Daniel Mai

A Year Later

We’re constantly changing every day. Always learning new things, having new interests, and becoming more true versions of present selves. Thinking back about who I was just 14 months ago, my perception of the world around me has changed a lot.


In terms of academic life, I didn’t think I would find college to be so… dense. I didn’t think high school would be dense either, but hey, four years is a long time. But that’s what I thought; I just considered the end goal and told myself “It’s just another four years.” And in a way, it is just four years. Planning out my classes ahead of time makes it feel that way. This semester, take these classes, and next semester, take those classes, and then finally take some classes here and there and bam, graduation. Undergraduate studies really looks short when there’s a solid schedule zooming out the big picture.

But college brings much more to the table than coursework. There’s people to meet and extracurricular things to partake in. Learning is definitely the core of college, but socializing is important as well. Essentially, living and coping with “life as a college student.”

College is what you make of it.

One of the first things I learned during freshman orientation was answering questions. The lecturer I had that day asked us “How are you guys?” and no one answered. Then he told us something along the lines of

When we ask you a question, we expect an answer. This isn’t like your high school, where you could get away for not doing something as simple as answering a question. You’re an adult now, and you need to take responsibility for your education. So when I ask you a question, I expect each and every one of you to answer me.

That set the tone for how “serious” college would be. Now, I try my best to answer questions in class. I just don’t want to be the only one talking, or “hogging” all of the questions. But when no one else answers in-class questions, the class starts becoming a drag. There’s unneeded silence and time is wasted. Simple questions like “is 0 less than 2?”1 really shouldn’t take any significant time to answer. If we’re paying thousands of dollars for our education, then why are we paying for silence? In a way, we assume knowledge to just be given to us—that a degree will appear before us once we wait long enough for our college career to be over. But that’s not reality.

I’ve been reading a lot. I didn’t think I would—I’ve never been a great reader. My eyes fly across the words on a page and they don’t have any meaning because I don’t pay enough attention to them. But reading about what interests me has been a real help. Actually, just reading interesting things is helpful. I didn’t think I would enjoy reading for my English class, but I did. It made me really think about controversial issues regarding gender, education, race, etc. And the readings opened me up to publications, authors, and how powerful language can be.2 Since we learn new things every day, I guess that’s natural. I didn’t expect to enjoy or do well in that English class (I don’t generally do too well in English (or Language Arts ooh fancy name) classes), but I did.


Again, college is what you make of it. There are people who go on campus for class and go home right afterwards. There are people who live on campus and experience the campus-life practically 24/7. There are people who do sports. There are people who study like crazy. There are people who work while being a student. Essentially, there isn’t a clear, direct path to graduation.

Another thing I’ve learned in college is that everyone’s an adult. We’re all in an ivory tower—students and professors alike. We’re all adults, but not necessarily the same age. The age range of the people I’ve become acquainted with at school is pretty large—from 18 to mid 30s. In a way, I gain experience from people I meet. It’s like living in a different world without actually living in it. And perhaps getting to know older people gets me anxious. I feel somewhat rushed in life—that I need to learn this and learn that; since they already have jobs, I need to get one too. I need to get all the experience I need to “catch up” to them.

Coming out of high school, I expected to befriend people relatively in the same “class” as me—within the same age group. I was definitely wrong about that, for the better. I feel like life is accelerating too fast, but that’s probably how most people feel anyway, especially the older we get.

I didn’t expect to meet the new people I’ve met in college. Graduating from high school and knowing that the close friends I had at the time would be going to different UC campuses, and that I was essentially “left behind” in San Jose, only to be alone at SJSU.

But that hasn’t been the case. I’m still close to my high school friends. Close enough, anyway. I’m happy that they set aside some of their time to communicate with me in some fashion (via text, AIM, Facebook, Skype, etc.). And so I’ve never been “left behind.” I visit some of my close friends at their school, and they visit me. I have great friends.

For the people I’ve met at school, answering questions in class helped me meet new people. Great people.

Adopting a “careless” attitude about what I say to others probably helped me socialize outside of my comfort zone. Of course, people judge books by their cover, and I didn’t want to be “the quiet one” in college, nor did I want to be the “loud, obnoxious one.”

I think I found an identity that I’m somewhat proud to have.

Everyone is interesting. It just takes some time to discover who people are and judge whether or not that person is worth spending time with in life.


On the topic of transportation, I’ve experienced much more of San Jose. For my first semester of school I mainly biked to school and back home. School is six-miles away, so I always thought of it as “just six times farther than the distance from home to high school.” It seemed like a natural progression of the distances of school campuses to school. Elementary school was literally across the street from my house (and still is), so that was walkable. Middle school was just about two blocks away—walkable. High school was a mile away—I got a ride to school but walked home, and later (late junior/senior year) I biked to and from school. And now college is six miles away. Spending an hour each day biking was somewhat pleasant. I spent my time pedaling forward while listening to some music or podcasts. It was fairly relaxing, and I end up coming home dripping in sweat, and take a shower like nothing happened. Essentially, it was my routine exercise. Even though it was twelve miles of biking every day, it wasn’t that bad. I probably got more energy throughout my day because of it, and I was able to have some “me” time during commute, living in my own thoughts.

And I even got a car to venture off greater distances. Driving a car has also given me the experience of driving a dangerous hunk of metal. When I first started learning how to drive, I didn’t like the feeling. It was too fast, and I didn’t “know” my car. There’s a lot of window and mirror scanning to make sure no one dies. I didn’t like driving in the dark because it’s harder to see signs and where I’m going.

But I’ve become complacent with driving now. Recently, I drove to UC Davis to visit friends. Roughly 200 miles of driving within one day wasn’t too bad, mainly because the directions to Davis from San Jose is really easy. (The drive to Santa Cruz, on the other hand, on CA-17, is a different story. So wavy.) I say it’s really easy ‘cause I’m not doing the hardest part of the job—the car is. It’s not like biking, where I need to put some effort into pedaling in order to keep on moving. I only need to tap on the gas pedal to move some more.


I didn’t expect to get my first job yet. I thought I would only start working once I graduated. Or, if I did get a job, it would simply be a job—something I did part time that was unrelated to school, like working at a retail store.

But I got lucky, and was practically handed a job. And another one. And another one. I didn’t expect to be working for three “separate” jobs, all at the same time. But it doesn’t really feel like work, especially because it’s CS-related. It’s interesting (at least, to me) work that I get paid for and keeps me busy. Maybe I’m doing what I love to do.

And this is what I have to say about the most recent year of my life. Of course, a lot more has happened, and I definitely didn’t talk about some things due to forgetfulness or some other reason (such as me not being to identify key turning points in my life). All in all, the life I’ve been living for the last fourteen or so months have been significant. (Every day of our lives is significant.)

But, anyway, here’s to the next rambling…

  1. This is literally what we do most of the time in CS class. Compare values.

  2. Of course, I’ve read a lot of significant things in elementary, middle, and high school. But, of course, I was dumb and naive. I pay more attention now. At least, I hope so.