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Arielle’s Sabbatical Syllabus


Ah. Here we are! I’ve been struggling with the notion of having a sabbatical at the ripe age of 21. It is difficult to deem myself ‘worthy’ - most anecdotes of sabbaticals occur after a decade of working in longstanding careers. 

Per contra, I like to think as though I’m already living in the future. Will 40 year old Arielle regret the fact that she took 8 months in her early 20s to cultivate her friendships and get around to reading iconic literature, all while beginning maintenance on considerably healthy habits? Framing in frank benefits and youthful spirit makes this an obvious answer to accept.

I’m 4 months in and I’m a lot lighter. In my May 2023 private notes, I wrote that summer was for self introspection and fall would be for knowledge accumulation. I found myself quickly done with introspection. I think I’m good, fo’ real: I have always been quite confident with who I am and who I want to become. For the sake of not sounding like a broken record, you can read more at twentyone.html.

Nowwwwww, the more interesting stuff begins for me. Without further ado, my Fall 2023 Sabbatical Syllabus:


I’d like to be able to have a basic understanding of the major pillars of humanity. By the end of the Fall, I’ll measure success by being able to formulate my own understanding of:

This will be quite broad in nature. I am covering topics of many breadths. By no means am I trying to become an expert in any of these fields. Rather, I’d like to have enough comprehension of world history and progress to make better, more educated decisions in the last three quarters of my life. This may take shape via the choices I make in my career, my voice in policy, and in my household. 

That being said, making better choices isn’t the catch-all purpose of these 4 months either. Studying history is not about optimising against previous fumbles to our own collective utopian world. It’s about fulfilling a deeper understanding of who we are as humans, learning about how others in the past thought of these questions, and other’s respective motivations of progressing humanity or simply just living. Time spent connecting with others in the past (which can only be done via history), learning to respect alternative ways of living, and coming to terms with valuing our OWN beliefs and cultures is time worthwhile. 

I follow the philosophy that it is more fruitful to study/read one piece of extremely quality literature rather than absorb a copious quantity of different sources, but it may come to my attention that some fields are just innately more interesting to me than others. I may adjust durations accordingly. There will be consistent edits and additions of smaller papers and sidebars I fall into. This is a document in motion!

At the end of each topic, I’ll write about what I’ve learned and my key takeaways. I suspect that it is not useful (nor memorable to myself) to regurgitate summaries of books. But, I have a hypothesis that many pieces will overlap on subject matter indirectly vis-a-vis worldviews. This similarity is what will make this 4 month knowledge absorption particularly fascinating! In response, I’ll do my best to map out connections from civilizations centuries apart and from subject topics that have little relation. Additionally, I will verbalise my own responses to these mediums, whether they are positive or negative, and challenge my current notions of life in my day to day and in the broader schemas of living. Finally, I want to make a lot more friends from varying places and enjoy niche subject spaces together. I hope I’m as refreshing to them as they will be to me. 


Consumption happens simultaneously in monthly sections (ie. I will be reading down the Eastern History section while also making my way down Evolution/Anthropology in September, while ALSO drinking a lot of wine. You’ll see.) 

No set deadlines but my self-accountability is very strong. I’ll keep as close as possible within monthly timeframes but may go ahead/become behind in certain subject matters. (I really want to start maths ASAP lol.)

August: Introduction, vibe check:

Pre-reading: A Short History of Nearly Everything

Note: What I have already been picking up is that many of the books I’ve chosen (namely: the former, At Home, and Freakonomics) are 1. pop-sci books 2. not effective as deep-learning on their own, but more so great for the ideas they provoke to delve deeper into. On many occasions, I would pause reading and go on Wiki-sprees of specific people mentioned in passing and this is the behaviour that I, frankly, encourage of myself. I spent an hour being a bit silly reading about Fritz Zwicky and how he held himself in the scientific community. I learned the word “curmudgeon” and subconsciously categorised people I’ve met in my lifetime by means of passing. Out of love, of course.

It’s also worth noting that most of the “How did we/I get here” IS just learning facts and nodding my head. It is hard to have meaningful conclusions post-read, but my brain does feel very good after the fact. It’s just the way things are. 

✅ A Short History Reflection: shorthistory.html

September: How did I get here?

Eastern History:

My prelude writing: ladylok.html

Assessment: My assessment here is simply having an intrinsic understanding of my family politics. I won’t make this too public, but I am quite fed up with western media bias and I’d like to also strengthen my own views on China. Within my nuclear family, I am definitely the most westernised. I don’t believe this is necessarily a bad thing, but it is something I actively try to reconcile.

A really interesting way to finish this section off is for myself to write a post entirely in Chinese, and I’ve been meaning to formulate my thoughts on the beauty of 4 character idioms (I think China in 10 words will be relevant for this)! I’ll get my mom to read it and cringe at me.

Anthropology and Evolution:

Assessment: No assessment as of Aug 22 other than enjoying the ride.

Note (Aug 18, 2023): I must say: A Short History Of Nearly Everything was enough for me to learn about evolution. I’m good. I just consumed it and nodded my head. Don’t get me wrong - it’s good foundational knowledge, but I will not be assessing this as it’s going to be prevalent in everything else and I… I’m BORED!!! I cannot read more about rocks or my brain is going to cry. Looking for more interesting evolution recs please.

Wine (Full Fall Period):

Assessment: This is (not) a half-baked excuse to drink through 50 bottles of wine this semester. 

Okay, it is.

Truthfully, I love wine. I want to be the person at dinner that is always handed the wine list to choose for the table. The worst part is that I already AM in most of my current settings, but I always feel like an imposter since I haven’t tried a substantial breadth of wine for me to accept that I know what I like / make an informed decision on behalf of others. There’s a wine out there that I’m probably obsessed with but have never tried. Where better to do this exercise than Quebec?! (I’m not going to Europe for this. Soz!) 

I am ALSO not drinking through these bottles alone. That would be sad. I’ll be hosting bi/tri-weekly (omfg) wine nights at my apartment with an assortment of friends and strangers. I’ll be thorough with my reviews and learn specifically what to look out for, how to pair it, and I will… try not to get sloshed. In order to be less-capital intensive, I also will seek wine bars and ask for small, small pours just to sample (with patronage, of course). Your girl is on a budget.

✅ Fall 2023 Winelist: winelist.html

October: What’s within? 


✅Assessment: Welcome to my silly little book club, where the close females in my life are invited to join me in Vermont for an October weekend after we read one (or all) of these books! It will be a lovely time spent in a cozy cabin surrounded by red & orange leaves. We will drink spiked hot chocolate and do a hike or two, and then watch female-coded movies into dusk. My current view on feminism is just admiring all of the women in my life for everything wonderful they encompass. Maybe reading these books will permanently alter this. Regardless, this will be so awesome. 


Optional, but I will probably read them because this is the section I’m most excited about:

✅ Assessment: There are an absurd amount of research group seminars occurring in Montreal and it is so fortifying to my decision of moving back to this beautiful city (look at the number theory group, for example!). Someone told me that talking to experts about their subject matter is one of the best ways to learn a subject, and another told me that if I can satisfactorily explain a concept to someone else (and let them ask me questions in return), that is a good benchmark of understanding. The best plan of action here: find the subset of maths I enjoy the most, do my own research on them, and then just sit and reap the benefits… and maybe I’ll come out of it with a friend or two (are mathematicians friendly?). 

November: Why are we here? What’s happening?


I will expand this collection as needed. These 3 books should (keyword: should) be a breeze for me to go through length-wise, but I want to see what interests me deeply within their content before I dive into deeper subtopics! After the six easy pieces, I could delve into the rest of Feynman’s lectures

Assessment: There are SO many physics events/talks at McGill. I am simply going to LARP (hehe, fake it till you make it) and befriend the people who frequent these events and ask them silly questions I have. Similar to mathematics, except I don’t feel the heart-throbbing I get for a satisfying proof. There’s a lot about space! 

Being Whimsy:

Assessment: I will smoke a cigarette every night and write artsy reflections that I will despise in 10 years. Dare I say: I will commit to having casual relationships? My friends say I need to stop seeing the same archetype of man, but it’s not my fault that I like weird nerds. What is so appealing about a dude who plays a guitar? I rather have him tinker with miniature welding kits and have an assortment of wires collected throughout his years that he can’t bear to throw out. My friends are right. I have a problem and I’m fixing it, especially before I move to San Francisco. 

update: i got cuffed in sept to a silly, nerdy guy who is really good at shuffling cards and i also don't smoke everyday nor am i trying to make it a habit lol. i have also adjusted this portion to include a lot of good fiction pieces!

December: Why are we really here? And miscellaneous works.


Assessment: No assessment as of Aug 22.


Assessment (or lack thereof): My dad is an economist. I grew up watching Bloomberg as a child and reading the Economist in the mornings as a teenager (carries over today), which is an exemplary demonstration of how you can raise and shape your kid via the media you feed them. I’m not mad; in the grand scheme of things, economics is really an A-tier matter to do this in. I just wish I had veered off more and took more risks as a teenager going into post-secondary. I must say that the novelty did wear off once my mom started leaving the Golf Channel on 24/7 in our living room. 

Anyway, I am just surprised I’ve never read Freakonomics before. I have heard a lot of positive & negative things (as with any pop-sci book…) and it will be an enjoyable read for me. I also want to read this and then listen to the If Books Could Kill episode

I am also a produce girl who always spends the extra $0.50 on fair-trade bananas.

No assessment because every day is already an economics assessment in my family group chat. This is just my life…


Assessment: Hard to assess philosophy. Very, very hard indeed. I have 4 months to figure this out. If you have an idea on what I can do here, please reach out.

August Edit: This is quite far into the future but I think that I will be following Susan’s Rigetti’s guide instead of the above. We will see!

Daily Habits I Must Hold Myself Accountable To In This Period: