2020 was unlike any other. The COVID pandemic fundamentally transformed our ways of life. Masks became a norm; classes were taught on Zoom; social distancing is no longer a government guideline, but a basic social etiquette. Our life receded from the physical reality into the remote and the virtual.
For me, 2020 was a year for and of the army. I enlisted in the Korean army in the summer of 2019, shortly after coming back from Beijing, China for my two-month-long study abroad fellowship. After successfully graduating from the KATUSA training academy in October, I was stationed in U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan in the winter of 2019. This year, I made it up the ranks from a Private First Class all the way up to Sergeant. In a couple of months, I will formally be discharged from the army after having completed 19 months of military service.
COVID definitely did not make soldiers’ lives easier. In pre-COVID times, soldiers were permitted to go off-post during leaves, weekends, or holidays. With COVID, this is no longer the case; lockdowns have been enforced a number of times, and this month is no exception. With around 1000 reported cases on the daily in Korea, lockdown is probably here to stay for the months to come. On base, everyone has reluctantly come to the realization that there isn’t really a way out.
At the same time, 2020 was a year of personal growth, physically, mentally, and intellectually. For one, I’m now able to perform around 60, 70 push ups in two minutes, which, granted, might seem like a lackluster record, but is still a huge improvement considering the fact that I barely did 30 push ups the winter of last year. I also did a lot of cardio work to pass the two-mile run portion of the army physical fitness test. I’m still a horrible runner, but at least I know what it’s like to push myself to the limits.
In 2020, I have also learned—and am still learning—how to be a good senior soldier. After having received a few promotions, I naturally found myself in a leadership role. The corollary of this change was that, as the common adage goes, with more power came greater responsibility. I not only had to tend to myself, but also had to pay attention to things happening within my squad. I had more control over my own work schedule, but I also had to think about other soldiers and their workload as I was assigning different tasks to distribute across the squad. While there’s still a lot more to learn in this aspect, I know for a fact that this experience has helped me grow and learn in many ways.
As many people probably are, I’m also eagerly looking forward to 2021. 2020 could have been much better, but it is what it is. With 2021, many of us are hopeful and optimistic, and rightfully so: vaccines are coming along, and society will find a new equilibrium. Personally, I’m looking forward to returning back to the civilian world after being discharged from service. Maybe I’ll find some work, or maybe I’ll start an interesting project through which I will learn and explore. Most importantly, I cannot wait to go back to Yale. Whether that return will take some physical form or take place on Zoom remains unclear at this point in time, but I am excited nonetheless.
As disappointing, chaotic, and disastrous 2020 was, it was a year that reminded us of the true values of things we took for granted in everyday life. I hope we all remember this valuable lesson as we move forward into a new year. Whether 2021 will be a year of restoration and return to normalcy, or a continuation of its predecessor is indeed uncertain; however, I have faith that we are ready to overcome adversities however difficult, as well as appreciate miracles however wonderful.