By Daniela Brighenti
A Vicarious Globetrotter Interview with Marina Hsien Wei Tan, DC ’18
Across one door and a short walk through my hallway lives Marina Hsien Wei Tan. Originally from Malaysia, Marina is a freshman in Davenport College – as am I. I first met Marina during Orientation for International Students, and certain aspects of her personality quickly came to my attention. An aura of tranquility seemed to surround her being, as if time went by much more slowly for her than it did for us others. She took things with such calmness, that it was actually quite enviable. All freshmen were freaking out at that time! But not Marina.
Marina was born and raised in Penang, Malaysia, located in Penang Island. With respect to economic factors and development, Penang is considered to be one of the most thriving areas of the country. Marina has lived there all her life, except for a brief eight month period when she was seven, during which she studied in the United States. For the last two years, she has been living in Kuala Lumpur, where she attended boarding school. Penang, however, is still what she considers home. “It’s a little island that has the best of both worlds in Malaysia, a city with all the modern trappings that also has the richest heritage – the cultural capital in the country – as well as a wealth of natural attractions,” Marina said. “And the best food in the world!” Malaysia is made up of three main races – Malay, Chinese, and Indian. The local cuisine thus displays a lot of variety in fusion styles, which makes the local food very unique and very flavorful. Some of her favorite dishes include Char kuey teow, a popular noodle dish, and Nasi lemak, a fragrant rice dish cooked in coconut milk.
“It’s hard being here in the US. I definitely miss the food from home,” Marina said. Missing home is always tough to talk about for international students. When asked what she misses most about home – and it’s definitely more than one thing – Marina said she misses her family and the food, but that most importantly, she misses being able to just be at home and be in a situation where she’s comfortable with everything and everything is comfortable with her. “I miss a place where I can just be myself and not care about what other people are doing, talking about, or thinking. It’s nice to not have to be ‘on’ all the time,” Marina said.
It seems no matter where you’re from, being comfortable in college will just never be the same thing as being comfortable back home. Still, Marina expresses her delight at being at Yale. Stressing that the level of education she would receive in college in Malaysia would not be as high as that in the US as a main factor in her decision to come to Yale, Marina explains that in addition to academic rigor, she also thought the kinds of people and experiences in the US, and particularly in an Ivy League School, were very different from those in Malaysia. “I felt it was an opportunity not to be wasted,” Marina said.
She decided to come to Yale specifically due to the appeal of a liberal arts education. For the first thirteen years of her education, she focused mainly in the sciences, and had not done many writing or humanities courses. Yale, she thought, offered a strong option to explore the humanities while still keeping a good focus on the science and engineering courses that she has been familiar with throughout her life. Her desire to focus on a different academic spectrum influenced her decision to apply to Directed Studies. “It has been the best experience of my life,” Marina said enthusiastically. She recounts that the material is great, because even though she might have encountered some of it before, it had just been personal reading –reading something for leisure and discussing it in class with amazing professors and colleagues are different experiences. “‘I have to learn how to read again,’ I thought after my first lecture. It’s very different from what I was used to, and it opens up a whole new world.” DS has had such a significant impact on Marina’s life that she believes it is her favorite part of Yale. Marina explained that in terms of exploration and development, DS has given her much more than she expected coming into it, and has introduced her to a wonderful set of friends, some of her closest at Yale. Marina is also a member of Yale Debate Association and Something Extra, an a cappella group at Yale.
In contrast: her least favorite part about Yale? Midterms. I don’t think she’s alone in this regard.
In addition to midterms, Marina’s biggest challenges are ones she shares with the entire student body – trying to find her limits and establish her comfort zone in this new life experience. “There are so many new things to explore and so many boundaries that are pushed when you come to college, and people are always telling you that you should step out of your comfort zone and explore your likes and dislikes. While I feel that’s true, I think it’s also very important for you to be the one taking the step out of the zone, and not having someone pushing you out of it,” Marina said, in her characteristic manner – calm and wise.
Marina will be going back home in the summer of 2015. For winter break, she will be traveling through Central America – where it definitely won’t be winter. Go ahead and feel jealous – I certainly do.
Daniela Brighenti ’18 is in Davenport College. Contact her at email@example.com.