Talking with Vickie Yin (C'19) in an empty music practice room on the fourth floor of Fisher Bennett, it’s hard not to feel zen. Empty music stands surround us. A french horn can be heard from a nearby room. Vickie sits crossed legged and poised. She tells me about the emotionally, mentally, and physically draining parts of her Penn experience, all while maintaining a calm voice and a soft smile.
Vickie suggests meeting in Fisher Bennett because she spends most of her time now on 34th Street. Between her math minor in “the lovely DRL,” her chamber music classes, her lab work at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and her apartment, she rarely leaves the vicinity.
However, Vickie does trek to Center City to volunteer with Planned Parenthood as an abortion doula and a patient escort. She started volunteering there freshman and sophomore year because Vickie is ambitious and was admittedly thinking about medical school. But she chose Planned Parenthood because of the personal connections that she would make there as opposed to a big hospital.
As a doula, Vickie is responsible for abortion patients’ emotional, physical, and psychological support. “We call ourselves hand–holders.” Her job consists of “holding their hand, reminding them to breathe, telling them ‘you’ll get through this.'”
Vickie thinks that being the youngest volunteer in the clinic works to her advantage. “It takes away a little bit of fear for the patients. It’s like, this 22–year–old has seen over 50 abortions. I’ll be okay.”
Her role as a patient escort is even more draining. It’s hard to imagine the sweet, poised Vickie dealing with the protesters that stand outside of Planned Parenthood every day. She stands outside in her bright pink vest, which stands in contrast against the angry crowd of mostly males.
“Sometimes it can be really … hostile. So we’re just there to bring the patient in and make sure that they feel safe,” she says.
To cope, Vickie listens to classical music while she stands outside. While her co–workers have learned to unwind with a happy hour, Vickie prefers to call her friends on the way home. She has learned to separate her work at Planned Parenthood from her own reality.
“It’s really shaped me, though, to be tough,” she says.
Vickie also meditates every day. She created a Spotify playlist called “Spiritually Moving Music," which she uses to prime herself, and connect with her emotions and thoughts.
She started doing yoga and meditation her senior year of high school to get out of gym classes, so that she could take more Advanced Placement classes. “But it actually helped so much. It got me through the crazy college apps and all that.”
Freshman and sophomore year, Vickie took a step back, only meditating when she felt especially nervous. But she picked meditation back up again her junior year when she started studying for the MCATs.
She tries all kinds of meditations; she uses mantras, YouTube videos, and body scan meditations, which involves feeling every body part with your mind. Loving–Kindness meditations is the hardest for Vickie to do. The meditator thinks about something or someone they love, and tries to apply those feelings to themselves.
“I would go crazy if I didn’t meditate every day,” she admits.
In the middle of our talk, we hear a knock on the door. Vickie runs to answer it. It’s a student looking lost. He wants to find a room to practice piano in.
As she is talking about her Loving–Kindness mindfulness practice, Vickie helps the lost student find an empty practice room, and gives him the contact information of the faculty member in charge of the room bookings. She knows the code to every room. She clearly has been through this before.
We start to chat about how she got involved with music. She started playing piano and cello when she was in elementary school.
Vickie grew up in a small town outside of Boston. “Growing up, I guess I was, like, super ambitious. I always felt like I had to do things. I was that kid that was trying to take all the APs.” She lets out an “Ugh.” While still driven, she’s past the stage of overworking herself.
“I also was kind of different in that I worked a lot,” she says. From 16 to 19, she worked at Uniqlo, first in Boston, and then in Philly. Her favorite part of the job was hemming pants.
At this point, the lost student walks in again. He’s locked his bag in the practice room. She runs out to help him.
When Vickie sits back down, we talk about her family. She has a younger sister, a freshman at Dartmouth. She doesn’t see her very often, but she does love to give her advice.
“The biggest thing for me is, it’s great as a freshman to take on all these things, but you have to quit when you need to.” As an example, Vickie tells me how she quit her job at Uniqlo because her hours were too hectic with her class schedule.
Vickie is in the orchestra and the string quartet. She credits the orchestra for a lot of her friends and leadership roles at Penn. In the coming weeks, Vickie has six concerts. I beg Vickie to let me watch her play cello. She's reluctant, but indulges me.
Later, we sit in a different practice room on the fourth floor of Fisher Bennett.
Vickie lets out a “hmmm” as she opens her book of Brahms. “Listening to practicing will make you go insane because it’s about listening to your own sound,” she warns.
She starts to play, but pauses right away.
“It’s very boring when I don’t have a quartet.”
Then, she starts to get into it. She alternates between looking at her notes and her instrument. She uses one hand to pluck the strings on the fingerboard rapidly, while, underneath it, the other hand slowly moves the bow back and forth.
Vickie’s playing mimics her approach to life. While she’s always on the go, quickly moving from activity to activity at the speed of her plucking fingers, her breaths and mindset mimic the tempo of the bow, slow and steady, calm and collected. Fast and slow, exciting and calm: together, it makes a beautiful sound.