Improving quality time

My friend Shiao-li and I are trying out a new way to hang out. In the past we’ve tried studying together, but I often get distracted when I’m around people, especially if I’d rather not do whatever studying needs to be done. It means that there are many times we don’t hang out + reconnect or study together as well as we could be.

Some days, when the workload is low and/or I’m in need of a bandwidth recharge, this doesn’t matter. It’s fun to study together, especially since you get the added boost of exercise (walking to the cafe) and caffeine. Taking breaks while studying to talk is also fun.

But for days when I’m already going at full capacity and feeling motivated to get work done… this doesn’t work well.

So we tried setting a 30 minute period of time, 1-1:30pm, and a location, the patio. We showed up, without our computers or an agenda. We talked for that time, caught up, shared knowledge… and then left at 1:30.

It worked out really well, because we were both 100% tuned into the conversation, and because it meant that I was 100% committed to it the entire time despite feeling stressed about completing all the work I had on my plate. Because I knew it would end in just 30 minutes, which was an amount of time I felt comfortable giving, I didn’t have to worry about what else I could be doing with my time or how to exit the conversation.

How might we find other ways to improve our quality time with one another in an environment of hearty workloads and a poor work-life balance?

Waiting for the plane to Hyderabad

A staff member at my school sent out this video, a collection of experiences from a friend of hers who lives in the same area of India I’m going to.

Watching it brought back so many memories of my year in Panama. One part near the end showed him doing chores and other basic activities while “memories” of a time before were projected onto him and the background. I remember doing the same thing. You’d be brushing your teeth, sweeping the house, walking to the bus, and these memories, random and seemingly unprompted, would begin to play. If you let them, they swallowed you. Dwelling on the past too much leads to utter abandonment of the pursuit of enjoyment in the present. And living abroad on your own, when you’re struggling with the language and day to day life… it requires a lot of intentional enjoyment seeking.

I write this in Colorado, waiting for my flight to Munich, to wait for a flight to Mumbai, then to Hyderabad, where I’ll meet the rest of my class and stay the rest of the semester.

I’m a little nervous. Whenever I mentioned I was going to India, people get this far away, impressed look in their eye. I’m not sure if they’re impressed I’m going there, or if it’s just India that impresses them. They talk about the mix––they take two contrasting variables and explain how India is the only place where you see so much mixing of these two things you’d never expect to see, in extremes. Wealth and poverty. Joy and suffering. Good food and––well, no, nobody has ever mentioned there’s anything but good food.

I feel like I’m going on a study abroad trip, in a way that I didn’t when I went to South Korea last September for the fall semester.

I feel the way I did when I went to Panama: a little nervous about the amount of unknown variables and situations that are coming up, a little nervous about catching my flights and getting to the place I’m staying, a little nervous about presenting the best image of a foreigner, especially a foreigner from the U.S.A. A lot of excitement about seeing another way humans developed life, about seeing myself and my values in the context of that other culture, about the opportunity to meet strangers and maybe bring some joy to where I go.

The main three differences from getting ready for India this semester and going to Panama four and a half years ago are my level of preparedness for living in a different culture, my expected day to day, and the fact that I’ll be living with classmates instead of a host family.

When I moved to Panama, I barely knew that people lived different lifestyles than I did in the U.S. I had some vague understanding of what it meant for a country to speak another language, of what poverty was, of different styles of body language, but… they were vague. I was 16, and had only been to Canada before then, but for a short trip to Costa Rica on a ecotour that was not at all representative of local life in Central America.

I was also going to go to school in Panama. I ended up at a trade school, in the agriculture-zoology track, something that ended up being extremely lucky. That track of the school had less students, so I knew my classmates better than the other two exchange students who were in the Business and Science tracks. We had longer work days and summer school spent doing practical work in the plantain and banana fields and working with the animals, which meant I could participate in class before my Spanish was any good. In India, I’ll be continuing taking classes at my university, Minerva. (If you’re unfamiliar with Minerva, you’ll probably want to check out my short explanation of the ways in which Minerva drastically deviates from a normal university.)

In India, ~250 fellow and known classmates await my arrival. Our school has rented out an entire apartment building for us. It’s not ideal for cultural exchange; sometimes I hesitate to say I’m going on exchange or studying abroad because Minerva’s model barely allows for what we typically think of when we say “study abroad”. Minerva does try hard to make sure our staff are local, and that all students have the option to do an internship or project with local businesses and organizations. Every class has an assignment that requires engagement in the city we’re in. But… living with your friends, with other foreigners, instead of a host family, gives you a completely different experience. If I had time for everything, I’d like to live with a host family again. Maybe once I graduate.

So here I go, again. India, I can’t wait to meet you. See you soon.

The $6 Coffee

[Day 11 in Seoul. Status: Haven’t heard much about North Korea in the last couple of days.]

Today I purposefully sought out a $6 coffee.

(I would have titled this post “The Most Expensive Coffee I’ve Ever Consumed”, but on my way here I ordered coffee in the Shanghai airport and it cost $9, so that title is out. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ )

Some universities have their Greek Life culture, others their football pride culture. Here at Minerva, there’s quite the coffee-shop-studying culture, in that you can regularly see students going out to study at cafes and regularly hear discussions about which coffee shops are the best/unusual/cheapest/have blocked us due to extreme quantities of internet consumption and regularly happen upon other Minervans at coffee shops around the city. My point is that, while I’m sure there are lots of students who don’t go out to cafes every day, you don’t often see them for obvious reasons. (#attentionperceptionbias.) It makes you want to go out as well, especially as we don’t have any common spaces in our residence this semester, as our residence is a hotel. (And we have no campus. New reader? Confused? I go to Minerva.)

And so today found me venturing out from our hotel after class and lunch to find a quiet place to camp out for a few hours and get work done.

Seoul is full of cafes. Unfortunately, they all are pretty expensive. While you can get a cheap ($2-3) latte at take-away open faced or two table places, any larger area will charge easily $5 for a simple drink, and ice and milk will raise you another dollar.

The reasoning I’ve heard for this is that in this city, you pay for the privilege of parking your laptop for hours in their space. In the 24 cafes, I’ve even heard of people sleeping at the tables.

It makes sense, although I have to wonder how San Francisco, Tucson, and the rest of the United States keeps coffee shops open and running considering they charge half the price. However, the priciness of coffee shops doesn’t mesh well with Minerva, as there’s simultaneously pressure to go out to coffee shops both as a social and academic thing to do, and a lot of students under economic strain.

More than 75% of our students come from outside the U.S., and all admissions are need-blind. This means that something like 80% of our student body is on financial aid. A push to spend $5 regularly on coffee is not really what we need––or what we can afford.

I come at this situation with a (long) problem statement:

Where else in Seoul can I find free / reduced price wifi, or even just places to be without wifi, as I can pull up class readings ahead of time? And how can we make this a sustainable alternative for those students who would rather not spend so much just to do their classwork and socialize outside of their rooms? 

So let the quest for answers begin!

Elsewhere in time and space…. 

Two days ago was Exploration Day, where small groups of students are sent out across the city for a day of fun and exploration. Here’s the snapstory I created along the way!