Forever Fleeting: Life Lately + CaseApp Review

Disclaimer: I received two ipad mini cases from CaseApp in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
caseapp personalized ipad case
Long ago, I accepted a collaboration with CaseApp, an online store with premade and custom phone/ipad cases.

I ordered two ipad mini cases: one premade, with a dust pink and marble pattern, and the other custom, with instagram photos from my semester in France.

Then life happened, and this review post didn't (oops!). In the last three months, I:

  • finished my first term at Oxford
  • went back to France for a month to travel solo and complete a personal language immersion challenge; I spoke English only twice, once during a call with my bank, and another time during an interview
  • saw my family for the first time since August
  • accepted a math research internship with my advisor at Amherst
  • returned to Oxford for my final term abroad
Each experience is much more nuanced and complex than a bullet point can express, so stay tuned for my melodramatic storytelling in the coming months.

In the meantime, however, here's this well-postponed review: 

Aesthetics--5/5: This is definitely CaseApp's strong point; designs are ultra-hip, ranging from dainty leaf patterns to artsy watercolor. The customization option also has several trendy sticker options, such as block quotes and pineapples.

Delivery--5/5: I received the cases within a week with standard RoyalMail delivery. They came in an envelope, but well-protected in bubble wrap.

Quality--3.5/5: The cases are not for those who frequently drop their devices (aka me). My usual ipad mini case (pictured below), is thicker and has cushioned several falls. These cases offer some protection, but are definitely flimsier and are more for the look. 

Selection--3/5: I would've liked to see different styles of cases, rather than the standard snap-on. For instance, my current case as a magnetic cover that can be folded back into a stand, which is integral for me (for my youtube core workout videos haha). Sticky9, for instance, offers personalized covers like that, but not an actual case. It would be the perfect combo of practical and stylish to combine the two! Otherwise, more protective but still aesthetically-pleasing options would also be a good idea. 

Overall impression:
  • sleek premade designs
  • free, quick standard delivery to country of site (there are UK and US sites, for instance)
  • custom design true to online simulator
  • custom cases equal price to premade designs
  • can overlay personalization to premade designs
  • rather pricey--each case ranges from $30-40 (or £19 upwards; my cases were £25 each)
  • not incredibly sturdy
  • site design feels somewhat primitive

If you have questions about my experience with CaseApp, don't hesistate to ask!

If life allows, I'll be back soon for my typical rambling. I also have a couple final announcements:
  • I'm planning to launch another site soon, and will share details in a future post! It's still in the works, but it will involve contributors around the world.
  • The illustrator for said site-in-works is interning at Refigural, a digital quarterly of up-and-coming artists, which will be releasing its first print edition next month--you can get more details at their kickstarter page. The pocket issue costs $24, can be shipped anywhere in the world, and will feature work from Logan Jackson, Parker Day, Étienne Saint-Denis, Jesse James Johnson and interviews with The Tan Mom, Rock of Love's Heather Chadwell, Soul Legend Gloria Ann Taylor, and other exclusive content. 

Until next time!

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Ruffled: Ruched Red Dress + Knit White Sweater

ruched red dress outfit
ruched red dress outfit
ruched red dress outfit
ruched red dress outfit
ruched red dress outfit
ruched red dress outfit
Dress, eShakti | Sweater, mom's | Boots, Target kids | Earrings, Claire's
Photos by Lumi

Disclaimer: eShakti sent me this dress in exchange for blog exposure. All opinions are my own.
The package arrived in 1.5 weeks from DHL, just in time for Chinese New Year (now several weeks back). The dress was a lovely cut, though I wish I'd gone a size up (I sit awkwardly between size 2 and 4 for their pieces). It also wouldn't have been a bad idea to take advantage of their custom sizing. I always customize the dress length and collar, if applicable, but for the purpose of wardrobe fluidity, I opted for a standard size (easier to donate or sell later). While this dress is now sold out, you can find similar styles and colors on their site.

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Before this dress, I didn't have any classic red in my study abroad closet.

It was the week of Chinese New Year (Jan. 28th this year), and I was wondering what I'd wear for the holiday. As a first generation Chinese-American, I couldn't guiltlessly deviate from the custom of sporting the warm color during the new year--that would surely result in bad luck for me and my entire family. 

Typical celebrations boast vibrant shades of red, like the festive lanterns strung across every Chinatown, or the silky traditional dresses. The only red to grace my limited wardrobe, however, was maroon--or bordeaux, if you will. And there was lots of it.

Perhaps it was only a matter of coincidence or taste, but the conspicuous absence of "Chinese red" and the strong presence of "French bordeaux" felt rather symbolic to me.

Being abroad, I've never felt less Chinese. Despite the stark contrast between my very-Asian appearance and more-homogenous European crowds, despite the physical distance from my American roots, I feel weaker and weaker ties to my family's cultural heritage. 

My French language skills have long surpassed my Mandarin abilities. I rarely cook Chinese cuisine, my neglected bottle of soy sauce becoming almost-ceremonious. I clash more and more fiercely with my family's conservative ideals. 

I find it extraordinarily difficult to understand how a wild spirit like me could've come from such a moderate, reserved family. I dream of valiant endurance races. I become restless and miserable in standard office jobs. I dabble in a potpourri of fields and hobbies, though the creative truly holds my heart. I yearn to one day call a foreign country home.

I crave unwavering familial support, but am instead met with: you're too rebellious for wanting to do marathons and triathlons (when most families would meet such goals with enthusiasm). You have to find a practical job so that you can contribute to your brother's college funds (what if standard work just isn't me? And whose college funds will my brother contribute to? This is completely unfair). You have to decide on a specific career path, and you'd better decide now (but even my college advisor told me not to dive into any huge commitments too soon). You don't need to apply to jobs and internships abroad. We want you home in the summer since you spent this year abroad and you need to prepare for your graduate exams (wait, who asked you to dictate my internship search, and who said I was even applying to grad school?). 

And the very worst: we don't want to raise a daughter in the US who spends all her time in Europe.
Hold on, didn't you leave China to go to the US? And just because I forge divergent path from the one you envisioned--one that is still respectable--you'll regret having raised me?

My parents have provided me with much, but I cannot be their puppet. They assure me that they'll ultimately support my decisions, whatever they may be. But their "occasional suggestions," as they so call them, are often suffocating. They are the ambivalent gusts of wind that hinder my takeoff from the nest. 

It's tough to be torn between cultures, and even tougher to toss other contenders in the mix. Instead, I prefer to be rootless--to live and grow in a country that isn't supposed to be mine. It is my middle ground, my space in-between--where I can be both Chinese and American and neither Chinese nor American. 

I'm not sure what's ahead. But I do know how I feel, and I'm determined: it's time to ruffle my feathers and take flight.

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Study Abroad: How to Make Friends with French Natives

how to make friends with french natives study abroad
In Fall 2016, I studied abroad in Bordeaux with the Middlebury Schools in France. This post is part of a series to help make the experience smoother for future study abroad students.

"A realistic goal for the semester is to make one good French friend."

I scoffed then. It was early September, during orientation for my study abroad program in Bordeaux. Confined to the stuffy university classroom, I was antsy. I longed to begin the experience already, to be free from the long hours of powerpoint presentations and overwhelming logistics. I had grand visions for the semester. Only one good French friend? I assumed it was a given--I was positive that things would be much easier than my program director made them seem.

In my American high school, we flocked to foreign exchange students like they were celebrities--we eagerly invited them to hang out, grab lunch, share their culture. So I thought that making friends would be effortless. I naively expected the same wild enthusiasm as a foreigner in France. 

I was very wrong.

My initial reception was lukewarm, at best. There were four challenges:

1. The anonymity of the large university system. 

It was very possible to go to class, leave, and never make a peep. In fact, most of my courses were lecture-style, making it difficult to get to know my classmates. 

2. The ubiquity of international students.

Because of the Erasmus program, an EU student exchange initiative, the French students were used to foreigners coming and going. I was just another fleeting face, another errant voice with a weird accent.

3. The tight-knit friend groups.

Courses for majors are basically predetermined, so the French students have already spent countless hours together in the same classes. Close friend groups rarely mingled amongst themselves, so reaching out to a foreigner was even less likely.

4. The lack of campus community.

Since most students lived off-campus, the university activities weren't as vibrant. The only time I really saw my French classmates was in-class, leaving fewer opportunities for meaningful connections

It quickly became clear that French friends wouldn't flock to me--I'd have to do some flocking of my own.

A film class friend and me on one of my last days in Bordeaux

So here's how I made meaningful connections during my semester abroad in France:

1. Reach out shamelessly.

I met one of my closest French friends simply because I had asked her if I was in the right class. While I ended up switching into another literature course, we crossed paths again in a film class. She turned out to be extraordinarily helpful, offering me typed-up notes, sending me helpful resources, and inviting me and fellow program students to do a presentation together. I've yet to meet someone more generous: when I complimented her on her scarf, she gave it to me as a gift the next week. 

We may never have met had I kept quiet out of fear of sounding stupid in French. Sure, not everyone will be wholeheartedly receptive--I got my fair share of weird looks when I tried to strike up conversations. But you may never know unless you take initiative since French students are generally timid with foreigners (they say so themselves!). I actually sat near a classmate for over two months before I discovered that she also was into triathlons and played a stringed instrument. She later invited me to spend Christmas with her family since we had chatted holiday plans.

So be bold: ask people if you're in the right place, introduce yourself, make small talk. It's definitely more intimidating in a foreign language, but conversation skills remain pretty universal.

2. Be a healthy dose of persistent.

Making good friends requires consistency--quick chats between classes isn't enough. For instance, I become close with math classmates only after finagling my way into a study group. I had asked a few friends if they'd be doing group study sessions for an upcoming midterm. When they weren't sure at the time, I asked again a week later. The next day, I found myself chatting, snacking, and furiously solving differential equations with budding French friends. Reaching out again allowed me to to join a solid group of friends--and also gave me valuable academic insight from native students.

Similarly, be proactive in organizing group outings--make a group facebook message, suggest coffee dates, invite classmates on weekend day trips. Once you've found receptive friends, nurture that connection!

Orchestra off-duty

3. Seek linguistic/cultural exchange.

People are more willing to spend time with you if you can help them in some way. Make your foreignness an advantage--especially when it comes to your English expertise. The French can be incredibly enthusiastic about practicing English, so offering to be a language buddy is a great start to a strong connection. They'll improve their English, and you'll improve your French! There are usually university-organized programs to match up students, but you can do this on your own as well. 

If you want something more casual, I recommend Franglish, a weekly English-French linguistic exchange. It was like speed dating, but without the dating--we spoke 7 minutes in French and 7 minutes in English with one person, then we switched partners. You could go as often as you liked, and the event itself was free (though tips were encouraged for the organizers and you did have to buy a drink since it was in a bar). Obviously, you can't make the deepest of connections in 14 minutes, but it's a good place to meet locals and other internationals. And you can always arrange to hang out later if you hit it off.

On a cultural note, be open and enthusiastic about your way of life at home. If French students need your advice on all things US-related, be as helpful as possible. I think that one of the reasons one of my literature classmates warmed up to me so quickly was because I had offered her US university insight. She was planning to abroad in California next year, so when she asked me about housing in the UC schools, I reached out to a blogger friend at Berkeley who promptly supplied all the necessary info. I also showed her RateMyProfessors as she was drafting course lists, which she found incredibly amusing and useful. 

4. Join community organizations.

Keep up your passions--it'll not only help you meet people, but also remind you of your routine at home. I personally joined a community orchestra (the university-affiliated one wasn't the greatest). Rehearsals definitely brightened my week, and I met some of my closer friends there. One of them is even planning to visit me at Oxford!

Some of my fellow program students also found a strong group of friends through their clubs. Even if your hobby isn't common in France, you can find some way to keep doing what you love. Friends joined baseball teams (quintessentially American) and ultimate frisbee teams (still-developing sport even in the US). A cappella groups remained a challenge, so a friend instead joined her Bordeaux church choir.

Literature class friend and me at the beach on Christmas Eve

Though it wasn't easy, I did find my good friends after all. Friendship in general just takes time and consistent effort--a foreign language won't change that.

While communication challenges may have diluted the depth of our conversations, it certainly posed no barriers to our actions--I was shown incredible kindness, and I hope that in turn, my graditude was clear.

Bon courage, mes amis. Be bold, be proactive, and be your fabulous foreign self.

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Adapted from my original post on Amherst College's study abroad blog.

Fragments: Mint and Pink Outfit + Patchwork Reflections

mint and pink outift
mint and pink outift
mint and pink outift
mint and pink outift
mint and pink outift
mint and pink outift
Blazer, Kohl's | Button down, thrifted Ralph Lauren | Skirt, thrifted Hollister | Boots, China

At Oxford, I'm studying French author Roland Barthes, who's known for his avant garde writing. His works are often fragmentary, achronological, sometimes incomprehensible--and oddly-resonant. I'm currently reading Fragments: un discours amoureux (A lover's discourse: Fragments), and I was inspired to write fragments of my own.

Bordeaux, France
December 2016

Pensez-vous qu’il vaut mieux être célibataire ? Do you think it’s better to be single?

In the midst of my government-administered French oral exam, I broke out laughing. For the new five minutes, I stumbled through the oddly-personal, somewhat-invasive prompt. I waxed stereotypical—on est plus libre quand on est célibataire! Singles have more freedom! I admitted that relationships had obvious upsides, but with serious complications. Take long distance: a fellow study abroad student and her two-year boyfriend had called it quits because the physical separation had been insupportable, unbearable.

I kept my story to myself.

I later wondered why—did the formality of the exam make me too timid? Did I feel unable to recount the tale in French? Did I now feel so removed from my US life that the story no longer felt like mine?

I tried to convince myself that it was the first reason. Official exams are no place to divulge personal histories—as relevant as they are, I reassured myself.

But it wasn’t the only time I’d remained reticent.

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November 2016

We were carpooling to our orchestra concert, a fellow violinist and I. She was a sweet friend, having rescued me from the horrors of rush-hour public transport. Between complaints and strong exclamations about the city traffic, we chatted casually. I jumped at any chance to converse one-on-one in French—I was ebullient, rambling away.

But then:

T’as un copain là-bas ? Do you have a boyfriend at home?

Non, pas du tout. No, not at all.

I paused for a moment, debating my next words. For the past few months, I’d strained to bury this story, to leave behind the melancholy girl and her ephemeral romance. I wasn’t about to unearth it again—even if the opportunity was prime. I made my decision.

C’est un peu compliqué quand on étudie à l’étranger. It’s a bit complicated when you study abroad, I added tersely, and changed the subject.

My hesitation went unnoticed. After all, I was speaking a foreign language, and my dialogue was far from fluid.

It was night, the inky shadows dancing with the city lights, so my wry smile went unnoticed too.

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Amherst, Massachusetts, USA
December 2015

It was an impossible love, un amour impossible—we knew it had to end from the beginning.

We were from different cultures and faiths. He was a year older—would be graduating next year, while I planned to study abroad.

We were bad idea—but a really good bad idea. Our scathing banter had quickly become something else.

It was a brisk winter dawn in New England, and we were huddled for warmth, waiting for the sunrise.

“Lily, do you want to go out?”

For a moment, I was stunned. I quickly recovered. “Yeah.”

“For only a semester?”

I was more confident this time. “Yeah.”

He looked pensive, so I added for good measure: “And who knows—if I can get a French-speaking internship this summer, I might decide not to go abroad for two semesters.”

And so our fate was sealed. We grinned stupidly at each other, bathed in the golden glow of the morning sun, high on the elusive euphoria of romance.

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Hartford, Connecticut, USA
May 2016

That semester was short.

We were at the airport now, waiting for our flights home—to different sides of the country. I rested my head on his shoulder, sedated from lack of sleep and an unprecedented storm of sobs.

We didn’t know when we’d see each other again, or even if. I tried to convince myself that it’d be relatively soon. 

“Maybe I’ll be able to come visit campus during spring break—Oxford gives us a whole month-and-a-half. International flights are expensive, but the French department gave me a travel stipend for Bordeaux. So I’m better off than I expected.”

The moment he disappeared down the jet way was the moment our relationship ended. It was a tacit breakup, an understanding that had been established months before.

But my naïve hope persisted over the summer. I was too devastated to bid farewell to him and my close friends in his year. I downloaded multiple flight apps and tracked price changes for flights home—aka flights back to school.

I was elated when a March 2017 London-Boston roundtrip fell to under $400 in mid-July. But I was realistic—I knew I couldn’t accurately predict circumstances eight months ahead. So instead of buying the tickets, I dreamt of my return. That sliver of hope was sometimes enough to pierce though the dark cloud cover that persisted still months later.

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London/Oxford, United Kingdom
January 2017

I decided not to wish him a happy birthday. I had decided, actually, weeks before.

On the day of, Facebook gratuitously notified me that it was indeed his 21st. When I remained taciturn, it reminded me to send him belated birthday wishes a day later. I was slightly irked—especially since last month, the selfie we took on that fated December morning popped up in my feed as a “memory.” How thoughtful of you, Facebook.

It felt both wrong and right to say nothing. Wrong because of the strong albeit ephemeral resonance we shared, wrong because I post birthday wishes to nearly everyone—minus the so-distant connections that feel more like strangers. It felt right for that very reason: we were like strangers now.

I’ll never know if it was me or simply la nature des choses—the nature of things. After all, I’d spent a semester in France, where I hadn’t kept regular contact with the friends I’d been so upset to leave. But I’d also spent that semester wrestling with a foreign language, thus forging a new identity. I am no longer the girl who I was.

I remembered walking home from my university commute in Bordeaux months earlier. My thoughts are restless as my feet wander, and they drifted that day to him, to us. I remembered, I reminisced, but for the first time, I didn’t long for that fleeting time and space. Instead, I cringed. I remembered, and wondered who that girl was, who was so taken by emotion, so unable to let go. C’est plus ma vie...That’s no longer my life.

I remembered the mesmerizing sunrise. I remembered the fluttering bliss. I remembered the monotonous everyday. I remembered that hazy morning in the airport and my naïve hope to be reunited.

I remembered, chuckled wryly, and bought a plane ticket back to France for spring break.

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