The Independence

A tribute to my 7-term in Waterloo that ended with a 7-course struggle. 

“Merdeka!” exactly the phrase Malaysians love to call it when we are freed from our responsibilities. You can hear me introducing the notion of “achieving independence” to people in Waterloo after their midterms, or better still, the finals.

But for me, the notion of independence has a deeper meaning: it symbolizes my “breaking away” from Waterloo after being stuck for 7 terms (a.k.a. 2 years and 4 months in a row). It also marks my experimentation into an industry internship (though still doing a research in some kind) after staying faithful to academia for two internship terms.

Part 1: “Like a New Beginning”

(Reusing my first personal portrait)

It’s a new start. A new life. A new academic career. The undergraduate journey. There I went, trying to adapt the academic competitiveness in Computer Science and Mathematics, the ruthless winter that I would never imagine during my days in Malaysia, and the poignant homesick feeling that keep disturbing me intermittently. As the end of first year drew near, however, we were scheduled to start our first internship at various places, prompting me to be prepared to embark on yet another new adventure. The difficulty on finding the first internship added another layer on uncertainty on my next step: whether to stay in Waterloo for another study term, or be ready to accept whichever job that I would land on? In the end, I was awarded the research position on graph theory in the Waterloo’s Computer Science department itself, and I was beyond delight to begin another local adventure on this field.

The research term was a spring/summer term, so I got to enjoy the Waterloo neighbourhood under the climate that’s somewhat-like-home. Experimenting around the Waterloo park and taking a brief jog around the Waterloo-Kitchener area opened my eye on the somewhat rustic side of the Waterloo neighbourhood that shifts away from the academic intensity of the campus. Maybe that’s also the reason why I could focus on my research–it’s in my ‘home’ city, eh?

Part 2: Continuation

Fall 2017 came. Heart rooted deeply into academia, I decided to apply for the Combinatorics and Optimization research in December due to the perceived prestige this research program it gave me (and yes, I do agree that it’s prestigious even after my completion of this program). Learning that I was paired with Prof. David Jao whose research interest resonates with mine, I swiftly accepted.

Wait…this means another consecutive terms at Waterloo, isn’t it? Regardless, I was glad that this research offer spared me from the toil of job search, allowing me to focus on my academics (particularly the time-consuming Objected-Oriented programming course).

Come May 1, I happily hopped onboard to research about the post-quantum cryptography. I began my subconscious hailing around the corridor of the mathematical building as I was thinking about the solutions to my current problem I was working on, or simply giving myself some interval for digesting the arcane mathematical fundamentals I needed to succeed in this research project. Being a part of this domestic mathematical environment made me proud of what I was working on. Surrounded by friends around the Waterloo area with activities together (especially cooking) enhanced my summer experience even further.

But the demure voice of prompting me to leave Waterloo for my next co-op intensified as I kept listening about people’s experiences regarding a out-of-Loo co-op. The attractions. The entertainment district. The eateries. Am I supposed to be carried away by the thoughts?

Part 3: The Change

I decided that it was time for me to experiment something new for the next co-op: a new city, a new field. This somehow explained my penchant for developing technical side projects like the C++ Big Integer, and for attending two hackathons in the beginning of the Fall 2018 term despite the extreme workload ahead.

As the recruitment season started on WaterlooWorks, I went resolute on my desire to change, and filtered out almost all job postings that were located in Waterloo. This left me with about half of the mix in Toronto with the rest in the States. Subsequently, interviews from these applications came tide by tide, sometimes at the magnitude that’s capable of engulfing a human. But thankfully (and finally) I was getting these interviews.  Eventually on the Ranking Day (a.k.a. Results Day), “pop!”, 3 offers blinked in front of me. Mans going to Toronto, finally. 

2 months left in Waterloo, and that was really the grand finale of my consecutive streak in this university town. A temporary farewell–to the university, and the school life. “It’s going to be over soon”, I told myself as I was faced with the ongoing battle with the assignments and the exam preparation for the 7 courses. I am glad that I performed the very last bar of this grand finale well–the final exam.

“Merdeka!!!” I can’t stop screaming to my family and close friends after my last paper.

Screen Shot 2018-12-20 at 2.07.55 PM
The “independence” influence I like to spread among my friends


It’s official. I’ve moved in to Toronto now, and got to taste the first bite on the life in this new city. While fascinated by the dynamic lifestyle of the people here, I sometimes cringe as I think of the convoluted geographical distributions of the entertainment spots and eateries that I have always longed for all the while. Making things even more challenging was the initial challenge in locating a suitable residence during my internship, and the process of moving to a new city.

After all, Waterloo isn’t as ‘terrible’. I would still be proud of this city that produces the top performers in the ACM-ICPC programming competition and the Putnam competition every year. Perhaps, I just need a break from the university town and from studies, and I would be happy to embrace Waterloo, again. 🙂

Merry Christmas and “Happy Independence”! (as how I joked to friends) — taken at Eaton Centre, Toronto

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s