*Note – Full versions of each contributor’s March 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 March and what caused you to feel that way?)
E [US] –
Isolation is boring.
That’s all I can say. I planned on spending time doing nothing when I got back from Korea, but being forced to do nothing makes it much less my choice and much more like a punishment. Today I woke up late (the usual, now), helped my mom set up a livestream for reading books to kids as a way to help out parents that are having a hard time entertaining their kids during quarantine, and then pretty much did nothing.
Gigi [NYC] – This past year and some months have been such a rollercoaster in every possible way, from travel to jobs to love and loss, and I know it will begin again in a few months time when I move. So, I am trying to take this time to appreciate where I am and appreciate who I am amongst the chaos of our (crumbling) world.
I still have nightly conversations with the faucet of my bathtub, I still head out every day to take care of four-legged creatures because their parents are too overwhelmed with both working home full-time and taking care of their families. I still rise to joy and fall to despair everyday. But now I have begun to recognize it, and celebrate it.
I am trying to take care, as best I can, during these times. It’s funny how my life seems the most calm when the world is in the most chaos it has seen.
Today felt like a contradiction, both relieving and burdensome. With all the madness of the virus and the Fulbright program at large being suspended, the threat of being forced to go home had loomed very heavily on my heart and my mind for a weekend, and then the clearance was given to us to use our discretion, and not wanting to jeopardize my family in America’s health and selfishly not being ready to leave Korea, I decided to stay.
I decided to stay.
On one hand, I received notice from my school that they would take care of anything I needed until the end of the semester in August, which was not unexpected but a huge relief nonetheless; on the other hand, progress towards normal life was yet again set back with the Korean government announcing that schools would go online for instruction, without setting an end date.
While Americans may have just been beginning their quarantine journey and are bored out of their gourds, Korean society had been doing this to a less extreme degree for almost a month prior; I had gone from restlessness and boredom from staying at home to finding some strange semblance of a routine for myself, and wasn’t bored anymore.
This day was a weird limbo between happy and frustrated, but I just hope the world can heal so we can resume normal life once again soon.
WB [DC] –
The end of this month couldn’t have felt more different than the end of the previous month. I officially started self-isolating on March 13 (two weeks prior). Since then, I have not taken any public transportation or met up with anyone I know except for my roommates. It all happened so quickly.
First, my sister, who had been studying abroad in Rome, had to return back to the states–she was (and remains) crushed by her brief 1-month stint studying abroad, and I felt so bad for her.
I had a trip planned to the Galapagos Islands for the last week of March–Ecuador’s borders closed on March 17.
My parents were supposed to visit DC for my birthday–obviously not happening.
It seemed like huge revelations were coming out every hour, every few minutes on the news. At first it was almost exciting to see how things were developing, but it quickly turned into horror and sadness. I’ll admit that I had kind of underestimated this disease at the beginning, but now it’s very obvious that it’s much more insidious and deadly than I had originally thought.
N [Chicago] – What a weird, never-ending month. On the one hand, I feel surprisingly peaceful—I’ve been doing a great job sticking to routines and, at the end of the day, I’m still employed and working. On the other hand, I feel my anxiety growing by the day. I’m going on day 10 of not leaving my apartment and day 15 of working from home and I don’t know when things will return to normal or if this will become the new normal.
There is something unifying in the fact that my feelings are shared by a majority of people and even that people are trying to rise above the anxiety and uncertainty to find connection wherever they can.
I think that might be why, overall, I’ve felt at peace.
In some ways, I’m almost more present and mentally strong than I was a year ago. I’m inclined to say that I’m blessed, but honestly it’s been a lot of inner work (thank you, therapy!) that has gotten me there and I certainly don’t want to sell myself short by hiding that fact that I have put in the work.
K [Korea] – 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.
I’m amazed at the resilience of communities to continue giving even in the face of such economic uncertainty, and 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.
I’ve realized that I am a negative person right now and not putting positive energy into my environment.
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.
NS [Chicago] – I started off March 31 with meetings, Zoom being a daily staple during this work-from-home era. It’s been over three full weeks of work days straight from the living room with no signs of this virus shutdown slowing down yet.
Consulting is very fast paced and time intensive, so even as much of the country is slowing down economically, I surprisingly haven’t felt a lot of that. Every day I have a long to-do list and enough to keep me busy for the entire week.
The last day of March specifically feels like a good indication of how I’m still working to overcome feelings of inadequacy, exhaustion, obligation to be working, etc. with my new full-time schedule. We are now in the busiest phase of this project and we continue to have follow-up meetings for follow ups, mad rushes to finalize design documents, and a lot of client stress and frustrating indecision on their part.
I am trying to be more patient with myself in processing and executing tasks that are given to me that don’t come easily or quickly. By the end of today, I’d focused too much on all the things that were assigned to me and the stress got to me.
They want me to teach myself HTML coding and design something with no prior knowledge of that and no instruction?!
I shut down early, not wanting to expend any more mental energy on stress than I already had today.
Reflection Prompt 2:
How would you frame your day (answer to the first question) to a complete stranger?
E [US] – I didn’t really do anything today.
Gigi [NYC] – I’ve been waking up bright and early, starting my day with an oaty cup of coffee and some basic R lessons. I have absolutely no coding experience so it is like learning a brand new language! It’s very interesting and intimidating.
I then move on to my Buddhism class, I have always been interested but have not had the time to explore what Buddhism actually is. He talks of the ‘mindfulness meditation’ practice, which involves simply recognizing your feelings, and observing them objectively. Once that is done, the feelings lose their control over you. The very idea goes against Darwinian evolution, which has programmed our brains to make our feelings heavily influence our perception, so the practice of objective observation is uncomfortable, seemingly unnatural.
If I have time, I do a bit of Norwegian language practices before heading out to Roosevelt Island to walk my sister’s dog. If anyone else texts me, I head over to their place after to walk their dogs, and if not, I head home to mess around with my artistic side for a while. Quiet, happy days.
I didn’t get much done today, but I did find out that my school will help support me in light of my program being suspended. The online school news kind of put a damper on me, but it’s not the end of the world – we’ll get back to normal things hopefully soon!
WB [DC] – To the outside stranger, there’s probably never been more solidarity than now. When I’m outside for a walk or a bike ride I actively try to stay away from people, but when I’m at home online I’ve never felt closer to strangers who are going through a similar thing. It’s an interesting feeling.
Obviously there are a lot of polarizing opinions out there–i.e. blatant racism towards the Asian American community–but overall I feel like this situation is bringing a lot of people together. I keep joking that I’m single-handedly bolstering our neighborhood’s economy by ordering out a lot more and tipping much more than usual.
Feeling really lucky right now that my family has also been following CDC guidelines seriously and are self-isolating back home.
N [Chicago] – I’ve been hanging in there as best as I can. The self-quarantine has me going stir crazy and my cat has been so needy that he’s been driving me up a wall, but despite that I really can’t complain. I still have my job, I have an apartment where I feel safe, and my loved ones are okay. I keep trying to keep things in perspective because I’m really fortunate to be okay in all of this.
K [Korea] – 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. 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.
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.
Here are some haikus to describe my final day of March 2020.
I woke up today
To work from home yet again
What a strange routine
Log in to Zoom now
The life of a consultant
Meetings never cease
The work day’s over
Yet my to-dos are many
Stop. Must sleep on it
Constant waffling thoughts
Am I doing all I can
To succeed in this?
Reflection Prompt 3:
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned from social distancing?
– 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 and how it impacts everyone (vs. on a personal level)?
E [Korea] – I think the most important lesson I’ve learned is that it’s not impossible for me to live at home. I’ve never had what I would call a good relationship with my parents, but being away for three years has made me appreciate a lot more the things they’ve provided me in my life.
Staying connected to the outside world is difficult during this time, but for me I think it’s even harder to stay connected to my internal thoughts. I know that this is perhaps an uncomfortable reality and side effect of self-isolation for many others, but I thrive in private spaces and was hoping that I could use this time to go inward and process things I’d been putting off.
Being in Korea during the worst of COVID-19 and then again being in the States for the worst of it has made me see what a difference living in a ‘me society’ versus a ‘we society’ can have. Of course, all of this is compounded with reverse culture shock (made worse by the fact that I came home without much notice). However, the selfishness of people in the States sickens me.
In America, even after the CDC recommended wearing hand-made masks, there are people mocking those who do, just because… Well, I don’t know.
I don’t understand how a country so focused on ‘freedom’ can be so blind. Those who oppose shutting down feel their freedom is being infringed upon by those who wish to be safe. Those who wish to be safe feel their freedom (and health!) is being endangered by those who are ignoring the problem.
We fight each other and blame each other and ignore the real issue– the fact that everyone is suffering, no one wants the country to shut down, no one wants to die, no one wants to be quarantined until the summer.
G [NYC] – This is the most surreal time to be alive in modern history; all of this has felt like something out of a movie. It reminds us that we might not have as much time as we think in this world, and/or that the life we thought we’d live could rapidly change if the global status quo is turned on its head. Nothing is certain, so hold on to your loved ones. They are the only sure thing.
As someone who has been in a serious long distance relationship, I know the importance of staying connected through limited interactions. It makes effective communication all the more important, saying what you mean, saying you love them, etc. And I hope that these times illustrate to those who haven’t already experienced that kind of relationship (romantic or not), how important it is to keep communications clear and to remind your loved ones how much you care about them. They might forget sometimes.
These modern global times have cast a shadow on that prospect, duping us into thinking that careers, fame, etc gets us to the true peak of ourselves, but I hope that is pandemic reminds us that community, family, friends – real, loving relationships – are what is most important.
P [Korea] – Social distancing made me realize how busy I actually am on a normal basis, and also it has made me realize how much I crave and need human interaction and even just physical touch. I knew I was extroverted but enjoy my alone time, but I also know that my love languages are quality time and physical touch (with friends and romance alike), so the loneliness in the lack of hugs and even playful punches has really impacted me recently.
I also have to limit myself in the amount of information I let myself take in related to the virus – for a while after the virus really hit America, even someone messaging something small about it made me want to explode, as my life had been saturated with this news for three weeks and suddenly I couldn’t escape it as Americans began to flood their social media with post after post. It was like a media virus as well.
I want to be informed, but sometimes I have to just get away from that rhetoric and allow myself to think of other things.
WB [DC] – The biggest lesson I’ve learned in the past few weeks has probably been that I am definitely, unquestionably an introvert. Besides the low hum feeling of anxiety in the back of my head at times, this transition hasn’t been too difficult to bear. I’ve also learned that despite all the horrible things that are happening in the world, there are people who are really stepping up and forming resource pages, donation sites, and finding ways of helping people. I’m bowled over.
I wish I were a leader more than a follower in this sense, which is something interesting I’ve learned about myself during this time. In college, I think I had seen myself as someone who would rush to the front lines during this time, but I’ve found that I’m content following guidelines and more “passively” supporting communities in need.
N [Chicago] – The biggest lesson I have learned in all of this is that I feel my best when I’m making intentional efforts to take care of myself and to connect with those around me. As much as I roll my eyes at clichés and at this one in particular, the idea of “filling your cup first” has been key in keeping me sane so I’m able to keep from being consumed by the profound darkness that is characterizing our days.
Maintaining some kind of routine, especially one filled with things that make me feel better, just makes me feel full and accomplished, which has given me the energy to engage in much more intentional social interaction than I’ve been used to since leaving college.
No, this won’t necessarily change the world, but it does give me some agency during a time we have been largely stripped of our everyday freedom.
K [Korea] – 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.
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.
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.
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.
NS [Chicago] – My biggest takeaway from social distancing and the COVID-19 pandemic lifestyle is that I can deal with this unnatural and almost movie-like scenario and not let it affect me too much mentally.
Not having the option to play sports and meet people outside is one of the most challenging aspects of this. I’m used to being active and running around to recharge myself; COVID-19 has taken that away from me until it’s safe and comfortable meeting others in public again. I think this situation has given me extra time for certain things, but I miss socializing, dating, exploring, and all the other things that are fun about living in a complex society.
I am hopeful that 2020 will start to rebound by at least the late summer, but a lot of that hope involves me putting blind faith into people. People should be staying home and respecting the severity of the situation, but I’m not sure if everyone grasps that.
A [DC] – The biggest lesson I’ve learned from social distancing so far is the importance of keeping a routine and calling your loved ones. Without keeping to a routine that most closely resembles the routine I had before this, I would really lose it.
I’m unsure how long I’ll be in this quarantine for or when I will go back to work, but what I do know is that I have wonderful friends and family. We are all going through this collective mourning together as we mourn our loss of freedom. But who says freedom has to be done when you can’t venture outside of your house?
How I’ve been spending this time is definitely involving making food a lot more. Last weekend, my roommate Wenbo and I had a noodle themed weekend where we made 3 different types of noodles. So fun and delicious. I’ve also been able to spend a lot more time studying for the GMAT (applying to business school this Fall.)
This virus is shedding light on the broken social systems in America, forcing people from lower-income households to struggle to make ends meet. My heart goes out to all of those who’ve been deeply affected financially and emotionally. My hope is that the work I’m doing right now (I’m helping to make PSAs on behalf of the White House and the CDC) is giving people the information and resources they need to take those next steps in support of their health as well as their family’s health.
Find each contributor’s full-length March 31st reflections using the links below: