Well here it is folks.
The final installment of chronicling what has been a long and demanding year. We hope you enjoyed following along with our journeys from start to finish as much as we enjoyed following each other’s!
Full versions of each contributor’s December reflection can be found by clicking their full name at the bottom of this post or from the table on the project overview page.
Reflection Prompt 1:
How did you feel today? (What’s on your mind on this last day of 2020 and what caused you to feel that way?)
Gigi [NYC] – I’m still in quarantine in NYC, back to visit my family, so I didn’t head to any (very small) parties. My parents and I watched WW84 and The Sapphires, apparently their tradition has been to do a double feature on NYE over the past few years.
WW84 – wouldn’t recommend, I think the script didn’t know what it wanted to do – but The Sapphires was lovely! It’s been a very quiet few weeks after my finals ended, I just spent a few days laying low in Norway before heading back to NYC for the holidays.
I’m terrified I won’t be able to get back into Norway due to the variant from the UK, but we will see how it goes. I played games with my folks while we had a few drinks, it was nice.
E [US] – One of the biggest things I wanted for this New Year was to be more positive.
I’ve been cultivating mindfulness and gratitude throughout the pandemic as a way to cope with undesired outcomes that we have no control over.
And yet, with all that is unpredictable and oftentimes disappointing or upsetting, things are okay for me, and okay for my family.
This was proven to me yet again on December 31st, as I was riding the holiday highs and anticipating a fun evening with John’s brother and his girlfriend (two of the only people we ever see now, John’s dad being the third and final).
We invited them over on a whim, not wanting them to fall asleep at 8pm as was their original plan.
We got all dressed up (after a bit of a kerfuffle about whether or not it was worth it, and to be sure, the girls were more into it than the guys) and bought champagne, prepared party poppers to pop at midnight, even had little hors d’oeuvres trays (like, I’m talkin’ pizza bites, I’m talkin’ whimsically holiday-themed candy we bought for super cheap, I’m talkin’ an industrial-size bag of tortilla chips for a single container of hummus).
Everything was set to go great until, just at the wrong time, John and I realized that we had misplaced, maybe lost, my brother and sister-in-law’s Christmas gift to us. Inside had been replacement Victoria Secret pajama pants (remember the ones I threw away in the cat poop bag because they were ripped and then instantly regretted how permanent of a decision it had been? Yep, she sent me a new pair along with a great comfy top), a big bottle of fancy whiskey, and a gift we’d bought for John’s mom but had accidentally sent to their house. Overall, monetarily, the box was worth at least $100, but more importantly, it had gifts in it that we could not replace.
Both of us were very upset, but we realized it was missing quite literally as John’s brother and his girlfriend were walking in the door.
We ran through a couple of scenarios (did we leave it at your dad’s house after Christmas? No, we definitely had it at home. Did we put it somewhere weird? A preliminary search came up bunk. Did we throw it away accidentally a few days earlier when we had gone through a purge of the Christmas boxes in the house? If we had, the trash had been taken out yesterday– John checked the dumpster and everything was gone).
We had a few options.
We could spend our whole night ignoring our guests and clinging to this gift that was evocative of a year past, clinging onto something with minor sentimental value and refusing to harken the new year with a clean slate, or we could accept that it was gone and there was nothing we could do about it, at least for the time being.
Ultimately, this was easier said than done, and there was certainly a tenseness about the night that I did my best as host to cover up with humor and levity, but it was obvious that it was weighing heavily on John and my hearts. After our guests left (they still didn’t make it to midnight– though I wonder if the night hadn’t gotten off to such a weird start, if they would’ve), we sat down and had a little talk about it, took some time to mourn. I’m pretty matter-of-fact about things. I think it’s one of the things I’ve learned to appreciate about myself, and something that has come with age and experience. If something is not in my control, I try not to waste any time feeling bad about it. Or at least, I try not to let my time feeling bad about it bleed into other aspects of my life. So we sat down, and we talked about it. Talked about how shitty it was that we threw it away, how could that have happened, what did we learn from this?
Something that served us both well was knowing that we would never forget this event. Strange, how the guilt over losing something important transforms into a positive memory– a reminder to be more aware, more present in our everyday lives, to take stock of the things around us and appreciate what we have and the place we’re in now.
There have been two other times in my life that I’ve lost things and felt this same sense of serenity, an embrace of the inevitable and unchangeable, coupled with the sense of guilt that (I hope) prevents me from making the same mistake in the future.
The first time was my senior year of high school.
My family was preparing to move, and we were purging from our house all things that need not be. Amongst the bustle and the desire to get rid of things as quickly as possible, before the sentimentality kicked in, I lost my class ring.
It was the first expensive thing my parents had ever bought specifically for me. Around $500. And I loved that ring, I wore it every day. I still have no idea what happened to it, where it could’ve gone, how I could’ve possibly misplaced it. We literally tore the room apart (putting in new flooring), and it was gone. All I can hope is that someone, whilst opening a bag or perhaps examining a knick knack they’d purchased from Goodwill (where all my family’s old things go to gain new life), found my ring and used it for good, somehow. I hope they sold it and got some good money out of it, or maybe they kept it because they’d lost theirs, too.
The second time was in this same apartment– an ode to the forgetfulness and trance-like state the pandemic has created in many of us.
We had just found a Chemex pour-over coffee thing (it looks like a big hourglass except that the top part is open)– a vintage one at a garage sale! It was the perfect timing. I’d just started to get into coffee in Korea and was hoping to pick up brewing as a hobby.
We used it for a month, maybe two.
We’d never found a good place to set it out to dry. It was always ending up in weird, precarious places, only to be found by one of us and moved to a ‘better’, often similarly precarious position. This time, it was perched on our toaster oven next to our electric kettle. Not thinking, I opened the cabinet directly above the toaster and while it just barely missed the top of the kettle, a fact I assumed would apply to the similarly-sized Chemex, it hit the Chemex straight on the head and knocked it off the countertop, shattering it into, quite literally, a million pieces on the floor. I haven’t been so upset in a long time.
I told my fiancé to leave the room, or I would start blaming him for something that was truly the fault of my carelessness, with perhaps 15% culpability of my fiancé for putting it in a bad position. He barricaded himself in the bedroom, thankful for an excuse not to get involved.
I literally cried as I swept up the wreckage of my newfound hobby, playing angsty music as my tears mingled with the glass.
Later, we would do yoga and I badly cut my foot on a piece of glass that had embedded itself in my yoga mat.
There are still blood stains stretched across the cork material of my mat,
a constant reminder to BE PRESENT when I’m doing yoga, but during other times, as well.
K [Korea] – The end of December has brought about a quiet end to 2020.
The me of the past would likely be in Busan, Seoul, or in another city gathering close friends and enjoying their presence while having a few drinks, maybe dancing, or having a gift exchange and watching the sun rise. This year obviously has been different, and I have neither bad nor good feelings about it.
I’ve enjoyed today: made and ate good food with my partner in the countryside of South Korea, relaxed most of the day, read webtoons, wished others across the world a happy new year, and generally vibed to good music.
COVID is at the worst levels it has ever been in Korea, and though that may be chump change compared to other places, it still led to me isolating myself from others in Seoul for the roughly 11-12 days I had during finals week prior to coming to the countryside.
Another source of anxiety and stress for me was the aforementioned final exams. Graduate school I’d heard was much more time demanding than undergraduate work. 3 classes, or 9 credits is generally seen as full-time and on top of all that I was in a foreign country during a pandemic. Still, as finals week bore on, I took test after test and wrote paper after paper not knowing if my work would be up to snuff. I’d received little feedback in most of my classes and the feedback I had received indicated sufficient, though not exemplary work.
In a year of Zoom classes, lack of human interaction, and entering graduate school in a foreign country, I finally had a more objective measure of success. It meant so much more after November’s litany of rejections from fellowships and falling short on the TOPIK exam (which was delayed, but I am scheduled to take again in February!).
I feel so blessed to have some success to show for this year and having written these reflections is another success. I have never taken part in a project like this and it is good for me. I’ve never become somewhat proficient in a foreign language and I did, despite falling short of my goals, increase my proficiency a large amount despite the pandemic and the resulting restrictions.
On top of that, the friends I value have checked in and kept in touch, and I have a professional goal (Foreign Service) to work towards in the future. Though I have other goals I’m not entirely sure how to achieve (setting new personal records in running and holistic strength, interning at NGOs and becoming more involved in international education, finding remote, part-time work I can do while in school), I know 2021 will provide me the chances to make them happen, I just need to be conscientious about planning and carving out intentional time to make them happen.
A [DC] – Hello & happy December 31st! Here I am on the very last day of the year and I am overwhelmed by how fast – and slow – this year has gone by.
It’s been such a different year than previous years, and this new year’s eve feels so different than previous.
I looked back at the videos & pictures I took exactly a year ago.
I attended my friends roaring 20’s NYE party and everyone looks so happy & thrilled to embark on a new decade. Little did we know this new decade would start off very differently than we could have ever expected. That said, I’m feeling that NYE won’t be like my previous ones – where I get to dress up in gold, drink champagne, & toast to the new year. This NYE looks a little bit different and that is okay!
I haven’t spent a NYE at home with parents in years so it’s really refreshing. So here I am, on December 31st feeling a little sad but hopeful. Coming back from a cathartic 6 mile hike I did with a good friend earlier today, I’m feeling fueled up & restored for another year ahead.
This is a childhood friend that I’ve known since I was 8! I hadn’t seen her in a whole year which was tough but was so glad we could spend time together. It’s our little every-other-year tradition that fills me with joy. I’m hopeful that in the next 6-9 months, things will really start turning around.
We’ve made it to the end of 2020! It seems like the popular trend has been to shit on everything that’s happened this year and lament everything that should’ve but didn’t even have the chance to happen. And even stranger, of all the things I wouldn’t expect to happen given the majority time spent isolating this year, I’ve happened upon my second relationship. Having a boyfriend has never been a priority of mine, but I do think of navigating serious relationships as a sign of maturity and self-awareness.
I woke up today at his place; Harry lives in the South Loop, an area that I’ve become a lot more familiar with in recent months.
I can’t tell you how nice it is to wake up to the sun streaming in through floor-to-ceiling windows on the 24th floor.
What a stark contrast to my small cramped bedroom in our characteristically aged Lincoln Park house. I knew 2021 would start off well given that I had a few days to ease into the year without stressing about work or feeling like I had to accomplish anything productive.
After a reflective New Year’s Eve morning and some lunch with Harry, I decided to bike back to my place on a Divvy. It was masochistic to ride one of those clunkers halfway across the city over frozen, slick roads wearing my obnoxiously large and insulated down coat, but no pain no pleasure, right? On the bike ride I sweated out all the toxins of 2020 in preparation for a hard reboot. Over the course of a wild year my mind and body, my attitude and essence ended up slightly out of whack, but there’s always a chance to realign.
The rest of the day I spent grocery shopping for a 2020 NYE extravaganza (aka video games, dinner, and some holiday libations with a close friend, Vincent).
It didn’t feel right ending the year with no celebration even though we knew we weren’t going to be doing anything overly social or actually extravagant.
Beating a tough Sekiro boss, playing a manic round of Overcooked overshadowed by Michael’s onslaught of throwing tomatoes, and having sips of a strange newly discovered chocolate wine was the perfect end to a very imperfect year.
Paige [Korea] – Today was weird. Having to go to school to be in a basically empty building, save for my coworkers, being at school knowing that I’m finished being a teacher was strange.
I had been “working from home” for the days before and after Christmas, but I went to work today to have a coworker help me with bank stuff, which ended up being very stressful and confusing, and while I don’t normally feel anxiety, I felt so anxious at the bank that I thought I would burst into tears.
After making it out of that, I tried to be chill again despite more intrusions from a coworker trying to “fix” the bank situation when we really just need to find the right person to help, as well as another nosy coworker making comments about my acne – thanks for pointing it out… Anyways, I did find a silver lining as I got to leave early and got New Years Day off.
I went home to take a nap and clean, and spent NYE with two friends just making food and goofing around.
A sort of fitting end to a year where the weird twists and tests kept coming, but a lovely way to ring things in and hope that 2021 is much better.
Reflection Prompt 2:
How would you frame your day (answer to the first question) to a complete stranger?
Gigi [NYC] – Happy New Year! Goodbye 2020!!! Here’s to 2021 not being as awful!!!!! Fingers crossed.
Today was nice, I spent most of it just relaxing – watching Netflix, playing the ukulele, and reading a bit. I’m reading The Four Agreements, I recommend it, it’s so lovely.
E [US] – I think that leads to a pretty natural segue into the third prompt for this month, so I’m going to skip telling my story to a stranger. I don’t think I would tell them any of this, anyway.
K [Korea] – Today my partner and I made some food, relaxed, and rang in the new year in one of the most casual ways I can remember since becoming an adult. Nothing glamorous, no parties, but a tranquil and enjoyable time spent appreciating each other’s company and having grown within and between ourselves this year.
Next month marks our 1-year anniversary, fun fact! Though we couldn’t celebrate with friends we made spring rolls and soba noodles (a traditional dish to eat at this time!) and ate some sweets too. I’m quite happy with how the day turned out, though I will always be the type of person who wishes to get a ton of friends together to appreciate them all in a nice celebratory manner. Perhaps next year!
A [DC] –
I spent the last day of 2020 with the people that bring me great joy. I started the day with physical activity – a long hike with a childhood friend. This year, I tapped into my physical health more than ever before and am so glad that I had those habits in place before the pandemic began so I knew exactly what I needed to do in order to take care of myself.
For me, self-care has to involve movement.
It doesn’t have to be fast, but it has to have movement. I have a hard time sitting down and thinking of that as “self-care” but this year I’m more open to the possibility of it being a benefit to me. I would like to get more into meditation this year. Then, I wrapped up the day by making dinner for my parents. It was fun taking care of them instead of them taking care of me during a holiday. I made homemade onion chip dip, followed by a butternut squash and spinach lasagna with prosciutto flowers on top. I learned to really love cooking this year and happy I was able to do it for my parents on the very last day of 2020.
NS [Chicago] – (Read as a limerick)
Through twelve months there has been so much change
Loss of freedom and hope, oh how strange
Near the end of it all
Although hurt, did not fall
To our future, ‘bout time we arrange
Paige [Korea] – Eh, today was kinda rough. My coworkers were causing me a lot of anxiety but it ended up okay because I had a good night celebrating NYE with a couple good friends.
Reflection Prompt 3:
This year has been the most consequential year of our lifetimes. What have you learned? What have you learned about yourself? About society? What do you hope to bring with you to 2021?
2020 was awful in so many ways, it felt like a screaming kettle which no one would take off of the burner. But, although painful to go through, was enlightening.
2020 was the year we learned about human nature. We learned that some people, at their core, are incredibly selfless, loving and accepting, while others choose to fill their cores with darkness and hatred.
Yes, I said choose.
Sure, there are some who ‘grew up a certain way’ or were ‘only exposed to certain people/ways of life’, but I think that argument to justify racism and blind ignorance is no longer valid for the 21st century. This is because of the internet.
The information to unlearn all that has been conditioned into you is right at your fingertips, and it is your responsibility to find the information needed and do the internal work.
I did that this year. I was not a good ally before this year, and I still have so many ways I need to improve. The internet gave me a tool to learn more about my privileges as a white middle class woman, and the tools to understand how to uplift and validate others who have not been awarded the same privileges.
I participated in BLM marches, donated to charities in need, (screamed on Facebook, whoops), and started conversations with family members, even the close-minded ones. This was not nearly enough, of course, and it still comes from a place of privilege to do these actions knowing I will never experience racism myself.
But the point of this rant is to say that I tried given the information I, and we all, have access to, to try and do a small bit of good in our thoroughly messed up country. And what I did doesn’t even scratch the surface of what others did this year! I know I could have done so much more! But the point is to take those steps; do as best you can to educate and open the minds of others whose blinding hatred, or even just misguided notions, stop them from feeling empathy, and uplift those who need it.
Maybe that’s what I want to bring to 2021 – empathy.
Empathy is the key to our future now. Not science or fancy technology like in the days past, but genuine understanding of others’ struggles, dreams, and voices. The climate crisis, at its core, is a lack of empathy towards marginalized groups and non-human life. Certain governmental regimes thrive because they prey on people’s fears and apathy towards those different from themselves. We lose loved ones because we stop caring about how they feel, how they see the world, how they want their life to be. This needs to change. We cannot afford for apathy to reign. If it does, then, in the words of a certain wise teenager, “Man is such a fool, why are we saving him?”.
E [US] –
Change, even when it seems 99% negative, can always be welcomed into our lives.
It makes for a much easier transition. Resistance is futile. The world is going to continue turning with or without us, whether we support the speed or direction of its trajectory. It’s better to accept reality and learn to adapt than to get left behind in the “good ole days”– just a phrase for times when life went exactly as we’d planned for it to go.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve never had to deal with that much hardship. I’ve created a lot of hardship for myself, for sure, but the world has never really thrown anything at me that I couldn’t make the best of. My boyfriend says it’s a perspective thing, that because I’m an optimist (I’d say optimistic realist), I’m more easily able to accept what I’m given with a positive mindset. I think that accounts for maybe 25% of all the situations I’ve dealt with.
The truth is, I’ve been very fortunate. Things in my life just tend to work out in one way or another, even if it’s different than the result I originally had in mind.
Over the years, I’ve learned to let loose of some of the control I once craved. Became even more absurd, if I had to choose a philosophy. Once you realize that your life, in the grand scheme of things, is inconsequential, you start understanding how freeing it is to be able to make decisions without blowing them out of proportion.
Or, as is the case with this year, you learn to accept the decisions that have been made for you, the ones you have no control over. Why waste time agonizing over what could’ve been when what is and what will be are far more nebulous and exciting? For the first time in my life, I’ve started to focus more on NOW.
In my youth, I was obsessed with the future. What will I do, what difference will I make, how and when will I ever be happy? In my early adulthood, I was preoccupied with the events that brought me here. How did my upbringing feed into my neuroses? My trauma into the decisions that brought me here? How different would I be if I had never endured the things I endured?
Sure, exploring the past and the future helped me learn a little more about myself, but it was a self that WAS, and a self that PROBABLY WOULD NEVER BE. Instead, the pandemic and its absolute unpredictability has forced me to look at myself in this moment. Am I going to be grateful for today, or am I going to __________________. It’s strange. Just a year ago, I would have filled that blank line with thousands of anxieties about times so far removed from our own. Now, I can’t even think of an alternative. I’m going to be grateful for today. I have no choice. And that’s okay.
My perspective on society is infinitely more bleak (sorry, not sorry). Empathy is something I talk a lot about in my daily life. Empathy, mindfulness, and gratitude are the three main features that lead my life.
Many of them have been gifted to me by my students– immigrants and refugees who came to America seeking a better life. I don’t know all of what my students have been through, but I know if I ask them if they’re having a good day, they always say ‘yes’. Even if they continue to talk about their day and they tell me that they and their whole family has COVID, that their cousin just died, and that they found out that the rest of their family will not be able to come to the US because of the strict immigration laws passed by the former President.
But also feeling jaded and cynical. How has our world gotten this way? How is it that we have so many needy people in the world, and so few people who believe we have any obligation to help them? This year has shown me what a great lack of EMPATHY there is in our world– although I admit, I see it mostly in the great country I legally, with gratitude mingled with guilt, call home.
I see it in family, who talk about others with words I’ve never heard before, riddled with historical hatred and ignorance. I see it in strangers, who shout about not wanting to wear a fucking mask even though you see, the issue isn’t that you don’t care about getting sick, it’s that others around you are concerned. I see it on the news, where stations villainize each other and the people that consume the content, regardless of the fact that both sides spit fire from their forked tongues and call it justice.
I see it in the rhetoric we use to talk about each other, in the way we don’t look others in the eye now, in the way that I cringe when someone gets too close to me at the post office. Our country, our world, is divided right now. Divided by politicians who have too much to gain and by us, followers of whatever ideology we believe is JUST, who have too much to lose. The goal was never for anyone to win. It was just for everyone to fight.
I don’t know what 2021 will bring. My gut tells me more unrest, more fighting, more stalemates. My heart tells me I’m not ready to deal with that. At this point, all I can do is be grateful, be present, and be fair to the citizens of the world.
K [Korea] – I’ve learned that without intentional planning and scheduling I suck at getting things done.
Pressure and deadlines make me churn out good work, but with so much free time and graduate school being less structured (particularly with Zoom) than I’m used to, I had a much harder time and my sleep schedule and stress levels got mangled in the process.
I’m starting this year being intentional with reading more books, starting more all-around fitness exercises, and compromising / recognizing other’s needs and wants so I can better accommodate and enjoy my time with them. I’ve learned that society, particularly American society, is ill-equipped to deal with a pandemic, and that though our freedom is indispensable, we have a long way to go when it comes to valuing our communities and the safety of those around us. This extends to sifting through fake news and being able to research effectively, but if I’m honest I’ve known most people suck at that since I was in high school.
In 2021 I hope to bring with me the hope I received at the end of this year; I want to be aware I can still be really successful, and that surrounding myself with people who have similar goals to me and support my emotional and mental well-being, while reciprocating, is the way to success in life. I’m excited for the world to get on track, not to an old-normal, but a new one, where we’re hopefully all a little more conscious of each other, society’s failings, and how we should treat the Earth going forward.
A [DC] – I’ve learned to really adapt, I mean really adapt to change. I think that with having to adapt, I also had to be okay with the idea that there isn’t a firm date on when “this” will end.
While being in this limbo, I’ve become more comfortable with facing uncertainty with real resilience and just trying the best I can everyday. It’s less so lowering my standards but more about asking myself, “what small wins/accomplishments can I celebrate?”
I’ve also learned the importance of taking care of my physical self as it’s so heavily tied to my mental health. Some things I did to maintain good physical health were to prioritize running. For me, running is my safe space, my sanctuary.
Without it, I don’t know who I would be.
What I learned about myself is that my commitment to anti-racism does not stop here. It’s an ongoing journey and conversation I have to be having with myself to check my biases & commit to being an inclusive leader whenever possible. What I hope to bring with me to 2021 is carving out more time for myself to reflect. For reflection is so necessary in order to grow. It gives you the opportunity to track your progress, and see how you’ve grown based on what goals/intentions you set for yourself.
To help make reflection a habit, I have decided to spend more time being intentional with my passion planner (my journal/planner, event tracker) as well as completing a guided journal reflection each week from the Michelle Obama ‘Becoming’ book. I got it for Christmas and am already obsessed with it!
NS [Chicago] – I’ve learned a good mix of positive and negative life lessons this past year, starting with what it means to commit to something and realize that it’s not the best fit.
I’ve now spent a year at my current job and through all the growth and learning, I can’t reconcile just how different this position is from my life goals and my interests. It’s been a good run, but procurement and business process analysis and all the small quirks of consulting just can’t stimulate my brain and creativity in a way that makes me happy.
There are moments when I truly enjoy the work, but many more that are overshadowed by stress and a constant thought that I should be doing something else. At times I felt guilty about thinking of looking for new work, but this is the definition of personal growth. I gave it my all and now I’m giving myself an out. Thanks 2020, it was one helluva ride.
On a related note, I’ve learned just how much I need people and passion and steady outlets for stress to be happy and healthy. This year has put so many outlets on hold that it’s become easier to identify what I can and can’t live without. Living in the city has rekindled this electricity within me and I know that the year to come will be riddled with even more personal growth moments than this one.
Paige [Korea] – I’ve learned that I need to set more boundaries and to be okay with doing so.
I have learned that even though I am pretty chill, it’s okay for me to draw a line somewhere and not feel bad about it. I’ve also learned that I tend to invalidate my own feelings because they don’t feel “strong enough” to warrant a reaction, as in like “oh, you can’t be mad/upset/sad because what happened to you isn’t bad enough – other people have it worse”, but I need to stop telling myself that.
I don’t have many concrete hopes for the new year but I hope that in 2021 I can make a smooth move back to America from Korea, find a job, and find my own place to live. Whatever happens beyond that for me is up to circumstance and we’ll see what happens. For the world at large, I hope that in 2021 we can go back to normal after the wake of corona. I know there’s like the “new normal” but I hope that we can get back to no masks and not fearing being out in public and being able to hug and be close again; I know that may be a bit quick to have all that be resolved in one year but that is my hope.