I got COVID-19 this month. I live in Ann Arbor, Michigan home to a university whose COVID response has left much to be desired. This has lead to an influx of infection in the community that is deeply intertwined with the university. I got COVID from a friend who got it from a student, but that doesn’t really matter. What matters is that I tested positive and that I gave it to my mom. I was forced to confront the reality of the pandemic. Not to say that this reality didn’t already permeate all aspects of my life, but sitting alone in a room for 2 weeks knowing that you are infected gives a new dimension to the situation.
I am a believer in science. I am the daughter of a doctor. I take this pandemic seriously. I got a stab up the nose and a positive result. But mostly, I got lucky. I experienced only mild symptoms for 2-3 days. I felt exactly how I was told I would feel, halfway between a cold and the flu. The thing that surprised me was the shame and guilt I felt on top of that. No one has sympathy for young people with COVID. I suppose my symptoms were hardly severe enough to deserve sympathy but I was surprised by the stigma around the virus. The few people I spent my time with were angry. I understand the risk-reward equation that is attached to any and all lifestyle choices made during a pandemic, however, some people close to me seem shocked that they could have been exposed. I did not pass the virus to anyone besides my mom, but people who were potentially exposed to me reacted with anger and shock that their bubbles could be broken. This was where the shame I felt came from. The guilt came from seeing the news report rising COVID numbers and knowing that I was included in that. The guilt came from the lives of my immediate family members who were forced into quarantine, missing work, and Halloween. The guilt came from driving my mom to the hospital in the middle of the night to make sure that she didn’t have a blood clot as a result of COVID.
I am grateful to say that I and my family are now safe and healthy. However, I am also filled with sadness for others who cannot say the same. I recognize that my experience was singular and I urge everyone to take the time to understand the changes they are taking every day. You get to decide what you are willing to risk.
As I’m sure all of us can attest to, this year has been one of uncertainty. I certainly have had to grow accustomed to not knowing what the next days will bring, which has been a difficult shift from the certainty of a school schedule. However, I have realized that uncertainty can bring opportunities that would have been far from possible with a strict schedule. Over the past month or so, I have been able to pick up long-forgotten hobbies and start volunteering at an animal sanctuary I had always wanted to visit, but never had the chance to. This month has brought a lot of new developments for me, and I’m excited to share these experiences with you.
For the past few months, I’ve been working in retail, and recently decided to cut back on my hours to focus on some of the other things I had hoped to work on this year. For example, I had studied classical piano for nine years before putting it down in freshman year to focus on school and theatre. With more free time on my plate, I have been able to start taking lessons again, and the joy I have felt over the last few weeks from practicing has been indescribable. I’ve also been able to start taking guitar lessons and continue with my voice studies, which had been put on hold due to the pandemic. It has been interesting to see the measures the studio is taking to keep students and teachers safe, and I can definitively say that singing with a mask on is a very new experience for all of us!
I also started volunteering at Cotton Branch Farm Sanctuary, a rescue for farm animals about twenty minutes from my house. They have a variety of animals, from roosters to pigs to mules, and they all come from different backgrounds. Some of them have special needs and require care that they can provide, some are rescues from hoarding or abuse situations, and some are livestock rescues. They need volunteers to socialize their adoptable pigs and take care of different housekeeping tasks, such as scooping poop and filling water troughs. If you’re ever in the midlands of SC, come by and check them out!
My last exciting news for this month is that I have finalized my plans for the spring, and I cannot wait to get started on this new adventure. Come the end of February, I’ll be headed up to New Hampshire for a program called Gap at Glen Brook. The program lasts 11 weeks, and is focused on personal development and responsibility, sustainability, and nature. I’m a little nervous about the weather, since I’ve only seen snow a couple of times in my life, but I know it will be a new and exciting experience.
I’m looking forward to continuing on this path and starting a new experience come spring. There will be more updates to come from me, so stay tuned! I look forward to sharing these new experiences with you.
I’m going to write about a typical day in my life. I’ve been working for a local bookkeeper lately, but here is a day off.
7:30: wake up
While I’m not grumpy when I wake up, I am definitely not a morning person. My brain takes a good amount of time to fully wake up and start functioning. My morning thoughts are generally not the most coherent nor the most intelligent. As a result, my mornings are pretty mundane.
8:30 – 10:30: exercise!
I’ve learned that moving around definitely gives my brain and body a jump start. In high school, lifting with my team took up a lot of my time. I’m grateful for the knowledge and experience I earned with my coaches and trainers. After our spring season got canceled, however, I have been experimenting with different kinds of lifting programs. Lately, I’ve been going with the flow and working with the exercises that my body needs. To help recover, I work different parts of my body on different days. I do miss the stretching and mobility work our trainers had us do, and I would love to incorporate that into my routine. Maybe yoga even!
10:30 – 12:00: work with YTJ and research trip
Now that my brain and body had woken up, I started some of my work. As an intern at Youth Transforming Justice (YTJ), a local restorative justice program and an alternative to the Juvenile Court System, I working to create a collaboration between our county’s Parks Department and YTJ. We’re hoping to work with the Parks because COVID has eliminated so many in-person community engagement opportunities. The two organizations are a good fit for each other because we can provide the Parks Department with a large volume of helping hands and they can provide our respondents with an opportunity to be outside and to strengthen their relationship with the community
12:00 – 3:00: golf
A couple friends and I picked up golf at the beginning of Covid when it was one of the only things we could do. It’s definitely a love-hate relationship. One fun aspect of the game is meeting new people. Generally, senior citizens are the ones playing in the middle of the day on a weekday. My friends and I are fitting right in with the 70+ crowd!
3:00 – 4:00: miscellaneous work
4:00 – 5:00: Youth Court hearing
I served as a facilitator in a Youth Court hearing. If you haven’t read my other blogs, Youth Court is a program designed to help teenagers who have broken the law. Our goal is to strengthen and restore their relationship with their community and their school.
5:00 – 7:00: cook dinner
One way I’ve been contributing to my family is by making dinner. I’ve always enjoyed cooking; the feeling of providing for my family is very fulfilling. Apart from food itself, cooking is always a peaceful moment of me. It’s satisfying to see your efforts come together in a physical creation.
See you next time! Best,
It’s been a year and a half since I’ve visited a museum. Walking around the galleries, I love to take in the artwork around me and explore the paintings that most deeply resonate with me. The pandemic has changed this experience, but it hasn’t erased it completely.
I recently visited a small art gallery at the Orange County Great Park. The gallery’s current exhibition delves into the theme “Home,” showcasing local artists’ interpretations of the complexities and comforts of personal and collective homes. The pieces ranged from a wide-scale mural highlighting iconic global structures to ceramic sculptures of strawberry Pocky. The normal bustling from room to room is nowhere to be found, and the only clicks of camera shutters that I can hear are from my own phone. The emptiness of the gallery is odd, but simultaneously rejuvenating. With COVID protocols in place, the gallery allowed me to absorb the artworks’ messages deeply and reflect on my emotions. Art is a communicative discipline, and I enjoyed taking my time to explore the exhibit.
The gallery reignited my love for art history. I took an art history course in high school, and I want to continue learning about the subject. Curbside pick-up at my local library and YouTube art documentaries help me learn as much as I can about incredible artists and art movements. In order to grow as an artist and dancer, I know that consuming a variety of art forms will stimulate my creativity. I’ve really enjoyed watching livestreamed performances by the Royal Ballet, and I’ve started comparing the fiction books I read to their television counterparts. Investigating this myriad of art forms is propelling me to develop my creativity further.
With more free time during my gap year, I’ve been able to explore my creativity in different ways. I don’t typically create hands-on art projects, but I’ve delved into a couple new activities during my free time. I started an embroidery project, which I’ve found requires a lot of precision (albeit a different type of precision than what I use when I dance). I also began a relaxing painting project, and I’ve continued to experiment with classical and contemporary choreography as a dancer.
Finding new artists and meaningful creations inspires me to reflect on my own creativity, and to keep forging my artistic identity.
In the past few months, I have come to appreciate the amount of freedom I have to live a “normal” life despite the current pandemic. As most countries are starting once again to implement travel restrictions and lockdown measures, Japan seems to be doing the opposite: removing the 2-week quarantine upon entering the country and providing discounts on hotels and transportation accommodations. If you walk through Shibuya, located in the center of Tokyo, you would not even think for a second that we were in the midst of a global pandemic. People walk the streets, certainly within 6 feet of each other, some not even wearing masks.
Coming from the United States, it feels unfair and almost disrespectful that while the rest of the world deals with the deadly pandemic, that people here can live so normally and carelessly. With ~250 cases being reported daily in Tokyo, the virus is nowhere near gone. I just hope that the people here can take slightly more responsibility for the freedom they have so we don’t lose it with an influx of cases.
On the bright side, with the measures being slightly more relaxed, I have started to have more opportunities to participate in programs offline. One of those was the Exploratory IT Human Resources Project (Mitou Project), the program I am currently apart of where I am developing an iPhone application. As a member of this program, I receive resources and mentorship from the Japanese Government to work on and develop my idea. Until recently, all meetings and presentations of the work I had been doing (held once/twice a month) were online. However, they decided it was safe enough to hold the last meeting in-person, so I was finally able to meet the other members of the program and my project manager in-person.
Participating in the in-person meeting was like taking a breath of fresh air, a reminder of the beauty and power of being with people. For months I had been working alone, endlessly typing away at my computer, my only communication with the other members, and my managers done through Zoom. Though in the moment, it didn’t seem like I was missing out on much, the meeting was a reminder of the excitement of the now days-of-the-past, where you could meet new people and exchange conversation in the same physical environment. I could move around to talk to different people without having to be assigned break-out rooms and I didn’t have to rely on private messaging to talk with individual people.
As I sit in my room alone writing this blog post, I feel so grateful for the offline aspect of the meeting, something I took for granted just a few months ago. Without it, I know I wouldn’t have been able to meet so many people and received the valuable feedback I did, from software engineers and professors. Looking back, this pandemic has given me many opportunities to reflect and appreciate aspects of life that previously, I never noticed. Although life here has started to regain some normality, I know that other parts of the world aren’t as lucky. I look forward to the opportunities that await me while taking responsibility for the freedom I have been given.
For the past 8 weeks, I have been traveling through Hawaii and the West Coast on an ARCC gap semester. While I could go on and on about why the trip was so special, there is one aspect that I noticed from the beginning which made for a very impactful experience: how easy it was to be present.
On one of the last nights of the trip my instructor asked us a simple question: if you could tell yourself 2 months ago, sitting in the airport, one thing, would you? And if so, what? Without a minute of hesitation, I knew my answer. I would not.
When I think back to sitting at the airport on September 15th, looking at the top halves of the faces I’d spend the next 2 months with, I was overwhelmed to say the least. My mind was spinning with expectations, first impressions, fears, and hopes. I knew nothing for sure. I had no idea how the next 2 months would go and I had hardly read the brief itinerary I had been provided. All I knew was that I was there. So I let myself sit with that unknown and enjoyed the sandwich and coffee I had just bought myself.
Flash forward 3 weeks and I’m sitting in Hawaii after a long day of scuba diving waiting to be handed my phone (they take them for the first portion of the program), and I’m completely dreading getting it back. Spending such an extended period of time with no connection to home, to the news, or to anything besides the exact moment I was in was incredibly refreshing. I could feel myself being less stressed and more able to focus on the present. I also loved carrying around a real camera instead of my phone (I’ve attached some of my favorite moments I captured).
Because I didn’t know very much about the itinerary and had no way of knowing what the future held, I was able to spend every day focused on nothing but that day. Each day brought a new adventure, new conversations, new challenges. And I wanted to soak up as many of those as possible. I did my best to not think forward, to not worry about what we were doing tomorrow or next week. If I had told myself anything at the airport that first day, I’m not sure I would have been able to go through the program as I did. The combination of not knowing what was next and being disconnected from everything was such a gift and allowed me to really make the most of my gap semester. Now that I’m home, I hope to find ways to disconnect and be as present in my life here as I was while I was gone.
The summer before I entered high school, my grandmother took me on a two-week trip to Paris. I had never been out of the United States before, and had only been out of California to visit my great grandmother in St. Louis. I eagerly packed my bags and couldn’t wait for the airplane to set off.
The minute we landed, I fell in love with Paris. I adored the Haussmann-style architecture, the small cafes that line the streets, the French pastries, the museums, the high fashion. We even found a taxidermy store that was featured in the movie “Midnight in Paris” tucked in the upper floor of a garden store. It is these unexpected treasures that make Paris so intriguing to me.
After spending two weeks immersed in French culture, I decided I wanted to return to Paris one day, maybe even to live there. Prior to the vacation, I was all set to study Spanish as my foreign language in high school. This seemed to make the most sense since I live in California, but I discovered that my true passion was French.
As my quest to learn French evolved, this dream began to form in my head of studying abroad, either as a gap year or once in college (or both!). While travel is off the table for me this year, I knew that I wanted to use part of my new found time to further my language skills. I’ve done my best to create cultural immersion from home, with the help of an online French conversation class offered by my local community college.
The theme of the class is French cinema of the 20th century, and I have loved every minute of it (well, maybe not every minute, but more on that later). The teacher is French, and has a degree in film, meaning that she is very knowledgeable in terms of both film history and general French history. Everything we do is in French there is no English discussion- we meet weekly to discuss the previous week’s film in French, and then listen to the teacher lecture in French about the upcoming film for the following week. We go deep into the context, making, and content of each film. As part of her lecture, the teacher distributes a document that usually consists of around thirty pages of notes, links to extra interviews, and documentary clips. I never thought it possible for me to comprehend that much French, but I find myself having to look up less and less words. The class is scheduled for two hours every Thursday evening, but our discussions are often so lively that the class lasts close to three.
The most important part about this class for me has been the conversational aspect. This was always something I felt my French at school was lacking, and I developed a comfort zone rooted in reading and writing. This class for me has really been about stretching outside of these confines and just speaking, even if that means throwing in an English word here and there. It’s a very mixed-level class, which can definitely be uncomfortable at times. When you are placed in a breakout room to discuss certain aspects of the film for ten minutes with someone who is semi-fluent, it’s intimidating. The challenging part is being able to convey complex ideas in another language, often around topics that require more obscure vocabulary. I often have all these ideas swimming around in my head, but they’re English. It’s a constant game of translation, racking my brain for the right words. I would love to reach the point where this intermediate step doesn’t exist, where the thought just occurs in French. But while I’m on my way to that point, I’ve learned to just take a breath and jump in, remembering that every language learner shares in my struggles.
Before you begin, let me explain. I just finished a 50 day Outward Bound course. 50 showerless, uncomfortable, incredible, challenging, absurdly fun days. In retrospect, this was the most fulfilling experience of my life, but a challenge like this is one that cannot be overcome without reaching immense highs and lows, without pointed self-reflection. Purposefully designed for this kind of reflection was our solos—two days camping completely alone, with no source of entertainment except a pen and paper and absolutely no tasks or expectations.
With that, I give you a solo reflection, transcribed (and gently edited) from the pocket-sized journal I carried with me every day.
I haven’t yet been able to express why I’m here on this trip—what makes it worthwhile for me. When I found this Outward Bound trip many months ago, I had two priorities: plan a gap year, and make it interesting. I knew I loved the outdoors and I desperately wanted an adventure, so this course seemed perfect.
174 river miles and hours of brutal desert hiking later, that isn’t enough anymore. I’m aware of the fact that there’s a greater lesson to be learned here—that one thing that I will look back on as my greatest growth—and I’m thinking that it may simply be a sense of purpose, a drive to set and achieve goals.
I’ve come to the conclusion that all throughout high school I lived my life adhering to my two main goals: try hard in school, get into a good college. Though it is a gross oversimplification of events, this meant that I focused almost exclusively on my immediate tasks and workload, striving towards unquantifiable goals with the persistent question: How good is good enough? For years, that purpose sufficed in keeping me motivated, thanks to an ever expanding workload and rather lofty standards for my own success. I’d be hypocritical to say that these are unworthy goals, I have a similar set of expectations for my college years, but I’ve come to the realization that exclusively setting broad, long term goals for myself was extremely stressful and unfulfilling. Benchmarks, and any accompanying sense of achievement, were subjective and few and far between.
Six months ago, when quarantine hit and I graduated high school, my goals timed out. I woke up every day lacking a purpose. The future was—and very much still is—entirely uncertain. My ability to set new long term goals for myself was non-existent.
Waking up on my first day of solo today, without anything to do for the first time in 32 days, I despise my desire to pass time as quickly as possible. It’s a feeling that I know well, a reminder of the days I spent isolating at home, frustrated and bored out of my mind with nothing “productive” to do. I don’t want to live without fulfillment, without short-term, achievable goals. I thrive on learning, achievement, and personal growth.
I realize that this change must come from an internal shift. It is more mentally and physically draining to be constantly striving towards something than it is to be unburdened by commitment, no matter how much more fulfilling it is. The way to inject purpose into my life, especially during unstructured time like a gap year, is to consistently set and work towards goals instead of allowing myself to be aimless. That is my big take-away, that I can make room for personal achievement without relying on the structures that have traditionally defined success in my life.
If you’ve read any of my previous blog posts, you might remember that I am currently working as a research assistant in a neuroscience lab at Oregon Health & Science University. I’ve been working here for around six weeks, and intend to stay for about five more weeks before returning home to the Bay Area. Since I’m about halfway through my short time up in Portland, I thought I would give you guys a little overview of what an average day looks like for me! I usually wake up a few minutes before my 7AM alarm, and start the day with some breakfast and iced coffee. I have about half an hour to prep a lunch and get ready for work. Before I leave at around 8AM, I check that I have everything I need – mask, keys, laptop and charger for battery-draining Webex meetings, ID card (being locked out of the lab once means that I will never forget this again!), and AirPods to get me through long periods of solo labwork. I hop in the car, turn the heaters on full blast (I blame my NorCal upbringing for my inability to handle any temperature below 65℉), choose a Spotify playlist to match my mood, and drive along windy back roads for about twenty minutes to reach OHSU’s Marquam Hill campus. While waiting for the aerial tram that transports employees between OHSU’s two main campuses, I admire the panoramic view of the city and the mountains that surround it. I board the tram and, after a five minute ride, arrive at OHSU’s South Waterfront campus.
I spend the morning attending a virtual journal club at 9AM, doing MATLAB image analysis work for a tumor visualization project, and creating a Powerpoint presentation of graphs I’ve generated from my image analysis. After a quick lunch break, I prep materials for my antibody staining experiment. I spend the afternoon pipetting and suctioning various solutions off of my 36 glass slides, each of which holds a tiny sliver of mouse nerve tissue. At 4PM, I join a colleague and head over to a neighboring building to use their confocal microscope. Once my slides are imaged on the microscope, I return to my lab to flash-freeze some new mouse nerve samples in liquid nitrogen, drop them off in the -80℃ freezer, and clock out for the day around 6PM. After getting back from work, I head to the climbing gym with my aunt, uncle, and twin cousins (who have all generously allowed me to stay with them while I am up in Portland this fall). Once we get back from the gym, we eat dinner together and then I head to bed early, ready for another full day when I wake up!
Much as I would like to believe otherwise, age is not just a number. Age begets experience and experience begets knowledge, wisdom and other assets that lend weight to your opinions and imbue your words with power. Being the youngest at the table threatens to detract from your credibility and relegate you to the sidelines.
In school, I enjoyed spearheading class discussions, taking the lead during group projects and debating passionately in academic conferences. Granted, I am vocal and forthright by nature. But in hindsight, this courage I derived in no small measure from the confidence of being well-versed in the subject matter and the comfort of being surrounded by peers.
Working alongside graduate students, professors, colleagues, superiors and external consultants during my research attachment and biotechnology internship thrust upon me the challenge of making myself heard and noticed (for the right reasons) in a room dominated by adults. Though no less eager to contribute something valuable to the conversation, I was more preoccupied with trying to keep abreast of the constant deluge of new information. Technical discussions left me particularly bereft of words, the profound understanding of abstruse scientific concepts demanded well beyond my present capabilities to acquire.
I often found myself cowering before the specter of humiliation– of throwing my inexperience and ignorance into sharp relief through ill-advised remarks and irrelevant questions. There were instances when the exhilaration of being struck by sudden insight sent an avalanche of words catapulting to the tip of my tongue. But fear often got in the way. It adamantly refused to let them slip through heavily-guarded lips and ruthlessly stamped out every last ember of what could potentially have been decent ideas before they had a chance to see the light of day.
When I finally mustered the nerve to speak up, tepid or critical remarks would drive me back into my shell, defeated and disheartened. It was difficult not to feel like an underage intruder in a 21-and-over club in the face of cold rejection or even blatant disregard.
The loneliness of my predicament only exacerbated these struggles. No matter how amiably I got along with my coworkers and research partners, our relationships lacked the camaraderie and solidarity only shared experiences and sentiments could engender. Our age difference also yielded generational variations in beliefs, values, cultural interests and parlance that were almost impossible to fully transcend.
Fortunately, I have come to discover, appreciate and embrace the copious benefits of my youth. Inane remarks and irrelevant questions do incite contention but nothing beyond impersonal fact-based rebuttals that are hardly, if ever, tinged with contempt. Repercussions, albeit still ineluctably ensuing from my constant blunders, are often modulated by leniency. The frustration of being limited in ability and power is palpable, but the satisfaction that ensues from occasionally punching above my weight even more so.
Though my longing for peer companionship abides, sustained by the onslaught of social media updates from friends who have embarked on their college journeys, I am starting to relish my interactions with adults who temper my juvenile disposition with their imparted wisdom. To be constantly surrounded by mentors and role models, each espousing certain virtues and upholding certain work ethics that I aspire towards, is a privilege I should and will strive to avail myself of.
If age is not merely a number, I will certainly treasure my adolescence and the concomitant freedom to err, learn and grow with nothing to lose, before the inexorable march of time thrusts the burden of adulthood upon me.