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An Open Ground
A hidden maze of ever increasing complexity. The boundaries of the world—what defines them?
A child. The world is an open ground. Exciting and playful. Free for exploration. From when I first learned to cycle till about the age of seven, my parents asked me to never go outside our street. I had close to a hundred metre region to circle over and over, but the possibilities still felt endless.
Freedom and Opportunity
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.
The Duality of Youth
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.
My New Normal
I have been in quarantine for almost half a year, yet it still feels like there is no end in sight. I’ve been fortunate enough to have not caught Coronavirus thus far (at least, I think so, because I had a terrible “flu-like” disease in January that no doctor could definitively diagnose and I swear it was the silent killer), although my parents know of people who’ve died and I know of people who’ve carried it. I have collected more than enough masks and keep hand sanitizer bottles in every bag. I cross the street when someone is walking towards me. I keep my head down when I’m running through the park. I no longer can remember the euphoria of dancing in the rain after parties at two in the morning. I no longer can remember waiting in line for tacos in the scorching July heat. I no longer can remember normalcy. It’s all a haze, a distant memory that I long to relive.
I’ve been in quarantine for almost half a year yet it’s almost like I predicted that my dreams would never materialize. I come from strict parents. I live in a flat on the third floor of a temple and none of my friends are allowed inside. Sure, I had left home to go to boarding school three-thousand miles away when I was thirteen. I had been to a number of summer sleepaway camps. I even lived at my boyfriend’s house for a month (this one took too many speeches to finally convince my parents to allow.) Yet when I think about my gap year—July in Europe with my best friend of eleven years, September hiking in the Himalayas, my 18th birthday riding camels in Dubai, January saving turtles in the Great Barrier Reef, March in South Africa at a Great White Shark Research Institute—I wonder if my parents would have really let me jet off to someplace else without the reassurance that I would be safe (like at boarding school, where you’re required to check-in every night at some ridiculously early hour.)
Coronavirus has been both a blessing and a punishment. I missed out on what could’ve been the best term in high school. I planned out my gap year down to the very plane tickets I would be buying just to be told I could neither pay for my expenses (because financial aid through gap year programs is much harder to receive in a global pandemic) or even leave to pursue my goals. I never got to hug my friends knowing I would likely never see them again. I spent the last four months of my senior year talking through a computer screen. I watched my graduation ceremony online.
Yet I also found love. I found happiness. I took many days to self-reflect. I learned to live with myself and not feel uncomfortable or worthless or a failure. I truly healed just by being handed the time to.
When I think about these next months, I see endless possibilities. I’ve learned that there’s a silver lining to everything, even a pandemic that shuts down the world at its very core. But I’m hopeful that I will continue my journey of self-growth through being able to sit with myself, even if it may be in my room eating a PB&J, watching Breaking Bad.