On writing and fast cars and growin’ up. The purpose of freshman year, part 2. 

Opening a blank word document is always so freaking intimidating. Geez.

Dear everyone who has followed the past year of my life,

I’m writing from the wing of a 737, and nobody is in the middle seat so that’s like seven years of good luck. I never get anything done on airplanes because I always fall asleep, but I just took a nap and am ready to ~conquer my fears~ and ~share my feels~. Also, this flight is 6 hours long and I have NOTHING TO DO. Edit: it turns out that there’s free wi-fi on planes now?! I thought that this would be the only place left on the planet where I could write without distracting myself, but I can literally see someone scrolling through Instagram. My wi-fi isn’t working, and I’m not trying very hard to make it work, but still, what a concept!!


The last weeks of freshman year have seamlessly melted into the SUMMER and I’m just thinking about all the things that happened since I moved across the country. I didn’t know anyone *back then*, and the August heat brought out the mosquitoes, and I couldn’t hide from all the new things that made me uncomfortable like making endless first impressions and coming off as too Asian or nerdy (whatever THAT means), like being friendless and forever alone, like getting lost in all the ~stimuli~.

In the peaks of discomfort, I wrote a blog post called This kinda feels like summer camp. The purpose of freshman year.

Now that I’m officially not a freshman, I want to revisit the question I tried to answer back in August. This is part 2.

On blogging, and writing in general 

First, the blog. I wasn’t sure how long this would last, but since Duke or Dai started we’ve gotten over 1500 visitors and 3600 views from 20 countries around the world. Agh!!! Someone at school told me that she sees people at the library on this site sometimes. People I don’t know read the things that I write when they’re procrastinating. WOAH, what an honor. I started the blog mostly for other people to catch up with my college life, but it’s become a really FRICKIN meaningful project for myself. Everything I’ve made has turned into a virtual time capsule. All of the bizarre, angsty, screaming-into-the-void thoughts I’ve had are crystallized on the internet. For me, and you.

It’s interesting to think about how many words I’ve written in the past year. Last semester, I decided to take two English-y classes next to my engineering courses and I loved it. I read frilly books by frilly people. I wrote about writing and Kendrick Lamar and feeling like a mirror. I made more things for the blog and got close to my professors, and for the first time since probably first grade, I didn’t feel bad about being a bad writer, I just wrote a lot and realized surprising things about writing and the things I was writing about.

On making stuff and finding my *people*

In addition to the thousands and thousands of words that have come out of my brain, I also joined the electric vehicles team. Some of my best memories are from working on a battery-electric prototype car until 3AM some nights, kind of delirious, mostly euphoric. The people I’ve met on the team are so ~inspiring~ and ~smart~ and a bit ~wild~ and really really nice and just genuine humans. During reading period (the week before finals that is meant for “studying”), I travelled to Detroit with the team, and we got first place and a really big check and an obscenely heavy trophy made out of wrenches. We made an electric car FROM SCRATCH that was 100 times more efficient than a TESLA, and boy did it make me excited to be an engineer. I also realized how much I don’t know and how much I want to know. Spending a semester with the team helped me learn that I am most fulfilled when I’m making stuff and that I’m reverent towards people who like making stuff, too. I’ve found people who want to teach me about gear ratios and bike parts while slightly drunk at 2AM. What a DREAM.


The point of this is that when I was writing the first part of this post back in September, I wasn’t really sure about how I would *make the most* out of my freshman year. One of my friends from home messaged me saying how perfect my freshman year seemed from the tint of the internet, and I thought that was funny because I was going through so much ~internal turmoil~ while also writing blog posts and making videos that did make college seem like it was going perfectly. Don’t believe everything you see on the internet, but admittedly this year has made me happy in infinitely more ways than it has made me sad, and I’m in a VERY SAPPY mood right now just thinking about leaving for the summer. I’ve made an entirely new life from the one I had at home, and I’ve found my *people* and I feel really passionate about things that I’ve worked on. I decided to go to Duke partly because it was far away, and I voluntarily asked for the discomfort knowing that eventually, something good could come out of not having the safety net of being close to home.

On #randolph341stories

On the topic of great people. Here are some more:


Everything I’ve shared in this post I have almost certainly talked about with the people in that picture, most likely in my room, Randolph 341, most likely at some time between midnight and 3AM, most likely on a random Tuesday. Moving out of the dorm was a monstrous task. I found out that I am a bit of a hoarder, and my strong dislike for folding clothes means that all of the things I left in storage for the summer are going to be beyond wrinkled when I retrieve them. While not packing when I really should have been, I came to terms with the fact that I would never be able to live in Randolph 341 with Zoe again, and some new, minty freshmen would be living in a room that has become sacred to us. I’m convinced that our room has particularly good ~feng shui~ and also, it wasn’t just our room. Almost every one of our friends has spent meaningful time partying, talking, eating takeout, listening to music, being too loud, in that room. We joked that Randolph 341 was the party dorm, and at some point I think we fit 20 people in the sliver of space between our beds, bopping around to Top 50 and eating ~snacks~.

When we finished packing, Zoe and I just sat on our beds and stared at all the emptiness and lingered on to the fact that we made a home out of the kind of depressing cinder block walls. The garish colors and assorted posters on my side and the pastel pink and polaroid pictures on her side seemed permanent, but we both realized that Randolph 341 had belonged to and will belong to so many more people. I’ve toyed around with the idea of taping a note to the door of that room next semester, just so its new inhabitants know how much we loved living there.

The purpose of freshman year

If you read anything from this obscenely long post, read this part.


Back in September, I wrote,

Freshman year is meaningful in so many different ways to the 2000 campers who’ve hauled their belongings/fears/dreams onto this campus a little less than a month ago. It can be a year of discomfort or exploration or overwhelming freedom. I know that it’s been all of those things for me. But for what it’s worth, freshman year is not a time to lose faith in yourself.

I guess that September me was mostly right. Freshman year was about exploring who I was removed from all the safety nets that I had associated with my hometown, with the people I grew up with, with my parents protecting me. This was my first taste of independence and personhood where I called all the shots and made all the decisions and did adult-y things like packing and getting myself to the airport on time. It was like learning to walk, but harder. Remember the time I missed my flight?!

Freshman year showed me how complex a person’s growth can be. I think everyone comes to college with some sort of rebranding mission in mind, even if it’s just changing small habits. I’ve definitely tried things I never would have tried in high school. I dress differently and make decisions with less inhibitions because no one at college knows anything about my past (ooh, mysterious), which means that I get to do whatever I want without feeling out of place. I’ve made enough successively small changes to how I live and how I behave that I do think that I’m different, better, than how I was a few months ago.

And here’s some really ~deep~ stuff. The reason I think freshman year has been the most important year of my life is because I got a better understanding of this one question: What kind of person will you choose to be when given a clean slate and almost infinite agency to fill in the blanks? This leads to more questions, some as straightforward as What time will you get out of bed? Will you eat chicken tenders for every meal and stay up way too late? How many times will you do your laundry? Then, there are more nebulous questions like What are your values outside of your family? What decisions will you make when no one is there to stop you? What kinds of people will you surround yourself with? What are your dreams and ambitions? What sorts of ~human experiences~ will you chase after?

This year was about finding answers to these questions, about carving out a ~sense of self~, about being uncomfortable and setting a pace for the type of adult I could become. The writing and the fast cars and all that growin’ helped me navigate these coming of age moments that make a person full and real. Freshman year was important not because I reached “cosmic enlightenment”, but because it was the beginning of what I suspect is a long road ahead. 

That’s the purpose of freshman year, and I don’t mean to make it sound intimidating. All of these things unfolded naturally (really), and before I knew it, it was over and everything was just a little bit different than how it started. These reflections on my ~intellectual~ and ~emotional~ growth stemmed from a willingness to consistently experience new things and to take risks and to share a lot of it on the internet.

Freshman year wasn’t perfect, and I wouldn’t have ever wanted it to be, but it was one of the most transformative years of my life. And when it comes down to it, I’m really darn happy.   

AAAAND here I am, an hour away from home. The sun is setting and the clouds are a a bit burnt and hazy. I’m always afraid when the plane lands in the San Francisco airport because the landing deck is so close to the ocean. My contacts are making my eyes dry, and the next FOUR MONTHS of summer are scaring me right now because I’m currently plan-less. I want to write and get a job and fix my dad’s old car and take the train to San Francisco and eat ice cream and go to a park and stare at the sky. Same old, same old.



Two thumbs up



2 thoughts on “On writing and fast cars and growin’ up. The purpose of freshman year, part 2. 

  1. This is absolutely amazing. Please keep up with your blog!!! I love reading about your perspective. I also hope you have a great summer.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Alice Dai, this post just made me so happy! I’m glad you had a productive, transformative, challenging, funky, fun freshmen year. College only gets better :). I admire your writing and blog so much. Miss you and those glorious Talon days. XO Cassidy

    Liked by 1 person

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