Kyle – Korea

January 31, 2020

Question 1: How did you feel today? (What thoughts are on your mind on this last day of January and what caused you to feel that way?)

January 31st this year is a Friday, and in that sense it flies by because I’m so busy with school and trying to figure out plans and transportation for the weekend. Classes get out at 1pm and everyone’s brains are done well before that during the lectures. I abruptly moved January 7th into the first advanced section of my Korean courses and the burnout from studying so hard to score high enough on my intermediate final exam just in order to move into the advanced class is being felt even after 3 weeks. With no break and adjusting to the new classmates, teachers, and difficulty followed only one week later by the Korean Proficiency Exam (TOPIK), my usual drive to preview all material to be covered the following day has waned to a pitiful one or two incomplete attempts per week as the problem is further exacerbated by switching to completely different textbooks which are harder to follow.

Everyone is anxious because the TOPIK results come out next Wednesday and while us graduate students have potentially another semester, the undergraduates must pass January’s test to move onto university lest they potentially lose their scholarships. It’s a high pressure environment as there are also a few graduate students who want to achieve the highest levels (five or six) to move to their programs early (and one person even has to do this because their program won’t admit people for the Fall semester).

Personally I’ve already passed the requirements set for me in November and I’m mostly trying to be supportive and sympathetic to those around me. Everything is much lower stakes for me because I’ve lived in Korea for almost two and a half years, have some money saved, and know my way around almost the entire country. Most people in my program haven’t studied Korean, came straight from undergraduate, and are struggling with the limited living stipends and adaptation that needs to occur for them to thrive and succeed here. The gaps between us are big enough without being strained by the fact that I still have many friends actively in the Fulbright program here that I make time to see, thus taking time away from seeing friends and making new ones at this language school.

Above all, I feel anxious, because I’ve recently been thinking more about how I will always feel slightly uneasy unless I organize my life better and start living more productively and purposefully. I’ve kept myself very busy and done a lot of worthwhile things in the last few years, but I know I need to start long-term goal planning, alongside being more regular and scheduled with my time so that my leisure time doesn’t jeopardize my academic and work goals and so the time I spend in leisure is better able to be enjoyed and spent helping and growing my relationships with others.

Question 2: How would you frame your day (answer to the first question) to a complete stranger?

January has been an odd month. I passed my required Korean test last month so in some sense you could say I’m “done” with what I came to language school to do, but I really like studying Korean and want to improve my skills more. I made a good number of friends in my new program early on but have struggled to really connect with people in my program outside of those core people, and have had to divide my time between them and my old friends who continue to teach in programs here, alongside trying to keep in contact with friends who have returned to the US or gone to other countries. I’ve become a part of now a 3rd “cohort” in Korea and each one is very different and challenging in adjusting to the different dynamics between them.

Overall each day is regulated here and that can itself be a little overbearing. Our scholarship rules dictate very strict policies for leaving the country, missing school, and how we are taught in the classroom, which has been tough for some of my friends trying to learn in lower levels, some trying to become proficient in higher levels, and me because as I have spent many years in education I can clearly see many moments where teaching time and class time in general could be used more effectively.

Overall I’m just glad it’s Friday and I get to see my friend race their first 5 kilometer run tomorrow! It’ll be another weekend outside Cheonan (the city I live in) but I’ve planned to have a movie night with friends tonight (Howl’s Moving Castle) and am hoping to make that a weekly occurrence! Here’s also to hoping I can hone in my study habits to prepare for our final exams starting on February 11th!

Question 3: What are some aspects of your routine now (daily/weekly) that you think should be changed (for health reasons, stress, etc.) and what are some things you do that you would recommend to someone else? What are a couple things you would want to add to your routine to enhance your lifestyle?

My current routines are quite sustainable in the sense that I can continue to live my life this way and continue passing my classes and get along well enough socially. However in contrast with how I actually feel, they are remarkably unsustainable. I need to better regulate when I go to bed, when I wake up, when I exercise, when I do my homework and preview for the following day’s studies, and budget for how I’m going to eat more cost effectively and really just budget in general. I’m cushioned by work I’ve done in previous years financially and academically but am extremely dissatisfied anytime I find myself unprepared or stressed because I planned poorly. This bleeds over into other aspects of my life and limits my abilities to truly be present for my friends. Along those lines I’ve already deleted or hidden a few apps on my phone in order to stop wasting so much time mindlessly perusing the internet.

Things I do that I would recommend to others are things I’ve generally done well in the past. I have a history of running 5 out of the 7 days in a week (a ‘lazy’ habit given in college I ran 6 or 7 days a week when competing for my college cross country and track team). This has allowed me to have an outlet for stress, and playlists during running have really energized my enjoyment of those times running and particularly helped me get through times when running alone has been tough since no one where I live runs at the level or intensity I do. I’ve recently gotten friends to bike alongside me to chat while I do some easier runs and that’s been very lovely.

Additionally, when I’ve been studying well I noticed I excelled in class when I’d gone over all the material we would see the following day, grammar, vocabulary, and reading/listening sections. It can take 2-3 hours to thoroughly do this but I feel I learned really well by doing so and was happier in class and less stressed than usual. Teachers also seemed happy with me and I participated more, which I know as a teacher is really what I’d hope for in a student as low energy and participation can make teaching days really tough.

Finally, as stated before I want to add purposeful scheduling into my life to feel like I am in better control and to utilize my time effectively so that my preview, in-class exposure, and review models can help me best optimize and retain my learned material. I hate forgetting things I’ve learned or seeing a word I know I learned but can’t recall the meaning of. The same goes for names of people I’ve met and things they’ve told me, so I want to add in journaling at the end of each day to solidify details better retain general memories since I do so much every week here that I’d rather have a record of even the little things to look back on later and keep track of the things that worked well and the things that led to success or failure in the future.

February 29, 2020

Question 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?)

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.

My semester ended on February 14th and since then I was supposed to be on a two-week vacation and begin language study classes again on March 2nd. Everything changed when the fire nation attacked. I departed Korea on February 18th for a trip to Japan scheduled until the 25th in Osaka and Kyoto. At the time this was seen as slightly risky, given that Japan had more Corona cases than South Korea, but concerns at the time mostly were tied to travel within China and many of Japan’s cases included the tally of afflicted people being quarantined on a cruise ship, so Osaka checked out and my trip continued. It was honestly a wonderful time and I did a lot more casual sightseeing than I had the previous time I’d visited 2 years prior. 

During my time there however, Patient 31 emerged in South Korea (Daegu, specifically) and the media went ablaze in the following week when it was revealed that the patient had refused testing and had attended several congregations of a mysterious church. South Korea has a number of churches many people would be inclined to label as ‘cults’ and with my university being one that was founded by such an organization, the wariness that has been felt by the public at large and my friends at our school was amplified.

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. I can’t condemn then really, we’re all getting through this the best we can, but this was another birthday I feel didn’t meet expectations when I didn’t have high ones to begin with, but that’s life I guess.

On top of all this, Fulbright issued a notice allowing voluntary leave of 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. Certainly, those returning from abroad are less likely too, but I suppose that’s up to each person. Americans avoid going to the doctor whenever possible as a result of exorbitant costs and those habits won’t die easy. I’m worried the poorest and least off will suffer the worst as is always the case.

Second, many Fulbright recipients just finished their first semester. This is notoriously the worst and most difficult part and almost unanimously those who have made it through a full grant year report that their second semester was a time of extreme growth and positivity, of developing the deeper ties they felt in their placements and solidifying memories with friends that would last a lifetime. 

I’m very sad those who leave won’t get that chance and that they may leave BECAUSE they don’t know that such a time lies ahead, or what it feels like. I know many will be worried about disruption of society and delays in teaching, and certainly these are exceptional times, but my program has also offered a 6-month delay-of-study leave, and I won’t be taking it. Health insurance is top-notch and free in Korea, including testing if you have any symptoms. 

Fulbright grantees are lucky in that their trip home is funded and they will still receive pay as members of a government-sponsored program (this is another reminder that I was unceremoniously shit on when Fulbright withdrew my offer to renew a 3rd year when I asked them about aiding me in deferring my current scholarship offer). I can see how the offer is tempting, and I’d even recommend it to renewees starting graduate school in the autumn or pursuing other ventures since they’ve already been here so long, but it is such a convoluted emotion whirlwind.

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). Lots of great stuff happened in February, but the world is getting thrown into chaos and the myriad obstacles that will result are only something I can guess at for now.

Happy Leap Day

Question 2: How would you frame your day (answer to the first question) to a complete stranger?

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. The city of Daegu is exploding with cases merely an hour away and, well, going outside isn’t easy when a lot of shops are closed and people are all avoiding each other, wearing masks, and it’s still a bit cold out. Studying has been hard to focus on despite wanting too, and as a result my Korean feels like it’s slipping a bit. I’d love to practice speaking and listening, but with everyone avoiding each other… this is a struggle for sure. 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.

Question 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 😉

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.

March 31, 2020

Question 1: How did you feel today? (What thoughts are on your mind on this last day of March and what caused you to feel that way?)

I think I truly am starting to appreciate what a pandemic is.

In books you often read about it, but even as a numbers person myself, the sheer scale and effect globally that COVID-19 has had is astounding. Unlike the outbreaks of 100 years ago, or even of two decades ago, the world is even more connected now. Extensive modes of transit which stand to improve people’s qualities of life (and will in the future) are temporarily hindered and in some places are completely shut down. Yet the global digital connections we all have are stronger than ever, and have allowed life to continue on in ways never before possible. I’m amazed at the resilience of communities to continue giving even in the face of such economic uncertainty, and though I know we as a global entity would never suspend capital and debt to truly best cooperate and heal this epidemic to the fastest of our ability, I am impressed with the lessons learned from SARS by many East and Southeast Asian countries.

School has been frustrating. I’d never thought I’d dislike online classes, but I find that language learning over them is not adequate and that with everything going on it seems like a low priority. This is sad because no matter how I feel, time is still ticking and I will likely still enter my graduate program in Autumn, prepared or not. This uncertainty, and the frustrations of dealing with my school pointlessly trying to make me switch dorm rooms during a pandemic (which I won’t outline here due to length, but which I have outlined in unlisted YouTube videos over the course of 30 minutes) and at a time when I should be spending time with those leaving Korea soon, has driven my attitude rather sour. I’ve realized that I am a negative person right now and not putting positive energy into my environment and more importantly I haven’t been the positive and helpful support pillar in my friends’ and loved ones’ lives that I seek to be.

Ultimately, there are a lot of details outside my control: the quality of my education, the administration I have to deal with, and the way governments handle COVID-19. I can’t change any of those things, but I can build myself and others up with the little things; check-ins, memes, help with studying, quality time spent together, and timely reminders that they are loved, and that this too shall pass. A Fulbrighter who left Korea this week posted to Instagram about his departure, and though I never really hung out with him, it was obvious from viewing the comments on his profile that he was kind, always seeking the best for others to the best of his abilities, and truly seeking to better his community. My job now is to take the first few steps back towards that.

Question 2: How would you frame your day (answer to the first question) to a complete stranger?

If you were conscious for any part of March 2020, you can expect nothing less than every event mentioned here tying into the incident surrounding COVID-19. Most of the month was spent basically trying to ignore the inevitable and obvious spread of COVID-19 to the United States, while simultaneously keeping up with all the daily info just in case it affected our loved ones. In Korea I’ve just finished my second week of online classes (with mixed results) and Koreans, while still traveling less, have become more and more complacent and begun to eschew many forms of social distancing, which I notice and lightly stress about in my subconscious mostly.

On this day I’m trying to be thankful. My family isn’t sick at this point, no friends I know have the virus, and my friends in Korea are relatively safe and mobile due to the low number of infectious cases here. As the US is locking down I appreciate this freedom, even as the last of my road running races through May has been cancelled. I’ve used this time to increase how much I’m running and am seeing good results. Overall I’m trying to find the motivation to passionately study Korean again in the midst of constantly being distracted by the happenings around the globe, and also deal with the myriad of colleagues departing Korea or relocating/sheltering in the United States. All I can do now is study my best, improve my body, practice safe hygiene, and inject my communities with positivity and any form of help I can give.

Question 3: What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned from social distancing?

I.e., Thoughts about how to feel connected during this time/How are you spending all this (presumably more than before) downtime?/How do you feel about the worldwide impact of COVID19?

Though I’ve gone thoroughly into this in the previous sections, I will delve a bit more into my personal thoughts on the measures being taken to combat COVID-19 and how they’re being followed, enforced, and the results therein.

As far as social distancing goes, it is sadly very obvious that many people don’t understand what it means, or don’t care. Luckily, I think the prior is the main culprit, but we’ve all seen the news and the number of people blatantly defying social distancing orders or even rejecting being in quarantine despite the danger they pose to others while infected.

Despite this, I think many people are doing a wonderful job now, and more will continue to do so. If social distancing has taught me anything, it is that people often aren’t truly aware of how close they get to others, how dangerous their seemingly innocuous hygiene habits are, and the unnecessary confines we as societies have placed on needing to be at a work office or the needless sacrifice of time and capital on transportation to jobs that could be done entirely online, and if not so with at least a few days online that would not only prevent the spread of infectious diseases and reduce the harm we do in regards to climate change, but also give people the flexibility to do work in-transit or thus change the imprisoning sense many feel the Monday to Friday, 9 to 5, or whatever equivalent scope many find themselves in. 

I sincerely hope not only the US but all countries realize the waste and excess that goes into leaning too rigidly on traditional systems of labor and that in fixing these systems we can increase the overall quality of life and health for people around the globe. I hope the US also finally has gotten the kick it needs to transition to a healthcare system that doesn’t make people slaves to their jobs or has others working 2 to 4 part-time jobs with no benefits. Overall I also can only hope that the economic hardships faced by the most marginalized among us are reversible in a timely manner, as those people are without a doubt suffering the most in these times.

To end positively, I am feeling more connected as people reach out and message, call, and post nostalgic memories, fun little games, or tag each other in Instagram challenges.

These gestures are warm; I’ll walk closer to that light.

April 30, 2020

Question 1: How did you feel today? (What thoughts are on your mind on this last day of April and what caused you to feel that way?)

What even is a long weekend? These events are rare enough we look forward to them as welcome breaks, but common enough not to be counted as one of those “you only have so many in one lifetime” lists we sometimes find ourselves contemplating. Occasionally we get lost in trying to figure out what to do on these breaks, lest we “waste” the opportunity, and occasionally we can worry about how much fun others seem to be having that we’re missing out on. These experiences can be completely tempered by the friends you keep close, and as it just so happened that one of my friend group’s contained a very planning-oriented few people, and as COVID-19 had kept us all sufficiently cooped up for months, I find myself in the middle of a long weekend exploring Yeosu (여수) and Namhae (남해) island in the southernmost reaches of Korea.

To be honest, the details of organizing this trip were quite hectic. We were coming from all over. I’d been living in Cheonan (천안), whereas the other 4 in my party were coming from Gumi (구미), Seoul (서울), and Cheongju (청주). We’d rented a place in each place for two nights and had set out Wednesday after we all escaped our respective places of school/employment. A fact that may shock no one is that all parties of this trip were Fulbright Alumni (as April 12th marked the transition of all current Grantees into alumni status due to COVID effectively cancelling the program) but my compatriots, unlike me, were still in a quasi-employed status as volunteer teachers at their respective schools in return for housing. A wild month we went through to get to this point.

Friday has seen us pick up the rental car I’ll be caravanning us all around in for the last few days as Namhae is not practically traversed by public transit, particularly during the rush of the long holiday weekend. We hike A LOT which I think people will find it hilarious that I’d mention that given I run so much, but walking is way more tiring than most runs I go on. Funny thing. All the same, I see some wonderful views and have a grand time, my companions save for one all taught together at the Fulbright English Program the previous summer and we get along quite well. Overall I feel a little out of it for some decent percentage of the trip, and maybe that’s the strain of driving in a foreign country when I haven’t had to drive in so long. I’d do it again, but definitely more tiring than I’d expected. 

As for the state of the world, Korea has been sitting on a few days of zero new domestic cases. I haven’t felt confident enough to casually spend time in Seoul, and I’m nervous because people are acting way too relaxed when we really should have zero cases for weeks before doing that. It seems only a matter of time before this explodes and I’m just really hoping I’m wrong about that. Alongside that, even here so far south we’re all being perhaps a bit more careful than all the people we’re passing by each day. 

My semester has another month left, well rather we’re on a quarter system. I’ll start about a week into June. I’ve felt in a daze trying to online learn a foreign language. The struggle to be more productive wears on my mental state and in a somewhat vicious cycle makes me less productive in some ways. Running has gone well but I’m a bit tired, so I may take a few easy weeks.

A last comment I’d like to make is that whereas I think tabloid headlines are generally ridiculous, with regards to the US especially, I don’t think there is a return to normal, and the uncertainty therein… hurts? I just want my friends to be okay. I feel separated not only by time zones and space, but by a barrier I can’t get over, both COVID-wise and financial feasibility-wise. As I move further from programs where I have “cohorts” and as my good friends continue to fan out across the country and globe, finding what it means to be me without them is something I can’t ignore.

Question 2: How would you frame your day (answer to the first question) to a complete stranger?

As COVID rages across the globe Korea is relatively peaceful. People are generally relaxed here, perhaps an odd and hard to process site for those from the US, as people wear masks (something somehow contentious in the US) but also participate in activities those in lockdown could only hope to do. It’s certainly an interesting mix, and as I watch it unfolds directly in front on me while touring famous sites in Namhae and Yeosu, South Korea, I’m finding myself oddly torn between the Korea I knew, the semi-lockdown it was, and the too-soon relaxing I’ve witnessed lately. I’m appreciative of my friends and their willingness to travel far and wide to gather, especially given that we will all separate very soon in a few months. I’m sad about that and I’m also happy that they’ll be pursuing their futures. I’m hoping the world can quickly recover, that the US can find a brain when it comes to caring about the well-being of everyone with simple measures, and generally trying to find the motivation in my online classes to succeed and make the most of my time before entering graduate school.

Question 3: If you could choose one musical artist that you believe everyone should listen to critically at least once, who would it be and why?

Maia, known as ‘mxmtoon’ is an artist I’ve only come to know this year, but is one I can listen to all day for weeks straight. When I put her music down I do so to pick up new music, not because I’ve experienced any sort of fatigue. Her music delicately picks at the emotions we’ve all lingered in at one point or another in our lives, and its poignancy is all the more refreshing given her relatively young age.

Her rising also evokes some sense of what it can mean to find success in the digital age; her popularity fueled by various streaming and social media platforms, and her graphic artist and musical talents fostered for free early in her career before being capitalized on when the masses began to praise the simplistic genuine feel of not only her music, but her message and self-reflections. Maia admits her flaws and shares her vulnerabilities, she makes many people feel heard, a sort of solidarity and validation of experiences. Like many of us, she’s still finding her place in the world, and her openness about the different aspects of identity she explores is… just nice? Check her out.

May 31, 2020

Question 1: How did you feel today? (What thoughts are on your mind on this last day of May and what caused you to feel that way?)

It’s a bad joke, really. I aghast but not surprised that yet another murder has been committed by a police officer back in the US. This is not the first time, and sadly as we have seen LITERALLY DURING PROTESTS, people will be abused and killed in the future unless meaningful action is taken. I’ve been writing, writing, writing, viewing resources, laying on the floor, time blurring by, tracing back the history of racism and prejudiced systems in the US. This act feels all the more ridiculous because during school, I took an active interest in history and politics while other classmates could barely be coxed into turning in half-assed work. Having worked with middle and high school students for so long, I get the context, the inclination to not want to do work you’ve been told to do, but in the scope of what’s happened lately, I wonder what the lazier kids in school think now? Are they more inclined to believe the lies of politicians trying to game them for their own game? Do they spout harmful rhetoric like “All Lives Matter”?

If I could ask them right now, “When did American stop oppressing and systemically disenfranchising BIPOC?” what would they answer? Do people know about the drug wars? Redlining? Effectively racist school funding policies? Defunding of essential community welfare programs? My friends certainly seem to know, but their parents, and particularly white ones aren’t beholden to jack shit. I watch them run from facebook fights and share shitty racist takes that twist and slither around the harsh realities of how we got here just to make it more palatable to vote for politicians who aren’t going to fix any of these issues, or to appease their twisted interpretations of scripture that is just so evident in my hometown.

I’m livid

I’m fucking livid.

These people, they’re so smug but they don’t have to answer to anyone. It’s infuriating that their biases and ignorant takes on important issues are never challenged in any meaningful way and that they’re allowed to isolate themselves so easily from communities of color or struggling areas literally within drivable distance of their homes.

I also want to avoid all human contact and just recover every now and then, but these people make it seem like they’re training or an Olympic sport.

Question 2: How would you frame your day (answer to the first question) to a complete stranger?

I’ve been reflecting a lot on why the US just can’t seem to get it right when it comes to race relations. It almost seems like I’m ramming my head into the wall every time I have to explain to somehow how despite legislation being passed in the 60s that outlawed lots of overtly racist practices, the lack of proper enforcement of those laws coupled with other more subtle forms of economically and socially racist policies that were enacted by people who didn’t like the civil rights movement have still guaranteed an unjustifiably slow recovery of BIPOC individuals from centuries of legal slavery, disenfranchisement, and harassment. Too many people think they’re “not racist” but not enough of them are “anti-racist” and it’s a BIG problem, as when people don’t recognize their benefits from a system set up by those before them, but are also members of the traditional power castes, they tacitly endorse that system. It’s irresponsible at best and evil at worst, and I hear hardliners spout about what is or isn’t patriotic a lot, but I would certainly characterize inaction on this front to be antithetical to what America should stand for.

Question 3: What’s on your “quarantine ending/life returning to normal” bucket list and what are unique things on your overall life bucket list?

COVID ruined both my plans to go home and any races I was planning to do in Korea, and sadly I have neither the means to really do either even if the opportunities suddenly presented themselves. I’m awful at summer racing and I won’t have the chance to go home for break until December after my first semester of graduate school. That all seems kind of bleak, but I’m not too worried I suppose?

I’ve never made a bucket list, though there are plenty of travel destinations and goals I would be happy to accomplish, such as learning more languages, better understanding history, and getting to a few more continents before my inevitable demise. In the immediate future, it’d be great to get to Vietnam and Taiwan, and overall, I just have some really good friends I’ve not seen in forever that would be a site for sore eyes.

June 30, 2020

Question 3: Describe something that you believe in, but there’s no concrete proof of that thing/idea existing (you don’t have to justify the belief).

What makes you continue to believe in it? The feeling? The principle behind it?  Someone else instilled the belief in you? Elaborate in your own way. 🙂

There is a certain sense of… unwavering faith I have in my friends. My friends are not infallible, and I have been disappointed by them in the past, but this faith is of a different kind. I believe there are certain immutable parts of our personalities that remain after they are formed. Though my friends and I are constantly whipped by the wind and torn at by the tides of life, these characteristics can always be relied on and can be something as simple as how they react to hearing about certain bits of news, or how they will always have a way of telling you what you need to hear even when you don’t want to hear it.

Simply put, these traits are somewhat hard to identify if asked on the spot, but it’s the feeling you get when you’re having a rough day and you know just the person to call for this exact situation to commiserate with, or who to go to if you’re stressed and can give you level-headed direction. Our friends aren’t always physically in our lives anymore, and there are many we may not see again for many years, if not decades. Fate can be cruel and some we may never see again. 

Some might protest “But Kyle, people go through tragic life events or epiphanies and those events can actually change the foundation within your friends that holds these things in place”. To that I would say: spot on. Entirely possible. But in our adult lives, when so few people’s opinions, values, and outlook can meaningfully be changed, such a change is so unlikely as to be a blessing if seen. That change might be hard to cope with, or it could be the recovery of someone you’ve been hoping to help for years, but that change in and of itself is something else to believe in as well: the belief that change can happen.

July 31, 2020

Question 1: How did you feel today? (What thoughts are on your mind on this last day of July and what caused you to feel that way?)

When I realized it was the end of July, and it seemed the whole month had slipped out of my hands, I was almost deftly reminded of the episode “Lost July” from Trigun. In this part of the narrative, we learn that the main character has been hired as a bodyguard by someone attempting to fix a power plant, but unbeknownst to us she was actually a victim of a city named ‘July’ being wiped off the map by our hero. He has no memory of the incident, but it is why he is constantly pursued for a bounty. I don’t mean to force corny comparisons, but I feel like I also didn’t do the month of July justice and my body and mind are paying the price. Habits become mindsets, issues, physical feelings. My head I must say must’ve been consumed by negative thoughts 75% of the month due to stress and lack of fulfillment. Neither my graduate programs, nor my friends, have given us sufficient information to assuage our worries about being able to enroll and start our degrees on time despite fast approaching deadlines. 

I was informed that my program only had 2 graduate students enrolling in the Autumn semester. Thus, it would be insufficient to make courses, they told us to pursue studies at the main Seoul campus instead of our usual Wonju campus. This sudden shift came on the heels of having invested tons of time and emotional energy (plus help requested from friends) to research apartments, transportation, living stipends, etc. in Wonju and to be frank, Seoul is far more expensive with far more competition. I’ve ended up having to forgo very nice private full apartments at reasonable cost to spending just under half my living stipend on a sharehouse. 

While I shouldn’t complain too much (my sharehouse seems nice enough, is seven minutes from campus, allows me to interact with many opportunities) the lack of awareness my university had in delivering any of this information and the subsequent disrespect I felt as a student was palpable. Graduate students, in my opinion, get the short end of the stick a lot, but they shouldn’t be treated LIKE THIS. Alas it was hard to even be mad because everyone I talked to was extremely nice. Too nice. It makes it hard to hold them accountable for not properly doing their jobs, and I’ve had trouble differentiating which parts are due to COVID and which parts are simply toxic traits of the Korean system in place. This combined with the prospect of mostly online classes to start my graduate degree in a foreign country have stressed me to the point of considering taking a temporary leave (as allowed by our programs) and seek work, but there are few opportunities for 6 months of work and visas are even harder to come by these days.

Overall, I feel tired. I feel like the month dragged me slowly, but surely, over a bumpy surface. No particular movement was violent or noticeable, but I feel sore and worn out. Coupled with higher expectations and the looming uncertainty of enrolling in graduate school, I find a low, buzzing stress draining me of energy. I’d like to say that sounds like whining, but in the era of COVID some lost strength can momentarily trigger some worry. I’m working on my posture, being more conscious of how I’m holding tension, and I’m having some short-term success. Running has been quite hard these last few weeks, but not the actual action, just actually getting out and doing it. Some days I’ve lacked energy, some days the stress and aggravation have spiraled into numbness that just kept me on my bed reading webtoons. 

I’ve got the end of an entire year’s worth of Korean courses on the 21st of August and the TOPIK exam two days later. Many friends who were locked in their home countries are returning soon to start the next semester. In theory I can enroll in the right classes, get a rhythm and system down, and fully be in my element as I finally begin studying topics I’m passionate about as a graduate student. The future is full of possibilities, I just have just drudge through this swamp first, and hope I’ve enough awareness of mind to fully appreciate the end of this current journey and enjoy the time I have remaining with the people I’ve come to love through this shared experience. 

At the end of the series, the main character in Trigun regains his memories and suffers a lot of pain at having been powerless in his situation, coupled with the guilt of not having acted differently so as to prevent tragedy. I wish I could metaphysically zoom out of my body for a less clouded take on my current situation: to see what I am doing wrong or could do differently. I am powerless in many capacities right now, but there are beautiful moments I can create and appreciate in the moment now, and it’s up to me to grasp them so I don’t look back listlessly at this moment sometime in the future.

Question 2: How would you frame your day (answer to the first question) to a complete stranger?

It’s the end of July and where really has the seventh month gone? I spent the entire semester in online Korean courses with only about 3 or 4 in-person classes. They were always nice, but the online aspect has been challenging. I am reviewing classes to take, studying about religion in Korean, and meeting a Fulbright friend who is visiting Korea during the summer break from Law School. That last bit is actually fun and, all things considered, a blessing despite the rain. It’s been a welcome reprieve from the myriad headlines and negativity surrounding me lately and I’m hoping to channel that energy forward into the next month. 

Question 3: When do you feel most social and comfortable around others? Covid has taken away a lot of opportunities to be around the people we love, but what are some qualities about another person (that you know or don’t know) or situations that make you feel like you can be yourself?

I feel I can most be myself when others are tolerant of different lifestyles and expressions of identity. Though I am lukewarm tea when it comes to diversity of any kind, my life is full of people I love and cherish who are LGBTQ+ and a key tenant of my personality is that I love when my friends interact and appreciate each other. I love making friends, sharing things, and helping others. If I find myself in a situation where I’m tempering someone’s prejudiced expressions or thoughts or constantly having to feel out exactly where they stand on bigotry, I cannot enjoy that situation and I feel like my energy is drained much more quickly.

Since all our prejudices lie on a spectrum, I realize this isn’t an exact expression, more of a feeling, but I think most will understand that many people in our lives are actively anti-prejudiced or working towards that and recognize the importance of not being silent/supporting the status quo, whereas others haven’t spent much time considering other’s perspective and forcing themselves into situation where they have to her oppressed people’s voices. This seems a bit off topic, but I suppose I’ve approached this question from the other end; I’m a very easy person to get along with, I’ve coached hundreds of athletes, served as program coordinators, and generally hear that I am abnormally social on several occasions. I am only limited in being myself when others harbor hate in their hearts.

August 31, 2020

Question 1: How did you feel today? (What thoughts are on your mind on this last day of August and what caused you to feel that way?)

So August 31st is a Monday, but my graduate school happens to start on Tuesday for some reason so I am pretty hyped about seeing how classes will go tomorrow. I’ve signed up for some really interesting ones based on their syllabi, including ‘Issues in Global Governance’, ‘Theory & Practice of Negotiation’, ‘Seminar on Theories of International Relations’, ‘International Economics’, and ‘Studies on Interstate Crisis’. I will probably drop one of these classes (because 15 credits in grad school is kind of insane I hear compared to undergrad, there seems to be a ton of reading I’d like to fully absorb, and it’s my first semester so I don’t want to die if I’ve underestimated the work) but I haven’t decided which class to drop. Honestly though I’ve been tempted to take all these courses because I’m simply excited to finally learn from experts on these issues. In Korea most grad students take 6-9 credits per semester I hear, and each degree differs on the number of hours required. Whichever way it turns out I’m excited to learn new stuff and make progress for the future.

The summer has been a bit brutal to be honest. The monsoon season this year was HEAVY. Rain did not seem to stop and was even more than my first Fulbright grant year in Korea. Mixed with the heat that loves to come at the end of summer this made running miserable. I didn’t keep track of the amount I ran during this month but I think it was probably around half of what I was doing in April so I’m also determined to use this juncture in life to get back on the train and set some goals for this fall. I’m nervous to commit to a number especially with the unknowns of grad school but I’d love to run 31:40 or better in the 10k by December. I did a time trial for 5k in about 15:34 so I need to knock about 25-30 seconds off that to have a realistic shot. I suppose I’m writing this as a form of accountability and to see later if I really stuck to it. 

Since today has been a lot of reflection on the future, the past, and what I hope / worry about, I suppose my fears are that the good friends I’ve made this language school year will grow apart. I’m certain this will happen to a certain extent naturally, I’ve already gone through that in many programs, but I suppose what I mean by this is that I hope I do a good enough job of reaching out and being a support for them, and that we can continue having good times in the future. Starting grad school can be really stressful and I really hope the best for us all as well. I yearn for the strength to organize my life to be so ‘taken care of’ that I can help others when they need it and be successful myself, and not just that but someone others can depend on and look to for help.

Question 2: How would you frame your day (answer to the first question) to a complete stranger?

The end of August like much of the year has been pretty wild. Lots of changes, lots of friends going through change and so the dynamic between us has been variable too, but overall, there’s a sense of hopefulness too. I’m moving out from the place I’ve been taking language classes at for 2 semesters. I’ll be starting graduate school tomorrow and I’m quite interested in the classes I’ll be taking, and that’s something I think I really need given the uncertainty and subdued sense of danger the world has been in this year. 

Question 3: Since we’ve all been writing our monthly reflections as if we were sharing them with a stranger, what’s the best recommendation you could give to a stranger and why? Make it an uncommon one, something that they probably wouldn’t already be exposed to.

To a stranger I would say, if at all possible, a few times a year choose somewhere to go alone, detach yourself from media and people you normally interact with, and get out into nature a bit. I’ve done this to some degree, though not as often as I’d like, and the conversations I’ve had with strangers along the way and the sense of clarity and relaxation I proved to be stepping stones to moving forward in life and answering some of the tougher questions I’ve had about decisions I’ve made.

This isn’t to say trust random stranger’s advice and quit your job or responsibilities recklessly (and I know this isn’t possible for many people) but I actually have done this between jobs and when I was at some really low points in life. Other people who have no investment in your life can give really good advice and getting to see how beautiful the planet can be alongside all that has, in my opinion, been really healthy for me. I don’t even think you have to go on a trek across the country or anything necessarily, but getting some distance to separate your head and heart from foggy situations is a blessing I think we could all benefit from be that we hardly receive.

September 30, 2020

Question 1: How did you feel today? (What thoughts are on your mind on this last day of September and what caused you to feel that way?)

It’s been… a good time these last few days. There has been some uneasiness bubbling under the surface in regards to upcoming school deadlines and application due dates, but these last few days I’ve been able to really process things well and take a moment to stop and appreciate places… even places I’ve visited many times before. I find myself in Mokpo during this Chuseok holiday visiting a friend and meeting a few new ones. This is a city I’ve spent significant time in due to its proximity to my “home” Korea city (Naju), and due to the special bonds I made with people who lived here. Occasionally it can feel weird with them not here, indeed this time and the last few visits have almost made it seem like this is a completely different city. 

I think before I was appreciating the people who lived here more than the place itself, and even though I really enjoy the time I spend with the friends I have here now, I do feel like I’m exploring and appreciating the seaside nature of this port city more. I’ve ran more places, explored more cafes, rode on scooters at dusk, it’s been almost… a youthful type of joy? I have, for the moment, released myself from concerns with others and embraced card games, socializing, and meaningful conversations with the people I’ve hung out with here every day, and I’m finding myself as I often do wondering how nice a life it would be to be in this area everyday like I used to be able to do. That is a future I will never pursue but the strange weaving in and out that 2020 has put us through certainly makes me wonder why I don’t just live everywhere. 

I recently learned the phrase “유체 이탈 체험”. It means “out-of-body experience”, and in some ways I think I’ve felt it quite a few times mentally, but on more practical yet philosophical grounds, I question why I don’t just live everywhere. Life has been too kind to me, I like too many people, and find myself wanting to visit them frequently. Now that school has been online, it seems the perfect time to visit everyone and appreciate them when otherwise it would be impossible. 

Yet, of course, this talk fails to mention COVID, and I am of course obligated to mention it all of 2020 it seems. Concern for other’s health is a heavy part of every action I take. I do things as carefully as possible for opportunities to see those I miss most. It then would be remiss to not mention I’ve felt distance from many of the friends I’ve met this year. In particular, though many of us moved to Seoul, I’ve not seen any of them. I attributed this to starting graduate school and the stress therein of adjusting to our new lives, but other friends have made themselves available and have reached out to me, whereas others haven’t. Though I try not to be too sensitive about this kind of thing, a large groups of friends I’m mutually close with all hung out together after being invited to spend some of this holiday with me and a few other friends they are also mutually friends with. The worst part about that was that there was no update or notice, just ignored messages after promises of getting back to us. It… hurts. I think saying it like that is simplest and best. This is a time when everyone is stressed and busy in my life it seems, so I want to (and will) give the benefit of the doubt here, but it is difficult when time is clearly made for others (obvious via social media). Maybe things will turn around and I’m worrying for nothing? I just wanted this to be a record of my feelings now. 

Also, both my parents got COVID but didn’t let me know at first. Obviously, I’m half a world away and can’t do anything, but the sudden revelation did worry me. I don’t really let on, but I’m concerned for their long-term health. At this moment it seems like they’ll recover, but as we all know by now, the science on the full aftereffects of COVID is not fully known or settled yet. I pray for the best. US politics, the environment, and the world in general don’t seem to want to let up lately and hey that’s perhaps the wake-up call people need, but it certainly keeps things and planning for the future up in the air. Will I be able to visit the US in January or February to see many friends before they graduate and peace out from my area, or will I have to miss them and try to accommodate some other travel itinerary in the summer? I suppose a vaccine schedule and decisions by the Korean and American governments are what all of this hinges on, and I have no way at present to affect either, so I will just try my best in school and applications for now and see what pans out.

Speaking of school, we’re about to enter week 6. It’s been a lot of reading, some successes, a few failures, and overall, not bad but we’re hitting midterms in 2 weeks and then I also have the TOPIK exam on October 18th. I’ve been going to language exchanges and using Quizlet more, but I’m not full-time studying Korean anymore so I do wonder if I’ll fare any better on this exam than the last one (where I scored 169 points, basically halfway between level four and level five, five being the goal). I can only pray COVID doesn’t explode after this long holiday and cancel that exam as part of my funding depends on it, but I know I also have no control over that and that COVID will likely rise again no matter my hopes. 

Lastly, I’ve been volunteering for the foreigner running club I’m a part of in Seoul. I joined the second semester of my first year in Fulbright and have been a passive member until this year when it seemed the club might function less if others didn’t step up, as many high performing members had stepped down from their positions. I don’t feel like I’ve done much, but I hosted a track challenge that had somewhat lackluster participation. I had to remind myself people participate in these virtual challenges around other things happening in life, and that that’s fair. I have been running a bit more these days and even ran 10 miles this morning for the first time in a longer time. I’m sure the fitness will build towards something, but for now we’re hosting an event November 8th, and I think I’ll stick to volunteering for that one and aiming for a 10-kilometer time-trial in late November or early December. All races being cancelled has killed a rather fun and purpose-driven pastime for me that had really rooted me in some way to Korean culture and I do dearly miss it. But running is what you make of it, and I will continue to try to appreciate each day.

Question 2: How would you frame your day (answer to the first question) to a complete stranger?

I’m doing…. hmmm, yeah I’m pretty good I think. Things have been kind of crazy with school and COVID but I’m happy to be here and to be enjoying Chuseok. School is manageable, I’m in my first semester, and COVID has cancelled a lot of stuff and I’m worried about it making a resurgence after Chuseok and cancelling more stuff but overall I just want to enjoy stuff what we have for the moment.

Question 3: When you close your eyes and pause your heavy thoughts for 30 seconds, what do you see?  Where does your mind take you when you finally get a chance to slow down and breathe?  Where do you want to go and what might be holding you back from reaching that place?

To frame this, I think I need to be very frank; I don’t miss being in Oklahoma, I miss the people that are there (and some of the food). When I think of locations in my hometown and in Oklahoma City, I don’t feel a longing to be there. If I was there, I’m sure I would feel nostalgia, I’m a sucker for it, but I think it’s important to note I miss being with people doing certain activities. Certain places are beautiful, certain areas I’d love to visit, but I want to go there with friends. That being said, I want to go for a run with all my old teammates, I want to travel to a new festival in Korea with my cohort friends and some of those that came after, I want to walk around DC and New York and explore more with the countless friends I have that now live there, I want to have five flights in a month like I did last August, I want to interview the Korean Athletics Federation during a research internship over the international dynamics of sports funding, I want to guide run for Paralympians again. 

I’m TIRED of being limited to doing one thing. My time management skills are commensurate with the number of things I have to do, and I want to feel that productivity and have the opportunities that would come with being all over to get all of that done. This sounds like that most ridiculously cliché thing but if I could just arrive instantly wherever I thought about wanting to be, would I be satisfied? Would I discover that existentially, that distance is merely the surface problem, and that when that veil is lifted, I’ll find the barriers to my wants and happiness just as insurmountable? I don’t have the answer for that today. Hopefully eventually. 

October 31, 2020

Question 1: How did you feel today? (What thoughts are on your mind on this last day of October and what caused you to feel that way?)

This response has been a bit delayed and given the nature of events going on right now I thought it most appropriate to delay writing it a few days given all the chaos going on in life right now. 

Halloween came and went, and I ventured to northwest Seoul to join 4 other friends for laser tag and various other games since it was one of our friend’s birthday. It turned out to be very fun, if a little pricey, but sparsely populated and required masks and plentiful doses of hand sanitizer were around so I felt somewhat comfortable with it. We ate good food and watched random musicals and music video clips until we all passed out and had a nice brunch the next day. I dropped by a bookstore and had fun browsing the titles for a bit before heading back to my apartment after seeing everyone off. 

The following few days were the election, and as I write this the outcome still isn’t certain. Biden seems to be the predicted winner and I think he will outright win the popular vote, but that means nothing given the last election, and almost certainly court cases will be filed to try and overturn whatever happens with mail-in voting, so I won’t hold my breath.

I have been struggling on and off to focus on graduate school courses as well. There’s nothing particularly challenging about them, and I’m not doing much else, but perhaps the all-online nature of the courses combined with no social connections really being made between me and my teachers and classmates is having this affect. I’m not actually happy to make any excuses like that, as now more than ever I feel my motivation should be intrinsic rather than extrinsic, but I’m not sure on how to improve in that area. 

My overall feeling this month has been that my favorite month (October) has slipped away faster than I would have liked, and that is sad. I miss celebrating things and even friends who are close and who I would easily be able to see in Seoul have been oddly distant. Without explaining all the factors, it almost feels like I’m a low priority in some cases for them, which is hurtful, but I have to remind myself that I don’t always know what is going on in their lives, and I’ll wait until the semester ends before making any hasty assumptions. All in all I have been okay this month and despite my parents catching COVID and having a nasty time of it, they are on the mend and that I can be thankful for.

Question 2: How would you frame your day (answer to the first question) to a complete stranger?

With the US election shaping up the world has been even more wild than it normally has been this crazy year. Having voted by mail with friends at the beginning of October I had no worries about many of the issues this go around, and it was even fun voting together with friends. Made me very optimistic for the first time in a while about the democratic process we run in the US. October has been a bit lonely with distancing from others and has passed far too quickly for my taste, but I’m just hoping to get through the rest of the semester solidly and am looking forward to the reprieve afterwards.

Question 3: Describe a person that you vividly remember seeing on the street or in passing, but never met.  What do you remember the most about them and write a little story about their life – what do they do, what are they like and what makes them uniquely them?

Weeks ago, as I ran along the Han river, going at a decent clip, I came across a bicyclist merging from a connecting stream and going the same direction as me. They entered the path slightly ahead of me but were going the same exact speed as me, so I ended up just around three or four meters behind them for around five minutes. This is such a rare occurrence (that I would be going faster, that they would coincidentally be going that speed, and that we would meet in such a way) that I was very amused by it and it through some pep into an otherwise mundane run.

The day wasn’t freezing but it certainly wasn’t warm. They wore a warm knitted white cap, gloves, and standard warm sweats and jacket, the colors of which escape me. They rode one of those rentable green and white bikes that are all over Seoul. I never saw their face, and I can’t even tell you what gender they presented as. To me they were a solitary riding figure synced up perfectly, seamlessly with my day, joined by no one else, perhaps seeking some serenity in a leisurely ride along a mostly unchanging river.

It was midday on a Sunday, and I like to think if they were like me then the struggle to get out the door and go would’ve been the biggest hurdle to overcome. The activity in and of itself could go on for a long time, with only the accumulating cold feeling as the sun sets bringing it all to an end.

This person is likely graduated from university, but unemployed at the moment. They feel a pressure to figure out the next step in their life but not so strongly they can’t laze about somewhat. The world is dragging its feet for now, but before we know it, the skies will snap back to speed and tumble us forward into the uncertain future, ready or not, and this person knows that well enough that this Sunday ride is all the more precious. 

November 30, 2020

Question 1: How did you feel today? (What thoughts are on your mind on this last day of November and what caused you to feel that way?)

November came and went like a quiet storm. I took a lot of hits honestly, but at the same time, I felt no strong emotions about it, merely dull sadness and disappointment. This may seem a bit of a bleak way to start this out, but I don’t think I should sugarcoat it. I was rejected from 2 fellowships, I failed to get the “low advanced” score on my Korean language proficiency test by 2.6% despite this being far from the first attempt. My midterm grades, while not bad, were right in between good and disappointing. Towards the end of the month I found myself wondering about my ability to produce good work, and despite all the buzz posts about giving yourself a break during the pandemic, I find myself unable to swallow my poor productivity as of late. I am in graduate school, I am interested in the topics I’m studying, so I have to question what exactly is wrong. Of course in-person classes would be a major motivator, but my disappointment most likely stems from the fact that I don’t think I should have to rely on extrinsic motivations to perform well. I think that’s naïve and foolish, but it’s a feeling I can’t escape, so there it is I suppose.

All that being said, I have merely 3 weeks left of the semester. I will be happy to be finished, and I hope I can perform well, but I’m also concerned about what to do for the 10 weeks following my last deadline. COVID, though comparatively good compared to much of the world, is resurging in South Korea. I’m not confident in the current measures to keep the numbers down as they are not entirely meaningful or logical guidelines and rules, and the general air of relaxation by the public at large continues unabated. I do understand the fatigue, but as a result I’ve been spending time in the countryside of Gumi rather than in the densely packed city of Seoul where I technically have an apartment. I’m usually a very sociable person, so not seeing my friends and not traveling has been tough. No longer having a regular workday with things as simple as a work computer and desk have de-structured my life in ways that don’t foster productivity. Even this writing is a little late. Things I need to keep in focus are not letting my sour attitude affect my relationships, making time to throw away my phone and focus solely on writing, and reaching out to those I love to stay connected and check in on their well-being.

Question 2: How would you frame your day (answer to the first question) to a complete stranger?

Today has been relatively uneventful. It’s been a tough month, things haven’t really been going my way, despite putting a decent amount of work into them. I also had help preparing those things so in some way I feel like my failure hasn’t only been disappointing to me but has let others down. I know they don’t feel that way, but it’s tough to swallow all the same. This is my first semester of graduate school and I want to prove how passionate I am about international relations, form good friendships and networks, and not waste my time here, but it’s been really tough during COVID to accomplish all of that.

Question 3: If you had all the resources possible (time, money, motivation, etc), what are some things you would do or learn to do? Make a list.

Number one is to learn every language I can. This is a tough call to make when you lack money, have limited time on Earth, and don’t have access to good teachers, but if all of those restraints are removed I would love to be able to master as many languages as possible. I always find I am learning more about my own language when I study others, and the genuine joy others express when we can communicate is always uplifting. It would also make travel so much easier, and I think learning about other cultures as you study their language is a great way to build a more globalized and fruitful world for everyone. That may sound cheesy, but I truly believe if everyone had to know three other languages from different regions of the world, the world would be a far better place.

December 31, 2020

Question 1: How did you feel today? (What thoughts are on your mind on this last day of 2020 and what caused you to feel that way?)

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. 

My extroverted tendencies might lend themselves to feeling disappointed I couldn’t see the few good friends I have left in Korea gathering together to celebrate as best we can in the pandemic, but it may be that precise level of being beaten down COVID has enacted on my life that has tempered my expectations and level of disappointment. Many friends must finish teaching for the next week or two and are being cautious so as not to bring COVID to their schools in their last days. Simply put, I applaud their caring for their communities more than I feel bad about not being able to see them. 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. Others around me may be more susceptible, and I never want to risk burdening my friends with my presence in case they may be uncomfortable or unsafe COVID-wise but then say yes due to not wanting to offend me.

Another source of anxiety and stress for me was the aforementioned final exams. From the 14th to the 21st of December I stared down the barrel of my 4 classes I’d boldly signed up for in mid-August. 4 classes were, in my undergraduate experience, not a lot. I’d handily managed 20-hour semesters in college with good grades and athletic performance, but this seemed another beast.  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. I’m a bit of a masochist but had the sense to not take 5 courses, dropping one on the last day of class enrollment. 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 all honesty, this led to the destruction of my sleep schedule. Finals week was a serious of going to bed at 8am, or 6am, or 1pm, depending on due dates. I was also going for runs less frequently, because on top of time constraints I’d also injured my left medial knee (throwing me into researching rehab methods and adopting a new running form that was more ‘correct’ but that limited me to running for only 10-25 minutes as opposed to the usual 30-65 I’d been doing). These runs themselves were also done at midnight, 6am, or early afternoon just depending on my mental and physical exhaustion and when I woke up. I still do not sleep before 4am despite being nearly 10 days past this time, but at least it is a consistent bedtime. 

And all for what? I want to say I was an extremely efficient, hard-working machine, but I’m not sure I could make that assessment objectively. The most wonderful part of this whole process was the payoff however, as I managed to sail past my original expectations of passing a couple classes and getting low to mid A’s in the other two, to getting solid A’s in two of them and A+’s in the other two. 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.

Question 2: How would you frame your day (answer to the first question) to a complete stranger?

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!

Question 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?

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 thar 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.