Fasting, going to school, working, and enjoying it all

By Wiwin Hartini

It’s 3:30 a.m. and my alarm just went off. With my sleepy self, I try to gather all of my energy to eat suhoor (early breakfast). As Muslims, we fast for 30 days from sunrise to sunset during Ramadhan, the holiest month in the Islamic calendar. I normally have avocados with an omelet or toast and drink four glasses of water. It’s also important to be ready mentally because fasting is not just about not eating and drinking during the day, it’s about self-control.

After I finish my early breakfast, I normally stay up and start working on my homework before going to school. Coming from a country where the daylight is constant throughout the year, fasting in the U.S. in the spring is a new experience for me. It’s 16 hours of fasting: from 4 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. And it’s fasting by myself instead of with family.

At first, I thought it would be hard psychologically because it’s such a big celebration back in my home country but not as big in the U.S. Instead it has taught me to be more mindful about what I do, how I treat people, how I control my thoughts and emotions. It’s become a month of self-introspection.

There are many students at PSU who are fasting and going to school. For me, it’s never been this easy nor this hard before. Working 13 hours a week and going to school full time and commuting 3 hours every day keeps me very busy. As a slow eater, sometimes I’m grateful that I now have extra time to focus on things other than eating.

Two weeks have gone by, and believe me, it’s not always perfect. The reality is, I don’t always get up for the early breakfast even though I’d love to. I realized that I had to make a decision about whether to sleep or eat. And I chose to balance my schedule without breaking the main goal of fasting. I normally get home around 6:30 p.m. and take a nap to recharge. So, when I get to break my fast at 8:30 p.m., I can stay up until about 1 a.m. working on my schoolwork while snacking and hydrating.

What I learned is that fasting is not an excuse to do less, it’s a mental practice. When you have the mindset that you can handle challenges with a positive attitude, you’d be surprised by how much energy you have, even though you have to skip your favorite tacos.

Think engineering students are smart, awkward nerds? Think again

By Wiwin Hartini

I still remember my first day at PSU as an electrical engineering transfer student from Clark Community College. I was excited and shocked. I was used to classes of about 20 and suddenly there were 100 students. I remember asking myself, “am I ready for this?” or “Is this how the program was set up?”

The truth is, as you take higher level courses, the class size gets smaller. But I didn’t think about that at the time. Also, as I have taken more engineering classes, I have learned more than just the subject. I’ve learned some “realities” of studying engineering. Here are a few:

You are more than smart.

Stop by PSU engineering building in the evening—7-8 p.m. is okay during weeks 8-10 of the term—and don’t be surprised to find a lot of other students. I’ve heard that some students stay overnight since most labs are available 24/7! And don’t worry, some of the food carts across from the engineering building are open in the evening, and if you need parts for your projects, there are vending machines! The point is, engineering students work very hard. It’s not just about being smart. It’s more about persistence.

Can you fix this?

I’d say that what we learn in an undergraduate engineering program is actually the fundamentals of applied physics. I took Electronics II, where we learned how to design a simple mini operational amplifier. We touch on many fields such as power, computers, signal processing, microelectronics, etc. It’s hard to be good at all of them, but engineering focuses on problem-solving methods. So, yes! Given reasonable time and resources, we can fix things.

Do we lack social and communication skills?

It’s a typical stereotype to say that engineers do not know how to start a conversation and prefer to work alone. I’ve learned that engineering requires a lot of “teamwork.” Can one person build a bridge? I spend my days in the basement of the Engineering Building working with students from many other countries, including U.S. students who’ve had work experience. We’ve had to learn to understand different perspectives and communicate creatively to get our projects done.

Homesick? Here’s what I do

By Wiwin Hartini

It’s almost been three years since the last time I saw my family at home in Indonesia. I often think that it’s not that long ago until I suddenly miss home badly. I miss speaking my native language, eating cheap local food, being with my family and friends and enjoying the tropical weather.

It feels funny and lonely sometimes when the people around you speak a totally different language, have hair and skin that are different from yours and find things humorous that  I need to think about sometimes. Is this real? All I want at that time is to be home watching my family’s favorite movie chosen by my younger brothers. It’s good to feel this way to some extent because it makes me appreciate the time I get to spend with people here in the U.S., which will not be forever.

Recognizing this feeling is also hard when you’re trying to look like you’re fine all the time. But I think it is important to be aware of it because it can happen to anyone at any time.

Here are a  few things that I found work for me when I feel like I just want to go back home.

Get busy with activities you enjoy

Getting involved in clubs, organizations or working on campus can shift our thoughts. Working on campus has been a good tool for me because I have to think about getting my work done and learn new job skills.

Try those food carts around PSU

I would say this is my favorite activity when I am thinking about food at home. At least, I get to try different types of food at the carts across Fourth Avenue from the Engineering building. My favorite is Pho, and yes, the first time I tried it was actually in the U.S.

Less social media

It gets frustrating sometimes when you look at your friends’ social media and they seem so happy without you, isn’t it? Well, I’m happy when they’re happy, but I feel like I’m missing something. This feeling can trigger homesickness too. So, use social media wisely; such as actually to communicate instead of looking at people’s posts only.

The U.S. is big, travel if you can!

It doesn’t have to be expensive; small trips with friends can be fun. The idea is to create activities we can look forward to. My friend from China and I are planning to visit San Francisco this spring break. The fun part so far is trying to figure out the places that are worth visiting.

Remember the reason we’re here

Why am I here? Answering this question helps me during difficult times.

There are more to share, but I hope whoever is experiencing homesickness doesn’t feel alone anymore.

Midterm pressure? Use the 5-minute rule

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By Wiwin Hartini

I just realized it’s week five already and midterms are coming up and lab reports are due the same week. It seems as if a 24-hour day is not enough.

I used to panic more as midterms got closer even though I tried not to. I felt as if everything was coming at me all at once, and I didn’t know what exactly I was worrying about.

It was last quarter when I learned to change my perspective from the professor who taught my Microprocessor class. It was the most difficult class I had ever taken. I worried all the time, wondering if I could understand the class or not and if I would have to retake it.

Apparently, I was not the only student who felt that way. One day, the professor told a story about his grandchild who would panic every time she was assigned homework. To solve this problem, he told her that she could panic or freak out, but only for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, she had to face her homework and start doing the problems she recognized.

He introduced this rule to the students who were taking his class. It even came up as a question on our finals. There was a day in the lab when I heard my classmates remind each other about this rule because a project was taking a long long time. We had to remember to focus on doing what we recognized.  

The rule now applies to almost everything I do. I can really see the difference between what I was like a year ago in dealing with exams, and what I do now when faced with challenges.

Also, If I want to do something fun before a midterm, I know that PSU offers an event called “Midterm stress relief,” where students can try Thai massage, eat food, and play with Corgis for free. It’s Feb. 6 and next term it is May 1.

[link: https://www.facebook.com/pg/PortlandStateU/events/?ref=page_internal%5D

How was your break?

By Wiwin Hartini

I would normally say, “It was great” like most of us do. But there are more details to it.

I used to think that holidays are holidays, no school and that’s all. But a month of no school in college is something I am really grateful for, because this last holiday was different: I learned new things.

I read a book called Factfulness by Hans Rosling, which changed my perspective about the world. I got to make video blogs with a friend of mine, and I worked on my online business in Indonesia. Unlike school, my time was unstructured, and there was no grade other than personal enjoyment.

From all of the things I did during the holiday, the best decision I made was to check my school email every day. Since I transferred to PSU last year, I’ve been using Handshake, where job and internship opportunities are posted for students. I had emails from it and from the Electrical & Computer Engineering Department. I told myself that I’d read the opportunities and apply for some.

During the first week of winter quarter I received one job offer, was acceptance into a Hydro Power Career Workshop, and had one internship offer from TriMet. I learned from the one-month break that the world does not stop, opportunities are always out there, email is a tool, and that I just had to pull myself together and take action. Therefore, thanks PSU for a great beginning to 2019.

Thoughts on the bus

 By Wiwin Hartini

3:30 PM

The sunlight passes through the bus’ windows making everyone’s afternoon more cheerful after a day of work or in my case, school. Riding buses with 20 other people has become my normal routine. This is my first bus of three. 

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Coming from the fourth most populous country to the third shouldn’t be a big surprise, I thought. But it is.

When my Indonesian friends ask if I live close to Washington, D.C., because I live in Washougal, Washington, I explain that it takes about a six-hour flight to get to D.C. from where I live. It’s closer to go to Canada. 

When my American friends ask me if I’ve been to Bali, which is an exotic destination in Indonesia, I explain that Indonesia has about 16,000 islands, and I lived on one, Sumatra, my entire life. 

I spent three years living in the capital city of a province with about 2.5 million people. And yes, the U.S. seems to be more spacious when you go for a walk on a fine afternoon. But no one is outside relaxing on their front porch like my neighbors in Medan.

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“Stepping out of your comfort zone will make you grow.” Have you been told this yet? Maybe, more than once? Same here.  In reality, it’s more than a growth experience. It makes you rich as a human being.

Rich in experience because you are placed in a situation where you’re exposed to all kinds of people. “Wiwin, do all people in Indonesia wear hijabs?” 

Rich in thoughts because you learn about agreeing to disagree. “Wiwin, what do you think about Trump?” 

Rich in languages because you get to see how different nonverbal languages can be. “Wiwin! How have you been? Give me a hug.”

 

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5:30 PM

I am almost home, where I live with an American family. The sun lights up drops of rain on fallen Orange leaves—a pleasing contrast to the grey sidewalk. Welcome to the Northwest, they say, where sunny days are beautiful and green, but rainy days offer peacefulness.