Hola! I recently returned from my international externship experience in Costa Rica and let’s just say it was amazing! Before I give you all the fabulous details of my trip, I’ll give you a little bit more background on the externship itself. During the final spring semester of the Master’s program, we are given the opportunity to learn aspects of leadership and advocacy in a different setting than our typical internships, therefore creating the externship process. Students may go shadow at a private practice, a physician’s office, the CEO at a major hospital, the principal at a local school district, or many of us, choose to travel internationally! International externships vary as well; some people go to other Universities and advocate for the profession or our programs at USC, for us, we worked with underprivileged children in a daycare center. Some of my fellow classmates traveled to London, Ireland, South Korea, Thailand, Mexico, or the Philippines! The sky is the limit ☺
So back on my externship, myself, along with six other OT students were placed in a government funded daycare center in the outskirts of San Jose, Costa Rica. They have very limited staff and very limited supplies, but the children were so excited to see us and play with us! We really just provided compassion and care, and showed interest in them as individuals. The children could have really benefited from occupational therapy services for fine or gross motor as well as social play and manners. We played a lot of games with them, sang songs, created arts and crafts, and just got to know them. It was a really wonderful experience. Even though we weren’t able to make huge changes in their daily activities, I hope we sparked enough desire in them to improve their quality of life. The children were so appreciative of the time we spent with them, and I would love the chance to go back and spend even more time with them!
Even though the main reason for the trip to Costa Rica was the externship, we still had lots of time for fun! We stayed with a host family and got to experience the real, home-cooked Costa Rican cuisine every day. We got to go ziplining, see volcanoes, visit the hot springs, hike through the rainforest, and of course, spend lots of time at the gorgeous beaches! Overall it was an amazing experience, and I feel so lucky to have gotten to experience it and especially with a great group of friends! It will be one of my best memories of the master’s program!
As I have mentioned before I am from a tiny town in Northern Minnesota, no really it is SMALL! I graduated high school in a class of 75 students. Needless to say, Los Angeles is NOT small, so it was a big change for me! With that said I take every opportunity to explore this amazing city and all it has to offer. Now, it may surprise you that I have had the time to do and see so many things while I’ve been out here as I am a student in graduate school, but let me tell you—it is all about balance! We need to engage in activities that are meaningful to us, ahem, our occupations I’ve received a lot of questions lately about what kinds of things I like to do around LA and if there is even time for them as a student. It seemed rather fitting to compile some of the fun things to do! Now granted, I am by no means a local, but I do my best to explore!
Obviously there are the basics to do and see like sporting events, museums, and the beach, but there are tons of places to go hiking, always new restaurants (or hole in the walls) to eat at, and tv tapings to attend! Here’s a compilation of some of my favorites!
Disneyland, Hike to Hollywood Sign, Santa Monica Pier and 3rd Street Promenade, Huntington Gardens, USC Division of OSOT, Tv Taping of Chelsea Lately, Malibu Beach, Tv Taping of Dancing with the Stars, Exposition Park
Los Angeles Zoo (new and old), Ellen!, Arts District, Rose Parade, Venice Beach, USC Football Game, Walt Disney Studios, Staples Center - Sports Events or Concerts, Hiking on Echo Mountain
Food galore, need I say more?
What are your favorites? Tell me if there is somewhere I need to go! Or let me know if you have questions of somewhere I have been!
It seems as if I just started the program yesterday, but here we are in the final semester preparing for the comprehensive exam, graduation, fieldwork, and then the national board exam! Woah! But before I get to all that, first I get to enjoy my final semester as a Master’s student by taking electives! This is one of the unique things that USC has to offer because this is our chance to “specialize” within a “generalist” degree. What does that really mean? We get to pick additional coursework to take based on our interested area of practice, so we could “specialize” in pediatrics, wellness, rehabilitation, etc. One week in, I am very happy with the elective options I have chosen because it is really information that I want to know more about and find myself very engaged in the reading and can relate it to future practice.
But one course I am taking is actually a course I more or less made up myself! We are given the opportunity to complete an Independent Study or Independent Directed Research. I have mentioned in my previous blogs about a project I started last summer while I was in my Level II Fieldwork at a community based mental health wellness center. During my time there, the site identified a need for a group intervention for adults with ADHD. So I hit the ground running, researching different interventions that are currently out there and nothing seemed to fit just right, so I made my own. Throughout the summer, I spent time writing, rewriting, researching, reading, and presenting all the material I had found, and by the end I had the first draft of a facilitator and participant manual for a group intervention for Adults with ADHD on time management and organization skills. I would not have been so successful if it hadn’t been for the mentorship of the faculty at USC who guided me through the process and encouraged me to further develop the program during my fall course “Occupation-Centered Programs for the Community.” During this time, I revised the manual again and continued to research what was currently out there. I even had the opportunity to attend a conference by the Allen Cognitive Network where they highlighted some current interventions in time management. So this leads me to my independent study! I will continue the development and revisions of the manuals as well as be presenting at the Occupational Therapy Association of California (OTAC) Spring Symposium. I am so excited to pursue this opportunity and feel so lucky to have a program and Division that supports me in my interests and academic pursuits! Occupational therapy is a broad, diverse field that has many niches so there are constantly opportunities to pursue a passion of yours that you didn’t even know existed! Follow your passion
Last week we finished up our Level I Fieldwork opportunities so I thought I would take some time and give you a little bit more background about what these experiences look like One of the unique things about the program here at USC is that fieldwork experience is built into our coursework within the Immersions. As students, we are placed in 3 different Level I Fieldworks, which align with which immersion you are in - Adult Rehabilitation, Mental Health, or Pediatrics. The first two fieldwork opportunities occur in our first year of the program. I started in the Mental Health immersion, so my first Level I was at a Community-Based Mental Health Wellness Center. This was a very interesting experience as it was my second semester of graduate school (can’t forget about summer term!) and there was no occupational therapist at my setting. I was very nervous about not having someone to shadow but part of the experience is just learning about the population you are working with. I was fortunate enough to chat with individuals and hear their life stories as well as lead groups and meet with individuals one-on-one to facilitate lifestyle changes. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this opportunity and thought it was a great learning experience! The next semester I was in the Pediatric Immersion and was placed at a local school district. This was fantastic for me since I hope to go into School-Based Practice. I loved being able to work with the children and plan creative activities for them to do. I learned a lot about working with multiple children at one time, planning therapeutic obstacles, and creating educational games. Being in a school district is also a great opportunity to learn about interdisciplinary teams as you work with classroom teachers, physical therapists, speech therapists, psychologists, among others. Lucky for me, this experience confirmed by desire to work in this area of occupational therapy! My last Level I experience was for the Adult Rehabilitation immersion, and was at an outpatient therapy clinic, specifically working with hands. I learned a lot of what it takes to “prep” muscles for therapy, such as why you would use heat or ice. In addition, I learned about different types of exercises and stretches you can do for the joints and muscles of the fingers, hand, wrist, forearm, and elbow. Overall, this was a great opportunity for me to learn about an area of occupational therapy that I didn’t know anything about.
In addition to Level I Fieldwork opportunities, we also are placed at two Level II Fieldwork sites. The first one occurs between your first and second year in the program, after you have completed two Level I experiences. My first Level II was at a Community-Based Mental Health Wellness Center (yes- same type of setting as my Level I if you’re still with me!). I pursued this opportunity as it was a setting I very much enjoyed and thought I had a lot more to learn about! And boy was I right! The Level II experience is for 12 weeks full-time. I was able to lead groups, meet one-on-one with clients, facilitate a workshop on time management, and conduct a relaxation workshop. I was given the chance to create my own experience and sought out many educational opportunities! One included the beginning development of a group intervention for adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), but stay tuned for more on this later! I have yet to complete my second Level II fieldwork, but am excited for what experiences that will bring.
Fieldwork experiences are great chances to learn more about the field of occupational therapy and explore different settings that you may not have done before. USC is unique in that we have 5 opportunities throughout our program and they are all different experiences! Everyone’s is a little bit different, but they are all great!!!
One of the fantastic things about being in Southern California is getting to enjoy the sun all year long! I love being able to walk outside, go for hikes, and just enjoy the sunshine
Why you might ask? Well… I am from a very tiny town in Northern Minnesota. So while I’m out here soaking up the sun, my family and friends back home are fighting with 1 foot of snow and 20 degree weather! Yup - you read that right! It’s that cold, did someone say Polar Vortex??? Needless to say, I am thankful to be in Los Angeles! So how did I get here….let me tell you about my journey from a small town to the big city!
My pups and I on our 2100 mile journey to California!
A few years ago, I decided I was ready for a change from my job working with patients and assisting them through the process of making the appointment, preparation for, and getting the results. I loved working in the healthcare field, but I didn’t feel like I was actually making a difference in their life. More so, I was just helping them along; but I wanted to be apart of the process in their journey of getting better and living life to the fullest! So I started researching different healthcare professions. I came across your standard: pharmacist (tried that, next), nurse (shots, no thanks), doctor (length of school, meh), psychologist (hhmmm..), physical therapist (anatomy, too much), occupational therapy (TELL ME MORE). As I began researching occupational therapy, I just kept thinking to myself - this is it, this is me, this is what I’ve been waiting for! So I went to the AOTA webpage and started looking for schools. I knew I needed a change in my life, so what better change than to head to the west coast for graduate school! Then it was just figuring out all the prerequisites and requirements for each school and begin the application process. I was really going to do this!!! I took two courses that summer that I needed to fulfill the prereqs, and then planned a trip to visit a few colleges in California, obviously one being the University of Southern California! I fell in love! It was better than I could have dreamed, everyone was so great and USC had so much to offer! As soon as I returned home I began working on my applications and OTCAS. My goal was to submit them all and be finished by October 30th, since USC had an early deadline of November 30th and said to submit 4 weeks ahead of time! I’m happy to say I met my goal, so next was the waiting game!!! How long could it really take….let me tell you - awhile!!! Even though I applied to several schools in California and Washington, I had already ranked them in my head, but still I wasn’t sure who I would hear from first. I waited…and waited…and waited, and then finally on Christmas Eve, I got home from work and checked my mail…and there it was…an envelope from USC. Now if you all watch tv shows, they always say you want the “big” envelopes, because “small” ones are rejection letters. Mine was a small envelope. Shakingly, I opened the letter, and much to my relief I had been accepted!!! Overcome with feelings of joy, excitement, determination, and fear, I didn’t know what to think! Was I really ready to move across the country, all by myself, where I didn’t know anyone, and pursue my dream? Fast forward a few months, I flew out to California again to find a place to live and attend the admitted student reception and knew this was absolutely the place I wanted to be! I was so excited to begin this journey.
With all that being said, I have never been happier with a decision I made. It has been one of the best thus far in my life! So never think a dream is too big, or too difficult! You can do it! And be successful! Take a risk, make a change, live your life to the fullest! That’s what we tell our patients to do, isn’t it? You can do it too! Dream big! I did