October 31, 2020

*Note – Full versions of each contributor’s October 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 October and what caused you to feel that way?)


A [DC] Today, I ran my 9th marathon! It was the virtual NYC marathon so it was essentially a one-man race. I didn’t think I’d ever be able to say that I was the first and last runner in the race – haha!

The day started off on my terms which was great! So typically, you have to wake up very early on marathon day, especially for the bigger races given how many waves of people they have to get through the marathon. Instead of waking up at 4am to catch the bus to drive into NYC to then take the ferry to Staten Island (I’m getting tired just thinking about it), I was able to wake up at a decent hour – 8:30 – and start getting ready for my 10am start.

Despite running the race solo, I had tremendous support throughout the race at various mile markers from friends & family. I even had some friends & family join me! My good friend and roommate Wenbo biked alongside me for a few miles, my sister ran alongside me for a mile, and my boyfriend ran with me for a bit along the national mile.

In bigger races, it’s not allowed so it was nice to have flexibility here. This race was a big deal for me as I had to really turn on my internal motivation to not only run the full distance on race day, but to also train 4 months alone through one of D.C’s hottest & most humid summers.

I really missed running with people, but if anything, running was what I needed to help get me through this pandemic.

It gave me something to look forward to, something to work hard towards outside of just work. I love running, and will always have it in my life, but this year I was especially grateful for it. So, in summary, on October 31st, I was feeling relieved & accomplished!

Paige [Korea] Today felt like the most productive Saturday I’ve had in a long time. 

I can’t remember the last time I woke up to have breakfast on a weekend, but today, after spending the night at my friend’s house, I actually woke up feeling ready to go.

It’s still surreal to hang out with this friend, as we met when I was an awkward 13 year old who loved k-pop and she was a 15 year old Korean exchange student in the middle of nowhere Iowa, and now we have sleepovers at her parent’s home in Seoul 11 years later.

We sat and ate sweet potatoes and fruit and coffee with her parents, chatting about this and that in Korean, and I ended up home before noon, and instead of crawling back into bed for a nap, I had lunch, cleaned my apartment, and showered.

Perhaps the biggest feeling of accomplishment for the day was finishing editing a big video project. I started doing reaction videos to new K-pop music videos a few months ago, and I wanted to show off my Kpop covered room, and had been working on this video for two months – finally finishing it and putting it up was a great feeling. To reward myself, I took a catnap and then met a friend for dinner – poke bowls and coffee at my favorite cafe in Seoul!

I didn’t stop the productivity there – I even helped edit a student’s essays for his college application! I feel like I did a lot while still enjoying my time without rush today.

E [US]

Today’s the day I would’ve gotten married, if COVID wasn’t a thing.

The worst part?

I completely forgot about it until my friend from high school, who actually had the same wedding date as me, texted me, “Happy would-be wedding day!”.

She’d had to move her date too.

In fact, talking about our decision to move our wedding dates was kind of the reason we reconnected in the first place. I hadn’t talked to her in a while– at least not in any format longer than Snapchat allows– until she texted me that she wouldn’t be able to make my wedding because she was getting married on the same day, in Birmingham.

After that, we’d talked more and more about wedding stuff as the day got closer and our anxiety about having to move the date or try to cut people from the list, as well as decide if we wanted to get married this year in a courthouse or wait until the actual ceremony. And today, she reminded me what my life would’ve been like this year if things hadn’t gone to shit with COVID.

I don’t regret that I wasn’t able to get married this year. John and I have been dating for six years at this point, engaged for, well, three years now.

We can wait another year.

I think our family members and friends were more bummed about it than we were– telling us how sorry they felt that we had to move our wedding date. But for John and me, there really wasn’t any other alternative.

We didn’t want to cut anyone from the list.

We didn’t want to have a separate, small ceremony, spend more money just to get married this year– especially since his mom was in Japan and probably couldn’t even make it over to the ceremony.

We especially didn’t want anyone to get sick.

So there truly was no other option for us. I think that made us feel better about the whole thing, enough so that I completely forgot we were even supposed to get married today. 

On more of a positive note, I got an unexpected call from some people I haven’t seen in quite a while– people I love a whole lot and wish I could see more. [Breaking the 4th Wall] Nathan was there, he can tell you about it.

It completely changed the course of my day. After I got that text from my friend, I was going to spend the whole day moping, just because I could. But waking up (relatively) early on a Saturday to a drunken video call from friends in Korea celebrating a day off from the military, going out to a bar like nothing was wrong (and in Korea, that was possible), it energized me and gave me a little more hope for the day.

Gigi [NYC] I am feeling excited and a bit overwhelmed today.

I have moved to Norway for school and have just finished my quarantine period. Tonight will be my first night meeting people I have been virtually getting to know for the last few months, and it is nerve-wracking to begin that transition! Will I like them in-person as much as virtually? Will they like me? How will our energies be together? 

I have been getting to know my housemates in the past 10 days, and they are all very sweet. It is a lovely energy in this house, both from the upstairs apartment and this apartment downstairs. I feel very lucky to have found a place with such kind people. 

Getting a job here seems to be tougher endeavor than I originally thought. I am not desperately in-need of a job (yet), I have savings, but it would give me great peace of mind to know I’m getting some flow of income! We will see if I’m able to score anything. 

K [Korea] 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 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.

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.

NS [Chicago]

This is Halloween.

This is Halloween.



Covid Halloween.

The month of October has been very different from the rest of the year for multiple reasons, namely all the days off work I’ve had for both short weekend trips and also family reasons. I expected Halloween to be a brief opportunity to visit friends and try to regain some semblance of normalcy and culture for 2020, but again the fates threw a curveball into the year’s plan.  

I spent most of the day at home out of necessity to rest my ankle and also a short quarantine.  Not only did I sprain my ankle during my recent trip to Kentucky  (and the swelling is down from the size of a baseball to something much more manageable), but Michael was also exposed to Covid earlier this week at work.  With the number of cases rising drastically and no test results back yet, the only option was to relax this weekend and wait until we confirmed our negative status.

It’s been a battle internally to determine how to position myself to be responsible and respect the nature of the virus that’s turned our year and society upside down while also respecting my need to be social and spend time with people.  Staying in this weekend was definitely the right decision, but it mentally takes a toll to miss out on social opportunities, especially when I’m already physically hindered and trying to heal my ankle.

The end of the year is fast approaching and my mind is quickly chasing down these last 2020 milestones.  The presidential election, holidays without gathering and without grand festivities, and the end of a year of downward spirals. 

There has got to be a way to do it all, but I haven’t quite found that perfect recipe yet. 

Step one is to heal and recover physically, step two is to follow up with good habits and feel comfortable with myself and everything going on, and step three is to keep executing my future plan and moving forward.  Cheers to forward progress.

Reflection Prompt 2:

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

A [DC] Most epic day of the year. It was the day where I saw all of my hard work pay off. 

Paige [Korea] I used the most of my daylight time today, which is not the norm! I got a lot done but didn’t feel rushed, and I got to eat a lot of delicious food today, which is always a plus!

E [US] – I was supposed to get married today. No, it’s okay. Really, it’s fine.

Gigi [NYC] It’s my first day out of quarantine!! I’m so excited to meet all the people I’ve become friends with virtually! Tonight is a little Halloween party in the woods behind the university, and it should be a really nice time! Beers with friends by a spooky fireplace sounds great.

K [Korea] With the U.S. election shaping up the world has been even more wild than usual for 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 U.S.

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.

NS [Chicago] Dear stranger, it’s the spookiest night of the year and I’m bundled under a blanket watching Hereditary with my roommate. 

It’s been a day of roasting pumpkin seeds, drinking hot tea, rekindling the passion of playing video games, crisp fall air, and icing an injured ankle. 

I’ve been having more angsty days recently and am not afraid to talk about it, but there must be a point when I can channel the angst into something productive to deal with it.  That time is coming, but I have a little more self exploration left to fully figure out what my next steps will be.  The biggest source of stress is Covid and not adapting my lifestyle in the best way to deal with everything, but work is definitely up there as well. 

It’s such a strange feeling to be complimented for doing something that doesn’t ignite any fires in you and almost feels transactional.  Maybe with the end of 2020, we’ll see some big changes in the life of Nathan. 

Reflection Prompt 3:

Describe a person that you vividly remember seeing on the street or in passing, but never met.  Write a little story about their life – what they do, what they’re like and what makes them uniquely them?

A [DC] About a year ago, I remember standing in line for this club/bar, and there was this girl in front of me that had two different colored eyes and I thought it was the coolest thing ever. If I could write a story about her, I would think that she is part human, part mythical creature. And that her eyes are bionic and can see things that most humans cannot see. I’m really bad at making up stories – LOL. So sorry if this is sounding awkward.

Paige [Korea] Wow, someone came to mind immediately – let me set the scene of seeing this person.

Bring yourself back to January 2018: I’m in Japan on winter vacation from my first year with Fulbright, along with my fellow ETA friends Caleb Lee, Taylor Williams, and Benjie Canady.

We’re just outside a popular subway station in Tokyo (I can’t remember if it was Shinjuku or somewhere close) and I suddenly see the most BEAUTIFUL man I have ever seen in my life as we walk out of the underground portion.

He takes my breath away – he’s looking down at his phone but he was dressed almost all in white; this wasn’t cosplay or a costume, just a white turtleneck and white pants, and he had shoulder length dark layered hair.

I am glad he didn’t look up and see me gawking as I took a long glance while I passed by, but even from like thirty feet away, he caught my attention as he might be the most perfect looking human I have ever laid my eyes on in person.

I truly believe if he looked up and had made eye contact with me, I would have

spontaneously combusted

on the spot.

I hadn’t even had the chance to say “DID YOU SEE THAT GUY?” because at the same time, Taylor and Caleb both spoke to say a similar sentiment – Benjie was the only one to not see this angel man, but the three of us were gobsmacked over this man and I might have thought him an angelic apparition had they not seen him too without me mentioning.

I never thought about what I imagine him to be like, but this prompt has me thinking that this man doesn’t really know that he’s so striking to people. He probably was a college student waiting for a friend – I don’t even think it would be a girlfriend, but just a platonic male friend. I like to imagine him quite stoic, maybe sort of a tsundere type (not just because he’s Japanese) – I imagine his beauty intimidates people but he’s very nice, just more reserved.

I feel like his looks might tempt people to put him on a pedestal, but I feel like he’s quite a normal person besides the devastating good looks he’s blessed with. I don’t like thinking that that angel man would be arrogant or a jerk, but that he’s almost unaware that he’s got the most perfect looks. I can’t picture exactly what his face looked like anymore, but being able to recall that sense of awe of seeing what seemed to be an angel incarnate for only a second is quite amazing and proof that this stranger will stick out to me for a long time. 

E [US]

Streets of Seoul at night 

A sign for a 24 hour shop flickers and goes out 

A man drunkenly cries and sways against the side of a bar 

His cries sound like the bark of a dog 

They echo in the empty streets but no one else hears them 

Men carry other men and chefs carry women out of their restaurants

Their uniforms stained with something that could be doenjang or vomit 

Taxis avoid drunken women and drunken men yell at the unfairness 

But mostly because they don’t want to wait for the next car 

Convenience store workers take smoke breaks with clients 

Or sleep behind the counter 

A customer leaves change for his drink and doesn’t look back

No one speaks the same language and no one looks each other in the eye

You’re not as much of an outsider as you think in a city where everyone is alone 

No one looks up when a mother cat and two babies eat trash in front of them

Two women run away from a small stray that is more afraid of them than they are of it 

Massive leaves fall from tiny trees and seem to shrivel the instant they touch the ground 

Women in heels try to walk down steep hills and tremble but never fall 

They’re just on their way home 

Every city sleeps 

Every city has roads less traveled

And even the roads more traveled carry stories that you miss if you’re looking too much at your shoes

Gigi [NYC] 

I am terrible with remembering people’s faces, but I’ll remember someone’s face if I have had a premonition flash about them. The most vivid one I can remember is when I was in the last year of my bachelors and a random red-headed college student stepped off of our university bus, and I had a flash of remembering that I had already seen this moment during a dream.

The angle of his head, his horizontal iron-colored striped shirt, the way he stepped off the bus – it was as if time froze for a second, and I was remembering rather than experiencing.

This happens to me a handful of times a year – a random moment in time that I know I have already seen in my mind’s eye. I really enjoy it when it happens, makes me believe I am in the right place and am doing the right thing (whatever that means). 

I bet this guy I saw was heading back to his apartment at the Susquehanna hill community. He was probably coming home from his class at the School of Management where he flirted with the girl he likes. She flirted back but secretly knows she is not ready for a relationship, but she doesn’t want to hurt his feelings so she doesn’t tell him. He senses it.

He’ll head to his apartment where his roommates are relaxing/working in the living room. The TV is on – the cooking channel, a Chopped special is playing. He’ll ask who the roommates want to win, they’ll all pick the woman from Seattle with the spiky hair – she’s got quite the backstory (the good ones always do) and is obviously incredibly talented. He’ll remember he has a math assignment due that night, and silently curses himself for not doing it yesterday afternoon when he had the time, instead of playing video games. 

He’ll take out his laptop and begin his assignment, hoping to be distracted by the chefs furiously cooking on the screen. He’ll look at the equations. He knows how to do them but does not want to put in the time. He knows if he stays in the living room he’ll never get it done, so he excuses himself and goes to his bedroom. He opens his phone to check for messages – ‘maybe she’ll have texted me’- he thinks hopefully, but with a tinge of melancholy. He can feel she is holding back but doesn’t know why. He is excited with the idea of being with her, but is afraid of getting hurt again. Why does he always get hurt? He’s a nice guy. 

She hasn’t messaged him. He opens his messages and re-reads their last conversation. Maybe he was too flirty? Or maybe not flirty enough? Maybe he is not being forward enough. Maybe he should just ask her out and get it over with, but then he could lose her. Would he rather risk losing her and be truthful, or swallow his feelings to keep her in his life?

He can see she is active. He quickly closes the app and hopes she’ll message him. ‘I should do the assignment’, he thinks. 

5 minutes go by, no word from her. 30 minutes go by, nothing.

‘I’ll just ask if she wants to grab dinner and do this assignment with me’, he thinks. That’s the right mix of relaxed and forward, right?

He sends the message and waits. He can see she’s still active. Maybe calling a friend?

She doesn’t respond for 5 minutes. 10 minutes. 15 minutes. He grows worried. Maybe it was too strong? He’s kidding himself if he thinks she likes him, she’s too smart, too pretty, too funny to like him. 

30 minutes goes by. His stomach has been sinking while re-reading the math equations over and over again, losing sight of how he thought to solve them only a little while ago.

He sees his phone light up. Message from her. 

‘Hey! Ah, sorry, I did the assignment this morning and have practice tonight, but send me any questions you have and I’ll try to get back to you! See you tomorrow :)’

His heart pinches for a beat. She can’t come, but she was sweet about it. It’s okay, he’ll ask again next week. 

He responds with an ‘Okay, thanks! See you’, and puts the phone away. He stares at the screen for another moment, then closes the laptop and walks into the living room to cheer on the spiky-haired woman from Seattle.

K [Korea] 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 threw 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.

NS [Chicago] I remember this guy that I once started chatting up on an app and we then added each other on Instagram.  What a millennial love story hehe. 

But actually, we never met in person and to this day I only occasionally make short comments on one of his interesting Story posts that happens to pop up. 

I do not know him and he does not know me, but I vividly can imagine what his life is like and how his aura interacts with the world around him.

I can tell he’s into plants.  He likes nature and frolicking outside.  He likes baking and trying new recipes, especially during quarantine season.  There’s a book on his nightstand table and others on his coffee table.  He’s got a great group of friends that support him in his quest to become a doctor and excel at his hobbies.  He’s probably put romance on the back burner while he focuses on building a career.  There’s a twinkle in his eyes when he stares down a scrumptious looking cheesecake.

These are all things I can assume about him, but I’ll never know. 

And he’ll never know about my quirkiness or eclectic tastes and random talents.  

Find each contributor’s full-length October 31st reflections using the links below: