February 29, 2020

*Note – Full versions of each contributor’s February 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 thoughts are on your mind on this last day of February and what caused you to feel that way?)

J [Chicago]

Today was one of those days that makes me wish I could stay in one place.

We had a 15-mile run, and although I may have only experienced a true runner’s high two or three times in my life, today came awfully close. Every Saturday at 7:30am, we run towards the Chicago skyline.

Sometimes it’s across sheets of ice and on days when the windy city proves its name.

Sometimes the sun sparkles on Lake Michigan like a summer day.

Often on long runs I become aware that I was created supremely for endurance, to carry heavy burdens across stretches of time and space. 

This past month I received word from two of the graduate schools I applied to, the University of Minnesota and Brown University. Normally if you get into a school, you get a physical letter with an all caps, huge, golden


across the front, but for graduate school, it’s a simple email with the headline, “Decision Made.”

Sharing that I had been accepted into both my alma mater and an Ivy League made the news especially sweet.

K [Korea]February has been a very tumultuous time in South Korea. With China being so close and the Coronavirus outbreak occurring there, lots of worries have surfaced over the spread and how it will affect society given the massive lockdowns that have been implemented in China and the lack of treatment options for people afflicted with the illness.

Everything changed when the fire nation attacked.

My flight home was cancelled. Travel advisories were issued. Countries forbid entry from those who had traveled from Korea. Everything was a mess.

Thousands of cases blossomed from that one incident, with Daegu bearing the brunt of it. Many friends expressed nervousness and I cancelled my birthday plans in Seoul to spare anyone traveling during that time. As I write this, I have seen that many of them went to Seoul anyways and feel… a little salty? I wonder if I was too cautious or if they weren’t cautious enough.

On top of all this, Fulbright issued a notice allowing voluntary leave for grant recipients in the country and many have decided to take the offer. I continually find myself feeling a bit upset by this for many reasons. 

First, the US is going to be hit by the virus soon, and many Americans don’t have health insurance. I have no confidence the government will act in time to make tests available or that they will be free. Second, many Fulbright recipients just finished their first semester.

So here I sit, birthday cancelled, wondering which friends might leave next and trying to prepare myself for online classes that will start after a 2-week delay (another fear, since my Korean isn’t great even in-person).

Happy Leap Day

N [Chicago]Today I am incredibly hungover, thanks to a fun night out with my good friends Nathan and Michael, Michael’s friend Drew, and some of Michael’s coworkers.  We spent the evening dancing the night away in Boystown and then made our way back to my apartment (but not before stopping at 7-Eleven to pick up ice cream to binge).

I generally tend to be an introvert and find a lot of joy in the time I spend by myself, but it’s evenings like that that remind me how much I enjoy spending time with friends I care about.

This month was incredibly fulfilling in a number of different verticals: I moved into my first apartment, I was able to do a lot of fun travel for work, I celebrated my birthday with my loved ones, and a ton more.

Above all, though, I feel happy.

 It’s been a lot of work to get to this point, spanning far beyond just January of this year, but it finally feels like all of the work has been worth it and for something.

E [Korea]Yesterday, I decided that I’m going to leave Korea and return to the States. Our company allowed us the option to return early due to the threat of coronavirus here. It both was and was not an easy decision— one that took a lot of mental faculties to come to a conclusion about, but I feel 100% confident that I am making the right decision. Today, feeling completely comfortable with my decision and tentatively excited to return home, I went to a cafe to do some work on my future.

In the future, I’m going to want to come back to Korea. The only issue is that John (my fiancé) didn’t necessarily understand why I would want to live here, he hadn’t experienced it.

After that, we talked about what he meant, what he liked about Korea.

  • It’s easy to live here
  • It’s so convenient here; there’s everything everywhere.
  • In America, you’d have to live in the city to have all the same conveniences.
  • If you want to go  to the city for some reason, you can go so easily and cheaply
  • I haven’t had to drive at all in two months
  • Seeing your students in your elementary school made me realize that it might be fun to teach kids

A big part of the reason I’m leaving Korea early is him. Not anything he’s done specifically, but having lived together here for the last two months, I don’t know if I’ll be able to live alone again. We’ve had such a great time together here.

Basically the key point of this story is that when there is nothing to be stressed about, I will find something to stress about. But to worry about something so far in the future that might not even happen? That’s something so simply ‘Emily’ that I’m not even upset. 

NS [Chicago]Every four years, we are given a magical 29th day in the month of February. Leap Day appeals to me because the Earth actually revolves around the sun in 365.25 days and Leap Day is like our societal calendar’s safety net for staying on track with the celestial plan.  2020 is already a year that I don’t think I’ll be forgetting in the near future, but Leap Day made it even a little more special.

I woke up today specifically to Paul, the cat, hovering over my face, clearly up to no good.

Normally I’d be alarmed by such a furry presence appearing so suddenly in front of my face, but I’d already survived living with one monster cat in Denmark.

Nicole and I continued watching the sloppy season of Love Island well into the morning before I headed out to have brunch with my dodgeball team. I enjoy getting to know my teammates outside the *intensity* of the games, however I want to vent a little about what I see as a larger societal problem of people depending on alcohol to enjoy social settings. I’m not a heavy drinker and I’ve always been able to create my own happiness and contentment without relying on alcohol, despite acknowledging it helps me loosen up occasionally.

After the brunch (that somehow raged on until 4pm), I had one plan left for Leap Day and it may be one of the strangest events I’ve ever attended. My mom’s high school friend is the owner of a popular bar in Chicago called The Hideout and they sponsored a Square Dance event at the Irish-American Heritage Center. 

Don’t try too hard to process the previous sentence because the event was simply random.

My mom’s friends from high school, people she’s been close with for almost 50 years, came and I had a blast interacting with them and seeing how their close bonds have lasted and grown for decades. I can only hope that my friendships continue on like that when I sit down and ponder the path I’ve navigated getting to 60 years old.

Overall, I’d say Leap Day was a really good step into spring. Well more than a step, I guess I could say I line-danced into March, but I’ll leave the puns for when I’m older and more versed in dad jokes.

WB [DC]This month went by just as quickly as I had expected. My friend AK and I had planned a trip to New York City this weekend for a food tour. She pointed out that we chose to eat our hearts out on our extra day of the year, which I thought was both hilarious and accurate.

Highlights from this month included having my mom come back safely and soundly back from China where she had spent Chinese New Year in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak, spending my first Valentine’s Day with a special someone, and feeling progress from working out consistently.

On this last day of the month, we toured around New York City and had some really, really incredible food.

We also walked around the SoHo area and popped our heads into strange concept stores before eating a smaller dinner–fresh steam rolls and delicious cream puffs!–at the Canal Street Market. We got a few drinks at bars in the nearby area and reflected on our lives from the past few years.

AK and I returned to her friend’s place tired but extremely content with our day and happy with where we were in life.

Paige [Korea]

A lot of emotions were running through me today.

I’m going to be candid without taking up too much space, but today was the day of a birthday party of a friend (coronavirus be damned), and to which, you might say, “Why would you feel anything but happiness for that?”. This friend was someone I had a pretty serious crush on for a few months until he revealed he had met someone, and I hadn’t seen him since he had dropped that bomb on me.

Of course, I had never revealed how I felt verbally and he didn’t owe me anything, but suddenly the thought of seeing him after knowing that felt like me beating myself up, putting my heart in a washer dryer and standing back as I felt the door lock and the water flow in… and he kept mentioning how he wanted me to meet his girlfriend, and it all felt too overwhelming.

Yet, the adult in me wanted closure, to see them happy together, for me to be mature and of course, help my friend, and not just on the condition of being able to win his romantic affections.

The surprise went perfectly – the friend’s girlfriend wrapped me in a hug immediately and we began to talk, and mentions of the girlfriend saying, “He has told me so much about you” less made my heart ache, but made me proud that I had been a good friend to him and could help him settle into his life in Korea.

I know I’m still holding back details here but this already feels like, quite an exposure of myself (which I’m not afraid of) – I wanted to be candid since these quarantines and health situations have also been putting stress on me, but surprisingly, I feel so much better after the party. My feelings can truly start to heal now and I can move forward, at least in this respect.

Gigi [NYC] What an exciting day! My sister and I went bridesmaid-dress shopping at this cool spot in NYC for her upcoming wedding, and within a half an hour we had found the perfect dress that she had been imagining. A little pricey… my poor wallet… but it is all to make her happy, and that is what matters.

My love and I have been going through a rough few months, and we haven’t spoken this week. She is drowning in work, and cannot talk to me. But we’re calling tomorrow to have an in-depth discussion about our relationship, our wants, our needs. I’m hopeful, maybe we’ll really start to hear each other. We’ve been mis-communicating and reading into things we shouldn’t for months – long distance is a mega bitch. It takes so much work. So much. And we haven’t really been able to do any of that work.

 I think we both want a change.

I also got into grad school and am still reeling from it! I will be attending the Norwegian University of Life Sciences to get a Masters in Ecology. How weird. New degree, new school, new country, one I’ve never been to and do not remotely speak the language. But I’ll learn soon enough.

People always seem to think I know exactly what I’m doing, that I know my path, that the next 50 years I have all planned out. But I would say I’m even more lost now than a few years ago, but not in a bad way. Not all who are lost want to be found, maybe they just truly want to wander.

I always think back to my favorite song lyrics about my attitude towards life/career – “I’m grasping at straws, and I’m chasing the wind, as I fall on my face, over and over again.”

Reflection Prompt 2:

How would you frame your day (answer to the first question) to a complete stranger?

J [Chicago] – Today was great! We’re halfway through the training season, so our Saturday long runs are getting quite high in mileage. I received two acceptance letters for graduate school and am waiting to hear back from three more. Hopefully in the next two weeks, I will know where I’ll be living in June.

K [Korea]I was planning to be with my friends today to eat and rest off celebrating my birthday yesterday, but sadly because of Coronavirus fears, I had to call it all off and lose a bit of money along the way.

I feel like Leap Day should be special but it’s mostly just sedentary now. I’ve done a run today to get that feeling out, and that went as well as it could, but I’m also self-isolating due to recent travel to Japan.

Hopefully things improve soon, but while I see Korea recovering in a month or two, I feel the world still has only begun to be affected by this.

N [Chicago]I’m feeling a little hungover today.  I went to a couple of bars in Boystown last night with some friends.  It was a nice time–we danced a ton and then we went back to my apartment to wind down and watch TV.  Of course, I don’t drink as much as I used to, so I’m really feeling last night’s decisions today.

E [Korea]Not much has happened today. I decided I’m heading back to the States, so now I’m looking for jobs there. Honestly, I’m excited to head back. It feels like I’ve spent the time I was supposed to spend in Korea, and this offer from our company came at quite literally the most opportune time; it would be almost stupid to ignore what a great opportunity they’re giving me. 

NS [Chicago]Dear Stranger,

If you saw me out tonight, you’d say, “Wow, he’s tall and somehow both awkward and kind of rhythmic at the same time.”

I hope you made eye contact with me and remember my smile, because I was genuinely enjoying time with my friends and I think people should smile at each other more often.

If you saw me at the 7-11, that ice cream I bought was well-deserved after a long week of work.

If you saw me at the square dance event, I hope you weren’t scarred by my dancing.

Dancing gives me energy and I sometimes think I hold myself back because of my height and size; I’ve spent so much energy trying not to take up space, so I’m starting to understand it’s okay to take up an appropriate amount of space.

Dear stranger, I hope you enjoyed Leap Day and hope for good things to come moving forward.

WB [DC]I felt awesome today, mostly due to the amazing food and company from the day. AK’s friend’s S and J graciously hosted us for the weekend, and it felt refreshing to be in a different city.

I feel like sometimes I get sucked into the DC bubble; it’s when I travel or go to other places that I realize that I’ve settled down here in a way, with my commute and familiar biking paths and workout schedules. It was nice to get away to New York to not only get a slightly different perspective but also to reaffirm that it was good idea to not move to New York after graduation.


When we arrived the night before, we went through Penn Station, which was so different compared to DC’s transportation hubs. In other words, I was completely shocked. It was 11pm at night, but there was a construction crew jackhammering away and a shoeless homeless man sleeping less than 5 feet away.

This image is still emblazoned in my mind–the sounds, the smells, the sights–and I’d never felt more grateful for DC’s public transit system.

P [Korea]I decided not to let the virus stop me from a little (careful) fun, so I went to a friend’s birthday party! We actually surprised him by getting there early and tricking him, and it went really well. It was nice to get out and just forget about the stress and fear surrounding the virus for a while, and I really needed this night to help balance me out.

G [NYC]Today was a good day! I saw my family and friends, drank and was merry, tried on pretty things, ate vegan yummies. Exactly how a Saturday should be.

Reflection Prompt 3:

Two paths diverge in a yellow wood… which do you choose? One winds into a dark canopy headed towards a beautiful valley, and the other heads straight for the top of the mountain. Choose wisely 😉

J [Chicago] – The mountain, naturally.

I’m a winter person anyway and would enjoy the ski down. I’m imagining Pike’s Peak, the Nordkette, Olympus maybe. Breath, breath, step. Breath, breath, step. Frankly nothing gives me more excitement than this sort of physical challenge, especially when reaching the finish is not a given.

I memorized this poem in 6th grade and have thought about it since. Frost writes, “Knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back.” Were I never at this same crossroads again, I would regret not taking the path of my natural instinct. I’d rather seek glory than beauty. #dramaqueen

K [Korea]The dark canopy overhead is certainly appealing, if not a bit scary for what it could be concealing. Knowing a beautiful valley lies ahead really changes the game. I love a mountaintop view but there is not much else to do once at the top. I suppose if I could snowboard down it’d be worth the trip, but given no such guarantee I’d love to marvel at the valley and perhaps go find a waterfall to swim around or enjoy the serenity of a forest.

N [Chicago]While both paths seem appealing, the winding path through a forest and into a valley calls to me; it reminds me of my family’s mill in the Neckar Valley of Germany–filled with beautiful vineyards and lovely castles.  I picture it as being fall and being able to enjoy walking through the forest while the leaves are changing colors, only to then emerge from the forest into an immensely green and lush valley.  I think about sitting next to the river that runs through the valley and reading, soaking up one of the last warm days before winter begins.  It’s one of those days you look around you and think “damn, I’m so grateful to be here right now.”

A [DC]My gut reaction is telling me to take the path that makes its way up the mountain. I’d imagine the view from there is pretty great. The reason why I did not choose the valley is because I suspect there are a lot of mosquitoes and I’m very allergic to them. Whereas the mountain trail option is in the treetops where mosquitoes are less likely to spend their time. They would rather be on the bottom of the forest floor near the water sources. I would also rather pick the mountain because while it is a lot of hard work, it kind of mirrors life in that regard. As the great Miley Cyrus said, “Life’s a climb. But the views are great.”

E [Korea]True to myself, I think I would choose to go straight down the middle. Remember during our teaching orientation where they gave everyone superlatives and mine was “most likely to get arrested for trespassing”? My curiosity is one of the things I take the most pride in and I have a dumb need to be ‘unique’ even when it causes me more hassle than the potential payoffs. Exploration is my game, give me two paths and I’ll do everything I can to actively avoid both of them. 

NS [Chicago] There are two paths, two choices, but only one seems right to me. If the wood is yellow, it must be getting colder outside; nature has a way of telling us when it’s almost time to hibernate and prepare for the harshness of winter ahead. So, given my natural propensity to feel cold and not regulate heat very well, there’s no way I’d head to the top of that mountain. The dark canopy may seem scary at first, but it sounds more appealing to me than freezing to death at the top of a mountain.

And once I’ve made it through the canopy, the beautiful valley may still show signs of warmer-weather life for weeks and weeks to come.  These types of choices will arise often, and as much as I’d like to choose with my heart, I think too much to not choose with my head. If the two paths diverged in a lush, green tropical rainforest, I’d be much more inclined to head to the top of that mountain and enjoy the view.  For now, I’ll lead with my head (at least in hypothetical scenarios where it’s easier to).

WB [DC]If alone, I  would probably go to the valley because it’s downhill! But if I were with a group of people, we’d probably tackle the mountain. I love the views from mountains but am less than enthusiastic about the hike sometimes. I need a crew of people who can hold me accountable and encourage each other to get to the top!

P [Korea]I would one hundred percent choose the dark canopy path. For starters, I do NOT enjoy hiking so the mountain path was out from the get-go, but secondly, I really love the lushness and mystery of a path that has only little bits of light leaking through the heavy canopy. I’m always intrigued by something along those lines – that’s not to say I see an empty abandoned dark place and want to go in! Something about the naturalness of the path draws me in and also gives me such vivid mental imagery of what it would look like. It’s less about where the path is going and more about what makes me want to choose it over the other. Maybe it’s a current reflection of my complex emotions, but I have always felt the journey is even more important than the destination. I even quoted something to that effect (from a song by Dreaming of Lights) in my valedictorian speech when graduating high school: “You can feel the destination, but it’s the voyage that you seek.”

G [NYC] Both journeys have allure. Summit a mountain and see the glory of the world in every direction knowing you had just accomplished the feat of summiting, but only being able to enjoy this glory from a distance. Or, delve into the dark unknown with the hopes of making it to a fertile and beautiful haven on the other side. I think the easy answer is to summit because you know for sure there will be payoff in some sense; you will have a great view. But to take the risk of heading to the dark, however mysterious, enticing and possibly dangerous it could be with the hopes of a better tomorrow in the fertile valley, now that’s a true feat. I would take the wooded path. I might not know what the journey will hold but I know there will be hope of a lush world on the other side.

Full February 29th Reflections:










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