Strength in Numbers: How it feels to be 20-years-old and living alone halfway around the globe

It was nearly midnight Tuesday night in New York City when the familiar Skype call tone startled me as I nodded off on a hotel bathroom floor with my laptop. I pressed accept.

Kota’s slightly pixelated face greeted me from South Korea. The 12:30 p.m. sun streamed in his window to illuminate his Wednesday afternoon. Kota is 20-years-old, 21-years-old as of next month, living for the year in South Korea before moving to Europe. His appearance and the state of his room revealed that the tall, lanky, lean-muscled young man was on the tail end of a four-day-long weekend. He wore nothing but a ratty bathrobe. Clothing and junk littered his small space. Behind him, the Gadsden Flag warned me not to tread on him while another flag taunted me to “Come and Take It”. Over his bathroom door, the flag of New England revealed his American roots.

He spoke quickly, easily, answering simple questions with long stories or by rattling off a list of points. He paced around his room animatedly as he spoke, fiddling with a lighter, his ratty bathrobe a good several inches too short.

“I need a candid photo of you exactly as you are at this moment when I’m finished interviewing you,” I remind him.

He looks down at his gaping bathrobe, which I must emphasize was really quite short.

“I’ll send you one with less thigh,” he said.


Less thigh, more mountain.


What is making you happy right now?

The weather has been relatively nice and I’ve been able to get a good hike in lately. I wish I could get out to do more hiking… I’ve been able to afford more time to myself and get outside which is a good feeling even if the weather is shitty. Because of that, I’ve had a fresh new look which is a flannel shirt with all but a few buttons buttoned.

What is bothering you?

I just have felt kind of flat lately. Not necessarily depressed, just like a lack of emotion. It’s just been these last four days. A weekend where you do absolutely fuck-all, just where you sit around and exist is never a good time. There’s restfulness and there’s idleness. I’ve been idle.

Tell me a happy memory.

This past weekend I went and hiked Mt. Bukhansan [South Korea]. It was beautiful. The day was kind of rainy, which is an absolute joy. I didn’t get to hike all of the mountain trails that I wanted to, but I consider that a good thing because it warrants a second trip. It was a fairly brutal hike in the beginning, but you get to the summit and everything becomes relatively undulating rather than a steep, steep incline. The whole experience was great in itself, but meeting and speaking however briefly with a lot of the local Koreans was fun. As I am typically wont to do, I was hiking off the beaten path and was hiking things I shouldn’t have been for safety’s sake. A mid-fifties to early sixties Korean woman shouted at me from her gaggle of friends, “Be careful, handsome boy!” just like that. It was lovely.

When is the last time you received an unexpected nice gesture?

I’ve got two. One kind of shitty one and one genuine one. My drunk friend gave me two different speakers that probably totaled up to over 100 bucks. The other one was I helped out a Lieutenant from another squadron. I moved two pallets to another building for them with one of my buddies. I had a really good conversation with both the Lieutenant and the other person working there. She apparently wrote our flight commander an email in appreciation for what we did for her. It was more than I think we deserved, but I’m not one to judge.

What is something small that you regret?

[He breathes deeply]

Good lord. Any number of little things from not starting college as soon as I could have to not going to the gym or going for a run. I try to hold myself to a high standard which sucks when you forget or blatantly neglect to do something.

What is something big that you regret?

[He breathes deeper, with more aggression.]

Oh! Um. Does it just have to be one thing? Because I can rattle off quite a few big things I regret. We’ve got: dropping out of SERE school, getting off the Appalachian trail without completing it, to not trying during high school both sports-wise and academically. I would not have been valedictorian but I definitely wouldn’t have been in the bottom quarter of my graduating class.

What do you wish you did more of?

Oh god! I’m just going to rattle off a list: hike, run, bike, fucking study–God, I could knock out an associate’s degree if I could get my ass in gear–work out, save more money, and keep my room clean because that helps out so much. It keeps stress away. I don’t mind a little bit of clutter but if there’s shit on my floor, especially clothes it drives me up the damn wall.

What do you wish you did less of?

Wasting time. We have a very finite amount of time on earth. I feel like I’ve spent a lot of my time being very idle when I could have been improving myself or other people.

What frightens you?

I’m not scared by much honestly. That’s not bravado or showboating honestly. I know that if I put forth the effort I might not be everything I want to be but I’m definitely not going to disappoint myself. The problem with me being spooked about things is that I’m a massive adrenaline junkie so the switch gets flipped from “Oh jeez that was scary” to “Hello, dopamine rush.” I guess going underground was kind of scary.

[“Did Howe Cavern scare you?” I ask, referring to a cave date we went on.]

No, that was exciting. I’m talking crawling underground. I can’t say I wouldn’t want to do that, I can say it would be a new and exciting way to die.

What are you looking forward to in the near future?

You have all these vague, general questions. Goodness, gracious. I’m looking forward to going to Germany, which is going to be nice. At some point in the future, I’ll be hiking the tallest mountain in Korea. Gosh–just existing and doing things, not just sitting around. I guess that seems stupid but just “doing” in general lets you improve yourself and I like that a lot.

When you imagine yourself in your head, how old are you?

I typically imagine myself as I am right now. Yeah, I would say so. It might change as I get older. As of right now, I’m very much my current self. I think of myself in whatever situation I’m in.

How do you feel about aging?

[He sighs.]

It’s actually kind of maybe a little bit scary. It’s also natural. It would be awfully convenient if my mind could age and my body couldn’t. I know where I want to be but I feel like half the fun is getting there. The struggle and the build up to getting there are what makes getting there worthwhile. I want to be a pilot, preferably flying fighters. I would very much like to live in Vermont or New Hampshire, preferably with my very large property land-wise. I don’t need or want a very big house but I do want a lot of land to roam around. I want dogs. I want to grow a lot of my own stuff, I want a maple tree farm and to keep bees. That would be wonderful.

[He gets distracted.]

Look at this stupid thing I can do. I can put this lighter juice in a cup and light it.

[He does so. It ignites immediately. He squawks and waves the lit cup about to extinguish the flame.]

What’s the best thing about being you?

I can eat a shit ton of food and not gain weight. AHHH! Look at that lean body. I’m like a skeleton with muscles strapped on. There’s no fat on my body, it’s lovely. I also have a lot of energy and I’m easily amused, which is a godsend.

[“That’s that 20-year-old man metabolism,” I say.]

Yeah. If only it could stay forever.


8 thoughts on “Strength in Numbers: How it feels to be 20-years-old and living alone halfway around the globe

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