Featured image of post Two Months at UMD!

Two Months at UMD!

A long summary of the transition into a new world

I’ve been at the University of Maryland for two months now! Here is a recap of everything that has happened so far.

First Week Shenanigans

Moving into the Dorm

The first day was pretty exciting. I finally was going to crawl out of my shell and venture somewhere new— no more parental supervision, new friends, and a new environment. I drove with my mom to the Xfinity Center at UMD and picked up my new ID (with a horrible photo), the keys to my dorm, and a small welcome package with chips, drink mix, and a few stickers.

We drove to my new dorm, located at Pyon-Chen hall in the Ellicott Community. I was pretty pumped, as my roommate Jason Liu and I would be residing in the fresh-built dorm at UMD. It stood out immediately: a rectangular and modern-looking white and black building, covered in tall and slim reflective windows. The architecture did not match any of the other buildings in the vicinity, which were red brick buildings, with less flashy windows and visible heating units.

My mom and I grabbed a cart and started moving my luggage up the stairs to the fourth floor. I was able to meet my floor’s RAs, Sam and Joyce, who were welcoming the new residents at the front of the building. As we slowly ascended the escalators, I was struck with uneasiness. This new building would be my home. How long would it take for me to become familiar with the campus? Would I do well in my classes? Who are my new friends going to be? I was brought back to reality as the elevator’s voice announced that we had reached floor 4.

After fumbling with the lock for two minutes, I finally entered my room. It was much larger than my friend Iris’s dorm, who attends Johns Hopkins, yet smaller than I thought it was going to be. Naively so, as it is absolutely massive compared to other people at my school. I should have appreciated what I had more. I do now. Signs of growth, right?

I unpacked a bit, neatly organizing my clothes and an unnecessary amount of accessories and gadgets that I brought with me.

Me and Jason’s room at Pyon-Chen

Jason arrived an hour later. He unpacked for a little while, and our parents left shortly after. It was surreal. We would finally be settling down in a new place. I would see him day in and day out. I sighed out in excitement and relief. I finally had the freedom I was hoping for throughout the entire summer. Like the idiots we were, we just stayed in our room for hours until our other Blair friends arrived instead of exploring campus or meeting with our neighbors.

The first week is a good time to reconnect with old friends, make new ones, and just explore campus. Let your excitement course through you. Do what you want, as you only have a few days before the dreaded classes begin.

Meeting Old Friends

A lot of my middle school and high school friends go to UMD, and I had a lot of catching up to do. I first met up with my Blair friends: Yuri, Christina, Evan, et cetera. Despite being friends for 4+ years, I’ve gotten much closer with them. We spend a lot of time eating together, shopping, and watching movies together. Like one big happy family. I’ve reconnected with friends from middle school, like Shakti, Brant, Brian, and Alan. I’ve met a lot more people, but so far, I’ve only become close with a few.

My newest close friend is Stephanie. We clicked instantly the day we met, and I’ve seen her almost every day since. She practically lives in our room now, mooching on our A/C, using my water boiler, doing her homework, and being annoying. Just kidding. I’m glad to have met her, since we’ve done a lot of things together, like going to the first-look fair, eating off-campus, painting our nails, playing violin, and much more. It’s been really fun, and I look forward to the next four years together.

Me and Steph in CHEM 135

I love how I have every day to spend time with friends. Although being relatively quiet around strangers, I can’t stand being alone. I’m so fortunate to be able to spend time doing daily activities and going to classes with the people I love most, which is the best part of college so far. I look forward to making new friends, as I desperately need to develop new relationships and expand my social circle. But currently, I’m too reserved. I aim to change that.

Reviewing my Courses

First, some context. I am planning on majoring in Computer Engineering, but I am currently a Computer Science student. I will be transferring to the engineering department in the following semester, given that I do not bomb the classes I am currently taking. Here is a summary of the classes and what I think about them.

Major Requirements

CMSC 216 - Intro to Computer Systems

A class on computer systems, where we learn the fundamental concepts that enable programs to execute on real hardware. We are currently learning the C programming language.

The Computer Science Building: Brendan Iribe Center

I’m taking the course with Professor Jose Calderon. The class is in the Antonov auditorium at the Brendan Iribe Center, which is a very large and modern building. There are around 200 students in lecture and around 30 students in each section. Jose presents lectures using PowerPoints on the front screens, taking questions every now and then. He explains things extremely clearly with great enunciation. He provides witty and quippy remarks all the time and it always makes the class chuckle. Each new concept in the slides comes with example code, which is very helpful for understanding concepts. Each lecture is formulaic, with all the content prepared on the course website, ready with all the presentations and homework.

Discussions are usually pretty uninspiring. Some important discussions go over topics like Linux commands and valgrind, but they are pretty slow-paced and kind of awkward. There is definitely value in them, but I don’t particularly look forward to them. My TA, Keonwoo, is pretty cool, though.

Each week is typically accompanied by a coding project or exercise. They’re pretty standard and not very hard, but quite time-consuming. Debugging can take a long time for some of the projects, as C is annoying as heck. You submit projects through a server called Grace, which is hosted on grace.umd.edu (port 22 access only), where you must pass public tests, release tests, and sometimes secret tests. Your code is graded on styling and comment as well. You are given 3 tokens per 24 hours to test the release tests, so they need to be used wisely (it also rewards doing the projects earlier).

The worst part about the course is definitely the slow grading. It’s been a month since the first exercise and weeks after multiple quizzes and projects, and only one assignment has been returned. Speed it up, please :(.

As for exams, I bombed the first one, haha. Good (or bad) thing, most people did. I did multiple practice exams, which were all of similar difficulties, and then the real midterm just slapped me to the moon. It was significantly more complicated and intricate, and I did not finish. I was also not sure of any of my answers to the supposedly easier questions. Jose and the TAs really threw us a curveball. However, they recognized the problem, and hopefully, it will be curved. I still think I failed, sadly.

Overall rating: 4.5 stars.

CHEM 135 - Engineering Chemistry

An introductory chemistry course for Engineers. A little more fast-paced than the basic introductory chemistry course, but with no laboratory and exclusively for engineering students. The class is in the big chemistry lecture hall, with around 200-300 students in the course.

My professor is Dr. Elizabeth Griffith. She feels like a high school teacher. She treats us in a very endearing and childish way. For example, she’ll tease us about drinking, ask us how our weekend was, and get the majority opinion before extending due dates. Despite being in a giant lecture hall filled with students, the environment feels rather friendly. Unlike in some of my other classes, the room isn’t dead silent before class starts, which is great. Less awkward for everyone.

Dr. Griffith also teaches like a high school teacher. She explains things in simple terms— straight and to the point. She explains most concepts quite well, but to limited depth in my opinion. The course is pretty packed with material, one semester encompasses an entire year of AP Chemistry. Despite this, the classes do not feel that fast; it’s pretty manageable, as long as you pay attention and attend discussions to do practice problems. The best thing about this class is that there is no 3-hour laboratory each week.

I do attend both lectures and discussions, but I mostly learn by reading Peter Atkin’s Chemical Principles. This is part of my grand plan to become a genius (see goals below). It goes into more detail about topics covered in class, and it’s served me well so far. I don’t find the course particularly difficult, but that’s not the common opinion (this is partly because I’ve taken an intro to chemistry in the past). Many people on Reddit complain about the difficulty of the course, but I think it’s greatly overblown. The average grade on the first midterm was a 70%, which isn’t great, but not terrible either. It will require some work, but don’t let this scare you out of pursuing engineering. The best way to get help is to consult the professor during office hours.

Overall rating: 4.5 stars.

MATH 246H - Intro to Differential Equations

Honors class for introductory differential equations. I doubt the honors distinction makes a difference; it’s probably just a smaller class. There are 22 spots in the course, but some will drop after the first midterm.

The classroom environment is pretty unsocial. Every time I arrive in the room, it is so silent you could probably hear a mouse’s heartbeat. The professor shows up a few minutes before class starts and cuts right to the chase. His name is Christian Zickert and I have pretty mixed feelings about him and the course in general. I took Differential Equations in my junior year, so I am technically retaking the class (it didn’t cover all the necessary material, however). The class is relatively straightforward, perhaps a little bit disorganized. I don’t mean this in the traditional sense, as we cover material in a reasonable order, but I usually can’t tell the direction the material is building up to. To give an analogy, it’s like I’m given puzzle pieces to a puzzle, but I don’t know what picture I’m trying to make.

Most of the students in my class are usually confused during class; this was pretty clear when the professor announced the average grade on the first midterm, which was an F. The professor spent much of the following class sort of roasting us, as he claims he reiterated the common mistakes on the exam, which were apparently very common for our section. To be fair, I believe he did a fair job of warning us about the performance on the first exam. He always tries to get us to understand the full picture, which is a good thing, but most people seem to still be confused. His personality is pretty quirky and unapproachable, and it’s pretty difficult for most people to ask for advice outside of class time. However, I think his explanations during class are quite decent, but I seem to stand in the minority in this regard. I dislike how little the course material emphasizes proofs, which was a big deal with my high school professor. I generally appreciate understanding a formula or theorem before applying it, but a quick “this proof is too beyond the scope of this course” would be nicer than Christian’s usual “we’re not going to prove it”.

Since the first midterm, the panic has set in, and the class has formed a study group. I attended one of the meetings so I could meet some of my classmates (lame haha) and it was honestly pretty chill.

Overall rating: 3.5 stars.

University Honors Courses

I am in the Honors College within UMD, in the program called “University Honors”. It is a two-year program where we can pick classes from predetermined thematic clusters. I picked the 238 series, which goes in-depth about deliberation.

HNUH 238A - Deliberating Democracy

This course is named “Deliberating Democracy”, where we dive deep about deliberation in society: how do we talk to one another about controversial issues, and how can we make them productive and efficient? Every week begins with multiple readings, where we analyze argumentative structure (e.g., Toulmin Model of Argumentation), deliberative techniques, social issues, and more. On Wednesdays, different groups engage in deliberation about a topic, which we use to write a report and submit by the end of the week.

The class is led by three people: Dr. Shawn Perry-Giles (the professor), Matthew Salzano (TA #1), and Taylor Hourigan (TA #2). Course material is very political, ranging from gun control to abortion to free speech. I think the concept of the class is very solid: allow people to engage in good and effective deliberation so people can listen to other viewpoints and get things done. However, the class is taught through a very liberal lens, where a lot of what I would consider disputable claims are taken to be true. I think this kind of contradicts the notion of open-mindedness that good deliberation is supposed to inculcate. Readings can be pretty dull at times, but I think it is nice that different articles sometimes contain opposing ideas.

During the weekly deliberations, my group and I deliberate about a given topic. There are three roles, including a facilitator (who governs and directs the conversation, asks questions, passes the mic, etc.), report lead, and note taker. Our conversations are usually pretty engaging, but it’s kind of a group consensus that we’re doing it to get it done. On Sunday, we usually try to finish the report. Jason (who’s also in my group) and I carry the group in writing the report, as we are the ones usually proofreading and shortening the page count to the acceptable amount.

Assignments are pretty easy, and the grading is quite lenient.

Overall rating: 2.5 stars.

HNUH 100 - Honors Seminar

It’s the University Honor’s introductory seminar. It’s essentially like high school homeroom. It’s an introduction to the school and the honors program. The goal is to prepare you for the next four years. It meets only once a week and is only 1 credit.

We go over school events, writing resumes, introduction to the program— all the uninspiring stuff. My professor is very nice (Prof. Erica Smith), but it is truly hard to take the class seriously. It is supposed to be an easier and friendlier class, which it is, but the classroom dynamic is pretty poor and nobody wants to be there. Good thing it only meets once a week. Assignments are quick and easy.

Overall rating: 2 stars

UMD Life

Lantern Festival with the Vietnamese Student Association


As you know, I got extremely lucky being able to reside at Pyon-Chen Hall. I have been in a few of the other dormitories, and I will rank them below. This is not an exhaustive list; there are many dormitories I haven’t stepped foot in yet.

6. Ellicott

Christina, Steph, and Rajit live here. The rooms are pretty small, the bathrooms suck, and there is no A/C. The hallways are grim and kind of ugly, there are roaches and bugs in the basement, and people do not seem to enjoy the building very much. It is right across the diner if there is one good thing to say. Not great.

5. Hagerstown

Jason Luo and Daniel live here. No A/C and very similar looking to La Plata and Ellicott. Their rooms are actually kind of spacious, at least better than Ellicott and La Plata. It wasn’t that hot when I went here, so I had a relatively pleasant time hanging out with my friends. I did not go to the bathroom, but I imagine it’s like your average communal bathroom. Not terrible, but not great either.

4. Cumberland Hall

Brian and Alan live here. It has A/C in the rooms, the hallways are kind of grim, and the bathrooms are pretty low-tier. The common area is right out the elevator instead of another room, so they aren’t as good as La Plata. The rooms are a bit musty and small, but overall, I wouldn’t have any problems living here.

3. La Plata Hall

Yuri, Dong, and Alex live here. It has A/C in the dorm rooms, but not in many of the other parts of the building. The hallways are relatively narrow, the bathrooms are okay, and the wall colors are not particularly nice. The rooms are kind of small, and you can visibly see pipes above your head. The common rooms are pretty comfortable and nice to hang out in.

2. Anne Arundel Hall

Dheeraj lives in this hall, and I’ve been there once. It feels like a bedroom, with carpeted floors, an angled ceiling, and brown bed frames. It’s more spacious than the other halls I’ve been in. It has A/C as well. Good first impressions.

Anne Arundel Hall

1. Pyon-Chen Hall

Obviously, the one I am in is the best. There are 6 floors in this building, each one identical to the next. There is a left and a right wing, which mirror one another, with 7 communal private (everyone shares, but each bathroom is private) bathrooms each. The rooms themselves are quite spacious, with A/C, black and wooden floors, white walls, and 2 Twin XL beds. There is an open closet, dresser, and table as well. There is one relatively small, tall, rectangular window.

I have a very comfortable living experience. Many people from other dorms visit their friends here, as there are many nice study rooms, and each dorm room has plenty of space for multiple people to hang out in. The bathrooms are miles better than the other dorms; you don’t have to risk being seen naked by your neighbors; you can spend as long as you want sitting on the toilet; the shower heads actually have decent water pressure. I am very privileged, as you can see.

Living with Jason has been pretty fun. We have gotten significantly closer, spending late nights chatting about stupid things, making inappropriate and lame jokes, and just generally spending most of our time together. Love to Mr. Liu from me <3.

Stephanie pretty much spends most of her time here, arriving at 4 pm and leaving at 11 or 12 pm. Many of of our other friends come pretty often, either to hang out or to shower, and Jason and I are happy to lend a hand to anyone. It’s been pretty great. That’s why our dorm gets the #1 ranking.


The apartments we went to off-campus are quite deluxe. With monthly fees less than those of on-campus residence halls, it seems like a steal. However, you can be pretty far from your classes, have to buy your own groceries, and will have fewer chances to see your friends. It’s however you make it. But the buildings themselves have excellent common areas, study rooms, and layout. The rooms feel like upgraded hotels. I’ll get one…maybe someday.

I also heard Prince Frederick is really good, perhaps better than Pyon-Chen. It’s where the ACES Honors people live. I will definitely need to check it out.

Dining Hall Experience

There are three dining halls on campus: Ellicott Dining, 251 North (Denton), and the South Campus Dining. I live a minute away from Ellicott dining, so I go there most of the time. All of the dining halls are pretty decent, with a large selection of food, ranging from pasta to tacos to ramen. There is a vegan section, a salad bar with greens and fruit, and a pizza place.

My meals are generally hit or miss, but the misses aren’t too bad. I often go for the “Cluckers” restaurant in Ellicott, where I fill my plate with some pasta, greens, one piece of meat, and some form of rice. The mac & cheese is good, the quesadillas are good, and the tacos are pretty excellent. The breakfast food is usually pretty sad, and each day’s choices are always the same. The diner offers eggs, bacon, sad potatoes, sometimes okay hash browns, and usually pretty bland and sad pancakes. There are waffle machines if you are into that. Dessert is typically pretty static: cakes, pies, cookies, and the soft-serve machine. The types of cakes and pies usually rotate, and they are pretty hit or miss, but I usually go for the soft-serve anyway. I recommend you stay health-conscious, unlike me 😅.

Ellicott Dining Hall
Ellicott Dining Hall

Lunch and dinner are usually pretty solid, though. However, on weekends, the breakfast food generally becomes lunch food, since students wake up late (obviously for good reason). The food choices of each dining hall are relatively similar, but I think Ellicott is still the best. It has a nice layout with cute neon signs, which overrules the kind of boring and plain layouts of 251 and South Campus. However, the seating arrangement is much more cramped and structured, compared to the open seating of 251 and South Campus. Furthermore, my friends rave over 251 for their cheesy garlic bread, so take that for what it’s worth. Overall, the food has exceeded expectations.

Partying Environment

This portion is a detailed experience about a dream I had a few days ago, and nothing more. Think about it like your favorite fiction book.

UMD isn’t as big of a party school as I expected it to be. There are likely a lot, but my connections are pretty limited and I don’t particularly like the big and loud ones. From what I heard from friends, parties are much more rampant and easy to find, but this could be the result of the smaller population of private schools.

I won’t go into more detail, as it is something you should find out naturally. Also, I don’t want to get a mark on my record. Self-preservation is important.

Eppley Recreation Center

This is the main rec center for everybody. It’s a two-minute walk from Pyon-Chen Hall, making it very convenient to exercise. There are 5 basketball courts, one gym with multiple rooms, and a pool in the basement. Basketball can be pretty sweaty, depending on who you play with. The courts are generally packed, and you have to wait your turn to play. There aren’t many opportunities to casually play ball with your friends unless you go super early or super late. Furthermore, the volleyball players share the courts, making it kind of cramped and pretty annoying, as you can get sucker-punched by a flying ball while trying to get that behind-the-back dunk.

Epply Recreational Center Gym
Epply Recreational Center Gym

The gym is big, but then again, there are 40k undergrads at UMD. It is packed in the evening, but not unreasonably so. You can navigate your way through most equipment and the bench without much waiting. There are a lot of machines, a dinky little track, and many weights. It is a nice gym.

The pool is also pretty nice. It closes earlier than the rest of the gym (at 10:00 pm). There are two pools you can swim in, but unfortunately, both are less than 25m long. Club swim takes up one of the pools at a set time, so plan wisely. Every time I’ve gone, I’ve been able to get a line to myself. The locker room is a good place to shower, mostly if you live in the lesser dorms.

Restaurants and Shopping

There is a nice shopping center right outside the entrance of the university, with a Target, Chipotle, Kung-Fu Tea, CVS, barbershop, and more. It’s a quaint place to buy a couple of groceries or to eat out with friends. We’ve had a few late-night journeys to McDonald’s because the one thing you crave at 3 am is a box of chicken nuggets. The school is surrounded by places to buy food, so it won’t be hard grabbing a bite at the restaurant of your choice. My biggest gripe is that there is no Asian Supermarket nearby. What a shame.

Ramen at Kangnam College Park

On-campus also has a few restaurants, primarily at STAMP, with a Subway, Chick-Fil-A, Quickway, and more. You can use dining dollars there, which is pretty cool.

Adele H. Stamp Union

The Stamp Union (Stamp for short), is the community center for UMD students. Inside are many open seating areas, the food court, a bowling alley, arcade, miniature movie theater, convenience store, UMD gear shop, and large rooms for clubs (e.g., TASA, CSA). It is a nice area to get food, grab ice cream, or just hang out. I watched A Quiet Place 2 there, which was a pretty nice experience. Overall, it’s a charming place to go to hang out with your friends.


Freshman Flu

Almost everyone in my friend group got sick one after another. During a time with COVID, that’s not particularly confidence-inspiring. Good thing is that none of us got COVID. Bad thing, we all probably got each other sick.

I ended up getting strep throat, probably a fever, and severe cough. Most of my friends did as well, and some are still sick. My friends at other schools also got sick. Being around a lot of people in a new environment obviously explains the cause, so be prepared. Bring cough drops, cold medication, and whatnot. It’s better to be prepared, cause you are most definitely going to get sick within the first month.

Memorable Moments

1. Jumping into McKeldin Mall with Jason

At 3:30 am on October 2, 2021, Jason Liu and Eric Chen jumped into the pool at McKeldin Mall. A series of unfortunate events transpired the night of, and Eric was not feeling too well. The two ventured on a walk around campus, with Jason consoling Eric over his devastation. Suddenly, Eric considered the possibility that one day he and Jason and friends should go swimming in the pool in the middle of the night. Jason concurred, saying that it was a marvelous idea. As the two left, Eric had a eureka moment. He was having a bad night and thought there was nothing to lose, asking Jason, “Do you want to jump in right now?” Jason, daring as one can possibly be, agreed with a wide smile on his face. The two jumped into the shallow, frigid waters of McKeldin, recording their silly antics on their decrepit smartphones and posting the videos on social media. It was a night to remember.

2. Watching Squid Game

Before Squid Game, I had never watched a K-Drama before. The closest I ever got to watching a K-Drama was by watching Parasite at Yuri’s birthday party. But Steph kept pushing our friend group, telling us that we must watch the show that was dominating social media and Netflix.

Yuri, Christina, Jason, Steph, and I spent three late nights riding an emotional roller coaster on Jason’s 34-inch widescreen monitor. The show was great— filled with stakes, family issues, friendship, and more. I thoroughly enjoyed the show, despite being slightly disappointed at a somewhat lackluster ending. I do not deal well with anything remotely scary or stressful, and this show was both. Generally, I avoid watching strenuous and tense shows, as my heart generally can’t keep up. Watching with friends helped ease me up, and it ended up being one of the more fun experiences I’ve had on campus.

I recommend you to watch the show if you somehow haven’t already. I am not a TV show or movie connoisseur, so I will not be reviewing it, unfortunately. I apologize for any inconvenience.

3. Finishing Stein’s Gate

The Fantastic Four— Yuri, Christina, Jason, and I— began watching Stein’s Gate sometime in June or July during this summer. By the start of school, we probably weren’t even halfway finished. Before school started, we convened on Zoom and watched a variety of movies, like Howl’s Moving Castle and The Shawshank Redemption. It was a way for us to propel our budding group synergy and team superpowers; unfortunately, we were really bad at finding nights to watch Stein’s Gate, so we decided to finish it when the school year commenced.

Jason and Yuri preparing for Stein’s Gate

I had a lot of fun spending time with my fellow superheroes, making fun of Okabe’s weird facial expressions and Feyris’s cutesy speech tick in the early AMs. Yuri and Christina would often be too exhausted to go back to their dorms at 4 am and would spend the night at Pyon-Chen, either sleeping on the floor like psychos or forcing me to get closey-feely with Jason. I honestly need to re-watch the show at some point, because so much time spanned in between each watching session that I couldn’t feel the severity of each scene. Fortunately, the show is littered with confusing time travel, gender mix-ups, and uncomfortable relationships, perfect things for us to joke about. I still thoroughly enjoyed it, but the time spent with those 3 losers was what made it a blast.

4. Getting Ears Pierced

I made a promise to Yuri and Christina in the summer. They proposed the idea of me getting my ears pierced. At the time, I was hesitant to agree and relatively against it. I replied with an “I’ll do it if Jason does it”, assuming that Jason would decline on my behalf. Unfortunately, Jason was a wilder person than I imagined and immediately agreed, burdening me with a curse I bestowed upon myself. After months of stalling, the four of us visited Red Octopus Tattoos to get our ears pierced— Yuri and Christina getting their second, and Jason and I getting our first.

The piercing itself only took a minute max. They cleaned my ears, poked two holes, and it was over. It was mildly painful and definitely less painful than I expected, which was a surprise. Now, my ears and decorated with shiny diamonds, making me the most fashionable man on this planet. Just kidding. Even though Yuri and Christina think it is glamorous, I feel kind of like an idiot for wearing them. I am the furthest thing from a “bad boy” as you can possibly imagine. The experience afterward has been pretty good. We surprised Steph, Alan, and Brian later that day. The first few nights were terrible, as I could not sleep in my desired position because of the piercings, leading to poor sleep quality. It is better now, but still slightly uncomfortable. Spraying my ears with cleaning solution has not been a hassle at all, but it leaves my earholes pretty itchy, probably from the salt crystallizing around the earring. But overall, I am glad I got them pierced. Life is too short for me to not experiment. Maybe I’ll try going bald for a bit or dying my hair neon yellow. Who knows.

5. Invading Clarice at 3 A.M.

This is allegedly true. Maybe it was a dream. I don’t know.

Yuri invited me and Jason to go on a panic walk, as she had an exam the next day. We walked in silence, ending up at Clarice around 3 in the morning (haha, again). In the dim glow of the moon, my mischievous and immature self decided to check if each door was open, while Jason and Yuri enjoyed the beauty of the building’s architecture and the crisp air of the night. After checking dozens of doors to no avail, I was crushed. On our way back to our dorms, I decided to check one more door. I pulled with hesitation, expecting nothing but disappointment, but the door opened. It was Christmas. We excitedly opened the door and explored the tall and empty music building. What daring students!

Outside Clarice Center for the Performing Arts


Clubs don’t start for a while after school starts. The First-Look Fair—UMD’s club fair—happened almost a month after classes began. The large selection of clubs would satisfy any diehard artist, passionate engineer, or political fanatic.

I went to a lot of On-Board Meetings (OBMs), and I can give you some thoughts about them.

Students for the Exploration of Development of Space (SEDS)

This club is self-explanatory. It focuses on space-related exploration, where club members split up into groups and focus on one engineering or educational task for the duration of the year.

I joined relatively late— a week or two after the first OBM. Interested in the premise of a liquid rocket, I went to the second introductory meeting about the engineering that goes into it. It was more of a lecture, as the two sub-team captains began describing the details of propellant pressure, tank wall thickness, and operating stress. This went way over my head, as I have minimum—almost zero—engineering experience. However, I liked that the team went straight to business, which made me keen about coming back the following week. At the end of the OBM, I asked it was okay that I did not understand anything, and the captains quelled my fear by saying that it was okay.

Later that day, I put the liquid rocket team as my first preference for the club, over nanosatellites or the BBP (don’t even know what that is). Somehow, I got my first choice, so I will be part of the liquid rocket team for this semester. I should beef up on the knowledge necessary for the club, and I am optimistic about the places this club will take me.

Terrapin Racing

This club focuses on designing one formula racecar, electric formula racecar, and one off-road Baja racecar for the to compete in collegiate racing competitions.

This club has left the strongest impression on me so far. I signed up for the club at the FLF, but they never got back to me. I asked my friend, Rajit, who had joined the club beforehand, whether I could tag along with him to a meeting. I didn’t know anything about formula cars, but it sounded really interesting and I was willing to give the club a shot. Rajit introduced me to the captain, who gave me a briefing about the team and project teams. Cap told me that there wasn’t much space left on the team, and I should try next semester when a new wave of people join. But right as he said that the composites team lead came over and said he needed people for the composites team. Given no other choice, I followed him.

The composites team focuses on building the composite parts on the formula car, like the body, side panels, and more. Instead of giving me a lecture on what the team does or what my responsibilities as a team member were, the team lead, Aly, put me straight to work. I helped the other lead, Max, with cutting the carbon fiber fabric for the monocoque of the car. On the first day, I spent 3 hours there, cutting fabric, infusing the carbon fiber with epoxy and hardener, and molding the fabric over the male monocoque mold. I felt useful for once, and despite the relatively menial tasks I was asked to do, was 100% set on coming to the next meeting.

Carbon Fiber Monocoque! So beautiful before we had to destroy it…

I have been to three meetings so far, and it has been excellent. Although not directly learning about how things work, I have picked up bits and pieces of information along the way. Each meeting has been pretty (un)eventful, and I have done something different every time. Our first mold was completely unsuccessful, as the carbon fiber we attached to the mold wouldn’t separate, as the Gelcoat layer underneath did not adhere to the fabric properly. We were forced to cut it and painstakingly rip off each piece, which took many hours. After kind of ruining the foam mold (which cost upwards of 6 grand), we were forced to put Bondo (an automotive body filler) over the cracks and joints and sand them down.

I’ve had a lot of fun talking to the group members: Hugo, Max, Aly, Ryan, Samantha, and Nick. We’ve joked around about our favorite movies, hobbies, etc., and I actually feel as if I am a part of a team. I think I can accomplish a lot as part of the team. Even with the large time commitment, I think it will be worth it.

Bit Camp

This club hosts a large hackathon at the end of each school year, called Bit Camp. I attended the OBM, which went into detail about the sub-teams, organization, and goals. When I heard about the tech team, I wanted in. The tech team works on the web and phone apps and backend design. When I saw that they use AWS for a lot of their work, I knew that this would be a golden opportunity for me to learn a lot by putting my skills to use.

I have never worked collaboratively with someone on a coding project before, and this seems like a perfect solution to my dilemma. Unfortunately, the team is relatively selective and requires an application. I don’t have much experience with a lot of things, and there is a good chance I am not selected. I am still hopeful, and I want to get in. We’ll see how it goes!

College Park Student Investment Group

This team teaches investment-related anything. Despite my genius, I am relatively financially illiterate. I need to learn finance, which is why I decided to join this club.

I went to one meeting, which dived into details about the fundamental analysis of the stock market. It was alright, maybe a bit uninspiring. There were two presentations going on in the same room, where one of the presenters was at least twice as loud as the other. I was struggling to hear what my presenter was saying, but I got the gist of it. I did learn quite a bit about fundamental analysis, but I don’t know how much more effective this is compared to learning the content online. The in-personness of the club is motivation to keep learning, however. I will probably be attending this club for purely informational reasons, but perhaps the events will be worth going to. We shall see.

Startup Shell

I don’t know much about this club, but I applied to it nonetheless. I believe it has to do with startups (haha), and it seems pretty exclusive and cool. I have a virtual interview with the captain tomorrow; wish me luck.

I had my interview already. Kind of. I showed up at the interview time; no one was there. I emailed them afterward asking about what I should do, with no response. My disappointment is immeasurable and my day is ruined.

Terrapin Rockets

This club does exactly as its name suggests. The team builds a rocket and enters competitions. Can’t get cooler than that.

I went to the first General Board Meeting (GBM), which went into detail about the events planned and logistics of entering competitions. As a complete noob, I found it difficult to understand what was going on, as the meeting content seemed directed to people who were familiar with the club. The captains were already talking about test launches, working on draft schematics and CAD models for different teams, and competition guidelines, and I was just sitting there confused out of my mind. I thought it would crystallize later on, but the second GBM was canceled, leaving me in the dark. If I had been inspired by the first meeting, I would definitely have put in the effort to learn what was going on, but I had pretty much lost interest at that point. Considering how big of an astronomy nerd I am, that’s kind of sad. I’m sure the club is great and will accomplish many great things, but I don’t think it’s for me, at least for this semester. I will try again next semester or next year, for sure.

BigTh!nk AI

The club specializes in teaching AI and machine learning. I do not have much experience with AI and decided to see what it was like.

I joined the pyoneers team, which is the entry-level introductory group that focuses on the basics. In the first meeting, the captains went over Pandas DataFrames, which I already know a little bit about, as I did a machine learning internship before my senior year in high school. It was moderately useful and well explained. The team doesn’t feel cohesive but I think it is a good place to learn about AI if that is something that truly interests you. I don’t know if I will keep going, but if I do, it will be for learning purposes only— I don’t plan on committing a lot of time to this organization.


Clubs that didn’t follow up after the first-look fair, why? You need new members. I want to be one. Send me an email next time, please. Also, I hate how every club uses a different platform of communication. I have to juggle between GroupMe, Slack, Discord, etc. It’s hard to get organized.

Overall, a pretty positive experience so far. Some clubs I hope to look into at some point:

  • Geology Club
  • G-Girls and the Wasabi Boyz (Asian pop dance group)
  • Gaming Symphony Orchestra
  • Ultimate Frisbee Team

Beware of clubs that seem good on the surface…some of the FLF people looked super unenthusiastic about their own club. Use your instinct to filter out the ones that are just for people to boost their resumes.


This post would be meaningless if I did not outline a few goals I have for my first year at college.

Get Straight A’s

More like a pipe dream— it’s almost certainly not happening, but I can dream on. I feel like I have a head start compared to most people at this school, but I am also incredibly lazy and unfocused most of the time. At least, I will try my hardest to do well on every exam and complete my homework on time, with less procrastination than I did in high school. If I fail a class, nobody will give a 💩 but me.

I already did poorly on a CMSC 216 exam, but I still have hope. Let’s get this bread.

Find a club I am passionate about

I mean, who doesn’t? We’re still in the entry phases, so I have a lot of exploring to do. My life practically revolved around extracurriculars in high school, like Debate Team and Science Bowl. I want to find something I can pour my heart into. I don’t want to just attend meetings and feel like a foreigner visiting a new country. I want to get my nails dirty, heart pumping, and brain racing. The one club that seems pretty promising right now is Bit Camp, but I still have faith in the rocket and engineering clubs.

Note: It’s been so long since I started writing this post, so things have changed a bit. I already have some top contenders for this goal! Look above at the “Clubs” section for more detail.

Make new friends

I have gotten too comfortable with people I already know. That’s not a bad thing in and of itself; I love the current friends I have, but that has prevented me from exploring the seas. I’m stuck on an island— a great island, mind you— but there is way more to explore. I hope clubs will be an entry point for me to develop long-lasting friendships. I have made a couple of acquaintances and a few friends, but I still mostly hang out with my middle and high school friends. It’s time to widen the circle a bit.

Get an Internship

Who doesn’t want an internship? As a computer engineering/comp sci student, I really should get one this summer. Not only will it provide me with skills in the industry, but it can also probably help me pay off my loans and buy a bunch of useless crap that I want. I want to see what it’s like to work as a small part of something huge, and I intend to find an internship of my liking. I would say my #1 option would be Amazon right now, but I’m a long ways to go. Wish me luck.

Get a girlfriend


Read a textbook of all the basic sciences

My goal for a long time. It’s one of my longer-term and incredibly ambitious goals, and I hope I can fulfill it. I absolutely love learning, and it already hurts me to not be able to major in everything. I want general knowledge about all the sciences, and I will do my best to read a textbook of all of them: Chemistry, Earth Science, Astronomy, Biology, and Physics. I’m partially done, but there is a long way to go. I also intend on going deeper into some subjects, like Organic Chemistry, Astrophysics, Quantum, etc.

Start new projects

I often get too lazy to actively work on projects. When I learned Django for the first time, I spent weeks on that and then got burned out. I need to continuously push and learn new things, whether it be learning a computer science framework or engineering tool, reading a book, becoming financially literate. I need to get off my lazy bum and push. I’ll try to start tomorrow. No, it must start tomorrow.

Continue playing violin

I’ve been playing violin for a long time. Too long. It would be a real shame if I just dropped the ball now and gave up. Ever since I got on campus, I’ve played violin at least once a week. Am I proud of doing the bare minimum? No. But it is something I should preserve, and I should not waste my talent (loosely speaking). I want to learn at least a few pieces over the school year. Let’s get this.

Everything else

I think long-term goals are not effective for me, at least. Too many variables change all the time, and the abstractness of most long-term goals is not enough to motivate me. If I cannot even visualize where the finish line is, then I will not feel bad not achieving something. I will work on my short-term goals for now. If anything else pops up, I will let my fans know. Keep me honest.


1. Find a tasks app

You should probably have one already, but get one if you don’t. Organization is key, and if you fail a course, that’s on you and nobody else, because the money is coming out of your pocket. I personally recommend TickTick, which is available on all platforms. Put all your assignments and to-do things, and organize them by when they’re due. It’s been mightily helpful.

2. Start planning out your schedule for the rest of college

You can find a four-year plan for your major online. It helps to have a mental plan of what requirements you need to complete by when, the prerequisites for each course you take, and when the best time to take a gen-ed is. It’s unlikely that you will follow through with the first draft, but it is required for your mandatory advising and will allow you to visualize what needs to get done when. A basic skeleton is better than a pile of bones.

3. Get started on internships and research early

There is a career fair at the end of the first month of school. You should attend to see if you can find anything interesting and stem from there. Look online for possible internships, and start applying early! You don’t want to get to a point where all applications are closed. You’ll be sad, I’ll be sad, everyone will be sad. Plan out what you want, and go for it. The more, the better. This means writing a good resume. There are a lot of good resources online for how to craft one. Don’t worry if you don’t have much experience; most people don’t, and you can still have a better resume than someone more accomplished than you if you know what you are doing.

4. Get a water boiler

For the rainy days where you only have time for ramen. Get a fridge, too. For the days where you wake up 15 minutes before class starts and you have no time to visit the diner. *Cough cough* Jason.

5. Bring Tupperware

Dining halls don’t let you take food out… I’m not telling you to circumvent rules. That would be ridiculous! Inconceivable, you might say!

6. Get a credit card

College is a good time to build credit. You won’t need to pay fees if you spend responsibly, and chances are, it’ll help you when you start getting the big bucks.

7. Don’t put off your debts

It’s easy to get caught up and school and forget that you are taking out loans. You should build a strategy now on your repayment scheme, whether it applies now or four years from now. If you exit college with crippling debt because of ignorance, that’s on you. Start learning financial basics and figure out the easiest way for you to pay off your loans. If you get started immediately, you could save future you from a nasty migraine. Take finance classes! Find an investment or finance club to join! Good luck.

8. Meet new people

Lucky number 8, taken from Jason. Even though this is pretty obvious, really go and do it. A lot of you will go to a new school where you might only know a few kids from your county if you’re lucky. You should try to meet people online before you even arrive on campus. Plan some things to do in the first few days. Don’t end up sulking alone, watching anime, or playing video games in your dorm room. Go to orientation or welcoming events. As lame as they can be, they are still good ways to find new friends. Even though I am going to a school with a lot of kids from my high school, it’s still a blessing and a curse. I get to hang out with people I’ve built relationships with over the last 4-7 years, it’s halted my search for new ones. Although I spent the first month almost exclusively spending time with people I already knew, I have been trying to improve. I’ve attended a dozen clubs, hoping to find people to connect with. I am already excited to be part of some clubs, and I think friendships will only be incidental from then. But I encourage you to be better than me. Don’t be afraid, there is literally nothing to lose.


When I got rejected from my top choices for college, I was crushed. It was a huge hit on my self-esteem. I thought I wasn't good enough, smart enough, and didn't try hard enough. I was afraid I disappointed my parents by wasting their efforts and money. I was sad that I made my sister and her friends spend hours helping me on my essays, only to be greeted by the hand of rejection. But after being on campus, I know now that those fears were unjustified. Sure, I might not have had fruitful results, but I am still on a path where I believe I can succeed. I'm around people I like and in an environment that still pushes me to work hard. As long as you still have the drive, those variables won't change.

School is only a stepping stone to your future. Looking back in time, you probably won’t even consider it to be in the top 10 most important events of your life. The university you attended was not the one factor that led to your success, or your failure. You can find that anywhere, as long as you have the will to pursue what you are looking for in life. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be disappointed if you didn’t get into your top college. Those feelings are still justified, but you truly will be okay. I am lucky in the sense that UMD is excellent for my major, but I firmly believe that a person working extremely hard at a lower-tier college can be massively more successful than the average student at Harvard or MIT. It’s the effort that makes it count.

You should still try as hard as you can on college applications. If you can go to a better school, why not? But if you don’t get in, that’s okay too. I have been loving it here so far, just like my sister said. I like my friends, my clubs, and I’m excited for the courses in the upcoming semesters. My classes are easy enough to the point where it gives me the time to do what I want. I have surprised myself with an improving work ethic, and I think I will go far here. But the road ahead will be defined by the work I am willing to put in. Hopefully, I don’t reach a cliff. That would be bad.

The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.

Walt Disney

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