Year in Review: 2017

I can’t believe it’s 2018 already. It felt like the year went by so fast but looking back, I actually got a lot of things done and a lot of things happened.

It’s a bit fitting that I mentioned in 2016’s Year in Review that it’s been one giant roller coaster ride. I was hoping that 2017 would be less turbulent but if anything it was even more nasty haha. Honestly, breaking down your life by the calendar year is a bit weird to begin with because your life doesn’t abide by that, so it makes sense that the first bit of 2017 felt incredibly like 2016.

2017 started in the lab. Which feels really weird to say since that already feels like a lifetime ago. At that point, I was just finishing up some more work related to an older project and looking forward to starting my thesis project. It was a pretty rough way to start the year since that definitely wasn’t fun.

The Refrigerator was by far one of the craziest lab stories I have.

But it soon became fun though. Me and my girlfriend decided to go to Taiwan for a short vacation which was really nice. I’ve always wanted to visit Taiwan and it seemed like the ideal place for a short trip to just kinda unwind and get away from Korea. That was a nice trip. We even had a chance to meet up with a friend of ours and another friend of mine from Hong Kong.

After getting back to Korea the lab took a trip out to Gangwon-do again for HCI Korea 2017, which, similar to our trip in 2016, meant that I got to go skiing again. Unfortunately though, I didn’t win any money at the casino this time.

The sky lantern we made in Shifen, Taiwan.

The trip to Taiwan and Gangwon-do was really awesome because it was right before starting my thesis project. So once I got back into the lab I was ready to work. Now, for the most part I enjoyed working on developing my actual thesis project, but I wasn’t a big fan of the whole thesis writing and presenting part of it.

I wouldn’t say it was difficult but the entire process was overly stressful. Looking back, it almost seems like so much of that was artificial pressure that really wasn’t needed. I tried to take breaks every once and a while though, and one of those breaks was to the first and only concert I went to in 2017, Crystal Lake. I liked the band before I saw them in concert and seeing them live only made me like them even more. I’m really glad I went because it was a great show.

Ryo of Crystal Lake

Once my thesis started to wrap up, a lot of my stress dealing with getting my thesis done started to get replaced by the stress of graduating. It was almost a perfect cross-fade between the two levels of stress so I felt like I was pretty much at the same level the entire time, just thinking about different things.

On one hand I was essentially cruising through the rest of the lab stuff. Our lab started a partnership with a lab from a school in Japan and not only did they have a chance to come visit us, but we also had a chance to go visit their school in Nara. This coincided with a small international conference as well which had me present my thesis work for the first time outside our school department, which was nice.

But obviously the point of the trip for me wasn’t really to do any of that but really to enjoy my time in Japan. Not only did I go to Nara but I also had the opportunity to go check out Osaka as well, which was really nice. There’s nothing like being fully funded to travel.

The Glico Man and other advertisements at night.

Once I got back to Korea from Japan, I just kept the travel ball going. I essentially just handed in my thesis and a week later went on another big trip as a gift to myself for finishing my master’s. That was a really awesome trip and got me to Russia (St. Petersburg and Moscow), Berlin, Prague, and Vienna. I even had a chance to stop by Dubai for a couple hours which was a pretty nice bonus.

That trip was just outright amazing and unforgettable. Europe is awesome, especially after being in Asia for so long. I’m really glad I got to go to all of those places and see so much, especially Russia. In all my travels that was the first country that required me to get a visa to visit, and the application process was an experience of itself. And of course, the country was really unique and cool too.

A selfie by the Peterhof Fountain.

It was a pretty jam packed vacation and soon enough I was back in Korea. The month between the end of July and end of August was actually really tough. Even after going through all of the random crap dealing with school and my thesis earlier in the year, it turned out the hardest part of the year was actually the month where I wasn’t doing anything.

The Korean government gave me a one way flight back home so I knew I had a month left in Korea and would be leaving at the end of August. I had no job lined up so I figured I could look for jobs within Korea for that month and maybe get something. If I got a job in Korea, I’d go back to Korea after a brief visit to Canada. If I didn’t get a job, well, I’d just go and stay home.

It was a really bittersweet month.

Saying goodbye after a night of eating, drinking, and singing.

Before starting my studies at KAIST, every Korean I met was always like “Oh, you’re studying at KAIST? You must be a genius. You’ll have no problems finding a job”. Now I try not to let things get to my head like that, but there was a bit of hope you know? I didn’t really want to work and live in Korea, but I really wanted to try to keep my existing life intact.

But alas, it just wasn’t to be. Job applications went nowhere, interviews were tough, and visas weren’t being sponsored. The end result was that I just didn’t see a future for myself in Korea.

On one hand I was excited to go home, but on the other hand I didn’t want to leave my life in Korea. Now don’t get me wrong, I have no love for the country or it’s people. But that was my life for three years. I settled down pretty well, had a life of my own, friends to hang out with, and generally knew what I was doing.

Just giving that all up and going home hurt.

Getting the degree is actually not the hardest part when studying in Korea.

I don’t normally have anxiety or panic attacks, but I had a pretty major freak out the morning of my flight home. I stayed up all night packing and was quickly running of time and I just couldn’t seem to pack all the remaining stuff and it just felt like everything I did was causing myself both physical and psychological pain. It felt like my world actually was ending and I was making a decision I’d regret immensely.

It wasn’t very fun.

Wasn’t a very big room, but it was my room.

That was four months ago.

Since then I’ve settled back into a life here in Canada and everything has been a giant blur. I have a job now. I get to see my family and old friends whenever I want. I get to experience a proper winter again. And I even just got laser eye surgery so I don’t have to deal with glasses and contacts anymore. For the most part life is great.

First contrast shot with the Pixel 2 XL.

Or at least it feels like it should be.

I didn’t think reverse culture shock would affect me that much, but I have to say that it’s still an ongoing struggle. There’s some sort of balance between getting back to the life I once had and starting a new life, and I haven’t seem to have found it yet.

2017 is definitely defined by the fact that I came home. I can’t even properly put into words how tough a decision that was for me.

There’s not doubt in my mind that 2017 was by far the most emotionally and psychologically stressful year of my life. There isn’t a single day that passes where I don’t think about my life in Korea and miss everyone associated with that life. 2018 is gonna have a hell of a hard time trying to heal this hole in my heart.

But I’m hopeful.

2017 Achievements and Statistics

  • 9 countries (Taiwan, Japan, United Arab Emirates, Russia, Germany, Czechia, Austria, South Korea, Canada).
  • 2 academic publications (TEI 2018, AH 2018)
  • 7 platinum trophies (Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep, Kingdom Hearts 3DS, Infamous Second Son, Infamous First Light, World of Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy XV, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst)
  • Master’s of Science in Industrial Design
  • Full-time employment secured

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.