Student Ambassador Blog
Every LA native has their list of go-tos to take people when they visit but they also have their smaller, more intimate list of what a friend of mine calls, “secret squirrel spots.” These are places that are just a little more special. For me, they are places that have grown my eyes a little bigger, made my heart a little softer, or tickled my tastebuds like never before and I hope that by sharing these with you all, you will find them as beautiful, meaningful, and as memorable as I do. Whether you’re new to LA or not, go, explore, and be merry!
SuihoEn Japanese Garden - Van Nuys
An oasis in the middle of the city! It’s one of my favorite hidden places in LA and it’s only $5 to enter. As you venture through garden, you’ll find a tea house. I’d recommend bringing some hot tea in a thermos and a friend and have yourself a little tea party inside the beautiful tea house that overlooks the koi pond.
El Matador State Beach - Malibu
Being in LA, you have an entire coast of beaches to choose from! After venturing from the valley to the OC, I still reserve a special place in my heart for El Matador State Beach up by Malibu. There are rock formations that exist there that transfer you to another planet. Climb them, crawl through them and find little crabs, or find a little cave to take a nap in!
LASA - Chinatown
What’s LA without good eats and what’s an LA experience without supporting LA chefs? I knew these two brothers, Chad and Chase, from high school and seeing them blow up on the LA food scene featuring food I grew up with brings tears to my eyes. Born and bred in aroma-filled Filipino homes, they’ll provide you with an innovative yet authentic taste of Filipino cuisine.
The Great Wall of LA Mural - North Hollywood
After hearing about it for years, I only visited this gem about a year ago and regret not visiting sooner. This was a community project done by more than 400 community youth, their families, artists, oral historians, ethnologists, and scholars depicting the history of Los Angeles from 20,000 B.C. all the way up to the 1960s. It’s a half-mile long and a great way to spend the afternoon learning about the city you’ve found yourself in! Be sure to pop this into your phone (http://sparcinla.org/the-great-wall-part-2/) to guide you through your historical and visually stimulating experience.
If you end up visiting any of these spots, leave a comment and let me know how you liked them!
Although I am a second year in the graduate program, I technically completed my undergraduate degree in May 2017. Therefore these first few weeks of classes have been full of transition and adjustment from living on the University Park Campus to living on the west side of Los Angeles and commuting to the Health Science Campus. Here are some things I have learned:
1) Moving to a new neighborhood in a familiar city
This is my fifth year living in Los Angeles, but this is my first time living off campus in an apartment. I live in Culver City, which is a thirty minute drive from the Health Science Campus. This change of neighborhood has provided me the opportunity to find all new running routes, coffee shops for studying, and even a favorite laundromat. This move has opened up a whole new side of Los Angeles to my life.
2) The value of a planned social life
Moving off campus means that I now live on average fifteen to twenty minutes away from my friends. I can no longer just drop by my friend’s apartment unannounced or walk to the library together late on a Sunday night. I have quickly learned the necessity that is planning in advance to go out to dinner or try a new ice cream shop with a friend. These things cannot be as spontaneous as they used to be, but that just means I get to have something fun on my calendar to look forward to.
3) The abundance of USC hosted graduate student events
In just the first few weeks back to school, I have already seen the benefits and fun of being a graduate student. I went to the occupational therapy and physical therapy tailgate for our first football game. It was an easy way to be social with classmates as well as the physical therapy students, who we share a lunch patio with. I love that all the graduate school students have just as much Trojan pride as my undergraduate friends. I also attended a Los Angeles Dodgers game for five dollars organized by Graduate Student Government. There are always fun events for graduate students to opt into!
4) Everything we learn is valuable and relevant
One aspect of graduate school that has only been solidified over the past few weeks upon returning from level II fieldwork, is just how relevant all of our coursework is to our future practice. Regardless of what area we specialize in or get advanced practice in, the Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy has created a curriculum that molds us into generalists of the field of occupational therapy. Each course has its own value. Readings and assignments are all important because they are informing and building our occupational therapist lenses. It is motivating to know everything we are doing in and out of the classroom is valuable.
5) Classmates in graduate school have a lot in common
Finally, as some of my undergraduate friends have moved away and out of Los Angeles, I have become closer with graduate school occupational therapy classmates. It is wonderful to be a part of a program that has students with diverse interests and backgrounds. We are all so different while simultaneously have a common interest entering a profession centered around helping people live their healthiest and happiest lives. Lunchtime is always a good time with the occupational therapy students.
With everything in life, I like to be all in. Thus, when I entered graduate school I knew that I wanted to dedicate every possible ounce of myself to the experience of being an OT student (because hey, you’re only an OT student for so long!). With the responsibility of being an involved student, however, also comes the responsibility of taking time for yourself and embracing the concept of: WORK-LIFE BALANCE. It is absolutely essential to our health and well-being, especially in graduate school.
Work-life balance is still a work in progress for me, and I think it is something that will continue to be a work in progress, as life itself is so fluid. Here are a few basic things that I’ve learned along the way—via classes at USC and also through personal experience—that have helped me have a decently balanced life thus far:
1. Time management is key. I personally keep a color-coded planner that I can write in and also a Google calendar synced to my iPhone. I quite literally do not know how I would live my life without the two because they both keep me in check. For both, I make sure I write things down by the hour because it allows me to see the breakdown of my day and where there is time for what. I also color code by classes (pink), work (blue), social (purple), and school-affiliated events events (orange) so that I can see exactly how balanced my week is. By color-coding, I can also see if I’m maybe working myself too hard and need to wedge out a time to see my family or friends (it also just makes the calendar more aesthetically appealing to be honest).
2. Prioritize your schoolwork and work on it when you have free parts in your day (even if they’re small!). It may be 30 minutes before meeting a friend for dinner or 2 hours in between events. I am always surprised at how much I can accomplish even in 10 minutes.
3. Invest time in things that matter to you. Basically: engage in your meaningful occupations! For me, that’s a lot of things: it means going to a new coffee shop, going to OTAC events to advocate for the profession, taking pictures, spending time with people in the program (i.e. at our OT/PT tailgates and football games), reading a good book, going on a hike, exploring different places around LA, and so on. I just make sure that whatever it is, it is something I genuinely find enjoyment in and contributes to the betterment of myself.
4. See people you actually want to see. It’s true that life can get busy in grad school. What I’ve found, however, is that there is always time for the people you care about when you make the effort. Therefore, I make sure that a lot of my free time is spent with my family and friends even if I can only spare a few hours in my week. A few hours is better than nothing. On a serious note though, nothing releases oxytocin and reduces stress like having a “Frozen” sing-along with my 4-year-old niece and 2-year-old nephew.
5. Take time for yourself. This concept is something I am constantly grappling with because I love being on the go at all times and also have an embarrassing case of “fomo” (fear of missing out). Most recently, I’ve been spending about 15 minutes each night writing at least 3 things I am grateful for everyday in my gratitude journal. Writing in my gratitude journal has been the perfect form of taking time for myself because it allows me to be able to spend time with my thoughts while also ending my day on a positive note. Even though it’s only 15 minutes, it’s still better than nothing!
As previously mentioned before, work-life balance is a work in progress! Some weeks are more balanced than others and work-life balance means different things to different people, but what is important is that you’re striving for YOUR best quality of life along the way. Good luck and happy balancing!
I can hardly believe it, but this is week 4 of the fall semester, which means that all of my classmates and I are starting our Level I Fieldworks this week! In my next blog, I’ll tell you all about my first couple days of Level I Fieldwork in Pediatrics. Before I do that, I want to use this blog post to give an overview of fieldwork in general, because many prospective students have a lot of questions about it!
Fieldwork is our chance to go out into the field and see first-hand what we’re reading in our textbooks and learning about in class. In our entry-level Master’s program here at USC, we have Level I and Level II Fieldwork experiences.
Level I Fieldwork is tied in with our 3 immersion courses: Adult Physical Rehabilitation, Mental Health, and Pediatrics. Once per week, instead of going to class on campus, we report to our Fieldwork site for a full day of clinical experience. Then, in the middle of the semester, we get a week off from class and report to our fieldwork all week long. Level I Fieldwork is a great way to get exposure to a particular practice setting, make connections to what we’re learning in class, and develop some clinical and interpersonal skills!
Level II Fieldwork is a more beefed-up, immersive experience than Level I Fieldwork. While Level I Fieldwork occurs in tandem with classes during the fall and spring semesters, Level II Fieldwork is a full-time 12 week clinical experience which takes place during the second and third summers in the program. Level II Fieldwork begins with observation, but as the summer progresses, we are gradually given more responsibility, until the end of the summer, where students usually have their own caseload that they are evaluating, treating, and writing documentation about. At the end of Level II Fieldwork, the goal is to practicing at the level of an entry-level practitioner in that setting.
My first Level I Fieldwork experience last fall was during my Adult Physical Rehabilitation immersion. I was placed at St. Mary Medical Center in Long Beach. At this hospital, my Clinical Instructor (CI) and I evaluated and treated patients on the acute and ICU floors. I had never seen OT in a hospital setting, so managing IV lines, oxygen cannulas, and blood pressure monitors was totally new for me. Also new to me was working with individuals in critical conditions. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the population and setting! I had a wonderful experience at St. Mary’s, and left feeling more comfortable working with patients in the hospital, and with a better understanding of OT’s role in an acute setting.
The following spring semester, my Level I Mental Health Fieldwork placement was at Gateways Forensic Community Treatment Program. This was an outpatient mental health setting that provided court-mandated services for individuals following release from prison or inpatient mental facilities. I had a lot of autonomy at this site: I got to lead groups and facilitate one-to-one OT sessions with my own caseload. Erika wrote a whole blog about embracing fieldwork sites without an OT as your CI, and I couldn’t agree with her more! I had a lot of responsibility, but I think this push was exactly what I needed to gain confidence in myself, my knowledge, and my therapeutic use of self. I was also totally unfamiliar with OT’s role in Mental Health prior to that semester, but I definitely saw the value of occupation and OT’s approach for the individuals I was working with.
Then came summer, where I had my first 12-week Level II Fieldwork experience. I was placed at St. Barnabas Senior Services (SBSS), a center for community-dwelling older adults. This site fell into the category of primary care and health promotion and wellness. My fellow-classmates and I were the first students to have our Level II Fieldwork at this site, so it was up to us to do a needs assessment, market our services, and establish OT’s presence at the site. While that’s hard to accomplish in the span of 12 weeks, we did establish new groups (allowing seniors to engage in new occupations), met with individual clients (that we recruited ourselves!), and led health education and literacy presentations (I provided education on fall prevention and diabetes management). A lot of things about my summer were challenging, given the nature of the site, but I definitely grew as a person and as a future OT. I enhanced my Spanish skills (75% of the time I was speaking with the older adults, it was in Spanish), learned about program development, gained familiarity with common chronic conditions commonly experienced by older adults, sharpened my clinical observation and reasoning skills, and practiced with different evaluation tools and practice models. I wasn’t sure how I felt about working with older adults at the beginning of the summer, but I could definitely see myself working with older adults in the future!
So now I have one more Level I Fieldwork placement left, this time in Pediatrics, and then one more Level II placement next summer. As I said before, my problem (albeit a “good problem”) is that I haven’t yet found a population that I didn’t enjoy working with. I love OT because it allows me to connect with a diverse range of individuals, meet them where they are, and help them work towards getting to where they want to be. In class, we talk about how to do that, and we simulate that with case applications. Fieldwork, though, is my chance to really apply that and have a hands-on learning experience. How valuable that is!
Now that you’ve heard about my prior fieldwork experiences, stay tuned for my next blog, where I’ll tell you how my Level I pediatrics fieldwork has been going so far!
From being dropped into the deepest end of the pool with five days a week of Kinesiology and Neuroscience, grasping for air trying to stay afloat completing that final GATE/PICO for Quantitative, to finally gaining some tread as my feet are able to touch the ground near the end of FW Level 2 this summer, it feels like I have been swimming nonstop since June 2016. As I enter into my second year of the program, I definitely wanted some time to step out of the pool, reflect, and share a few lessons learned before starting my final lap (unless I do the OTD!).
1. The faculty genuinely cares about your overall wellbeing. Coming from a large public school, I was much more familiar being another warm body in a 500-person lecture hall, often opting to just listen to a video lecture online. I was taken aback walking down the halls of CHP and being greeted by name from almost every faculty member. It was the first time in my educational career where professors spent time asking how we were all doing and how they could better communicate the lecture material to promote our understanding. With that said, it was the first time our midterm and final student feedback evaluations contributed to the future organization and direction of the courses. Lesson: If you have questions about anything from the material in lecture, what to pursue in the future, or even random advice about life, the faculty are always willing to listen and be there.
2. I was listening to the Harvard Business Review podcast earlier this week and they were presenting a claim that the key factor setting professional athletes, top-performing CEOs, and entertainers apart from others was their mentality, not necessarily their skill level. HBR argued that everyone can achieve a certain skill level but after that comes the need for a particular mindset. I felt the truth of this podcast throughout my fieldwork experiences where it was my fear of failing that hindered me as opposed to an objective lack of knowledge. Whether I was walking the floors of an inpatient acute rehabilitation unit or working on Handwriting Without Tears at a private pediatrics clinic, I was always conscious of messing up. Zooming out a bit, I realized that I was actually completely prepared with the clinical mindset and know-how for every scenario I was placed into, I just needed to take a breath and use the knowledge I was taught. Lesson: Study hard and do not be scared to apply it!
3. One of the most fun and interesting things I took part in last year was hanging out with the students who visited from South Korea through Global Initiatives. It was so cool to see how OT was practiced and taught in another country and how, in the end, we were united by our passion to simply help others. I learned how to describe OT in Korean to better communicate it to my parents. The most fun part was getting Facebook Friend Requests randomly throughout the semester from students who visited USC. Lesson: OT is so global, start exposing yourself to the profession on an international scale. (Maybe it will help you plan for the externship in the Spring!)
Rounding the first corner of Fall semester, it has been really nice to peek over my shoulder at the hurdles I have jumped so far while keeping my gaze fixed on the hurdles to come. But, maybe the biggest lesson to remember is to enjoy the race altogether.