August 31, 2020

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

Gigi [NYC] I had my first final exam for grad school today! At 3am! (My school is in Norway so everything is on their time zone.) It was… well… I couldn’t say I actually remember it. It was 3am, you know? But it is over, and next week I’ll begin my other four classes. I’m very excited! I also have been talking with my girlfriend about visiting her in Copenhagen this fall, we’ll see if we’re able to work it out. 

My sister’s wedding is now about a month away! We are still working out all (and I mean ALL) of the details, but it will all work out and be wonderful. 

The background of all of this excitement, is, of course, rage and heartbreak over the injustice happening in the US right now. Although I am happy about all of the things personally going on in my life, I am always sorrowful and furious that my country is smiling and laughing while killing black people, silencing BIPOC, and enshrining white supremacists and murder. I think the end of America is coming. 

“Smile, though your heart is aching…”

K [Korea]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.

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.

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.

WB [DC]Oh Mr. Bennet, we are all in an uproar!

This is one of the best weekends I’ve had in a while. I think?

I had a FANTASTIC Saturday with a Very Cute Guy who I’ve been talking to the past few weeks. He picked me up in his family’s Buick SUV and we went to a bookstore, got ramen, and took a gander around Great Falls. The words and jokes came so easily. He lied about being 6’, but he’s tall enough.

He bought a Snoop Dogg calendar at a stationery store we passed by.

He didn’t pay for my ramen, but I didn’t really mind.

He has a large Harry Potter-themed chess set and asked me to play chess with him. He’s astounded to learn that buffalo sauce originated in Buffalo, NY.

It is an incredibly beautiful day outside. We stop by his house (in McLean, the rich part of Northern Virginia) to pick up his National Park pass only to find it expired last month. We try to use it to get into Great Falls anyway, but our plans are foiled by the park ranger. When he takes out his driver’s license, I see his birthday is December 21.

As we whizz down the George Washington Memorial Highway, blasting The 1975, I’m taken back to that first weekend in March 2017, that very first road trip up the North Shore.

My heart hasn’t felt this a-flutter in ages.

Ironically, they have the same initials, too, which is hilarious. But also makes me take pause? Because as soon as he drops me off in front of my apartment, things feel delicate.

What do I say?

Why doesn’t he say anything?

I send him photos of the pandas and otters and prairie dogs from the Smithsonian Zoo and he keeps a neutral distance. I think about this as I eat outdoors for the first time in the pandemic. I think about this as I go home and think about the upcoming week, the next month. Because this is mutual, right? We feel the same way, right?

NS [Chicago]The summer is almost over and it feels as if it never arrived. 

A month into the new Chicago apartment life, I feel really good about my decision to move. 

Thinking back to one year ago, I was still gainfully unemployed and contemplating a return to Korea.  Fast forward 12 months and we’re living through a global pandemic, BUT I’m finally out of Western Springs.  There was nothing wrong about being at home and being with family again, but I just felt in my heart that it was time to move on and make for a change. 

One of the aspects of living abroad that I miss was the constant effort I was putting in to grow and maintain my solo lifestyle.  Now living in Chicago, I can regain more of that feeling of independence and start to make strides in other aspects of my life.

Though the pandemic is still fully in motion, mentally I’m so much more at peace with the whole situation than I was just months before.  One of my motivations for moving out, whether I actively thought about it or not, was wanting to put myself out there again and try to date. 

It’s definitely not easy to make new connections during the quarantine, but being at home made it all the more challenging.  It’s definitely nice to be in the city and feel the energy of all the people around – even if everyone is more pent up than they normally would be.  Though the summer is on the way out, the sun is still rising over my Chicago life. 

Let’s see if 2020 can still be turned around through sheer force of will power.

Paige [Korea] Today was a rollercoaster.

I had a really lovely day, despite not getting much sleep the night before (nothing wrong, I was just not sleepy, being the night owl I am) and having a heavy class load of all online courses (which all went well and the students were responsive and having fun and participating in the activity I asked of them – we played Scattergories!).

I came home from school and didn’t take a nap like I usually do, instead getting distracted listening to my favorite albums from like, 2013 to 2015, reveling in nostalgia, dancing around my apartment and singing at the top of my lungs. This then devolved into looking at old Snapchat videos and pictures of my college years, and the time seemed to melt away before I noticed I had been doing this for almost two hours!

My mood was jovial, I laughed a lot, and then suddenly my mood changed sharply – I have been really struggling with severe hormonal acne for the last year, and it’s taken a sharp turn for the worse in the last six months or so. It makes me horribly self-conscious since your face is something that is very apparent and hard to hide, and while we have on masks most of the time in public now, I still feel horribly sensitive about it.

I don’t really experience much anxiety most of the time, but this was a rough night, with lots of tears shed and not much made me feel better; all I could do was listen to music turned all the way up in my headphones and just let myself cry it out.

I can’t say I went to bed feeling better, but at least I feel I got out all the bad emotion? I know I’m being vulnerable, but this day was a notable one, and not in the best of ways, but it was how I carried out the last day of August.

Reflection Prompt 2:

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

Gigi [NYC] Today was good! I’m a bit sleepy after my final – it was at 3am so my brain was very confused. But I laid in bed in the dark and watched Legend of Korra for the rest of the morning afterwards. It was glorious. Then I had work for a few hours, came home, and ate until I fell asleep! It was quite the exciting day, huh?

K [Korea]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.

WB [DC]I had a great weekend! Started out rough–helped a friend move and got caught in the rain on the way back. Still, over the weekend I went on a really great second date, saw a panda fall asleep over a melon, squealed over really cute otters, and had a nice Filipino dinner outside with some great friends. We also got ice cream afterwards, but I think I prefer Jeni’s. I’m really looking forward to September–hoping it’s better than the roller coaster of August.

NS [Chicago]Good evening, beautiful stranger.  Today was another day of wonder and splendor, magic and uh… well it was a Monday.  Nothing can mask the familiar feeling of waking up on a Monday to the long week ahead.  It’s interesting hearing people at work always making jokes about working and just surviving the long days.  The funny thing is that no matter how crazy (at times) my teaching experience was in Korea, I never felt like I was just constantly working toward the weekend.

And now in the present, I didn’t think that I’d always be feeling that way either, but the whole effect of 2020 has forced me to make sacrifices.  Sacrifices to quell my desires to go out and explore, to meet people, to live the way I want to live. But these are the times when sacrifice is important and I don’t mind making adjustments (as hard as they may be).  And despite the craziness of the year, I think that I’ll be able to keep adjusting and staying happy by leaning on my friends and loved ones.  The month of August may be over, but the last quarter of the year may prove to be the best opportunity to turn things around.

Paige [Korea] Today was weird – I was really happy all day and had good classes as well as a “college music” jam session and reminisced through old pictures, but I got really sad at nighttime? Having a day with such peaks and valleys is always strange, I guess.

Reflection Prompt 3:

Since we’ve 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.

Gigi [NYC]

“Be careful what you say about yourself, because you are listening.”

Be gentle, be kind. Have the patience to allow whatever you need to feel come out, and then have the strength to let it go. We are living in such a harsh world, don’t let our inner world be harsh too.

K [Korea]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.

NS [Chicago]2020 is the year of strangeness, but not very conducive to meeting strangers. 

When I do get a chance to meet some new people, I try to share and connect as much as possible because it’s hard not to miss human interaction.  People normally like to recommend the music they like or recipes, but I’ll go a little out of the box with this one.

Have you ever tried going to a Korean bathhouse?  It might be uncomfortable at first – with the whole being naked aspect and all – however, it’s one of the most refreshing and reviving experiences out there.  You move from pool (of water) to pool and are able to try different temperatures and water pressures.  There are also saunas and other specialty rooms like salt rooms and cold rooms.  I highly recommend going to one when it’s easier to access those kinds of public places again.

On another note, try to just get out there and do things that you think you’re bad at.  The other night I spent two hours trying to learn a K-pop dance from the music video and I had a blast dancing my heart away. 

Don’t be complacent with doing things you already know you enjoy and excel at, but rather try to force yourself into the discomfort of seeking out new experiences.

Paige [Korea] Okay, this sounds quite silly, but you said make it uncommon, so one I can think of as a good recommendation even to a stranger would be try having hard-boiled eggs along with pizza!

Not ON top of the pizza, but when you get pizza next, hard boil some eggs on the stove and have it as a side. My grandma did this for my mom when she was a kid because she thought that pizza didn’t have enough nutrition for a whole meal, and so my mom grew up thinking everyone did this! When she married my dad, he was quite confused the first time she asked, “How many eggs do you want?” when they were ordering a pizza to eat at home, but once he tried it, he never went back! 

Another perhaps uncommon bit of advice would be that I think everyone should try doing improv comedy! I know I say that with bias because it’s something I love doing, but I think it helps you be more flexible and adaptable in your life, not just in performing or goofing around in scenes during a practice. It will help you think on your toes easier, be more creative, and help you think more about how we have conversations in normal life! I have found it made me more outgoing and less nervous about making mistakes, and I think it can be beneficial for a person of any age. 

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






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