Why the US? – Milaine Thia Puay Yi (Columbia ’20)


I spent my first week of college stalking everyone I met. My floormate’s profile picture was a selfie with Hilary Clinton. My orientation leader was doing three majors and six clubs, in addition to running an independent music production studio. Everyone was either a non-profit founder, valedictorian, varsity athlete, or UN intern. Some of them were all of those things at once. Everyone was a supermodel; everyone was amazing; everyone made me feel small and undeserving. 

To compensate, I put my name down for every club that would have me. I majored in Economics, because everyone else did. My advisor recommended 4 classes, so I did 6. I worked two jobs, wrote paper after paper, but still wondered how I could do more, more, more. Subsisting only on black coffee and four hours of sleep, I pushed myself relentlessly, trying to catch up with people who seemed to fly through college.  

Now, I’ve given up Economics and accepted that I hate club activities. I still stalk people on social media and worry that my admission was a mistake, but in these three years, I’ve also carved a space for myself in America, with people who don’t care that I haven’t cured cancer. Friends found and lost, but who will always remain dear; fellow Malaysians who have opened their homes to me; professors who are kind in my moments of desperation; even the Pret barista who gives me free coffee every Monday. 

Sometimes, this is what it feels like to be a student in America: that I am not enough, and nothing I do will ever be enough. But sometimes, I look around at these amazing people who treat me with kindness when I am unable to find it within me, who remind me that the world can be gentle even as it is cruel. Sometimes, I find myself thinking: “This is enough.”