Old cities are like old paint splatters on your favorite jeans.

A new home every 4 or less months… for 4 years? It definitely gets interesting.

As I move through the world, habits and behaviors and strategies and patterns that develop in one place follow me to the next.

Some of these turn into cultivated skills, like my slowly refining budgeting abilities. I give myself a mental high five when I noticed these popping up.

Others are like permanent paint splatters on your favorite jeans, not really noticeable and artsy enough that even if somebody did notice them they’d think it was intentional. These are the ones that I blink at when they come seemingly from nowhere.

Since August 2016, there have been a lot of moves, and each place has given me something new.

From San Francisco, California (8 months), I keep

  • a reluctance to even look into a restaurant unless I was mentally prepared to drop at least $20. (I never was. I went out to eat 0 times on my own in San Francisco.)
  • the normalization of homeless people on the streets, a mindset I dislike.
  • the assumption that anybody in a grey hoodie is probably working for Twitter, Uber, any other fancy start-up, or owns a million dollars.

From Atlin, British Colombia (1 month), I keep

  • a love for ferries. And lakes. And mountains. And Germans!
  • surprise that night falls elsewhere in the world, and darkly. (I’ve only been in Atlin, which is far north, in the summer––it never gets near full dark.)
  • a sense that no matter what happens, even if everything goes wrong, I can always find a place of belonging and peace. (this is really, really helpful, especially around finals time.)

From Seoul, South Korea (3 months), I keep

  • the habit of bobbing my head respectfully to those doing me a favor and handing my credit card over with my hand on my elbow.
  • an image of public swimming places that makes me surprised to find bathers outside Korea going in swimming suits instead of being naked.
  • a gentle disgust for wearing my shoes past the entry way.
  • a love for heated floors.

From Hyderabad, India (4 months), I keep

  • a reluctance to pay more than $3 for an Uber anywhere and more than $12 for a 10 hour bus ride.
  • a belief in the high potential (in the areas of cheapness, tastiness, and accessibility) for street food.
  • faith that the goodness of humanity can always be found, even if it doesn’t always appear that way on the immediate surface.
  • knowledge that clothing could always be more interesting and colorful.
  • EDIT: a new null hypothesis: people can like me. Before they know me, their impression is neutral, not negative. This is embodied in The Best Hyderabad House 2k18….

From Tucson, Arizona (1+2+2), I keep

  • ….. I’m still figuring out what my upbringing in Tucson left me with. Right now, it still feels like the baseline, and therefore hard to detect.

 

Now I’m in Birmingham, Alabama (2 months). What will I keep from here? Will these old habits ever fade fully away? Will I ever stop feeling homesick for 4 places at once? Will I stop accidentally pulling up mental maps of cities several spots down the list of moves when I’m planning what I want to do in the city that day or go to the library? Moving with Minerva is amazing, don’t get me wrong. If I could live 7 lifetimes and spend each in each city we live in, though… I’d choose that option instead of only 4 months in each home.


Featured image from Minerva’s website, https://www.minerva.kgi.edu/global-experience/

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?

First two weeks in HITEC City!

I made it to India! It’s way better than I thought it would be, honestly. Multiple people told me that everybody either loves India, or hates it, but I think I’m solidly over the line on the “liking” side, but not quite to “love” yet. Enjoying the heck out of while I’m here, yes, but I’m not sure I’d move here permanently.

Here are some highlights!

My first meal in India was thali, I think South Indian. Basically, a huge dish of samples of curry, breads, yogurt, rices, desserts… not pictured are a basket of roti (puffed bread) and a small metal pitcher of hot (and hella delicious) ghee. We use ghee at my house, but I’ve never heard other people talk about it… until now.

Some school friends and I went to Golconda Fort, a historical marvel that spiked my creativity, fascination with the area, and dislike for people who carve their names carelessly into their surroundings. (Note: I don’t mind beautiful, well-thought out and well-placed tagging and graffiti. Just the stuff so unaesthetic as to besiege your senses.)

Part of the fort, newly re-plastered. One of the coolest things was thanks to the same low standards for protection of the site that led to the vandalism I shook my head over in just the previous photo: we could go anywhere in the site. No nook or cranny or hallway was off limits. Through that black portal to the right was an internal site where pigeons now reigned, so far from the bustle of the main grounds that I could imagine going there on a hot day when I wanted to escape the rest of the inhabitants of the fort hundreds of years ago.

Olaf and Mayzie, on one of the only walkways in the place. One thing I can’t say about India: it’s universally accessible.

Alondra.

The pigeon decided not to hold still for a photo. I decided I didn’t mind.

LOOK AT THOSE EDGES. HOW. INTENSE. Can you imagine building that by hand?!?

The view from the top. Hazy. Yum yum pollution! I’m going to start looking into anti-pollution measures here in Hyderabad; with all the of bright minds in this country, I’d be surprised if there weren’t several startup solutions in the works already. The only question is, how do I best support the effort?

Suraj snapped this photo. It’s got to be my favorite photo of myself, ever.

Dare I call this the obligatory, “cows-in-the-road-I’m-in-India” pic?

South Korea, where we spent the last semester, has left its mark on us. 애교!

Another delicious meal. I’ve only eaten something gross here once––a sort of shredded coconut curry thing with balls of something lemony in it. A Mistake. Shredded coconut is my kryptonite. The rest is delicious. This plate came from a resturant down the street and cost about $2. I am spoiled. Best of all, I’ve started eating street vendor’s all-you-can-eat-rice-and-curry dishes for $1. So. gooooooood.

Isn’t this over-way in construction fascinating! I don’t know what it is about it, but it feels so… futuristic. Urban.

And it just ends…

Amazing.

Casually in Korea

What with all we’re hearing in the news about North Korea and Donald Trump, I figure it’s good to post about the other 99.99% of things going on here in South Korea. 

We just finished celebrating Chuseok, which is like Korean Thanksgiving. All my favorite coffee shops were closed over the weekend so families could reunite across the country. Luckily the woman at the register let me into my favorite grocery store as they were closing up on Thursday so I could grab some veggies. 

Today was Hangul day. Hangul, the Korean alphabet, 한글, has its roots in education equality: King Sejong had it created as a simpler version of Chinese, which was so complicated it made literacy for non-elites hard to achieve. Hangul is really easy to learn (it took me under an hour), you can find lots of resources online!

We have off school tomorrow, which is nice as the Minerva version of midterms is right around the corner. I expect the rest of Seoul start getting busy again tomorrow and the next day, as everybody returns from spending the weekend with their family. 

To celebrate, two friends and I went to a cake shop, Dore Dore, in a hip part of Gangnam. Sugar is not my thing, but they enjoyed guessing which flavors belonged to which layer of the rainbow cake they got!

Life keeps on here in Seoul. I’m so glad to be a part of it. 🙂

Sunny weather

One year ago today, Dean Chandler arrived in Berlin to greet the class of 2019. Today, it’s her last day in Seoul visiting the classes of 2019 and 2020. About 20 of us gathered to wish her goodbye over fried chicken. Maybe she’ll be in London next year…. 
The weather today was soft, the sky sunny; it was the perfect temperature. By nightfall, autumn had made itself known. I sat outside on Bitter Sweet’s fake turf, watching the cars go by for a little bit, thinking about how perfect days like these are too often spent indoors and are never fully appreciated. Then I went inside so I could see my laptop screen better. 

At the cafe next door.

My evening was made perfect too, despite the sudden chill of nightfall, by a long discussion with Vini, Julia, and Anna. These are the deeper connections, the longer conversations, the natural pauses and the run on sentences and paragraphs and pages and lack of HC and LO scoring that aren’t fulfilled by class. My classmates, however, are more than adiquate to round out my human interactions and persuit of knowledge. 

And now it’s time for bed, and there is so much to look forward to. 

Here’s to warm weather. Last as long as you can. 

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!

The Moral of the Story

[Day 5 in Seoul. Status: Not blown up by North Korea.]

I walked into a new world of Seoul today.

Before, I’d been staying mostly in my room, making familiar journeys to familiar places (namely, Daiso for household items and embarrassingly, 7/11 when I was trying to live on cheap rice triangles while my bank figured out the block they put on my card and I tried to figure out where the grocery store was).

Today, I stepped out after a successful first class with Prof. Doyle on Perception and Cognition into a side of Seoul I hadn’t seen yet: a place I would be calling home, a honorific I was exponentially growing more comfortable as we walked along streets lined with huge trees, past construction site, explored underground grocery stores 1000x better than the 24hr mart by our dorm.

Was it having a friend by my side when I’d been feeling so lonely that made my perception shift from slightly scared and worried about the days to come to so excited to explore and feeling capable of taking care of myself?

Was it finding a grocery store where I could buy items I had just this morning thought might be out of my reach until my return to the U.S., like coffee filters (#2), full fat and sugar free yogurt, olive oil?

I think it was the discovery of a small cafe with easy-on-the-wallet prices, easy-on-the-ears k-pop ballads, and very easy-on-the-eyes Korean men who jumped––to attention, out of a k-drama––when we walked in.

The moral of the story? When in a new country… surround yourself with friends, food, and fantastically attractive men.

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Mom, this photo is for you.
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Sunset … somewhere in Seoul.
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Part of a welcoming dance for us – the dancer wore a cap on their head that flew as they tilted and rolled their head!
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Part of the Seoul subway system on one of my new favorite apps.
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The Seoul subway.