Epitome of nerdiness


I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised.

After all, one of my favorite ‘games’ as a kid was to ‘play classroom’ where I would be the teacher bestowing knowledge and wisdom to my 6-7 year old peers in the playground. Going through my journals from early on, I seem to have believed becoming an English teacher/professor was my calling. There were also all these English tutoring/camps I thoroughly enjoyed, amidst occasional tears of frustration because these lovely kids couldn’t get the simple performance of the Beatles’ ‘Hello and Goodbye’ right. Above all, people I have come to admire and look up to in real life have mostly been teachers and professors, ranging from my favorite teacher Tom at the English Centre in middle-high school, the Peace Corps Volunteers who gladly indulged our teenage presence on a weekly basis, to professors in English Literature and at GSIS at university. (Although, considering the number of years I have spent studying/being at school, this should not be too unexpected).

Yet I can’t help but being pleasantly surprised at my eagerness and enthusiasm this semester. Truth be told, I was indeed very nervous to teach undergraduate students (*gasp* not kids anymore!!!) and I could definitely feel and hear my voice shake that first Friday at 9 am in my first class. I forgot half of the things I wanted to say in my second class at 10 am and was still a bit careful in my third and final class of the day at 12 pm.

But as I read articles and papers and textbooks by authors I have read over and over for almost 10 years now (!), it’s like I’m reading them for the first time under a new light, because I get to be the one explaining them and sharing my own interpretation of things based on everything I have learned so far. While most of my students (yes, MY students!) have just begun to carefully and hesitantly tread the vast and tumultuous waters of IR, just getting to know the existence of theories like Realism, Liberalism and Constructivism, I cannot help but feel like I have a responsibility and duty to tell them what took me years to learn. I know I’m going to impose a huge bias on my part, but how can you not want to share all these exciting things? Things like Constructivism is cool, Feminist IR theories even cooler, IR is not just about politicians making a difference but also about individuals like Brandon from HONY (Humans of New York) who help you change your perspective on the very misunderstood and misjudged continent that is Africa.

I read Alexander Wendt and marvel at the numerous possibilities students nowadays could have to deconstruct their own world. I skim Samuel Huntington and imagine the different ways to criticize and point out the (very) few relevant points he still has. I devour J.Ann Tickner and admire the vast spectrum of IR she has to offer us. IR is cool, man. There, I’ve said it.

I go over my emails three, four times before sending them out, put words in bold and italic and colors to make them more fun and say things like “Next week’s reading looks very exciting, Tickner and Wendt are personal favorites of mine ;)”. Personal favorites? I never knew the day would come that I would use those words to describe IR-related scholarly articles. Could I be any nerdier?

I go over the short bio/introduction they had as their first assignment and the constant cynicism I seem to have nowadays simply melts away as I inhale their excitement, their hopes and dreams, their promise of changing the world, and their goal to make the world a better place.

Yes, I was like that too, once, when I was a freshman at university.

But what I remember most about my experience with IR as a freshman and throughout undergrad is, disappointment. Disappointment that all we got to learn was theories that in no way seemed to explain what was going on in the ‘real world’, like the war in Iraq, or boring details of agreements and wars before, during, and after WWI. Although I do know now that these are the necessary steps one needs to take to understand and study IR (and these kids will certainly have to face the same music as well), I want my classes to give them something I didn’t have when I was their age.

I want them to know that IR is not just about theories and history. I want them to see that theories are impressive and intriguing tools they can use and manipulate to understand the ‘real world out there’ and find their own solutions to the problems. I want them to feel, always feel, that yes, they can, and should, make the world a better place.

I’m just fooling myself, aren’t I?

Made by moi! This is what I do with my 'free' time...

Made by moi!
This is what I do with my ‘free’ time…


“The Opposite of Loneliness” by Marina Keegan

I never really liked short stories.

I felt like I was being cheated, when I had invested the same amount of interest and enthusiasm as when starting a 200, 300 page book, to see the stories cut short after 10 pages or even less. They seemed like sorry excuses from authors who were too lazy to develop all the details of their characters.

I wanted to know the shade of the color of their hair, the places they lived in, why they had decided to move from A town to B city and vice versa, and the small incident ten years ago that prompted their tears on a quiet Sunday evening.

Short stories rarely gave me any of that.

But what even Jhumpa Lahiri failed to show me, or maybe I knew it all along but simply had failed to realize it, Keegan’s collection of short stories did.

Sometimes, not saying everything is harder than saying everything.

Being given the opportunity to linger on the meaning and the past of the unexplained looks and words is a privilege only the reader of short stories can have, I have come to realize. It is in the process of such uncertainty, curiosity and exploration that we connect with these characters that never existed and give them life. After all, rarely any of us are really open books, we have our secrets and feelings and experiences we don’t necessarily want to see materialized in explicit words.

The buzz around this book didn’t exactly convince me to buy the book in the first place, since I’m one of those “I’m too good to like what everybody likes” type of people. But somehow curiosity won this time and it’s hard not to say it wasn’t a bad choice.

Some reviews have pointed out that beside the fact it is indeed a tragic story of a promising and full of life 22-year old who would never blow another birthday candle, her writing is not necessarily, technically, mesmerizing.

Maybe so. Maybe there were one or two stories I didn’t quite bond with either. However, Keegan’s power in creating a world of unwritten and unspoken words to allow us to explore beyond black letters on white paper is, simply, beautiful. Moreover, the simple and unapologetic honesty she provides in her non-fiction part of the collection is a breath of fresh air.

I don’t know if she would have become one of the great writers of our times, had she not succumbed to that tragic accident.

I don’t know if she would have become one of the many disillusioned ‘adults’ of our era to end up taking a job as a consultant, like the 25% of her peers at Yale, with her ambition to become a writer silently tucked away in the drawers of her past.

But the short story of her life she’s left behind grants me the hope that she would have been one of those who pursue their dream.

When dream becomes reality

The D-day has finally come. As I sit in this wi-fi-less airport of San Francisco, waiting for my transfer flight to Boston (I began writing this a few days ago, obviously), the fact that I didn’t buy a return ticket to Seoul or that I will be spending most of the next five years in this land hasn’t truly hit me yet (except the fact that the SFO wi-fi network doesn’t really work…).

After spending the last four months in excitement, boredom, and expectations, the month of August came with a heavy load of dread and concern. Dread for a brand new life in the States, Concern for five years of studies that will probably (and hopefully) be deciding the rest of my career (granted, so far in-existing).

Of course, as anything new I look forward to, I’m scared that (okay, side note as I write this while observing people around me – why are American girls so pretty? Already depressed *sigh*) Boston won’t live up to my hopes and dreams. Something like the near-disaster that was Paris in 2006-2007. What if I had too high expectations? What if running along the Charles River will just tire me to death instead of inspiring me to a life full of health and beautiful sights? What if the classes are not as mind-blowing and challenging as I hope them to be? What if the professors are not impressed by what I can offer?

And then I wonder… what if it is? What if they are? What if it is everything I hope it is?
We often dream about what we desire and what we want to achieve, fearing that we will be disappointed, that we come to spend most of our time trying to reach what we think, deep inside, is somehow unreachable, because it is simply too good to be true. We put the goal on a golden pedestal and we look for ways around it without ever taking what we deserve with our own two hands. And all we are left with is the memory of the great expectations we once had, and the happiness we felt by merely having these hopes, which we made sure stayed in our minds and never materialized.

But do we ever allow ourselves to grasp what is handed to us, without fearing whether our hopes will be thwarted or not? Or do we choose to remain in that state of not knowing because we are scared of what will come next once we step on that pedestal? Perhaps because then, we will be expected to do the best we can, to show our possibilities in concrete results; we won’t be able to hide behind the excuse ‘It’s not what I thought it would be’ anymore, since it would be everything I dreamed of.

Oh, I hope it is.

I hope that I have the courage, this time, to make it really come true and live this new dream, no, this new reality, from that pedestal.

hand dream

Us Dream


You came into my dreams last night.

It had been a while.

I wonder when comes the moment in your dream-life that you stop dreaming about someone,

When is that moment a certain person stops having any meaning to your life that he fades away,

To the point that even your sub-conscience gives up on him.

Do I appear in your dreams too?

Or has your sub-conscience erased me from your memory a long time ago,

That it has become hard to remember times when we shared drinks and glances?

No, don’t answer that.

What if my dream of you was your way of telling me you still held on to bits of ‘us’ that never existed?

Or what if my dream of you was followed by your dream of me?

Then would you guess that I had dreamed of you first?

Or would you feel uncomfortable knowing that you would be the one paying a visit in my dream the next night?

What if we dreamed of each other on the same night,

And that would allow us to meet again in the dream world?

Maybe share a coffee like we did once?

Would our dream-selves search for hands we never grasped in our past?

Would they lace their fingers?

Would they feel the warmth of their fingertips gently yet violently touch their hearts?

Would they lock their eyes,

Their smiles,

Their lips?

Or would we be left stuck into simply another dimension of our past reality?

Would you shake your head and let my tears roll down my cheeks,

Without so much as lifting your hands to hold them, for just a second?

Would you let me feel the coldness of your hands along with the coldness of your bitter words?


Demand the impossible, be realistic.

I don’t know if I’m even allowed to write such a post. But as far as my short life is concerned, this has been the most difficult as well as the most humbling experience. Unfortunately, I don’t think this is going to be the last, for although life is indeed full of joy and nice surprises, those only mean as much because they usually follow hardship and disappointment. So this is for the future me, and perhaps for the future you as well, who will one day feel like we’ve been thrown into a dark bottomless pit… once again. This is for the future you and I, saying ‘Remember, this is not the first, nor the last. And… yes, there will be a light at the end of the tunnel. All that may vary is the length of that tunnel and maybe the brightness of that light, but after all is said and done, the tunnel will end one day’.

If I had to pick out one single most important and valuable lesson I have learned the past year, it is that there is a fine line between ‘being confident’ and ‘being arrogant’. It’s good to be confident, to believe in yourself and in your talent and skills. After all, if you don’t believe in yourself, how will you convince others to do so? But that shouldn’t allow you to ‘overestimate’ yourself and when all is said and done, there comes a time you really have to be objective about who you are and what you can do. There are many factors that have led you to think you’re awesome, such as supportive parents, simple luck, and a positive environment. But the moment you decide to escape from that small cocoon of yours and try to expand your horizons a bit further, it is not hard to notice all the thousands of other ‘awesome’ people just like you.

So, yes, sorry Che, this is probably not the way you would have wanted your quote to be used, but…

Be a dreamer, demand the impossible, but be realistic.

You have heard too much of ‘Pursue your dream’, ‘Do all you can to make your dreams come true’, ‘Dream as you will live forever’ or ‘Dream big’, for one more person to tell you the same.

Well, I’m saying, we can’t all be extraordinary. I do believe that each one of us is special, each in our own way, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we’re all destined for great things. So lay back, assess yourself, and yes, choose the best you can do with what you have, but not the greatest you can do with what you think you have. And then, perhaps, one day, with the right amount of luck and effort, you may achieve those qualities and strengths you thought you had in the first place.

A Praise for the Ordinary


All right, I had so many things in mind to write about once I get in a school, but well, it’s highly likely they’re just going to stay hidden away in some dusty shelves of my memory. So now I have a whole new series of writings designed, which fits just the situation I am in. Yes, they may be (will be) more depressing than the ones that will probably not see the daylight for the moment (I’m still careful with words such as ‘never’), but well, can you blame me? So here goes. I’m thinking the next post will be something in the lines of: “The myths of Second Impressions and Second Chances’. We’ll see.  

Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Madonna, Leonel Messi, Beyonce…

the world seems to be overflown by a crazy number of talented people, whose success stories and courage are frequently shoved into our faces so that we can too aim at , saving, or at least, changing the world. We are constantly told to pursue our wildest dreams, to aim for the stars, the moon and the sun, to do anything for what we believe in, to dance like no one is watching us, to love like there’s no tomorrow, to walk towards our passion and money will naturally follow. And so we strive, whether it is unconsciously or consciously, to be ‘someone’. What we are most terrified of is leaving this earth without having left our footprint. The scary part is, all these legends once were normal people like you and I, some might even say ‘failures’ as considered by society then, at some point, yet they managed to overcome whatever stood between them and their dream. So we naturally assume, deep in our hearts, secretly, that we too, can arise from the ‘ordinary’ to become an ‘extraordinary’ being. Books will be written about us, and people will talk about us. Teenagers, lost souls in their 20s and 30s will look upon us and will find in us a role model. And so the vicious circle continues, where a handful of mirages will guide the remaining 6 billions of people with words and visions of a dream, only to welcome a tiny portion into their extraordinary world.

Do we ever stop to wonder if it might just be possible that some of us don’t have the passion, the dream, the hope, the tenacity or the talent that some of these role models have? What if, after university, a job, graduate studies, a couple more jobs, we still can’t find what we’re most passionate about? What if we are too afraid to fall to aim for the stars? What if we’re uber-conscious of ourselves to be dancing like no one is watching? What if we haven’t found love yet? What if we just can’t afford not to think about paying rent, eating, and spending money on trivial stuff?

What if, we’re just ‘normal’ and ‘ordinary’?

I know, the next thing I’ll hear will be how many failures these people have encountered on their way, how many tears they have shed too, how many falls they have had.

What if I’m too weak to get up? What if I want to quit?

And so every time we fall, we are told to get up now, that the pity looks the others give us won’t last long, that the path to success lies right there, that ‘there is light at the end of the tunnel’.

Well, is there?

What if the world was wrong and I’m NOT the only one who can solve it?

I know I’m acting like a spoiled little girl, who has had (mostly) everything she wanted so far and now that she can’t have one little toy at the top of the shelf, she is acting like she’s thrown into the bottom of a dark pit. I know I should consider myself lucky not having to worry about where to live, what to eat or what to wear. There are children and people out there starving, sick and dying. Yes, yes, I know all that, but to whoever managed to be comforted by the rhetoric ‘At least you’re not dying in Africa’ to the problems he/she was facing, please tell me how that works, because it has never worked for me.

And I know too, that deep inside me, I read these quotes and I nod along, I know that ‘I am the creator of my own destiny‘, that ‘I should stop wishing and start doing‘ and all that crap. But I just wish that I could get away from all this positive and motivational energy for just a bit and be able to be ‘me’, an ordinary, possibly not destined for great things me.

I just wish that whenever I am down, I am not told right away to get up, that failure is how you define it. I wish I could be told ‘It’s ok not to get up just now. Lie down and cry. I know you failed, but it’s ok. You still have ten fingers and ten toes, so everything is good’.

I know that deep inside, I personally won’t be satisfied with, for instance, taking on a ‘simple office job’ (although now, that’s just as hard as getting to a school for the gifted it seems). I know that the minute I think I am back on track towards being ‘legendary’, I will be shouting ‘Later losers’ to all the ‘ordinary, dream-less and hope-less people’ out there. Just like Raj did to his single comic-book-lover-geek friends the moment he found a girl to have coffee with, when he was delivering this heartfelt speech about how it’s all right to be single on Valentine’s Day, just a minute ago.

And so, yes, here’s to success, eventually.

But also, here’s to being ordinary. Here’s to not having a passion and being ok about it.


My frail attempt at trying to end on a more positive note.

Oh Hope thou art treacherous

I didn’t want to write this because I didn’t want to jinx anything, but today is graduation day at SNU, and having graduated from the Graduate School of International Studies (GSIS), as a proud holder of an MA, just a year ago, I can’t help but assess how much I have changed (or, sadly enough, unchanged) since then.

Having had yet another (!) rejection this morning, it is truly a miracle, I find, that I can get up from my bed  at all, come to work and type away my miseries. Geez, re-reading this makes me want to kill myself…

Having had yet another (!) rejection from a grad school this morning (I’ve lost count now), I think it is fair and about time to assume that a Ph. D degree and going to the States won’t be part of my near future. Yet while most of my brain tells me that, there is this tiny and thin thread of hope that I desperately cling on to, a hope that will linger on as long as the remaining five schools don’t deliver the fatal (or redeeming?) verdict. And so, yes, I cannot yet make myself  look for a ‘real job’ thoroughly enough right now, for, what if I found the perfect job, applied for it, got it (because doh? Of course my resume is brilliant and I will ace the interview), and then, suddenly, Oh Behold, Harvard offers me a fully-funded Ph. D position? Well now, I would have to let down the people who made the wise decision of hiring the awesome person that I am. Oh the disappointment they will have! I’ve had enough disappointment in my life, I don’t want to be the one to bestow it on others. 

Yes, call me crazy and delusional, but that is roughly what has been going through my head for the past couple of weeks. I will probably regret not having made extra effort to find a job a few weeks from now, but that’s the thing with hope, isn’t it? You can’t just make it go away, no matter how much you try to reason with yourself. It lingers there, it hops here and about, taunts you, hands you water to your thirsty and starched soul, only to take it away when you finally gather up the courage to accept what you know is poison for your mind.

Oh Hope thou art treacherous

It’s like when I was a kid, I knew in my head that I had screwed up an exam, I checked, with my very own eyes that what I had written in my paper was not the correct answer to the question. Yet I hoped with all my heart, for the following few days, that somehow, history had changed and suddenly, yes, the First World War had indeed started in 1916, or that a guardian angel had corrected the + sign in my Math paper to the correct – sign. But the day finally came when the teacher would hand out back our exam, and hope scurried along to haunt another kid while sticking its tongue out for a last chance of mockery, and I had to face the red pen marks of my teacher and the bad grade it ensued.

This tormenting relationship continues to this day, and to this day, I cannot, will not, learn my lesson. Because just when I’m about to give up, it suddenly offers its generous hand and rejoices at my relieved shout ‘Yes! There IS hope!’, only to snort at my naivety once more. Hope is sometimes overly exaggerated. Sure, it’s what makes us go on day after day, year after year, but at what cost? At the cost of seeing your imaginary world, which you carefully built day after day, shatter into a thousand pieces with a simple rejection letter, a phone call, a click at your keyboard, a message, and so on.

Oh Hope, you are mean and misguiding…


today again, I hope.

I hope that one school will open its doors for me.

I hope that I will get a great job.

I hope that I will finally move out from my parents’ house.

I hope that I will make enough money to take a trip once a year.

I hope that I will meet my Chandler and live happily ever after.

Yes! We’re bound to achieve our dream, whatever that may be, sooner or later!