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Photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash

The past year felt like a voyage through space. My concept of time collapsed into streams of endless darkness. Everything felt stagnant, like I was floating weightlessly, charging towards a black hole.

But this trek has come to an end.

Nothing special happened during this stagnancy. I discovered neither new planets nor cosmic miracles. I am the same person. Maybe with more awkward social skills because I essentially emerged from a cave.

Or was I? It did not feel as though time stood still, even if some days felt aimless. I felt like an adventurer. …

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Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

I’ve always hated riding rollercoasters. I hate the exact moment when the cart pauses at the peak of the ride — I would cover my eyes and wait for the ride to be over. I don’t mind the height or speed, but I hate not knowing what turn or slope will come next. The anticipation made me anxious.

Reflecting on the last ten months of my startup experience, I am still in disbelief at how unpredictable the journey was so far. The rapid pace and the constant firefighting came as no surprise — I knew these coming in.

But what shocked me was how my mindset changed. I am no longer anxious about the unpredictability of work or the impossibility of anticipating change. I now uncover my eyes, raise my arms, and just lean into whatever direction the ride is headed. …

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Photo by Dariusz Sankowski on Unsplash

Dear B—

The beauty of our stories is how unexpected mishaps can turn into the most surprising of endings. This philosophy has been crucial in the way I’ve approached my most challenging moments — and is what I’ve found to be a core topic of conversation with my students and friends.

I understand. The end of the year is when many plan for their next stage— applying for graduate school, preparing for a job interview, or taking a licensure exam. As natural as this phase is, isolation and social distancing have compounded a traditionally collective journey into a lonely one.

We no longer have the benefit of friends and colleagues empathizing with our struggles — we prepare for the upcoming quest alone. …

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Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

The past months have been a catalyst for innovation. Schools are reimagining how they deliver content. We’re debating on the true worth of degrees. Vulnerable students are struggling to enroll (and remain enrolled). Schools cannot face these challenges alone.

In parts of Southeast Asia, college enrollment numbers have reported double-digit declines — driven both by 1) a difficult transition to distance learning (in regions where internet access is poor) and 2) limited financial capacity of their students. Most schools don’t have the capacity to address these two challenges.

Schools we’ve worked with have been more resilient. They’ve bucked the negative trend because they’ve invested in distance learning resources early on, and have found a scalable financing solution. …

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Photo by Alfons Morales on Unsplash

I spent hours deciding what book to read today. The pragmatist in me wanted to pick a technical book — perhaps on business strategy or on computer science. The educator in me wanted to pick a book on psychology. The human in me yearned to take a step into fantasy and history.

I thought that my indecisiveness was because my life needlessly complicated. I didn’t know who I was, so I buried myself in a random array of books. Life was simpler when I was a fresh college graduate — finance practitioners read finance books, and maybe some statistics. …

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Photo by Anete Lūsiņa on Unsplash

One common pattern I’ve found in the cycle of innovation is its movement between the unbundling and re-bundling of services. In unbundling, companies pick apart generalist services (Craigslist) and excel at specific verticals (AirBNB, Reddit, Tinder). Once these players become dominant, they can re-bundle and be a one-stop shop (Amazon).

Southeast Asia higher education is overdue for unbundling. In the region, it is common for universities to do it all — providing the whole range of school services, some of which sit outside their core competencies. I call these “mega universities”.

There are long-term costs to being a one-stop shop. It’s inefficient to focus on too many divisions. Administrators don’t have the time to monitor every part of the university value chain. Even if they do have the time, there may be more inexpensive ways to deliver a better experience. …

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Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash

The last time I travelled was five months ago, from an empty airport in San Francisco. Life was fast back then — I moved homes six times in the last fifteen months out of necessity. I chased expiring lease after expiring lease, making timeline adjustments as travel dates got delayed.

When I finally landed in Manila, I was certain that life would be calmer. One small silver lining from this pandemic is that I can take a pause — have plenty more time to gather my thoughts and reflect on my life.

But life seemed to keep going. Though I no longer physically moved about, my mind never stopped wandering. I experienced emotional and mental chaos — my soul was overcompensating for my lack of physical freedom. …

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Photo by Ivan Aleksic on Unsplash

I saw some teenagers bunched together in a McDonald’s the other day. They were sitting side-by-side, maskless, staring at their cellphones. They sat on the empty car lot and looked at the screen with glaring intensity.

Curious, I took a peek and saw a video of a teacher lecturing — albeit in a laggy, low resolution state. They were using a worn out smartphone to attend class, and were borrowing WiFi from a fast food chain they had no intention of purchasing from.

As I was about to leave, their internet connection got cut off.

The last few months have left students in lower income households disconnected.

Even pre-COVID, only a third of college-age students in Southeast Asia choose to enroll, mostly because of financial constraints or a lack of perceived value. The recent shift to distance learning has made this statistic worse. …

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Photo by Liv Bruce on Unsplash

Outside — I hear a drizzle. It’s rain
or that’s what I think, I’ve forgotten
how it feels to be soaked and shivering.
It’s outside, after all. It doesn’t matter.
Inside, every weather feels the same.

Maybe if I take a cold shower
and face the air conditioning?
It’s safe here, I control this territory
expanding from the window to my bed.

Outside — it’s calm, the sun’s out now,
and with my laptop, I can still make it rain
simulate a gust piercing my wet skin
my feet wading through puddles in concrete.

Inside, there’s daylight anytime I want
a universe controlled by my imagination

All I have to do is flip a switch.

I’m so glad there is no switch outside.

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Photo by Ksenia Makagonova on Unsplash

There was a stirring emptiness inside. Over the past few months, I attempted to bury these chaotic feelings through endless work, mountains of slides and spreadsheets, and a semblance of productivity.

I hoped this would keep this sinking feeling at bay.

But knowing I was doing something only delayed the inevitable. The four walls of isolation closed in. There was no escape.

I tried. I tried to watch fantasy movies and action films, attempting to live out imagined realities. I tried to read fiction that transported me into a historical era, or to some other extraordinary universe. …


Riche Lim

ErudiFi + Stanford GSB || ❤️ Education, Technology, and Humanities || Writes about work, life, well-being, and learning || Poet at heart || 🇵🇭

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