University of Southern California
University of Southern California
Mrs. T.H. Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
Mrs. T.H. Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
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Student Ambassador Blog


Shadow, Chance, Sassy

, by Bryan

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One of my favorite movies growing up was Homeward Bound (I think it is on Netflix). In the movie the owner of three household pets, two dogs and one cat, gets married and begins a new job in San Francisco, CA. As the owner relocates, he leaves his three companions on a ranch with extended family to take care of them. Drama unfolds, however, as Chance, a disobedient American Bulldog, begins to entertain the idea that they have been collectively abandoned to reside on this ranch till dog heaven. As the film progresses, both Shadow, the older and wiser Golden Retriever (I also named my first dog shadow!), and Sassy, a Himalayan cat, also begin to grow worrisome regarding the status of their owners.

From there, the three animals go on a rollercoaster journey, venturing into the thick of the Sierra Nevadas, following their instincts in a search for “home.” They encounter waterfalls, grizzly bears, porcupines, even incurring a few injuries along the way. Throughout it all, they they learn to band together through obstacles, trying to find their family.

Throughout this week, I have been thinking about Homeward Bound, dogs, and what gives a place meaning. I guess from an early age the idea of “home” fascinated me (as well as the love for dogs). Within our fast-paced culture driven by career changes from company to company, shifting communities, and wanderlust travels, I feel like home could easily get lost in experiences.

For one of our readings in OT 545: Advanced Seminar in Occupational Science, we read an article written by Ruth Zemke, one of our leaders in occupational science, who called for occupational therapists to consider what transforms a “space” into a “place” (Zemke, 2004). Zemke illuminates the distinction between a space and the unique meaning required to reinvision it into a place.

What are the important places in my life? What are the meaningful places in my patients’ lives? What makes a house a home?

As I sprint into halfway through my final semester of the entry-level master’s program here in the Chan Division, I am learning to reap the fruits of our curriculum emphasizing not only the clinical knowledge and therapeutic intervention as part of our patients’ recovery, but also the mindfulness and reflective thinking to understand them throughout that process. We as occupational therapists are gifted an opportune season in a person’s life in which life roles, physical abilities, and considerations of meaningful occupations might be transitioning, oftentimes starkly. Within these unstable moments, our reflections on an often ephemeral view of home might be the very incitation for us to take that next step forward. Maybe our therapy gyms or even hospital rooms can feel like much more than just space.

Shadow as a puppy and adult


Los Angeles Living!

, by Ali

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The ambassadors and I have been receiving a lot of questions about where we live in Los Angeles to commute to the Health Science Campus (HSC) for class! I wanted to shed some light on my living situations and hopefully answer some of your questions.

My first year in the program I lived in a house within a five minute walking distance to the University Park Campus (UPC). I loved living near the main campus of USC with the undergraduate community I still wanted to be a part of. Around the main campus there is the new campus village which has everything from Target to Trader Joes to two Starbucks locations! I took the USC Intercampus Shuttle to and from the main campus to the Health Science Campus each day. The shuttle was convenient and a great place to take a nap or finish up some last minute homework. Living near the main campus was great for me because I loved running around that campus and taking the ten minute drive to downtown LA for some great food and nightlife!  The OT House is also located near UPC, so there was a lot of OT friends nearby which is always great. See Caroline’s post to read more about the OT house!

For my second year I decided to move to Palms, which is a small neighborhood on the Westside of Los Angeles. The rent is affordable and I love being closer to the beach as well as the benefits of learning a whole new part of Los Angeles. My commute ranges from twenty minutes to fifty minutes by car depending on traffic. Although I am from a small suburb in Sacramento, California, I am already used to the traffic that Los Angeles throws at us. I’ve learned that leaving at 7pm versus 5pm can make the world of difference. I either stick around campus after class and study at the library to wait for traffic to die down or I turn on a podcast and use the longer drive as a time to recharge alone!  I also live right on by a metro stop and can take the metro to explore LA easily, which is an added bonus to my relocation. To read more about moving to LA and navigating a this city without a car read Linah’s post! Living in Palms has also been a nice change because it is a little further form downtown so there is less congestion around my apartment and it feels more like a neighborhood!

USC OT students live all over Los Angeles. People live anywhere from across the street in Currie Hall (Pro tip: see Kaitlyn’s post about living in Currie Hall!) to Orange County. Everyone has his or her own solution to find the right space and place in order to be successful in graduate school. If you have any questions about housing please feel free to reach out!


OT House Pros and Cons

, by Caroline

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This blog is dedicated to a building that I spend a lot of time in: The OT House. Although I don’t actually live in the OT House (I live in an apartment in Pasadena), most of my friends do, so it’s become a second home for me. Linah offered some advice about finding housing in LA and Kaitlyn wrote about Currie Hall, a graduate student housing option on the Health Sciences campus, so here’s one more housing perspective. The OT House (officially named Centennial Apartments) is a graduate student apartment located near the USC University Park Campus. Each unit is a 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom apartment with a kitchen, living room, and balcony. The building has a communal outdoor patio with lounge chairs and a grill. A gym is located in the basement with cardio equipment (2 treadmills, 2 ellipticals) as well as two benches with free weights. There is a communal lounge on the first floor with a large TV and table space to study with a group. Washers and dryers are available on every floor.

I polled a few friends (shout out to Brooke, Heather, Hanna, Emily, and Brett!)  to get some Pros and Cons about living in the OT House, so here we go:


1. Location
The OT House is a short walk to USC’s University Park Campus – easy access to the libraries and fun events on campus. The Village, a new complex with a Trader Joes, Target, restaurants, and a gym is also a short walk away. Additionally, the OT house is centrally located in Los Angeles, a short drive to downtown and 30 minutes away from the beach!

2. Great for Students without a Car
There is an inter-campus tram that picks students up right in front of the OT House in the morning and drops students off on the Health Science campus, where all of our classes take place. It’s a quick 30 minute ride - no need to have a car or deal with navigating traffic to get to school in the morning! The OT house is also within the Campus Cruiser boundaries; from 7PM-2AM students can take a free Lyft ride to anywhere else within the boundary. There are a couple of metro stops near the OT House, which students can use to commute to Fieldwork if they don’t have a car.

3. Safety
The building is very secure! You have to swipe into the building entrance AND swipe into the elevator. Only residents of the building are able to enter. A key is required to enter each floor using the stairs, and doors are locked with a key. In the event of an emergency, campus security is a quick phone call away.

4. Community
Living with fellow OT students is a great way to make friends and study partners! There is a Resident Advisor who plans various events for the building (most recently, trivia), and there is an OT Faculty Advisor, currently Dr. Kim Lenington, who lives at the OT house (with her very cute dog, Barney) and is available to spend time with and support students living at the OT House. I’m an “honorary” member of the OT House Facebook group, and I’ve attended a lot of fun gatherings at the OT House: 4th of July barbeque, superbowl party, holiday gift exchange, a wine and cheese sampling soiree, and so much more! Additionally, Engage is a weekly community outreach program hosted at the OT House. It’s a fun way to connect with and mentor children and young adults in the community, with games, activities, and dinner.

5. General Apartment Setup
The OT House is FULLY furnished: table and chairs in the dining area; couch, chair, and tables in the living room; bed, desk, and storage drawers in the bedroom (and sizable closets); fridge/freezer, oven, stove, and dishwasher in the kitchen (no microwave provided). For anyone moving to LA to start the program, this makes the move significantly easier – no furniture shopping or movers to deal with! Though the bathroom is shared, there are 2 sinks and the toilet and shower are in separate rooms, making it an easy set-up for a shared bathroom. The apartment has A/C, and you can control your own air in each of the bedrooms – negates the awkward thermostat debates with your roommate.

6. Cost and Housing Timeline
The 2018-2019 monthly rate per person will be $1,235, which is pretty competitive for Los Angeles. The housing contract lines up with the USC academic year – student can live there August-May and can do a summer contract May-August. This summer option is nice, as some students will choose to live in the OT House their first summer in the program, meet some friends, settle in and learn the LA area a little better, and then move to a different housing location for the fall. For students interested in doing Level II Fieldwork out of area during the summer, they don’t have to deal with paying for rent in two places or finding someone to sublet while they’re away. 


1. Wear and Tear
The OT house is not a new building. If you’re looking for a super sleek and modern apartment, this is not it – it’s got some character though (in fact, some of our professors lived in the OT house when they were in the Master’s program…looking at you, Dr. Rafeedie!). To be clear, the OT House is not gross or falling apart, it’s just not a new building! If maintenance problems do come up, like a fire alarm battery that needs replacing or a toilet that needs unclogging, maintenance acts quickly and thoroughly. One of my friends living at the OT House even called maintenance for help when she saw a spider in her room (maintenance was very nice about it, and she’s working on her fear of spiders. We’re supporting her through it smile)

2. Hidden Fees
The OT House has secure parking beneath and behind it, but it’s not free. Students living at the OT House pay $75/month for parking. There are washer/dryer units on each floor of the building, but those aren’t free either: the washer is $1.50 per load and the dryer is $1 per load.

3. Printing and Package Pickup
There is not a communal printer in the OT House; the closest one is in Sierra, another apartment building, which is a 5 minute walk away. Students get 50 pages of printing free per year. Packages deliveries are also sent to Sierra, which is not open late at night. Timing package pick up around the class schedule has been a complaint from my friends who live at the OT House. 

4. The Shuttle Route
When taking the inter-campus shuttle back home at the end of the day, the route changes a little bit. It does not drop students back off right in front of the OT House. The closest stop in the afternoon is a 15-minute walk away from the OT House. Sure, I could spin it and say it incorporates a little activity into your day and allows you to hang out with friends and debrief the school day, but let’s be real. Sometimes at the end of the day, you just want to plop onto the couch, watch some TV, and not talk to anyone, and this added time to the commute delays that.

I’ve made a lot of great memories in the OT House, so I’m definitely partial to it, but there’s a lot to consider when deciding where to live. You can find more information about the OT House on our website and on the USC housing website. Hopefully this helps those of you thinking about the transition to LA!



The Power of Play

, by Ali

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Hello! Since I am originally from Northern California, I am still learning about all that Southern California has to offer with beaches, food, entertainment, and so much more. This is my fifth year living in Los Angeles and each weekend I find something new and fun to do. My friends and I took the two hour drive to Joshua Tree National Park for the first time, and I fell more in love with what this part of the state has to offer. This park is full of the infamous Joshua Trees and huge boulder structures. The landscape was so different from the Redwoods and mountains I grew accustomed to in Northern California. We spent two whole days climbing over boulder structures, crawling into caves, and jumping over cacti. This semester I am signed up for OT 564: Sensory Integration and OT 565: Sensory Integration Intervention, which means that I have been given the opportunity to study play in action and the science of play.

This past weekend was the first time I engaged in play in so long. Joshua Tree provided me an adult play structure to explore a new environment and engage in an occupation for the sake of joy, creativity, and fun! I explored a new environment with friend and was able to experience first-hand the power of play as an occupation even at the age of 23 years old. This weekend I was reminded once again how glad I am to be a student studying occupational therapy at USC. I was able to use my occupational lens to appreciate the meaning that the hiking and climbing brought to my life all in 80 degree weather in Southern California!


No, I Don’t Find People Jobs: My OT Elevator Speech

, by Kaitlyn

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If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me what occupational therapy is, I would have… well, a lot of dollars. If you’re pursuing OT or even an OT yourself, then you’ve probably come across the following misconceptions and/or questions about the profession, such as, “Occupational therapy is like physical therapy, right?,” or, “Do you help people find jobs?”

For some, it may be exhausting to describe what OT is over and over again. For me, I’ve learned to think of it as a great opportunity to advocate for the profession and tell people about the amazing value of OT! I’ve been in countless situations—other than my job—whether it’s at the dinner table, at social events/parties, or just out and about in the real world where I’ve busted out my OT “elevator speech.” Rome wasn’t built in a day, so we can’t expect everyone to know exactly what OT is overnight either. grin

Here is the general breakdown and framework of my ever-evolving OT spiel that can hopefully help guide you in some way shape or form: 

The “occupation” part of “occupational therapy,” is defined as any meaningful activity that comprises a person’s everyday life. For some people, their meaningful activity in life can mean their career, but for others, it can be socializing with their friends, brushing their teeth, brushing their hair, cooking, engaging in arts and crafts at school, and so on.

Here, I define ‘occupation’ first. I feel like once people understand our meaning of ‘occupation,’ it is a much easier concept to grasp.

Therefore, OT is a health profession that empowers and enables individuals of all ages to engage in these occupations to the best of their abilities despite any injury, disease, or disability.

Here, I define occupational therapy.

How we do this depends on where we work. For example, those working at a school may work with children on their fine motor skills (i.e. using scissors to cut) so that they can participate in arts in crafts in the classroom. Those working in a hospital may work with those who have suffered a stroke to work on activities of daily living (i.e. brushing teeth). *This list could go on and on…

At this point, I’ll list examples of different places OT can work and what they do in those settings. Part of the reason why OT is so hard to grasp is because we can be found anywhere and everywhere!

To try and solidify everything I’ve said, I’ll either talk about my personal experiences or somehow make the connection to something that will make sense to the person or people I am talking to. If I’m talking about a personal experience, I’ll tend to talk about OT’s role in animal-assisted therapy and my involvement with Assistance Dogs of Hawaii as a clinical rotation. Another connection I frequently make is related to the Marvel movie, “Doctor Strange,” which works well with the kids/male population/anyone who likes Marvel movies but knows nothing about health care. In summary, Dr. Strange, a neurosurgeon, gets into a car accident in which he injures both of his hands. In the movie, he sees a hand therapist (most likely an OT), who helps rehabilitate his hand so that he can get back to his meaningful occupation of performing surgery (and being a superhero later on, obviously). 

Defining OT is all about practice, catering to your audience, and having a positive attitude about it! There is no right or wrong way to talk about a career you love.

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