Chicago Term: The Beginning

Can’t think of a more original title for this one. And heads-up: This is a massive post of wordy rambles and personal reflections.

I need to start by expressing how incredibly blessed I feel. I am lucky. I cannot and do not take that for granted. I am getting a college education. Not only that, but I’m getting a college education that is entirely supported by my parents. Not only that, but I’m getting a college education at a really amazing institution. This institution has provided me so many amazing opportunities, from traveling within my country to traveling outside of it. I have grown within the classroom as well as beyond it.

And now, I’m outside of the classroom again. In this one academic year, I have experienced one trimester abroad in Scotland, only one trimester at my home institution, and for this next and final trimester of the year, I’m away once more — this time in the heart of downtown Chicago. Called “Chicago Term,” it’s yet another opportunity offered by my college for students to broaden their horizons. And I, being the excessively restless person I have been, am soaking it all up. During Chicago Term, students have the opportunity of living downtown right in the Loop and taking classes in the city, commuting back to campus for more classes, having an internship, or some combination of all those.

I’m taking the two classes offered this term in the city, Urban & Suburban Studies and Chicago Art & Architecture. I’m rounding off my academic responsibilities with an exciting research practicum on race and ethnicity.

I’m trying my hardest not to end that last paragraph with, “And that’s about it.” But more on that later.

I’m so excited for my time in Chicago in all the ways it will enrich my education, but I’m even more excited for the opportunities it’ll provide me to grow more as an individual. Recently, I’ve made note of a lot of things I’d like to work on with myself. Being away from my campus yet again — and virtually on my own, no less — is an opportunity for me to work on all of these things.

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I get a room built for two all to myself.

I want to be more comfortable with being on my own and valuing myself for that.

A year ago, the thought of Chicago Term excited me in the same ways that studying abroad in Scotland did — I was excited at the vast diversity of people I could possibly meet and make friends with. I was hungry to share my life with others and learn about theirs. In Glasgow, that’s exactly what I did. However, this time around, I’m not so sure if I want to do that again, even if it is a different environment with a different population.

One of the things I’ve come to realize about myself is that I’m not only thinly spread in terms of responsibilities on campus, but I’m also thinly spread in terms of my social life. This has never been an issue for me before. I’ve always been a “floater” ever since I can remember; It’s always energized me to have a variety of individualized connections. I’ve gotten to know many different people from many different areas, because I myself have many different areas of my own life — multiple music ensembles, multiple venues to practice and grow in Christianity, Mosaic, classes, everything else I’ve experienced throughout my life until this point… But I’ve come to notice that none of my friends know each other. (I have noticed this on occasions like my birthday. My birthday celebrations have always an eclectic conglomeration of my friends from different walks of life, and I sometimes feel awkward about it, hyper-aware of the possibility that just because I get along well with each of my different friends, they might not get along well with each other just given the diverse ways I’ve gotten to know each person.)

What’s most concerning about this to me is that I emotionally invest so much of myself in everyone I meet, every friend I make, whether those people know it or not. I get attached. I trust easily. I wear my heart on my sleeve. I have been 100% transparent in my emotions and in the goings-on in my life. With being so invested in a variety of different individuals so separate from each other, there doesn’t feel like there is much cohesion in my support system.

I have been defined by who I am to other people, and I have always craved getting to know other people, because it’s through those interactions that I find myself. This hasn’t exhausted me until now. I don’t know what’s changed — have I reached a limit of how many people I can keep track of in my life? Or have I myself changed? In any case, I no longer feel energized by being so transparent or so easily trusting. With the ever-changing dynamic of my own life (just look at this past academic year alone! first I was in Scotland, then I was back home but with a fresh set of perspectives and friends to invest in, and now I’m away again!), I’ve come to notice that I have allowed my social circle to change in conjunction. I mean, I know that that’s inevitable because the only thing that’s constant is change and yadda yadda, but it’s gotten to the point where I’m craving some consistency, some stability within the constant contractions and expansions of my social circle. I grow close to people fast and then drift away from them just as quickly, and I’m left with nothing but the sensation that those people are now walking around carrying a piece of me with them while I, on the other hand, am one piece of myself shorter.

I think society imposes this idea that the twenties are a period of time during which individuals have to go out and “experiment” and explore, to find themselves by spreading themselves as thinly as possible in order to stretch their feelers and amass a collection of wild experiences and stories. For some people, this works. It worked for me for a while. But somehow I’ve reached a stage of near burnout already. I’m reminding myself that that’s okay. Everyone is on their own clock. My clock is no less valid than another’s.

Given the fact that I’ve just turned 21, I find it almost alarming that I feel the need to say that I don’t have much room in my life for new people right now. At least, not in the same way I’ve allowed people into my life before. But that’s totally okay. I need to work on finding stability within myself rather than in the people around me. It’s both ironic and completely perfect that I’m doing this in a city of 2.7 million people. Manilyn from a year ago would be hitting up every single social joint she could get her hands on, yearning to meet as many different and new people as possible. Today, that’s still so tempting, but I know I don’t have to give in to that temptation. I shouldn’t. Especially not when I’m not comfortable being by myself. Especially not when up until this point, I’ve allowed myself to be defined by the roles I can play in others’ lives or the ways in which I can invest myself in others and allow others to invest in me. No, this spring, I’m determined to conquer this city of 2.7 million people as me, myself, and I.

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Obligatory edgy hipster shot of out-of-focus city lights and in-focus raindrops from my desk.

I want to be able to devote a lot of time to a few things.

Earlier in this post, I found myself tempted to dismiss my academic responsibilities this term as not enough. I’m “only” in two classes. And a research practicum. And that’s about it. All I have known, not only in college but also in high school — and even before that, I dare to say — is finding my value in being able to juggle a million things at once, in the impressed comments like, “Don’t you sleep?” “How do you do it?” “Wow, you’re so well-rounded.” It started when I found myself admiring others for being involved in multiple things at once. And somewhere along the line, I got it in my head that if I looked up to others for being so “well-rounded” (a dangerous doorway to being thinly spread, I’ve come to realize), then surely I’ll gain the respect and admiration from others for doing the same thing myself. So I began to load up on the responsibilities and commitments and activities as if I were standing in an all-you-can-eat buffet line with an empty plate. I ate with my eyes, not my stomach. And like I keep saying, for a while, I was really able to juggle the million things at once and feel good about it. But I can’t anymore, especially not after actually identifying it.

Gosh, I hate that I ever fell into this trap. But I can’t do anything about it now except change my life moving forward from this. And that’s exactly what I’m trying to do.

I have too often been in the situation where I haphazardly throw things together because I just don’t have the time to sit down and give an assignment or project more depth and detail. In doing this, my life just whizzes past me in a blur without my noticing. I want to be more intentional with my life in these next ten or so weeks, paying attention to everything, devoting a hundred percent of my time and energy in everything I do rather than splitting that one hundred percent into little fractions based on the quantity of my responsibilities.

This has manifested itself in a bad habit I now want to break: being easily distracted. Where once my ability to multitask was a strength of mine, it’s now become the only thing I’m capable of doing. I can hardly focus on one thing at a time. Cooking? Better listen to music in the background. Eating? Better turn on the TV or read a book at the same time. Standing in line for something? Better be on my phone checking e-mails or something. Writing a blog post? Better check Facebook and Twitter after every single sentence I write. My mind has now become entirely uncomfortable with the idea of giving something my undivided attention, and it’s nothing short of headache-inducing as I spend so much energy trying to rein in my wandering thoughts, energy I’d rather be devoting to the task at hand.

I’m so excited.

The way I see it, this trimester in Chicago is a ten week long retreat for me. With less things on my plate, I can work on my academics — and more importantly, myself — more intentionally. Though such personal development can occur anywhere, the fact that I get to do this for myself surrounded by this dynamic urban city is nothing short of a blessing. I will not take this for granted.

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4 Comments

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  1. I always love to read about your musings ❤ I'm looking forward to all of your wonderful adventures in Chicago!

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  2. As always, thank you for your willingness to share your experiences with other people. I’m sure that your transparency on your blog helps everyone who reads it. I know that I, personally, find a lot of value in reading your blog. One of many reasons why is because I feel that I can relate to many of your experiences.

    For being 21, I think that just the fact that you realized that you have spread yourself so thinly and have become easily distracted is a wonderful thing. I think that so many people are easily distracted as well, but are unaware of it. Technology is a wonderful tool for sure, but I think that because we have such easy access to it, it sometimes runs the risk of promoting this culture of distraction that many people (including myself for a while) are unknowingly a part of. So, the fact that you identified it now rather than later is great because you are actually able to do something about it now. I know that for me, when I was unaware of being distracted and spread thinly, I honestly was suffering but couldn’t put my finger on why.

    This isn’t necessarily a how-to video on being less distracted, but I could not help but think of it while reading the last half of this post. Because it is so beautifully and artistically made, I thought I would share it with you just in case it might add value to your life. It is a video on being present on Aileen’s channel Lavendaire:

    I am on a journey to live my life more intentionally as well. You are not alone! ❤

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    • And as always, Ann, thank you so much for engaging with my writing! It’s such a pleasure to share with you!

      Thank you so much for your kind, validating, and encouraging words. And thank you especially for sharing the video by Aileen! It’s funny, I’m sitting in a Starbucks as I type this comment. I have so many distractions immediately at hand: the loud music, the passersby outside my window, and the thoughts of What am I going to have for dinner? I should work out before I eat again. When should I hop on the Green Line back to my flat to maximize this time before I start getting too hungry to work out? I’m completely forgetting that I came here to this Starbucks all the way out in West Loop in order to see a change of scenery and also to do homework, and yet I’m accomplishing neither by already thinking about what I’m doing next. Sigh. What a struggle. But that video really was so beautiful and so calming, it all but yanked me to the present. And I find myself wanting to say, “I wish I had that video when I was abroad,” but that’s exactly the kind of regret Aileen speaks about in her video and again that lack of being present!

      Wow. Thank you again, Ann. So glad to share in our journeys together.

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