, involvement helpful, or even sustainable in the long-term? Perhaps a dominant narrative negatively portrays a stereotypical American characteristic, rewarding effort without achievement, but I think there is an equally strong narrative that seeks to disrupt this view that Americans are lazy and entitled.
As an American-born Chinese (ABC), I grew up with Asian immigrant parents. Like many of their “tiger” counterparts, they stressed academic accomplishment, but unlike the tiger parent stereotypes, they told me I should also remember to take breaks and relax sometimes. However, in college, there is no one to remind me to put down my macroeconomics lecture slides and simply BE. As soon as I stop working, the guilt sets in. I don’t want to be a lazy and entitled American, I think. So I work harder and I overcommit. And when my laptop’s hard drive fails and I succumb to a bad cold that takes me out of class for a week, my self worth disappears along with my rigid work schedule. Lying in bed with used tissues and a glass of hot tea, I realized how easily my world was reduced to my Google Calendar’s events and task list in the semester’s first four weeks. I had become my commitments. My long-distance relationship was suffering because I was in club meetings, attending lectures, or working for most of my days. This is not what I envisioned for myself, but slipping into the “work hard, play hard” culture that permeates this campus is extremely tempting.
My mother and I speak two different languages; she speaks Punjabi and I speak English. We choose to speak different tongues. My mother asks a question in Punjabi, and I answer in English. Even though we communicate, the truth in our words is lost.
I never understood how our words lost meaning until I read Amy Tan’s novel The Joy Luck Club. Tan describes language as a key factor in the cultural gap between Chinese mothers and their American daughters. In each story, there were misunderstandings because neither the mother nor the daughter understood one another. After reading The Joy Luck Club, I wanted to understand why my mother and I spoke different languages. Was it my limited knowledge of Indian culture? Or was it my mother’s fractured English? How could we speak, yet not understand each other?
When I finally asked my mother, she replied with a simple answer. In Punjabi, my mother said, “That is the way it has always been.”
Whether at USC or any other American university, many international students have a tough time adjusting to not only American culture but also college culture in general. As an international student myself, I was able to experience firsthand how it felt to come to a completely new country without any prior exposure to the new culture that would soon engulf my life. Thankfully, I went through this change at a young age and had a strong support system to guide me through the difficulties. I hope to be able to provide this same support to other international students at USC, especially those who recently had to go through the big move.
One of the things I wish I had realized earlier when I moved to Singapore (and then to America) is the importance of self-care. I realize now that I was so caught up in making new friends, adapting to the challenging curriculum, and getting used to the change of scenery that I lost my motivation to take care of myself. I often skipped meals and didn’t get enough rest; I was left feeling lethargic and unable to extract the overseas experience to which I had previously looked forward. Being a firm believer in always showcasing the best version of myself, I constantly challenge myself to reach my full potential, and this denial of my basic needs was hindering my ability to achieve this goal. I needed to switch gears and really dedicate time to self-care. Here are some tips that I currently abide by in Southern California to make my USC experience as great as possible:
Equip yourself with a water bottle: I’m used to the warm weathers of Singapore and the changing seasons of Korea, but I never knew how parched I could get until I found myself walking around the vast USC campus on a daily basis. There are a lot of water fountain stations on campus at which you can fill your bottle, and being hydrated is the key to energy when studying, exercising, and socializing!
Exercise as much as you can: Although walking around USC is an exercise in itself, people who board or bike around campus don’t get nearly as much exercise as those who choose to walk. Taking full use of the exercise equipment and classes at the Lyon Center or joining a sports team (club, intramural, Varsity) on campus is encouraged for a fresh start to the day. Even a quick walk or jog can immediately lift your mood!