Student Ambassador Blog
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.
The first question Joe (pseudonym) asked me was whether or not I thought the Los Angeles Lakers would win the NBA championship this year.
“Not a chance” I replied before noticing his purple and gold 2010 NBA CHAMPIONSHIPS LOS ANGELES LAKERS shirt.
“That’s whack man,” Joe said.
He did not talk to me the rest of my first day at my very first Level 1 Fieldwork.
My first Level 1 Fieldwork placement was at Mychal’s Learning Place in Hawthorne CA. Mychal’s is a clubhouse setting that offers day programs for adults with developmental disabilities, equipping them with self-care and job skills in order to foster independence. Mychal’s has an onsite washer and dryer, fully functional industrial kitchen, as well as other opportunities to teach and practice ADLs. There was, however, no OT onsite, so my colleagues who were also placed at Mychal’s and I had to be proactive to see how OT fit into this setting and population.
After a whirlwind first day of orientations and getting to know the facilities, I volunteered to assist with an awesome opportunity at Mychal’s, their Howl at the Moon café, which functions as a mobile coffee and pastry retailer. Howl has partnerships with MATTEL headquarters nearby and sets up shop twice a week to sell and serve coffee to the employees. The coolest part of Howl was that Mychal’s participants did almost everything from taking orders, making drinks (fancy lattes, cappuccinos, everything!) and even cooking the pastries. It was incredible to see how much Mychal’s believed in its participants. While I loved my experience there, throughout the semester I was still unsure of an OTs role in this setting.
Joe and I were both assigned to Howl a couple weeks into fieldwork. We did not get the opportunity to converse since our first meeting and I was a little nervous to break the ice again.
“So…do you like basketball?” I asked before noticing the same purple and gold 2010 NBA CHAMPIONSHIP LOS ANGELES LAKERS shirt (PSA: Use your clinical observation skills people).
Joe nodded while preparing a pumpkin spice latte.
“Who do you think is going to win this year?” I asked.
Joe paused midway, while pouring the steamed milk and let out a sigh. “Probably the Warriors,” he responded.
I was confused at his overtly disappointed response and had to ask what was wrong.
It is amazing how a simple question diving deeper can help us understand our clients, and each other, better. In school they teach us two valuable concepts that are foundational to our OT practice: mindfulness and therapeutic use of self. While conceding my lack of mindfulness in noticing Joe’s apparent interests from his attire, I saw these two abstract concepts produce concrete fruit as Joe shared about his background and how the Lakers were an uplifting part of his life growing up. He looked up to Kobe (the GOAT) and Pau as heroes, sad to see them disband and the team rebuild. It was so interesting that Joe and I could connect on something as so seemingly simple as shared sports interests.
Our Howl at the Moon Cafe set up!
Amazing pastries baked by participants at Mychal’s
I began and completed undergrad without ever hearing of the words Occupational Therapy in combination. Growing up in an immigrant family, my parents always emphasized the importance of pursuing a career with a stable income, regardless of one’s passions. While I cannot thank them enough for working hard to establish a foundation for me to pursue everything I have thus far, I was at war because of my inability to suppress my love for the arts and more creative endeavors.
In order to appease both sides, my daily schedule at UCLA looked like: 8:00 am organic chemistry lecture, 9:30am - 4:00pm internship at movie production company, 5:00pm - 7:00pm physics lecture and discussion, 7:30pm - 8:30pm Improv Comedy class in Westwood, 9:00pm - 11:00pm CareExtenders hospital volunteering. My heart, as well as my schedule, was clearly divided. In the end, I knew I wanted to help others and was told throughout childhood that medicine was the best (and only) way to do so. On the flip-side, I loved storytelling and wanted to become a screenwriter, helping others smile, laugh, and cry as they saw chapters of their own journeys unfold onscreen.
The “creative” side won and I officially declared English as my major and dropped pre-med during my 3rd year. Whether it was trauma from scraping a single point on my physics midterm by writing -9.8 m/s^2 or from unlucky hospital shadowing experiences, I was ready to move away from health care into the romanticized world of marketing and advertising (#madmen).
After a few years working as a copywriter in a number of unique specialties (wedding vendor, mobile app, etc.), the long-suppressed existential questions of purpose began to brew anew. What do I really care about? What do I want to do for the next 40 years of my life? While I totally understand that our careers cannot be a complete (or adequate) representation of our values and passions, I always hoped to enter a vocation I really believed in. For me the pillars of a satisfying career seemed to be: caring for others, building relationships, and financial stability.
In a matter of beautiful fate, during this time my friends all started suggesting pursuing Occupational Therapy. I remember trying to explain this new career path to my parents in broken Korean . . . they still don’t know what it is (though interactions with the Korean international students from Global Initiatives helped a lot!) Honestly, there is so much more to share on how I have been consistently affirmed in my decision to dive into this evolving and exciting profession (more to come in future blogs hopefully), but I am just grateful take part in this opportunity to care for others in creative and meaningful ways.