Year in Review: 2016

Well, it’s officially 2017.

2016 was one hell of a year. On one hand, it was a pretty good year because I made a lot of progress in my work, and I also had a chance to go on a bunch of trips to new places. But on the other hand, it was probably the most physically, mentally, and emotionally stressful year of my life.

So all in all, it’s been one giant roller coaster of a ride.

2016 started off with some sparklers, tangerines, and chocolate in a Hungarian bar in Korea.
2016 started off with some sparklers, tangerines, and chocolate in a Hungarian bar in Korea.

Let’s talk about the good things first. If you disregard all the negative aspects of the year, 2016 was probably one of the best years of my life. Easily in the top three I think, although it’s hard to rank exactly.  The most obvious highlights of my year were the travels I went on.

In February I went on a trip to Hong Kong, Malaysia (Malacca and Kuala Lumpur), and Singapore which was just a fantastic trip because I had a chance to spend Chinese New Year with my family in Hong Kong and visit a new area, Southeast Asia with my friends. The summer also saw a short trip home back to Canada too, and going home is always great. Finally, I went on my first international “business trip” in October when I went to Dubai for the Global Grad Show.

Having an international trip staggered like that was fantastic. I always had something to look forward to, and each trip was wonderful in its own way. It was especially awesome since that’s three new countries that I have never been to before, in two areas that I also haven’t visited prior to those trips. I definitely had a lot of fun during those trips and also learned a lot.

Some cool people I went to Malaysia with.
Some cool people I went to Malaysia with.

It was a pretty big year for my family too. The big one would obviously be my sister having a kid, meaning that I’m officially an uncle now. The main reason why I went back home in the summer was to meet my new nephew and I’m eagerly waiting for when I can go back home next so I can play with him some more. As additional bonuses, two of my cousins got married this year as well, which is just a merry time.

My parents also came to visit me in Korea twice, and I also had a bunch of friends visit as well. It’s always nice to have visitors. The friends I have in Korea are fantastic, but it’s different to talk to someone from my pre-Korea days. Just, different topics and different feelings you know? Really milks the nostalgia.

Pictured: A non-Canadian dude representing Toronto more than the actual Canadian dude.
Pictured: A non-Canadian dude representing Toronto more than the actual Canadian dude.

This was my first full year at KAIST, which I will definitely talk about later in the post (foreshadowing). Surprisingly my grades went up. My first semester had some (relatively) abysmal grades, but the last two semesters saw a rise in my GPA. Maybe it’s due to the fact that I ditched the dorm and got my own place. Probably not though.

I also had my first conference paper published this year. That said, it’s in a domestic Korean conference that has incredibly low standards so it’s not really an achievement in any way, but it’s still kinda neat. Speaking of conferences, I got brought to another Korean HCI conference earlier in the year and that was a fun little trip too since it was held in a ski resort and casino.

The High1 Ski Resort, a place I definitely went to just for an HCI conference.
The High1 Ski Resort, a place I definitely went to just for an HCI conference.

There were just a lot of really good moments in 2016. Hanging out with friends, playing with new technology, trying new things – there’s just too much to list.

But despite all the good things in 2016, this was also an incredibly terrible year.

Like I’m willing to give it the title of the worst year of my life, which is both really not saying too much cause I haven’t lived that bad of a life, but at the same time is saying a decent amount considering how much fun I had during the year.

A light in the darkness. Korean style.
A light in the darkness. Korean style.

The theme of the year was definitely politics and tragedy. I never really used to pay attention to politics that much, and I never really followed the news. But after coming to Korea and meeting so many people from all around the world, international relations and events have quickly risen to something I actually follow. It’s easy to just block out news when it’s happening somewhere on the other side of the world and not directly affecting you, but when you know people from those areas and see how they’re being affected, it’s hard to ignore.

Like, I have friends who are British or living in the UK who were so confused and upset with the results of the Brexit referendum. During the Turkish coup I had another friend who went back home message me that he heard the jets flying overhead. And obviously everyone on my Facebook, both American and not, was going insane over the American election.

And then we get to all the tragedies. There’s been a lot of death in the news this year. Be it from attacks, accidents, or natural causes. Maybe technology is just keeping us so connected so it just seems like bad things are happening all the time. Or maybe bad things are just happening more often. Regardless, it’s a pretty bad feeling to shake. Especially when there’s so much hate and discrimination thrown around due these.. events. I think the most important thing though, is to stay strong regardless of what happens. Otherwise, the terrorists win.

Korea also had their largest earthquakes in many years, despite not being too big.
Korea also had their largest earthquakes in many years, despite not being too big.

On a bit more on a local level, 2016 was pretty rough for me too. Studies are KAIST are tough. The most ironic part is that the studying aspect is nothing at all, but the lab work and the expectations are definitely taking a toll on me. Spending so much time in the lab working on projects is incredibly tiring, both physically and mentally. Unfortunately that doesn’t seem like it’s going to let up in 2017, but thankfully it should only last half a year this year.

It’s also been almost two and a half years since I’ve come to Korea. And considering how most of my friends aren’t from Korea, it also means that the natural ebb and flow of everyone’s lives are slowly tearing our relationships apart. It sounds bad, but I’ve already had some friends leave Korea and the increase of work in our schoolwork is also making it more difficult to see the friends that are still here.

Probably my favourite group picture of 2016, taken at a farewell party.
Probably my favourite group picture of 2016, taken at a farewell party.

But alas, ’tis life.

2017 should be a very interesting year for me. It’s interesting because it’ll be the first time since 2014 (long time right?) where I have no idea what my future holds. Naturally, I never know the future, but you can generally make educated guesses. But this time around, I really don’t know. I know that I’m graduating this year, but that’s about it.

What am I going to do after graduation? Where will I be after graduation? How will I graduate? These are questions I have no answers to. A bit scary really. People ask me these questions all the time, and I ask myself these questions all the time too. But in reality, it’s really not my decision. I want to find a job somewhere making cool things. I’ll be applying to a lot of places all around the world, but the decision to hire me is not mine.

Maybe I’ll go back home to Canada. Maybe I’ll end up staying in Korea. Maybe I’ll go to a third country. Who knows?

I don't normally get homesick but.. I wouldn't mind being home right now.
I don’t normally get homesick but.. I wouldn’t mind being home right now.

I’ll deal with it when I get there I guess. It’ll be nice to go with the flow again.

I just want a nice break after I graduate. I’m planning on going back to Europe for another grad trip. Should be fun, especially since I have a lot of friends scattered all around Europe now. And speaking of travelling, I have a short trip to Taiwan booked for a couple weeks from now too as a quick break from the lab.

I’m hoping that 2017 will be a fantastic year. Not just for me but for everyone. We could use a 2017, not a 2016S.

Author: Gary

Explorer, Creator, Gamer. #IDKAIST MSc and #UOITGameDev Alumni.

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