Lessons of 2015

So let’s be real. 2015 was a monstrous year. At least for me. Yes, I’ve learned and all that, but really does one have to learn in such awful circumstances and gruesome ways?

I started off with a bundle of issues carried from 2014, and I must say I was the one to blame for some of the problems that I went through at the start of that year. And honestly, when I started my fourth semester last year, I sort of gave up on trying to be a better person, for the time being. I don’t know, I had this resignation that maybe this is the person that I am and that I’m incapable of changing further.

As the semester went by, I came to discover a few things about myself:
1- I’m itching for change
And this meant that something within me still required my effort to be changed. Throughout that semester I evolved into a person who can pin-point faults very easily and very quickly. Which made me reflect a lot on myself with respect to the new habit that I’ve acquired.

2-I’m not ready for change
I had trouble buying a new laptop, a new phone, and that’s just on a shallow level. I’m very reluctant to let go of what makes me comfortable. Even though my laptop was becoming an antique piece and my phone wouldn’t stop crashing.. Every time someone recommended a new phone model, I wanted to cry. Because I’m THAT attached to what I have. And this meant that point number 1 was not in my cards.

3-I have no idea what I want to do in life
Yes, I had ideas for change, I wanted to see things get better around me, but I had no idea how I will contribute to this. One would think, “but you’re doing engineering, of course you’ll be an engineer. What’s the matter with you?!” Yeah well, how do you become a creative engineer,  that’s the real question. Because to be honest, I must admit that I’m not the brightest person ever, and in a major like engineering, the ones who aren’t bright enough, don’t normally achieve much. Survival of the fittest sort of thing. So don’t they keep telling us that we’re talented? Is it too late to discover mine?

By the end of the Spring semester and the start of my Summer, things didn’t get better either. My previous posts are proof.

The Fall semester was by far my worst. And not only study-wise. Because like my colleagues, I was blessed with six incredibly unhealthy courses, and like a lot of students, I ranted about assessments and cited some study techniques. I was also shaken up by the death of one of my teaching assistants in a car accident, and it was one of the turning points in my life because he was one of the best people who taught me. A few days after his death, I learned that a very dear person to my heart was terminally ill.. Of course the stresses tugging at me during that time were uncountable, and I had no choice but to keep pushing myself forward through exams, projects, disappointing people and dealing with dissatisfying grades all at once. The number of times I was tempted to breakdown was way too high.
And as that awful semester went by I came to the following conclusions:

1- I still don’t know what I want to do in life, but I’m not going to worry about it anymore.

2- I want to learn to play a flute

3-I’m going to take a serious break from everything and everyone.

4- I’m indifferent towards many things in my life now, but the perfectionist in me hasn’t shaken despite that.

5- I’m never doing 18 credits again

6- I need to master public speaking

By the end of 2015, I had all the painful moments in my memory more than the happy moments. Which is why I decided that in 2016 I’m going to record all my happy moments and keep them to read at the end of the year.

However I just want to mention a few amazing moments in 2015 to end the post on a positive note.

1- Meeting Ahdaf Soueif in person and taking a picture with her.
2- Hamza Namira concert
3- Umm Kulthum puppet concert
4- Writing my novel plot summary
5- When I was announced senior writer for The Insider AUC
6- Finishing a beginner’s 8-week running plan
7- Walking all the way from Radisson Blu (Sheraton) to my house in Gesr el Suez on a winter evening because of the traffic.
8- Reuniting with my best friend after years.
9- Getting a henna that says (يا تموت و انت واقف يا تعيشش وانت راكع) like Ameer Eid
10- Getting a Kingsley pen for my birthday
11- Going to the Book fair for the first time in my life
12- Attending a creative writing workshop

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Letters to Egypt (I)

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To the land where martyrs are buried, and rice is grown.
To the land where heroes come in all names and forms, where faith is engraved in the souls of the weak and miracles happen in the corners of alleys.

Greetings, Egypt, from the heart of one of your humble citizens.

I’m writing to you with sorrow and gratitude, unhappiness and hope; a mixture of emotions that I have yet to discover.

I apologize on the behalf of myself, and perhaps others for what we have done. I apologize for every time I underestimated my role, for every time I didn’t throw garbage in the right place, for misrepresenting you. I’m also sorry I’m not responsible enough, not proactive enough, not generous enough. I apologize for every chance, every moment, every time I didn’t give back to you what you well and truly deserve. I’m sorry for taking you for granted. For assuming you will continue to forgive me, and warmly welcome me in your arms every time I leave and come back. I’m sorry for not being with you during calamities and times of grief. I’m ashamed that we’ve gotten this far.

I’m however grateful, that you continue to give me chances, till this day to make amends. To become a better person and learn despite what we have become. I’m grateful for your people, your genuine,thoroughbred people, the ones who still smile, who help out and expect no return, who wear their faith on their sleeve. I’m grateful for your Ramadan evenings, your Eid mornings, your classic songs,your beautiful mosques. I’m blessed and heart-warmed by your stubbornness to stay, and your patience to always give.

Yours truly,
A humble citizen

Grades Phase – a more optimistic approach

So now that the exam phase is over, it’s time for the grades phase. And to be honest, I was quite disappointed with my performance in 3 out of the 6 courses that I’m doing this semester. HOWEVER, this time I’m going to take some strong protective measures in preparation for the next upcoming exam phase. Read on because I believe I have compiled a very compact and intense midterm-prep-list. (Hopefully I’ll be able to  write another post proving that it worked for me.)

1- Seeing the performance
And by this I mean requesting to see your own paper with the professor and actually knowing what went wrong and how their grading criteria is. Do they give marks for working? Do they need to see final answers even if incorrect? Do they just need to see knowledge and understanding through working? Sit with them and calmly go over each and every mistake in the paper and mark very well the type of errors that you fell into.

2- Making a report
Make a report about your performance. For example I noticed that I made various mistakes on questions that require a derivation or a proof. So I wrote in my report that these questions need to be worked on during the studying period. There was also another problem with establishing relationships between graphs for one of my courses, so I went home that same day and watched tutorials and actually solved questions on the topic. You have to resolve issues quickly before you forget that you even have them. Before the next midterm comes, you have to have highlighted your problems and worked on solving them.
So make a report about each and every course and the areas you need to work on improving, then, on the last page of the report, write down goals for the next midterms, write about your overall performance, what mistakes you shouldn’t have fallen into, which mistakes were silly and which ones were major. You get the point.

3- Practice makes perfect
The most cliche but the most true statement of all time. The more you “solve” the better you become. I, for example, have 70+ questions at the end of each chapter in my Linear signals and systems course. I can’t do all 70 night before the exam because:
a) I won’t study any other chapter
b) I will not sleep
SO, I have decided to divide the questions into daily portions. So that if I manage to finish all the questions for all the chapters coming in the midterm, I’d have time to ask about the ones that I couldn’t solve. And this is immensely important. Allocating time to get your questions answered. Plan ahead of time so that you compile all the concepts and questions that you got stuck in, and get them answered before the assessment/test.
This applies for assignments but for assignments I’d like to add a key tip. START the assignment the day it’s posted. And divide the assignment in portions and again make sure you finish before the due date so that you have time to ask about the stuff you couldn’t solve. I usually start assignments a day or two before the due date and this is very wrong because yes, I tackle all assignment questions alone, but if I happened to get stuck, I know the timing is tight and so I either copy the answers from somewhere or leave them blank. Learning outcome: big fat zero. So yes, I’m working on this too.

4- Revising with a friend
Arrange for a review session with friends, and if you can arrange a session with the teaching assistant of the course, even better. I’ve only realized recently that they’re important because when you explain or go over the material with your friend, the info sort of sticks there, and likewise the other way around. Top tip: divide the material between you and let each person explain their material on the review day.

5- Utilize your best potential
I have a picture memory, and you’d say it’s an excellent trait, but it doesn’t really help me much because there’s nothing to memorize in my courses. However, I use this memory when I write my own notes while studying. Whether it’s a formula or a proof or a solving strategy. The drawback with picture memory however is that you either see the picture in your mind as you solve during the exam, or you don’t. So exert some effort in looking at the notes/equations for a long enough time. Make sure you use all your senses in class and while studying. The more the better.

6- Don’t take things for granted
So you can solve systematic questions really well. That does NOT mean you practice them less. Professors love twisting easy questions, and so if you’re good at something, make sure you’re REALLY good at it and know it from the inside out.

7- Lifestyle during and before exams
And this tip actually worked for me already. Exercise, healthy food, moderate amounts of sleep, and doing any one thing that you really enjoy doing once or twice during the week. These 4 will not only change your mindset, but will help you organize your day better, and become more productive.

Having said that, I will do what I preach and hopefully write another post after my second wave of midterms.

The cycle that never ends.

This is going to be a somewhat unhappy post, but it’s reality and it happens with a large number of students. If you’re a teacher, I beg you to read on, if you’re a student, you will relate on some level.

So I’ve been in this for almost 2 weeks now. It’s a dreadful cycle that drains me out of everything that I love or enjoy doing. It’s inevitable and it’s recurring, painful and challenging. Yes, I speak of exams. My almost 2 weeks of sitting through one midterm after the other had made me feel basically like a lifeless corpse. My desk is a pile of notes and check-lists and assignments that are deferred because I’m studying and just everything is here and there.

I’m not going to talk about that, however, or my lack of sleep, or my depressed state because I believe it happens and that no one can lead a perfect life all the time.

I speak of assessment methods, and rewards/punishments. Because, I have to admit, I learn quite a lot during the time of exams. About myself, about the type of mistakes that I normally and abnormally fall into and so on. This is great, but when my future is at stake, I’m a bit worried that my learning experience has its drawbacks. When I almost fail an exam, okay yes, I’ve learned not to do the mistakes, but I’ve also lost almost 10% of my grade.

Why aren’t there learning techniques that are more rewarding? Why are assessment methods so risky and put students on edge? Why do I, and a lot of students, study hard and exert so much effort only to find that the exams are on a different level or that we need to score a high grade to ensure not failing? Why do I have to go through the midterms week stressed, depressed, sleepless and worst of all demotivated and frustrated, that despite my efforts the expected results aren’t coming? Why?

I must also admit that the culture puts a lot of stress on “grades” and “scores” and this is why the student population does not enjoy learning. Because all they’re focused on, is how to get As. I know people who finish courses they know nothing about. Literally. What is the point behind anything inside the scope of academics if it’s not to help the student learn without all this pressure? Aren’t there more interesting ways to teach students time management, and stress-handling? If universities and schools keep threatening to tease the students’ scores in such a manner, given the importance of grades in the environment we live in, then no learning will ever happen. 

I’m immensely disappointed that education has reached this far. And I mean education in Egypt, because that’s what I’ve actually seen.
When public universities have an extremely high threshold of grades for entering, without having any other criteria but high school scores what does this show? What if they asked students to do certain hours of community service, or presenting a handmade project or a new idea or anything in life, apart from academics, wouldn’t there be actual change in attitudes? (Provided that there’s no corruption and students actually do the community work)

I just hope that I live to do something about this, because if it continues, we’re going to be having seriously materialistic generations who are selfish and indifferent towards learning.

On marriage and relationships

Yeah yeah, who am I to speak of either of these when I lack experience, I know I know. But let’s talk reason here. Are you ready? Let’s do this.

Marriage – the phenomena that unspeakably fails..

In Egypt (and in many other places but I speak of Egypt because I’ve seen it) there are two “types” of marriages: arranged and love. Both of which put too much financial stress on the groom and his family, but we’re not on about this now.

Arranged marriages or gawaz el salonat are ones that parents have the initiative in. So basically the mother’s friend’s friend has a cousin who they think will be compatible with you so they decide to have a mini gathering. So they sit you down and tell you to be nice and polite to see the suitor. Do they ask you if you WANT to get married? Pssht, of course you do. Even if you don’t want, you do. You have to want to get married. It’s your job in life. Of course when you say later on that you’re not compatible they blame you for not making that clear from the start and you’ve now caused major awkwardness between the mother’s friend’s friend’s cousin and your mother.

IF, and  that’s a bit unlikely, you want to be married in an arranged way, good for you sister! Maybe this guy will be yours in the end. Let’s hope he was in favour of the idea too.

If  you want to have a love marriage, read on till the relationships section.

If you’re independent and choose not to waste your precious life on drama (THANK YOU), then you’re pretty sane if you ask me. Can you stand a day without your parents? Or your mom’s yummy food? or your dad spoiling you all the time?
Honestly I can’t. I can’t stand the thought of having to drag someone into my decisions or seek approval before anything. What if I suddenly decide to travel alone? Or spend a few days relaxing somewhere? Or move and live in another city? Or Just.. space. Talk about suffocating. What if you discover he has the most annoying habits ever? Habits that you didn’t know about during your engagement.
Not to mention having to deal with his family. They’re annoying. 90% of the time. Like it or not, you will be missing quality time with your parents because you’re with you’re partner’s side. WHY? Why do you want to go through this? When you could be having the comfort food of your life in the middle of the night with movies on and messy hair.
I’ll skip fights and disagreements because they could potentially happen anywhere, but do I really need to waste my time in fights when I could be not fighting in the first place?
And then the main reason why marriage is such a bummer. Career. Most of the time, it goes down the drain once your married. Add kids to the recipe, and any chances of progress are null.Of course exceptions happen but generally nah. Any dreams or priorities that you had will be reorganized to suit your married life. Again, I say why?
I think marriage is crippling in so many ways and on so many levels.
Oh and by the way, nothing lasts, so by the time you’re married with old kids, you would’ve lost enthusiasm towards each other. I mean you’ve been together for more than a decade. Expect boredom at some point.
Read this conversation between a man and a woman. It basically sums everything up.

As for you love birds who claim that your love will last a lifetime and that your marriage will be blissful, I hate to burst your bubble. Many people fail after marriage because they bump into real life experiences that love can’t do anything about.
(Oh and please, it disgusts me to watch you hold hands and be all lovey-dovey in public. Cut it out. It’s pollution)
Let’s say you’re a mature couple who want to get married. If her parents are flexible and understanding enough, the finances will be shared, everything might go well, but I mean after reading what I said earlier are you still eager for laundry and cooking and running a house?

Last but not least, 6 reasons why being in a relationship sucks:
1- The one and only, freedom.
Don’t try to convince me that you own your time and space. Your partner has some demands and some dos and don’ts. Before disappearing off for weeks, you at least need to let him know. It’s sad, eh?
2- It wastes your time
You’re either texting them, on the phone with them, out with them, or planning something that has to do with them. You could be sleeping, eating, out and about, doing all your hobbies,  studying to get to college or graduate from it. Just saying.
3- Fights
In the beginning it’s just cute fights and one of you is jealous etc.. But it gets unbelievably suffocating later. And it sucks your energy, wastes your time and makes you miserable.
4- Disappointment
Everything has the potential to happen. Yeah, you trust your partner, but you never really know what’s happening behind the scenes.
5-Worrying
Constantly wanting to know where they are and having to take care of them if they’re sick or thinking of the future or any insecurities that pop up in the middle.
6- Compromise
It’s inevitable. Some way or another you will have to do it. (OR you could be single and have it all your way)

ANYWAY, whether you’re single or not, have a nice life but this is just me and what I think.

Manuscript writing, college and unfinished to-do lists

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*Rubs hands together*

Right, so let’s start with the happy news because I intend to make this post an optimistic one.
Writing a book is so very different than blogging or writing short pieces because I’m getting the chance to give my characters dimension and character that sort of is supposed to develop throughout the plot.
So it’s not like what I do on Tumblr or like any short story I’ve ever written. I dream of getting something published and out to the world, although I didn’t have any training on the technicalities of story telling and manuscript writing before so I feel that a lot of things lack in my current writing. Nevertheless, I do my very best to write a portion every week. Speaking of doing my best, the courses I’m taking this semester are purely engineering so it’s kind of crippling because I barely have time for anything. Just saying.

But again, this is an optimistic post, so engineering and its ugliness aside.

I’ve also been brainstorming recently about bicycle lanes and trying to market the use of bicycles in Cairo to minimize traffic.

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This quote that I came across was the turning point because I’m one of those people who complained of traffic without realizing that I’m one of the causes of it. (Yes, I take the bus to AUC but still, eventually I get from point A to B via a car)
So at this moment, I’m not doing much other than observation. (If you took a creativity & problem solving course you’d know what I’m saying) haha.

I’ve also learned a new craft which is bracelet-making, and so this is one of  the highlights because it’s really fun and looks super cute when it’s finished. I have one in front of me which is halfway finished because again, college happened.

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The not-so-happy news is that I don’t have time for a lot of reading nowadays so I keep them for vacations or just procrastinate them till after I graduate or something.

Iteration #19 : The Two Spheres – Shine or Learn?

This is what I’ve actually wanted to write about.
Although I’m surrounded by geniuses I’m not very challenged because I have this constant insecurity that I won’t reach their level. However, if I’m surrounded by people who are less shiny, it gives me some motivation and it pushes me to shine more and perfect whatever I’m doing.

#Iteration

There are 2 distinct spheres. The “I-Shine-because-I-am-surrounded-by-people-less-shiny-than-myself” sphere versus the “I-play-defensive-and-learn-everyday-because-I-am-surrounded-by-Geniuses” sphere.

At this very moment in your life, in which sphere would you like to be, and which one are you really in?

If picking the Shining sphere seems to be the right move : staying in your comfort zone will keep you Shiny, you’ll be the best, but for how long? How will you fuel your motivation, without any higher goals to reach? Can you create and keep creating challenges? Leadership will be handy here.

If picking the Geniuses Sphere was your first idea : you’ll play defensive, you won’t try to shine too quickly because you know these Geniuses will take you down easily. But you will learn, and you will be surrounded by knowledge and motivation. You are one of them and you will be constantly challenged. Follower’s skills will make you shine here, at least until…

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