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Musings on My First UW Year and the Summer Break Paradox

North entrance to the UW campus.

By Benjamin Narkmon, For The North American Post

Since my last article in April, I have been steadily making progress on my journey at the UW, learning along the way. Some things remain a work in progress, namely time management due to procrastination, the worst enemy of students. Regardless, looking back on the 2020-21 school year, I have learned three things that stand out.

First, one should make use of the resources a school offers. This sounds obvious, but I am sure that many students can agree that we have a tendency to avoid reaching out for help unless absolutely necessary. During spring quarter, when professors advised that not using resources such as the library and office hours would be a waste of tuition money, I often ignored it until I was pushed into a corner. When I was struggling to find sources for my Taiwanese history class’s research project, the 24/7 library chat and the research liaison helped steer me in the right direction. Had I not reached out for help, I doubt I would have passed the class.

Equally important is being proactive about scheduling. Things such as library loans and setting appointments with faculty require planning ahead of time.

Second, I am intimidated by academia. Having read a little over one hundred pages of scholarly literature a week for my Taiwanese history class, I am somewhat reluctant about pursuing a master’s degree. Bumping around in a labyrinth of databases and library catalogues is mentally draining. Despite academia being filled with research on such niche subjects, I struggled a great deal when trying to locate sources for my Taiwanese history research project. However, after trudging through academic journals, articles and books, I really do feel like I have broadened my perspective and gained a deeper understanding of the topic at hand. The question is, does that feeling of satisfaction outweigh my disinclination to read large amounts of academic papers? Both readers and I will find out in a few years when I decide whether or not to go for a master’s degree.

Third and last, building and participating in a community benefits oneself. I am sure that students around the country can attest to “Discord” being indispensable to getting through school during COVID. It is a Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and instant messaging service for creating community. In place of meeting in-person, students make servers using Discord to communicate. When my classes lacked a Discord server, I felt in the dark, unable to get in touch with classmates. However, when one was available, there was a noticeable difference. We were able to plan study sessions, practice for group presentations, discuss concerns about assignments, and thankfully emulate the banter of being in class together in-person.

This brings me to the most memorable community at the UW that I have been a part of — my fourth-year Japanese class. At the beginning of the year, I was nervous about taking a Japanese class again for the first time in three-odd years. However, looking back, there is no other group of people that I would rather have done it with. While it was a shame we could not meet in-person, having a few consistently familiar faces for three quarters helped me get through this rough school year.

Fast-forwarding to the present, I will have about three months after finals end in mid-June until late September to take a “break.” Here begins what I have dubbed the “Summer Break Paradox.” Naturally, there are many things that I want to do now that I have more free time. In fact, they have been piling up since the previous summer break. A large part of what kept me going through the school year is the mantra-like thought that “I can finally start on things that I want to do once summer break starts.”

Maybe I’ll pick up where I left off on Dazai’s “No Longer Human,” work through my Soseki and Tanizaki backlog, and read “Yojohan Time Machine Blues” in Japanese. On second thought, since my Japanese is not proficient enough yet, I should study for the N2 level of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, which includes reading Japanese newspapers and magazines, and understanding news broadcasts (jlpt.jp). On the topic of studying, I should open up my Japanese Sign Language textbook.

But before all that, I should start small and finally fix the strings on my erhu (a traditional Chinese two-stringed fiddle). However, come summer, I suddenly lose motivation and become daunted by the number of tasks in front of me.

All the things that I want to do inevitably pile up and become overwhelming. For me at least, summer break is less of a ”break” and more a change of tasks. What would have been leisure turns into a source of stress because of a looming sense of urgency. If I do not finish it this summer, when will I ever get it done? After all, as school starts again in September and there are no summer breaks once I join the workforce, I need to make the best use of my time. Perhaps this is not a paradox, but a simple contradiction in which the mindset of constant productivity turns my source of motivation during the school year into a source of stress during summer break.

Putting all that aside and turning my attention to next year, I am optimistic. While fifth-year Japanese is not offered, it gives me the opportunity to turn my attention to taking first-year heritage Chinese. While I could not take upper division linguistic courses (due to taking Intro to Linguistics late), I was still able to take courses pertaining to my interests — Japanese Language in Society and Japanese through Movies. As stated in my previous article, I intend to push forward with the mindset of looking for the good. Also, as the grey clouds of COVID show signs of clearing, I am again researching study abroad opportunities to Japan. Sometime in the near future, I may be able to realize my Journey to the East.