As social media and the internet have already proclaimed, 2016 was not exactly a great year. Dozens of amazing, life-changing and truly respectable celebrities passed away–and most of them, in my opinion, left this world too soon (Carrie Fisher, Alan Rickman, David Bowie, Prince… just to name a few).
The most devastating public tragedy to occur in 2016, in my personal opinion, is the election of Donald Trump. I’m in disbelief that a bigoted, low-intelligence, tax-evading, rapist could become president. I go into 2017 with a heavy heart and sincere concern about the U.S. and the world. As someone studying foreign policy day-in, day-out, I am extremely aware of the damage an unpredictable president like Trump will do, and it is very frightening indeed. I went into graduate school with the high hopes of graduating, working hard to get a job in the federal government and serve under the first female president–and now everything has changed. My future looks uncertain.
The end of 2016 also invoked personal pain and heartache. My hometown in Niigata, Itoigawa City, was engulfed in flames on December 22nd. Over 140 buildings were lost to the fire. However, because of the tight-knit community and the warning systems put in place, no one was injured or dead. Over 800 people were safely evacuated. My friends lost their homes and the entire downtown of Itoigawa is now charred to a crisp. It was heart breaking. A city with so many memories and so much history–lost.
Yet if there is one thing I know the Japanese do best, it is rebuild. After fighting the fire for 1.5 days, the town got together on day 2 and already started preparations to rebuild Itoigawa. I wish I could be there to help them–the Itoigawa community is my second home, and I truly love them.
Aside from rather gloomy world events, how did my 2016 fare? Thankfully, it wasn’t all doom and gloom, although there were some rough spots.
The Year of Travel (and seeing old friends)
I traveled a lot in 2016. I went to Japan and visited old stomping grounds (Takamatsu and Hiroshima) as well as new ones (Kumano Kodo and Kamakura). I stopped by Shanghai and saw old friends and had an epic journey with J to Zhangjiajie, Hunan. I went to Canada for the first time with Richard, where he took me to Vancouver and Whistler (and I’ll definitely write about this amazing country later!). We also ventured to Minneapolis, Duluth, Lake Superior, Napa, Sonoma and finished off the year in Costa Rica.
This year taught me that frequent travel is possible without being a nomad. Sure, roaming the world from one destination to the next with a backpack and a camera is exciting and fun; but the road can get lonely, and not having a home to return to starts to burn a hole in your heart. It’s nice to travel and explore… but it’s even better to return to someone you love and a cozy, stationary home.
Family and Health Concerns
Earlier I wrote about this briefly, but my father was very ill this year. He suffered from congestive heart failure and underwent a complicated quadruple bypass surgery. The before-after process for surgery was truly heart-wrenching, but luckily the procedure and his recovery was smooth and successful.
My father is already his usual jolly self and nearly 100% recovered. I am beyond relieved.He still has some other health issues to tackle, but for the most part he is doing just fine.
Although I truly miss life in Asia, it’s moments like this that make me glad I’m in the United States.
Graduate School Highs and Lows
2016 was the year I took the plunge and quit my job to go back to school. The mental trauma the entire process of graduate school incurred was monumental. One month prior to graduate school I had nightmares and cold sweats about whether I was doing the right thing or not. I am not rich and I do not have the luxury to go to graduate school to get a humanities/political science degree, I frequently told myself. Is this going to be worth it? Am I doing the right thing?
Oh my goodness readers… days before my first class, I almost quit the program. Making the decision to spend thousands (like, thousands and thousands) of dollars on education was one of the most difficult decisions of my life.
Also, I don’t know if it’s my program or what, but graduate school is tough as shit. It’s like undergrad on steroids, crack and LSD all at once. I spend every waking hour of my life (not exaggerating) either in class learning or at the library studying. I probably read close to 500 pages of text and write up to 5 papers per week. I realized that graduate students are the ultimate masochists, because we pay so much money to suffer.
Yet, I have no regrets. I’m learning an insane amount of information. My view of the world, and the U.S. government, has been flipped upside down (and in a good way). My program has four career coaches to help us find employment. 95% of the graduating class is employed. I’m in good hands.
I also have to say that: If I went to any other graduate school (including the expensive ivy-league ones), this degree would probably not be worth it. My school is highly ranked, has incredible faculty; teaches us applicable, real-world knowledge and is affordable. The value of graduate school is definitely in the caliber of the school and faculty more than the piece of paper.
And Finally, The Big Announcement
Atop the peak of Mt. Whistler, Richard popped the big question.
I now have even more to look forward to in 2017. Time to plan that wedding.
Happy New Year Everyone!
2016 had some bad (ok, a lot of bad), but it definitely had some good. I’m hoping that, despite our idiot president and all, 2017 will be a good year. I will graduate, get married and hopefully find that career I’ve been striving after for so many years. Although I’m not looking forward to the wedding planning, I’m definitely excited about the next chapter of my life after graduate school–and most of all, starting a new life with Richard.
Have a happy 2017 everyone!