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Alone Together episode 3: Jaewon Oh '13, MIIS ' 20, May 4, 2020

 Item
Identifier: A7_Midd_Moment_Alone_Together_Episode_3_Jaewon_Oh_20200504

Scope and Contents

In this special season of Midd Moment, Laurie Patton checks in with members of the Midd community to talk about how they are affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. In this episode, Jaewon Oh—a 2013 graduate of Middlebury and a master's degree candidate at MIIS—discusses the challenges of leading a student government remotely and explains how she remains motivated will studying in relative isolation.

Dates

  • May 4, 2020

Creator

Conditions Governing Access

Open for research without restriction.

Extent

From the Series: 1 Digital file (1 digital folder)

Language of Materials

From the Record Group: English

Existence and Location of Copies

Transcript episode:

Laurie Patton:

You’re listening to Midd Moment. I’m Laurie Patton, president of Middlebury and professor of religion.

In this special series, I’m checking in with our community to see how people are doing so that we might get a better idea of what it’s like to be alone, together.

Today I’m speaking with Jaewon Oh, Student Council president at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. Hi.

Jaewon Oh:

Hello.

Laurie Patton:

How are you?

Jaewon Oh:

Pretty well, under the circumstances.

Laurie Patton:

Thanks so much for doing this. This really makes a difference.

Jaewon Oh:

Yeah, I’m happy to.

Laurie Patton:

So Jaewon, it’s so nice to see you. It’s a relief to see you. I say that about everyone I see on screen. So how have you been doing?

Jaewon Oh:

Overall, well under the circumstances. It’s really good to see you too. Yeah, it’s been a long while of getting home, but I did finally get home a little less than a week ago and it’s really nice to see family and I unpacked my suitcases finally. So all of that is good and I’m trying to just establish a routine again.

Laurie Patton:

You’re the first student I’ve talked to from Monterey and so I’m wondering if you could share a little bit about what the state of things in California feels like.

Jaewon Oh:

Yeah, so when I first left California, it was actually still fairly early before there had even been a single case in Monterey County, and the state of California has in general been responding very practically, and Monterey County had also been preparing fairly proactively before any cases had been detected.

Laurie Patton:

You’re also a leader of students and what has it been like to run the student government at this time? How have you been meeting? What kinds of issues have you been grappling with during the pandemic and what’s on students’ minds at MIIS?

Jaewon Oh:

It’s been a really busy but also really rewarding time to be leading Student Council because a lot of students have a lot of thoughts about what’s going on and what the best way to move forward is. And it’s a good time to really be able to receive a lot of ideas and act on the ones that we think make the most sense and could do the most good for the most people.

We meet every week on Zoom. So usually Student Council meetings are twice a month and they’re two hours and we did that one time, and Student Council advisor Alison Gruner, who is wonderful, immediately reached out to me and was like, what do you think about doing a weekly meeting for one hour instead of biweekly for two hours?

And I was like, that’s a brilliant idea because (a), everyone is on Zoom all day and the two-hour meeting on Zoom is just brutal. And (b), there’s just so much going on right now that it makes sense for us to meet regularly so that we can keep abreast of all the new things that are coming up.

A lot of the stuff we’ve been working on has been very substantive. So in the initial aftermath, it was a lot of logistics, like what can we actually still provide students, even though we’ve moved online? And then once we realized what we can’t, what is our new budget? And then with that new budget, what is the most appropriate way to direct those funds?

And so we actually just had a budget vote this previous Tuesday and we voted to give two-thirds of our budget to the student emergency fund.

Laurie Patton:

Great.

Jaewon Oh:

Because that was something that our administration, with generous donations from staff members, faculty, alumni, and many others, set up. And Student Council members felt very, very strongly about giving as much as we could to this fund. Because the idea was just that regardless of whatever else we do to support students, and we do hope to do other things, at a fundamental level, students have been having a really difficult time, including financially, adjusting to the new realities that we are all trying to make sense of, and so this is a concrete way for us to be able to give back to students in a way that can hopefully help.

We also established a community-initiatives fund. That’s a fund that any student can apply for funding for any ideas they have for remote community building.

Laurie Patton:

I was just attending a music and poetry interlude hosted by Monterey yesterday and it was wonderful because having poetry and music made a huge difference and I just think it was a great idea for Monterey to host that and it was a really good community-building move.

Jaewon Oh:

It’s really important that we don’t forget about that community-building aspect just because we’re all scattered right now.

Laurie Patton:

Tell me a little bit about your work, and what’s it like to be writing your thesis in a COVID-19 time?

Jaewon Oh:

I’m someone who has never suffered from a problem with motivation. I can generally make myself do anything I want to do and even if I don’t want to do something, and it might be for a period of a few hours. But that first weekend after I had gotten to my brother’s apartment, I had really been looking forward to having Friday and Saturday to make significant progress on a lot of the work I had fallen behind on during this period of traveling and I just couldn’t make myself do anything.

Laurie Patton:

Yeah, I think folks are struggling with motivation partly because of their surroundings and partly because of the constant online screen engagement. So tell me about your thesis and what you’re writing on.

Jaewon Oh:

My thesis topic is on facial-recognition AI and how that’s being developed and regulated or not in the U.S., China, Russia, and the EU. And I’m also finding, of course, that there are lots of gray zones in this.

For example, we don’t really like to think about China and censorship and comparing ourselves to them, but at the same time when you have an entirely unregulated Internet, there’s been a lot of focus recently about hate speech that you find on social media and extremists recruiting and things like that.

Laurie Patton:

And you’re using documents in Chinese, Russian. . .

Jaewon Oh:

Right now, I’ve been researching mostly in English, but I am planning to circle back around and then also use probably French, probably Russian, maybe some German. We’ll see.

Laurie Patton:

That’s great. Has the pandemic changed the way you think about national security and what you study and about citizenship more broadly given what you’re writing about?

Jaewon Oh:

That’s a really good question. I think what has been especially interesting and tricky here is that because I have been focusing a lot on cybersecurity, I am naturally much more wary of using technology and, of course right now, we have to use it so much and it actually is really helpful.

I think what’s been interesting for me then is to realize that there are actually a lot of positive uses for this and that makes maybe the role of the government and how we think about these issues even more important.

Laurie Patton:

It sounds like you’re also focusing on kind of best practices for technology, and this kind of work on facial recognition forces you to think about those best practices.

What’s a kind of moment of joy that you’ve experienced during this time or connection? Are there any activities or things that you love to do that have been keeping you sane and getting you through, whether that’s in German, French, Russian, or English?

Jaewon Oh:

There have been a surprising number of moments of joy. Once I got back to my brother’s apartment and was trying to establish more of a routine, I realized there’s nothing quite like just getting out of the house and going on a run, even if that’s not something that I historically have necessarily found enjoyable. It’s something that I just thought I should do.

But at a time like this, it’s actually so helpful because it just, it gets your mind off of things and if you make yourself sweat and make yourself a little bit tired, it just feels good and can turn off some of that, like, excess background noise.

So the first time I started running again, it was near my brother’s apartment. And what was really nice is that even though it’s a strange new world and everyone is at least six feet, maybe even 25 feet apart from each other when you’re running, that area that I was running in still had a lot of people all keeping safe distance from each other, some walking their dogs.

And even though it’s not like I could go up to any of them and start talking to them, and a lot of us were wearing masks, it was just nice to see other people out there and to remember that that community still exists and it’s not because we don’t want to engage or we don’t want to connect that we’re not. It’s really for the greater good of the community that we’re trying to protect each other’s health. And that’s a good thing, even if it also means that we’re not engaging in person right now.

Laurie Patton:

We are so glad that you are safe and healthy and we wish you well on your thesis.

Jaewon Oh:

Thank you.

Laurie Patton:

I’m really looking forward to reading it. It sounds wonderful, and thank the MIIS Student Council for us again for contributing to those funds, both the student emergency fund and the community-building fund. We can already feel in our community the wonderful effects of that gift. So thanks again and best of luck.

Jaewon Oh:

Thank you.

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