The Sophomore Slump: Reflecting on Fall 2020


Dear reader, I hope that you are doing well. It’s been too long since I last wrote. I’ve missed the comfort of this space, but I also acknowledge that this academic semester demanded my complete attention. As I reflect on this past fall, I feel like a more whole person. I am not new; I haven’t changed, necessarily, but I feel evolved. Realized. Experiencing college amidst a global pandemic, a strenuous election season, and my own self-doubts challenged me to think critically about myself and the world. Like many, I have cried and smiled throughout the past few months. I have reflected. And while I still lack many answers, grappling with uncertainty guided my path toward a greater sense of self.  

 First, the sophomore slump 


Early this semester, I experienced what many of my peers fondly refer to as the “sophomore slump”: a period of questioning who I am, what I want to do, and why I am doing it. 

I entered college intending to study international relations (IR). Since the beginning of freshman year, I dedicated myself to taking IR course requirements with little room for exploration. As I pushed myself to complete readings on IR theories like the bargaining model of war and concepts like the makeup of a nuclear weapon, I realized that I wasn’t actually enjoying the course material. I felt unsure whether I truly desired a future in this area. 

Furthermore, while considering the contexts of COVID-19, racial discrimination, and American history, I questioned some of the fundamental concepts of IR and their implementation in systems today. I pondered why IR’s basic paradigms assumed that the United States and Europe have emerged as “dominant powers” because of “zero-sum games” and “power struggles”, neglecting the colonialism, imperialism, and racism that shaped the international system. Many IR scholars assert that individuals do not matter in relations between states. Instead, countries will respond to each other in response to power. But the more I read about international security and economy, the more I grew to resent how easily some authors exempted individuals of responsibility for faulty threat perceptions of minority groups that resulted in oppression. I felt out of place, and wondered whether I was “too soft” for this field.

...but, I found [ some ] clarity


As I pondered these questions, I let myself explore. I spoke with professors about what they felt distinguished their fields. I talked to several classmates about why they chose their majors. In particular, I asked students of color about how they felt in international relations. During this trial period, I considered majoring in international relations, government, economics (ha), French, public policy, sociology, history, and philosophy. For one week, I declared to anyone who would listen that I was going to invent my own major in migration studies. 

I found two courses whose material I loved: US Immigration History and Asian-American Demography and Law. Both of these courses opened my eyes to the extensive legacy of xenophobia in America legislation and the potential for what history can be. In high school, I had the perception that history was bland: most material centered around US dominance in the World Wars or the names of old white men. For the first time, I was learning about the history of non-white people in America. For the first time, I was taking a class that did not just acknowledge but explored the history of immigrants, like my mom, and that of interracial families like mine. History readings and research left me frustrated and fascinated. I felt the most academically immersed I have ever been during college so far. I loved it.

I developed an interest in how legislation and legal precedents over time have been used to create and reinforce socially constructed ideas about race, gender, and citizenship. [Expect a future post about my research interests because I am genuinely so excited about it.]

After changing my mind several times, I declared my majors in history and international relations. History, because I love uncovering the stories of the underrepresented. International relations, because I believe we must acknowledge that humans underlie trade and conflict; states are composed of people, after all. While I remain uncertain about what my future career will be (in the past few weeks alone, I’ve switched from lawyer to immigration historian to college professor), I take comfort in the fact that I am now striving to embrace my interests.

Taking care 


This semester, I was proud that I learned to take better care of myself. I prioritized getting eight hours of sleep a night and engaging in physical movement that makes me feel strong. I also challenged myself to be honest with myself about myself, even if that meant defying conceptions about what I thought I had to or should be doing. Moreover, COVID-19 forced me to step back from extracurricular involvements, which taught me that worthiness is not derived from overworking myself all of the time. I realized that I can be the most present and the best version of myself when I feel best-- that is, when I am well-rested and clear-minded. 

I was also proud of my peers. This fall was demanding not only academically, but also mentally and emotionally. To return everyone home as quickly as possible in light of the pandemic, my school removed our fall break days to consolidate the semester. In addition, as we watched COVID-19 case counts climb at American universities, my classmates and I wondered whether our school would be the next to suffer an outbreak. We felt heightened stress during election week. Some of my classmates experienced job losses, illness and tragedy in their families, and other extenuating stressors. We had to take care of each other. I was proud to witness, by and large, the campus community work together-- wearing masks on campus at all times and respecting social distancing guidelines-- so that we could all make it through the end of the semester. 

Random tidbits from this semester


A few fun things that happened this fall that deserve mention:

  • My laptop battery died, forcing me to rely on my cell phone and the school library (thank goodness for libraries!!) for a scary week before finals.

  • My laptop battery chose to die during the week I was editing the closing video for WMHSMUN, William and Mary’s High School Model UN Conference (which happened over Zoom this year!). I borrowed a laptop from the library for video editing that also, funnily enough, did not work. My friends have concluded that I am cursed with technology.

  • After the conference, I decided to listen to myself and take a step back from Model UN. I joined a new club that I am excited about and even wrote an article for the school newspaper.

  • I had the chance to interview one of my favorite YA authors in high school, Maurene Goo, about her short story in the new anthology Come On In. Listen to the podcast here

  • I actually became obsessed with Taylor Swift and exclusively listened to her albums 1989, reputation, Lover, and folklore, for at least two months. 

  • I did eight pull-ups (!!!) for the first time in my life. At the beginning of this year, I could not do one.

  • I wrote my final paper for my history class on language in two Congressional hearings that construed Chinese women as threatening prostitutes in the nineteenth century (drawing from laws like the Page Act, the Chinese Exclusion Act, and the Geary Act). I enjoyed it so much that I ~ may ~ be pursuing an independent research project on how laws have shaped perceptions of the sexuality of Asian women and immigrants during American history. (I’m really excited about this possibility!)

Looking back

On the trip home after final exams, I acutely felt one sentiment: gratitude. I am so grateful to have been able to safely attend school. I am grateful for the warm weather that allowed me to complete work outside for most of the semester. I am grateful for mentors and friends that listened to my story and shared their stories with me. I am grateful for every day that I am healthy and surrounded by good people.

Looking forward 

I have now been at home for two weeks, where I will stay until I am able to move back on campus in February. In the meantime, I will continue working my job at AidData next week and start a women, peace, and security e-internship at the US Indo-Pacific Command. But for now, I am looking forward to time with family, blogging, playing piano, reading for fun again, and rest.


  1. I'm glad you've had some accomplishments over these past few months, Claire! Congrats on declaring your major. I too have often had crises over what I want to do with my love. But the great thing is that we can combine our majors to encompass all the things we enjoy :)

  2. I wish I had been a bit of your clarity and commitment when I was at uni - I wouldn't have wasted 4 years' worth of education. I'm sure that whatever you'll do, it will make a difference somewhere.

  3. Many of us can learn from your example of MAKING time to think. Well Done!

  4. I am so happy reading this post, Claire! Your passion really shines through and I'm excited for you! I can't wait to read your post about your research interest and the work you've been doing because it's super interesting, I never thought on how laws could shape society's perception on a certain culture and community!

    Tasya // The Literary Huntress