*Note – Full versions of each contributor’s April 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 April and what caused you to feel that way?)
Paige [Korea] – Today, unlike the sort of largely reflective days of past month’s ending days, was a simple one – a day of simple little pleasures. As today is Buddha’s birthday, I had the day off from school and therefore could sleep in – win #1.
The weather is nice – around 70 degrees, and I got a piece of lemon cake from the bakery around the corner from my house. I also had racked up enough points on my CashWalk app (a Korean app that allows you to get coins for walking – like a pedometer with rewards) to trade it in for a chicken burger set from Mom’s Touch, so I got a free dinner – score! Now I get to relax, do some watercolor painting, and watch some Netflix. This feels oddly surface level, but today, I feel untouched by stress or strong emotion and can just enjoy myself on this long weekend.
K [Korea] – What even is a long weekend? 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.
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.
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.
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.
NS [Chicago] – As quarantine continues on as this undefined period of being trapped in the house and looking for new ways to fight boredom and be productive, I wouldn’t say I’m doing all that badly. The month of April has been stressful and busy, but I’m through the worst of it and made it out alive (more like May-ed it out).
I enjoy being thorough and this has translated well to learning and mastering elements of my new job, but sometimes efficiency is much more important. Time really is money and the paradox of quarantine is finding ways to use all the time we have to be productive, maintain mental health, and get all of our s**t done.
The greatest part of today was a one-hour Zoom call in the middle of the afternoon. And no, it was not one of my many client meetings. However, I did block out the time on my calendar in order to make sure no one could double book that time slot (hehe, sneaky me).
My good friend Laura, also the mastermind behind a two-year research study I was part of in Korea, defended her PhD thesis; the coolest part of hearing her inspirational presentation was being able to relive aspects of my life in Korea through her reliving our shared research moments. Laura’s project focused on how first-time english teachers in Korea come to find their teaching identities and how the process can be guided by shared reflection. Hearing Laura tell our stories, the Fulbright ETA collective story, was truly a special way to break up my increasingly predictable work day.
E [US] – Today was a pretty weird day for quarantine, all things considered. Doesn’t mean that I’ll remember it in the future, but it certainly broke a little of the monotony. On a whim, I texted my boyfriend’s friend from high school who I don’t particularly like, but who is going to be in our wedding. I figured it’d be good for me to reach out to him since he had just gotten dumped by his girlfriend. I messaged him a simple ‘hey let me know if you need anything or if you want to talk’ on Facebook, truthfully not expecting anything to come from it since we’d never been close, and behold, less than a minute later, he replied. “Actually, it’s been really rough. I really needed this message. Not to sound desperate, but are you free to talk now?”. The evidence of my ensuing panic can be seen in my texts to my boyfriend.
Me: we’ve literally never talked on the phone before
Bf: you don’t have to
Me: I extended the offer, I kinda have to
Me: What if he cries?
Me: I never know what to do when people cry
Me: I normally end up laughing out of awkwardness
Bf: I don’t think he’ll cry
Me: yeah, but what if he does
Cut to a few minutes later where, after barricading myself in my room and gathering pillows to make myself comfortable, I talked to my boyfriend’s high school friend for over an hour and a half. He cried, and I did laugh, but only at the end after he started to see some humor in it. This was something I used to do a lot— offer advice and a listening ear to strangers who needed it, but I hadn’t done it for quite some time, at least not in this capacity. It was exhausting and exhilarating. And it was just another part of my day.
N [Chicago] – Today has been better than the days that have preceded it, but this month has been a struggle and has begun to wear on me.
We found out that my Grandfather was diagnosed with COVID-19. Up until now, COVID-19 was something that a friend of a friend of a friend thought they had; it was largely an unfelt presence–it had simply changed what my day-to-day looked like.
To have my most vulnerable family member be diagnosed with it, however, has been devastating.
My Grandfather is 101–yes, he has lived a very long life, but he easily had another year or two in him and those years will likely be taken away from him. He will probably pass alone, unsure of why no one is visiting. He may even have to go on a ventilator and slowly suffocate as his lungs are no longer able to support his breathing. I can’t even fucking say a proper goodbye. Of all the ways for him to go, this has to be the worst.
Gigi [NYC] – A quarantine routine has formed; mornings spent either relaxing or doing low-stress, fun classes online, late morning-early afternoon doing dog walks, late-afternoon artistic time, and evenings of relaxation. Sometimes, I think I should feel guilty for being kind and easy on myself, but then I think, this is the exact time when I should be taking it easy on myself and being as kind as possible. We are in a Global Pause right now, and I should take part in it on an individual level. Life will inevitably speed up again, so why not savor the slow right now?
Reflection Prompt 2:
How would you frame your day (answer to the first question) to a complete stranger?
Paige [Korea] – Today, I had the day off from work because of Buddha’s birthday, and I just relaxed and chilled out!
K [Korea] – 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.
NS [Chicago] – At exactly 2pm I hopped on a Zoom call right in the middle of the workday and I didn’t even have to say a word. The theme of today’s call was listening and appreciating the hard work that my friend Laura had put into her research. Laura’s completion and subsequent defense of her PhD was really a beautiful and proud moment for me to witness.
When I first moved to Korea in 2017, I joined Laura’s research group with no clue how much of a difference it would make in growing into my teaching job and embracing Korean culture and education. Over two years, we bonded over meals and end-of-semester interviews and really supported each other as we worked to integrate and thrive within our schools. And it all came full circle today as Laura not only completed her education but also spoke on behalf of all of us who at some point struggled with identity and trying to feel competent. It was a beautiful homage to our experiences and the critical eye that people should use when trying to better themselves and feel more connected to their environments.
E [US] – I think all I did today was watch Tiger King with my mom. Did you know that they visited my college town’s mall with their baby tigers?
Not while I was there, of course, but still. Kinda weird to see your local Midwest mall on a hugely successful documentary.
N [Chicago] – Today has been okay–I’m just grateful it is almost the weekend. It was a pretty typical day of work and I had a Zoom Happy Hour call with my Aunt and Uncle. It was great to catch up with them and just talk to someone other than my cat.
Gigi [NYC] – I’ve gotten into a little routine here in NYC lockdown. I don’t get that much time in the kitchen, so in the mornings, I usually have oats with vegan yogurt, lunch is a smoothie followed by crackers and hummus, and dinner is usually a variant on beans with salad. Pretty healthy, right? I’m surprised at myself! The very few pups I walk give me enough exercise for the day, so I can spend the evenings relaxing with a beer and my favorite youtubers.
P [Korea] – Hmm… I think I would choose The 1975. I may be biased because they are one of my favorite bands, but I think their music is incredible. First off, the melodies and the way the music sounds is entrancing, but looking too into the complexity of the layers that make the music as intricate as it is, as well as the deeply thought out lyrics that the lead singer, Matty Healy, has made really are worth a study.
K [Korea] – 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.
NS [Chicago] – Lauv — One of my friends once described my music taste by saying that I have an obsession with soaring ethereal voices. I think she meant soaring as in hitting all the high notes, but part of it also relates to how the melodies soar and tug at the heartstrings. I use music as one of the main ways I process emotion and express myself.
I chose Lauv as the artist I believe everyone should listen to, specifically the song ‘Breathe’. Something about the longing and hope in his voice is a beautiful mixture of emotion that I myself am still trying to access within my own experiences. When I was able to see him live in Seoul, South Korea I’ve never felt more at peace with the world. Listen to his stuff and tell me it doesn’t conjure up memories of all the amazing people you know and have ever known.
E [Korea] – There are two ways to interpret this question.
1. A musical artist everyone should try listening to once, regardless of their previous experience with them.
2. A popular musical artist who everyone should listen to and analyze in order to see that their music truly is terrible.
As an answer to the first interpretation, I truly believe that everyone should listen to BTS’ songs “I Need U” and “Run”— in addition to the extended music videos for each. I’m suggesting a Kpop group because despite the relative prevalence of Kpop in Western society now, most of it is (rightfully) not taken seriously. I’m fairly ambivalent about BTS, but these two songs were the first time that I’d seen a (at that time) fairly unsuccessful rookie group release songs and music videos addressing mental health in a way that was so distressingly real.
In Korea in particular, mental health is taboo, perhaps due to the severity of the mental health crisis in S. Korea (we often ignore and stigmatize the things in our culture that are most unsavory, but also, the most visible). In any way, these songs and MV’s are some of the few out of any music I’ve listened to that I go back to on a regular basis. Amazing cinematography, sympathetic yet realistic portrayal of mental health issues, and haunting music— you can’t ask for any more.
N [Chicago] – It would easily be my personal favorite, Bruce Springsteen. Bruce is one of the best songwriters in terms of telling a true story with lyrics and he covers a number of different themes and topics: songs about identity-building, songs about hope, songs about tough times, songs about politics. It’s easy to find a song to fit whatever mood I’m in or the kind of angst I’m feeling.
Melodically, his songs are so varied–there are some songs that are very bare and are just Bruce with his guitar and harmonica and there are others that are filled with so many different sounds: piano, organ, saxophone, violin, mandolin, accordion.
Finally, Bruce is a sight to see live. His concerts are true marathons that go on for hours and hours: some of the concerts I have been to have been almost 3.5 hours. Him and his bandmates have so much energy and it is just an honest-to-goodness fun time.
G [NYC] – My favorite musical artist by far is Aurora. She is a Norwegian singer who sings stories and truths far beyond her years. She is an incredibly old soul on a mission to bring comfort, peace and validation to her listeners. I think she is one of those artists who can make someone either uncomfortable or the most comfortable they’ve ever been by listening to her songs, many popular artists are not able to do that these days.
She has gotten me through so much, I wish I could thank her in-person. I couldn’t recommend her album more, “Infections of a Different Kind”! Her older album is also fantastic, but the newer album incorporates her messages more effectively. Listen to her words, and please, you MUST dance!