A Stormy Day

I only took one semester off from classes, and yet somehow I managed to forget just how awful midterms are. There is a reason GT students call it “hell week.”

Eating dinner at 11pm because you lost track of time working on a report all day. Getting way less sleep than you should because you wake up early in order to start working and then can’t go to bed with all the thought of what you still have to prepare for tomorrow. Making one-page study versions of your notes with writing so small that your hand cramps for hours. Watching Crash Course while making dinner and cleaning dishes because you realize how little your professor actually taught you. And the stress! The overhanging cloud of darkness containing all lists to be completed, deadlines to meet, and tests with timers in the corner of your screen counting down the seconds till mass destruction. And knowing that due to the pandemic and the syllabus changes, pretty much every midterm, be it a test or essay, is worth between 35-50% of my overall grade so that’s a bit daunting in it of itself.

It’s a rough time, to say the least… In high school, we would refer to these kinds of moments as “the dark night of the soul.”

Then to make things harder, there was an earthquake this morning that caused the power to go out on different parts of campus, and thus the wifi shut down for almost 4 hours in the middle of the day. But school is all online…

Literally, if it wasn’t for Google Drive having an “offline” function, there would have been nothing I could get done this afternoon. I missed my lecture on Zoom, my textbooks are all e-books, my assignments are all either test on our school website or typed assignments that require research which most of us get from the web.

I was honestly baffled by the lack I could get done. I had accepted school being online, but somehow I don’t think I realized how dependent this made me to the internet. Especially since I don’t have cell reception in New Zealand either (I could get a sim card, but I’ve been surviving this long with just wifi that it seems silly to complicate things with figuring out that whole situation) so I also couldn’t communicate with anyone or even see the announcement about why the internet went down which also included the estimated time it would be back. I debated leaving the building to try and find a cafe with wifi, but it was also raining today and I had no way to search what was open or where has wifi and the other times the wifi has gone down it usually came back pretty quickly so I didn’t want to leave in the rain if it was just going to be for a little. Especially since I was able to be a little productive at least with Google Docs offline.

And I did end up most completing the draft of my giant report for marketing since I had already done the majority of my research and outlined on paper/whiteboards, but I had to leave holes throughout the draft of research, citations, and visuals I couldn’t add without the internet. Also this made my weekly plans all sorts of turned around.

Then I made pasta for dinner and accidentally poured boiling water all over my hand while trying to drain the noodles. Now my hand is burnt and I’ve had an ice bag nearby, stopping throughout writing this post to rest my hand. A weirdly appropriate end to this stormy day.

And that’s what it’s like to be a student during midterms. I remember now.

 

The Little Bugs

Throughout k-12 we learn about 5-paragraph essays. I understand why this format is used: it’s a simple way to be introduced to academic writing and when frequently writing timed essays throughout high school, there isn’t really enough time to adequately develop ideas past 5-paragraphs.

However, then you get to college and all of a sudden essays go from 600 words to 1500 words to 3500 words, and the 5-paragraph essay format just really doesn’t make sense to use at that point. But when are we expected to learn how to transition away from the 5-paragraph format? As a student it feels like this transition is just kind of thrown on you without much official guidance. It’s not even that you’re told not to use a 5-paragraph format, it’s just that it’s obvious that it doesn’t feel right when using that many words in an essay. So then everything you’ve learned about essay structure becomes warped. With a 5-paragraph essays we’re taught to introduce three main ideas in our introduction and those three ideas become the focus of each paragraph. Well, just because you’re writing more doesn’t it mean it makes sense to all of a sudden have 6 or 7 main points – then it becomes unclear what you’re saying. So how do you transition to writing multiple paragraphs about one key idea? It’s not really discussed, we’re just expected to start doing it based on gut feeling I guess…

Not to mention there is a whole other kind of academic writing that honestly hardly gets touched on at all in high school: reports. We talk about research reports and maybe look at one or two, we maybe even try to write one, but I remember even with the one time I was assigned to write a report in high school for AP Chem, the teacher’s instruction was, “look up examples online and base it on that.” So my peers and I kind of just winged it and I don’t remember getting much feedback on the matter. Yet we when we then were in college chemistry our first semester of freshman year, we’re all of a sudden assigned a research report every week after lab.

To be honest this isn’t a huge issue in the grand scheme of things that need to change with our education system, but sometimes it’s the little things that just really bother me. The little things show just how disconnected our k-12 and high ed programs are from each other. There are things like long essay and report writing that seem to never really get taught, and yet there are things like general US history that seem to be required every two years starting in 2nd grade and all the way into college… (I legitemently have a “US Consistitution requirement” in my online degree portal, and I took this course online and it was one of the easiest classes I’ve ever taken because I learned nothing new.) The little things on their own may seem insignificant, but they can be really bothersome for students especially when those little things start to add up.

Research Papers

I’ve been working on this same research paper for over a year now. Our Engineers Without Borders team has been interested in the use of design thinking in the global WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) sector so we decided to do a literature review on the subject. Last spring we curated resources to review. Then over the summer, we reviewed those resources sorting by what seemed most relevant. Then in the fall, we got together our first full draft of the analysis work. We had experts give us feedback over the winter break, and now this spring we have been working on revisions. This process has taken a lot longer than we thought, but no one on our team has really done anything like this before so there has been a large learning curve. We are hoping to finally publish in the next few months or so even if it has to be an informal white-page kind of publication at first, (We’ve been working on getting funds to actually publish to an academic journal, but at this point, we believe it’s more important to just get the information out there than to wait to have the fundings for a more formal publish),  though I feel like I’ve been saying this for the past 6 months…

To be honest, I’m very ready to be done with this paper. It’s gotten to the point where I sometimes feel like I’ve re-read the same thing far too many times and just can’t think about it anymore, but I suppose that’s what the writing process is all about: writing and re-writing. Though the other thing that really bothers me every time I go to work on this project is just the general formatting of research papers.

From my perspective, there is a very small part of our population that really reads formal research reports, and it’s mostly just people actively in academia. Yet, most research studies have information that would be interesting and perhaps even beneficial for a much larger audience to be aware of, but these papers just aren’t in a very user-friendly medium. Research papers are long, use technical language to the point that almost feels like overkill, and are typically formatted in a way that’s uninviting to read (small, close together font with multiple columns all in black and white). When I have to look at research papers for school, I know that I never really want to read them – no matter how interesting the title makes the study sound – because they just look so intimidating. So every time I work on our paper I can’t help but wonder, “Is anyone really going to read this…?”

I just wonder if rather than writing a traditional research paper, if our work would be better received if we considered different modes of sharing our results. And I wonder this for all research. While it’s good to have documentation of the technical aspects of research papers, should a greater amount of time be spent on thinking about how to make that research more accessible rather than more “technically sound”?

Word Count

Most people would agree, the hardest part about writing an essay is often the word count. It’s harder to write something short because, in order to write something that’s short, you have to know exactly what it is that you are trying to say and figure out the most direct way to say it. I often don’t know exactly what it is that I’m trying to say. Thus I have a hard time keeping things short; I think a lot, talk a lot, and write a lot. It’s something I want to work on. So this post is only 100 words.

The Things That Never Change

I realized today I’m kind of grateful that New Zealand went into lockdown. Obviously, going into lockdown mode has had tremendous success health-wise, but also it’s made doing online learning much easier.

Sitting in front of a computer listening to pre-recorded video lectures all day would be a lot more annoying if I knew there were other things I could be doing like visiting museums, traveling to different parts of the country, even just going out to eat. But since I’m stuck inside anyway, there’s only so many options for what else to do, so I might as well be doing school work.

Today was only day 2 of online learning but it was a long day. We decide to set up individual family meetings with our team gymnast and their parents so that everyone can get a chance to ask 1:1 questions to coaches. The first round of these meetings started today, so that’s how I spent the first three hours of my day (in addition to our Zoom class). Then after lunch, I spent the next 6 hours doing school work. It’s very odd to in someways feel like it’s only the second day of school, but at the same time have the workload of actually being a month into school.

My first real assignment of the year is due tomorrow. (I say “real assignment” because I’ve submitted a few practice multiple choice test, but we get to take those as many times as we like and it’s just multiple choice so there isn’t really much thought work involved.) I’m a little stressed about this essay though. Maybe it’s because this is my first semester of traditional school since this time last year, or maybe it’s because I’m curious as to what to expect from New Zealand grading vs US, or maybe it’s just because we’ve been out of school for a month and I haven’t even had this class since being back and yet we already have an assignment due.

The topic is about how COVID-19 is affecting international business, and it feels like one of those topics that almost has too much information to discuss and the challenging part is trying to limit what you talk about. Plus we only have 1000 words to use, and I learned earlier today that our reference list is included in this word count, which I found kind of crazy because it’s the only class I’ve had where we’re being told to not use lots of citations.

After finding this out I had to do a lot of last-minute editing today, so thank goodness I have great friends who are willing to stay up past midnight to help me edit down my essay. Ever since high school, there has been a group of us – as one teacher put it, “The Brain Trust” – that has always helped out when it comes to giving feedback on each other’s work. No matter the time, topic, or apparently the state of the world, I somehow am lucky enough to still be able to count on these friends for some last-minute help.

This was a great reminder today, that some things never change, even in the midst of a pandemic.

 

 

(Extra tangent: I have to say our feedback process is actually very amusing. As stressful as it can be, it’s also kind of one of my favorite things to just be rapidly co-editing a document with someone in The Brain Trust. Typically we are on a Google Doc leaving feedback as comments and suggestions so the other person can see the changes we’re making before approving or not approving them. Even I, as the writer on this occasion, made my new changes first as suggestions so someone else could also see the changes I was thinking about. We also tend to not necessarily move in a logical order. We move throughout the essay repeatedly, sometimes all looking at the same section and sometimes working on multiple sections at once making notes when we see them, and also replying to each other’s comments. Often the rapid co-editing is due to needing word count help, but it isn’t always, sometimes we just want general feedback on the content and the writer is also making changes in real-time so we give continuous feedback for a given period of time until everyone thinks it looks good. My favorite part though is we don’t just make comments about things that should change; it’s more like annotating a book where sometimes we’re just commenting about the writing itself and start a whole sidebar conversation and that’s what’s so amusing to me. It’s proof that giving and receiving feedback really is a gift and it can be a fun process if everyone is open and accepting of the feedback – which doesn’t mean always implementing the feedback, it just means being willing to consider the feedback.)

Revisiting

After about 20 minutes of trying to think about what I’d write about today. I was still drawing a blank. So I decided, maybe I need to read instead of write tonight. Therefore, instead of writing some long blog post, I’m going to spend the time I would’ve been writing to go back and revisit some old blog posts. While reflecting during the moment of the event is good, the best part of keeping written records of reflections is when you get to go back and re-visit old thoughts and reflect on what’s changed since you wrote them.

The Lead-Up

We have one week left of our four weeks of lockdown, which also means one week left until my classes start again but now online. Since lockdown has begun time has moved in a weird way. Every day seems particularly long but every week seems to go by weirdly quickly since I have trouble keeping track of what day it is, so it seems like the break before re-starting school has kind of snuck up on me in a quick way.

It honestly seems crazy to think about going back to classes at this point. I was only in school for three weeks before everything shut down, and by the time I go back, it will have been four weeks off school, making for a longer break than school time thus far. This much time off from school and stuck inside has made for a very odd sense of reality and it’s hard to imagine school now restarting but isolation not ending. It’s been fine so far staying amused and relatively decent mentally during isolation, but I’m concerned adding school into this mix is going to make things much more difficult.

I think it’s going to be very challenging to find motivation to do school assignments for 9 more weeks while still in some variation of social-distancing. I’m basically going to be doing an entire semester of online classes which is something I’ve always intentionally tried to avoid so this is slightly terrifying to think it’s just about actually here. Plus this time of year is when all of my friends in the US are just finishing up the end of their classes, but I’m basically just starting the semester still. It’s going to be extremely hard to stay focused while all of my friends are done with classes, and I wasn’t really around people here long enough to make any close friends still in New Zealand who will also be in classes at this time of year. 

I’ve also really not taken advantage of this time off in terms of trying to get ahead on school work. I did some work, but mainly just for the assignments I know are due relatively soon after we get back since they were originally due for the week everything shut down. Most of our professors encouraged taking time to relax and assured us we’d have enough time to complete our assignments even if we waited until classes re-started to begin working on them, but at the same time they clearly were encouraging the people who did choose to get started early so very mixed signals were being sent… I wanted to be okay with not working on much school work during the break, but now that it’s almost time to start again the “over-achiever” in me is getting anxious about the fact that maybe I should’ve done more to take advantage of this “extra time.”

I’m worried now it’s going to be a decent bit of a reality shock going back to classes in terms of going from doing so little that I get bored and tired of watching TV even to now having to do daily work but still being at home. At least on a typical break, you’re still getting out of the house and doing stuff so when you go back to school it’s not literally going from 0-100 in average daily energy level. Plus the change of environment with actually going to school usually helps with the mind-shift, but that’s a luxury we don’t have right now.

I don’t have any sort of formal plan at this point for how I’m going to try and adjust to going “back to school” but still from home after four weeks of nothing. I wish this post could be about my fears and how I plan to overcome them, but that’s just not the case at this point. The best I’ve got is the hope that hearing from my professors again with our video lectures will help get me in a working mood, but I’m not exactly convinced this will be the case.

At first, when the announcement was made about everything moving online, it made me think that this would make the semester easier since all of the online courses I’ve ever taken have been the easiest classes I’ve been in, but now with every class being online, I’m actually thinking it’s going to be harder than a traditional semester. It’s pretty much all the same amount of work, but without the usual fun aspects of school – no random conversations with new classmates you’re meeting, no clubs, no group projects, no late hour study sessions, (for the lectures that are entirely pre-recorded) no wacky tangents based on a slighly off-topic question, and I’m sure there are more things that will be missed out on that I’m not thinking of at the moment.

Don’t get me wrong, I like most of my classes (I wouldn’t be in Econ if I didn’t have to be…), it’s just the thought of the assignments that are daunting considering I have an average of two big research papers in each of my 5 classes and I’m really just not a fan of research papers even though I know that’s a big part of college. I think this is because I prefer thinking through ideas in collaborative environments opposed to independent research. And now with classes being taught digitally, I know there are going to be even fewer ways to make new connections with peers in my classes and group projects were pretty much all canceled so even more is now riding on the research papers – my not preferred method of communication – which is just very stressful to think about.

But I’ve got one more week to figure out how to get motivated I suppose, because like it or not and believe it or not it’s almost time to start the semester again.

 

 

(Just to clarify, I probably wouldn’t write about anything I really thought I couldn’t manage, but part of that management process for me is being able to list out concerns honestly, thus the more pessimistic tone to this particular post.)

The Debate of Purpose

I have decided to use this newfound free time to finally go through my old uncategorized blog posts and sort them with tags and categories. (I had originally written them before I knew about these features…)

While reading my old posts it’s become painstakingly clear how many of my posts are really not noteworthy. It’s made me wonder about the essential struggle I’ve always had with my blog:

Is it better to prioritize the habit of consistent reflecting/writing or should I prioritize only blogging when I feel as if I have something of quality to say?

I frequently debate this because it’s a question of purpose and if this blog is designed based on me or my potential readers, and I spent about an hour earlier today going back and forth with one of my friends about the topic.

I know the habit of reflecting is immensely valuable to me as an individual. Though I also know that it can be annoying to have frequent notifications when something isn’t really worth the time. As much as I try to make all of my posts have some sort of point or message to them, I am very aware that they aren’t all profound or inspiring, and sometimes I struggle to be able to write anything at all.

The thing is, once I decide that I’m only going to blog when I think I find something really valuable to write about, all of a sudden nothing ends up being good enough. That’s how I end up in the habit of not blogging at all besides when I go to the occasional event.

I don’t know what life will look life after social-distancing or if I will continue to blog as frequently as I’m trying to right now, but I do know that I believe the purpose of this blog remains the same as it was in 2014 when I started it: it’s a place for me to reflect and learn more about myself by trying to find something interesting I observed about every day. If people want to read my posts, then that’s just an added bonus that helps keep me committed to doing the task and gives them a look into my learning process which I know at least some people value being able to see.

So I’m sorry if you’re one of those people who feels some of my more random posts are just cluttering you notifications. But then again, maybe this isn’t the blog for you to be following then, because I plan to continue seeing this blog as a place focused on my learning and growth which for now means writing even if I don’t have anything particularly meaningful to say.

I suppose this may even be one of those posts, but this is a debate I frequently have and needed to work through and writing helps me do that, so here we are.

Glad It’s With Me

“What’s the most random thing in your house that you’re really grateful for having right now? Why?” 

For me I’m super grateful for this dinky little whiteboard I got from a store called “Wonderland” I found while walking back from classes one day. It’s purple, the magnets already broke, and it has the illustrated ABC’s on the back of it and I love it!

I’ve always been a kinesthetic and visual learner. I’m the kid who likes to stand and move around while working and all of my notes include mind maps and lots of arrows. Once, freshman year of high school, I even brought my own giant whiteboard from home into school so I could use it to outline my essay during our world history midterm exam. I find that whiteboards make it easier for me to brainstorm all of my thoughts on a topic and then use lines, arrows, and circles to visually/physically be able to make all sorts of connections. It’s helped my writing tremendously, so now I use whiteboards as a way to start my brainstorm process for pretty much every assignment I do that requires critical and creative thinking.

I love whiteboards so much that at home I now have a whiteboard wall, a whiteboard desk, a giant whiteboard hanging on a wall and a smaller whiteboard on top of my desk. I use them for everything from drawing out gymnastics routines to outlining essays to just a place to do scratch work.

I lasted about a week in New Zealand before deciding I had to buy a whiteboard to use while here. (Though I did have 2 of my “homemade whiteboard” – a sheet of printer paper in a clear sleeve – they just weren’t cutting it alone. ) And now being stuck inside, I’m especially grateful for this dinky little whiteboard as I’ve already gotten so much use out of it while having this time to brainstorm new ideas and get ahead on assignments.

What random thing are you grateful for having around right now?

Recording History

Well, it’s official, New Zealand has joined the rest of the world in this pandemic and goes into “lockdown” mode in 48 hours. Schools have now been closed/moved online and other organizations are following suit with everyone preparing for the next 4 weeks staying at home.

History is being made right now, and I figured I should write/reflect about it, so here’s my update from New Zealand:

I’m 17 hours ahead from my home in the US, and yet in some ways, I feel a week behind. The past week and a half I have been dealing with the fact that the situation in the US has gotten increasingly worse and all study abroad programs were canceled with students being asked to return home. I had to decide by last Wednesday if I was going to stay here and sign away GT’s liability to me being here or go back home to the states where the health situation has been significantly worse. I decided to stay because I believe one of the worst things to do right now is travel, and I feel confident in NZ taking advantage of the extra time we’ve had here to prepare for the worst of it. So I’m here for the long-hall for now and just taking everything day by day flying solo.

^This was last week.

Today, in the middle of my International Management class, the Prime Minister announced that NZ has had 36 new confirmed cases of the virus (bringing us to a total of 102 and spreading through the community now); therefore, the decision was made to up the country to a level 3 warning which will change to a level 4 warning in 48 hours.

Since then the city has kind of been in mass prep mode.

I can’t help but find things slightly amusing, because in my mind I knew this announcement was coming any day now. The past two weeks I’ve been getting updates from friends and family and twitter back home about things slowly shutting down and school-going online and toilet paper leaving the shelves. I’ve been hearing so much, and with study abroad programs being canceled also having to think about things so much, it’s almost felt like I was living in that reality too. Even though here in NZ, I was still just going to classes per-usual and dealing with the debate about going home or not while trying to submit assignments in on time.

I specifically treated last Friday like it would be my last day on campus, being sure to buy my last scone from the cafe, getting a sweatshirt souvenir from my host university, and getting lunch at my favorite spot. Then I spent the weekend starting to stalk up on groceries and cleaning supplies.

However, with the way people were acting today, it was clear that not everyone was on the same mental page as me. It was almost as if people didn’t see this situation as inevitable.

Traffic was crazy. Grocery stores were packed with check out lines going to the back of the store. Everyone looked in a rush on the sidewalks. And this was all happening only about an hour or so after the announcement while I walked home from my class. I can only imagine what things got like later in the day.

I got home and shortly after my roommate came in with her parents and suitcases already packing up to go home along with the dozens of others in the hallways. Meanwhile, I’ve been sitting at my desk updating friends and family thinking to myself, “deja-vu.” It’s like we’re just a week or so behind everything that I’ve been hearing about in the States.

So now I’m safe and healthy alone in my apartment with lots of food supplies ready to take things day by day and readying my friends for lots of video chats. With all of this newfound time I hope to be better at blogging more frequently and I would challenge others to also create a blog to share your stories during this time of uncertainty. 30 years from now students are going to be doing school projects about “The Great Pandemic of 2020.” Wouldn’t it be cool if these future learners had all sorts of primary resources from families around the world sharing about what their daily life was like during social-isolation? Not to mention, blogging can be a great way to consume time and reflecting is a great tool for mental health management.

Whether it’s every day, once a week, three times a week, every other day, or even once every two weeks recording our history is important and everyone’s stories matter. I challenge learners of all ages to reflect, write, and share your stories.