Saturday, 11 April 2015

Goodbye, and hello.

"Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end," said Seneca.
Well, Seneca, you said it.

Grad school, and what is hopefully my final degree, is rapidly coming to an end. My Master's thesis has jumped through all the hoops held up by academic bureaucracies, and is now embedded forever in the folds of the USC Digital Library. I don't think anybody will ever find it and read it in the library database, though, so I fully intend to get parts of it published elsewhere. The very real issues faced by international graduates need to be confronted by universities, employers and lawmakers, imho.

The other end to my grad school journey is graduation, which is on May 15. Yesterday I received an email from the school congratulating me for winning this year's Outstanding Strategic Public Relations Service Award. I was so happy, especially because I picture my parents being really proud of me when I get an award like this! My professors told me that the faculty unanimously voted for me to receive this award, which makes me feel really moved. They must really believe in me, and well, everyone likes to feel appreciated!

I'm really excited for graduation, because Darren and my parents will be there cheering me on as I get my award and my degree. Yay! I wish An Nie could be there too, but I don't think it's worth the price of the flight tickets for her to fly all the way to LA just to watch me graduate and sit through a long ceremony.

She was at my undergraduate graduation though, and she even got me my first and only graduation bouquet. One of my few regrets in life is not being there for her graduation three or four years ago, because I didn't know what date it was going to be on and got distracted with my own work. :( I remember her calling to ask if I was going to be there the next day, and I was so shocked that it was the next day and I had several assignments I was working on. I think I was even annoyed and asked her why she didn't tell me the date clearly and earlier on. She said she mentioned it before, but quickly admitted it was her mistake, even though it probably wasn't her fault, it was just that I didn't mark it in my calendar if she mentioned it a long time ago. But that's An Nie for you. She never gets mad at me. For years she let me get impatient with her and she still stuck by me since we were 18. I know I'm a better person now but... I wish I was less selfish when I was younger and when we were actually able to hang out in person, and I wish I took the time to pay attention to important moments in her life. She always paid attention to mine.

Monash University graduation, circa 2011

As an only child, I never really developed close attachments to specific friends. I always have multiple social circles existing at the same time, but they never overlapped and I evolve my circle of close friends as I go through different phases in life. Kindergarten, elementary school, high school, matriculation, law school, college, business friends, former students, grad school, coworkers, Malaysian expatriates in Austin.

I have a bunch of friends from elementary and high school I still keep in close contact with: like Tse Mun, Denise, Carmen, Alison, and some from my tuition classes. Tuition classes were classes that we had to attend in private education centers after we got home from school. Yeah... Asian kids' lifestyle. I made a lot of friends through tuition classes, especially kids from other schools in the district. It was actually a really awesome way of networking, and most of the time I had more fun in tuition classes than classes at school!

An Nie is my only friend from matriculation that I'm truly still friends with. When I first started South Australian Matriculation at Taylor's, I remember having the time of my life because I felt like everybody's best friend, and I was getting invited to every social event or lunch gathering. I even tutored all my friends before our monthly tests, especially for economics and language classes. I was BFFs with a girl named Rameera but then she dropped out of the program. And another really close friend dropped out too. I started feeling lost. Then assignment season started and the people I thought were my friends turned on me when I wouldn't let them copy my projects. Not everyone, but a small group that I had really enjoyed hanging out with. That's when I got really close to An Nie, who was just a classmate before that "turning point."

I had such close friends in law school but we lost touch after I dropped out, although each time I see Leila (my Iranian friend) it's like we were never apart, but it's hard to keep in touch with her because she doesn't go on social media much and she's back in Iran now raising a family.

My closest friends in law school, circa 2007

I barely keep in touch with any friends from Monash. Isn't that weird? I spent four years of my life there. I hung out with them every day on campus. I even went on international vacations with some of them. Jenny is one of the few friends I talk to every now and then that I knew from Monash. The rest, I correspond with on Facebook occasionally, but honestly they are just acquaintances now. It's weird how you finish college and you slowly but surely stop talking to each other, or stop having things in common to talk about anymore. May Yen was a girl I used to study with and hang out with frequently, but after she graduated we've exchanged maybe three emails in total. I used to go shopping all the time with Shaza, but now we're both married and in different countries, we rarely talk anymore. And my best friend in Monash was Jung Ai, a Korean girl who has now moved back to Korea. We spent sooo much time together and had such a fun four years together. Of course these are friendships I'd liked to have kept, but is it true to say that not all friendships can withstand distance, different communication preferences and different stages of life?

My closest friends in Malaysia are really the ones I met through my business world. Oddly enough, these are friends I met online first: they either ran blog shops or start ups, and these are my friends who are as excited about business development and entrepreneurship as I am. Online friends quickly became real life friends, and we would meet up all the time. For example, despite being thousands of miles and several time zones away, Cynthia remains one of my dearest friends to date. Between 2008 to 2012, I'd say I had a lot more entrepreneur friends because I was so deeply immersed in that world. Now, I don't even remember some of their names anymore - but back then, I knew the name of every store owner and the person behind each startup, and I would be talking nonstop saying hi to all my friends every time I went to an offline bazaar.

There were also my gamer-world friends. From ages 20 to 23 or so, I played PIMD (Party in my Dorm), Forsaken World and Rage of Bahamut (one at a time, not all at once). And I played them pretty hardcore. This meant a deeper immersion into the gaming worlds, resulting in online friends that I talked to everyday, and who knew me better than my real-life friends did at the time. They were really great friends, and I even ended up meeting a bunch of them in person. I still am friends with many of them to this day, even though I haven't had time to play games intensely in quite a few years.

Then there are my former students. I don't keep in touch with all of them, but the ones who are on my social media are always around like colorful little butterflies, cheering on my journey in the U.S. and texting me that they miss me being in their classes. They will always have a special place in my heart. :)

And now I have my USC friends and Austin friends, and they are really more than what I need because they are so supportive and caring. I don't think I have very, very close friends in either city because I'm always half-here and half-there, having to shuttle back and forth between states throughout the past two years. I hope I'll be able to develop more friendships, stronger friendships, the longer I am here in Austin.

But my embedded trait as an only child stands: I don't get easily attached to my friends, because I am so accustomed to "losing" and "gaining" different friends as I go through different phases in life. It's probably a defense mechanism I developed from growing up, so that I wouldn't feel so sad all the time when we have to part ways. There are a rare few who stand the test of time and distance, like An Nie, and of course, Darren, who is my best friend in the whole world. (Although technically, I have been friends with An Nie longer than I've been friends with my husband, haha. :P)

This brings me back to the point of this blog post: I'm okay with endings because every new beginning is some beginning's end. I've always had friends, and I'm sure I will always have friends -- but that doesn't mean I'm a stranger to losing dozens of close friends each time I make any life changes, no matter how small or big a change it is. It could be as small as changing to a different class in elementary school, installing a new game or moving to a different country like I have done.
My mom always told me that at the end of the day, the one constant in our lives is family. "Friends," she always tells me, "flow in and flow out like water in a river. Some hang around longer, circling the pebbles and stones, but eventually the water has to flow out because more is flowing in." 
Like many friendships, chapters in life must come to an end, but it is exciting and empowering to begin on a new journey.