Four years ago, I was a fishing reporter living in Arkansas. That version of myself would never recognize the me I have become. My life has forever changed, and I have been enriched by the imprint these two years have made on my life.
I learned how to open myself to life and the people that come into it, forming friendships I hope will last a lifetime.
I learned a lot about disability – in a sense, we are all disabled in some way or another – is there even such a thing as normal? I learned how to define occupational therapy. I did it so many times, I will probably have a dream where someone asks me “Does OT mean ‘overtime’?” And then I spend the next five minutes explaining what occupational therapy is. I’m not even kidding. This is going to happen.
I imagine coming to OT school at USC is kind of like going to school at Hogwarts, minus the wands, flying brooms and Argus Filch, of course. There is something special about being selected to the top program in the country and then spending two years getting to know every little nuance of the buildings, professors, and classmates that occupy the space with you. It’s like life stands still for two years – a period of shelter from the world of work, adulthood, and responsibility. Those things still exist in graduate school, of course, but they are different somehow – more temporal in nature.
For those about to begin the journey into the depths of the occupational therapy profession, good luck to you. For those that still dream about that journey, keep working towards it. What lies in the hallowed halls of USC’s Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy is worth everything you put into it.
One of the unique experiences of our program is the Leadership Externship that all second-year students complete in their final semester as part of the Leadership Capstone course. The externship is a two-week experience that students have the responsibility for finding and coordinating. The diversity in places people go is astounding – from Ghana to Vietnam and from adult day health centers to medical mission trips.
I did my externship in Cork, Ireland at the University College Cork’s occupational therapy program. One of my interests is education and I wanted to see how occupational therapy was taught in other countries. I was challenged more than I expected – visiting an unfamiliar country alone without knowing anyone living there was tough. It helped me realize how much of a home I have built here in Los Angeles in the two years since I moved here from Chicago.
Despite the challenges I faced, I found even more amazing opportunities. While looking at a brochure, I came across a community art group that was building floats for the St. Patrick’s Day parade and they invited me to not only help with construction, but to be in the parade too. How many chances do you have to be in a St. Patrick’s Day parade in Ireland? I couldn’t say no.
The community art group also attracted other young adults from the surrounding countries like Italy, France, and England who came to volunteer their time, sometimes for up to eight months. My last day, a few of my Italian friends cooked me a mouth-wateringly authentic Italian dinner.
Because the externship happens right before Spring Break, there is an opportunity to spend additional time traveling. Those days were the best. I stayed at a bed and breakfast owned by an older gentleman and on my first night he invited me to hang out and have tea while watching a recap of the day’s sports results. He had some amazing stories of growing up in Ireland and living in Australia – I could have listened to his stories all night.
I also went on several day trips, where I took the picture below. I visited Ballycotton, a small, seaside fishing village, and took a long walk along the cliffs. It had been raining lightly, but I wanted to get a picture that captured the green of the land and the blue of the sea and the island with a lighthouse in the distance. In one small moment of sunshine, I set my camera up with a 10-second timer and started running down the hill. You can see how far I made it. It was the perfect moment: birds taking flight as sunshine streamed through the clouds and me running wild down the road. The rain started again as I walked back up the hill, out of breath but content.
I recently had the opportunity to do some hiking and baking the same day, combining two of my favorite occupations. We started off driving up north of Pasadena to Eaton Canyon, a beautiful waterfall hike not too far from the city. The path was jammed with families, school trips, and people out to enjoy the weather and scenery. Fortunately, we know a little secret cutoff that takes hikers above the first falls and away from the crowds.
To get there is a little intense (read: FUN!). I mean, my frontal lobe is mostly developed, right? So I would be scared if there was real danger and I should exhibit good judgment (I just hope my mom isn’t reading this). We scaled a rocky area and edged along the cliff (see picture) to get to the next leg, which involved rock jumping along a stream bed, my favorite part. The reward was a deserted pool of clear, cold mountain water. Of course we jumped in!
That afternoon we baked double chocolate cookies stuffed with salted caramel, both made from scratch. I love to bake – it is a very therapeutic activity – and I’ve found that as I do it more and more, I get better at improvising. We mostly followed a recipe for this one (you can find it here) and they were tasty. It was probably the best double chocolate chunk cookie dough I have eaten. I don’t usually eat the dough, but I snacked on this one the whole time! Try it out and share a favorite baking recipe with me if you have one…
There are many great reasons why being a Student Ambassador is such an awesome job. One of the highlights is working with such a tremendous team of peers. All five of us are so different, with such diverse backgrounds and experiences, but we get along pretty well and have a lot of fun. The past year has been even more special because I got to share it with Clarissa, Jen, Kate and Ryan.
I have to give a big thank you to Clarissa. I got sick one Friday morning and was scheduled to work that day. With little notice, she volunteered to take my shift, which included a presentation at the other campus that she did admirably. Clarissa is one of the quirkiest and helpful people you will ever meet (you know this if you read her blog and look at her pictures)...I really owe her one! Also, I initially began writing this blog several days ago and somehow accidentally published it only half done – whoops. Clarissa was the first one to text me and let me know what happened.
(Hola! This is Clarissa making a guest insertion into Rob’s blog. I felt left out that he didn’t have a picture of me so I decided to take matters into my own hands and post one myself. This is us being weird together at a Friendsgiving dinner we had last year! Okay, I’ll leave Rob’s blog now)
Also, I think I need to address a celebrity on our Ambassador team: Jen. For those that haven’t heard, Jen’s face has been featured on one of the new photos that grace the Division hallways. I’m surprised she hasn’t written a blog about it yet – she talks about it all the time! I used all my celebrity photo resources to get an exclusive photo for this blog:
While I’m spreading the love, Kate and Ryan are pretty special too. I met Kate on the first or second day in the program and she was so sassy, we became quick friends. Ryan was in my group during my first summer class in Kinesiology – she had the most infectious and distinctive laugh. She has a talent for bringing a smile to people’s faces and her enthusiasm lights up a room. Here is a picture from one of our theme days during Kinesiology:
See if you can find Kate and Ryan, we all dressed up like ice cream flavors. Can you tell what flavor I was? I think I was pistachio and Ryan was peppermint. I have no idea what Kate was!
All together, these fine individuals have made this experience something I will remember and treasure for the rest of my life.
Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!
Spring is in the air. Not just Spring semester, but the feel of Spring. An unseasonable warm period has flowers blooming, students wearing shorts, and the ants at my house on the prowl. If you live anywhere east of California, I’m sorry. I know it’s cold. My parents in Chicago sent me pictures from when the daily high was not getting above 0 degrees. That’s not normal even for Chicago.
I’ll tell you, it makes me even happier to be in southern California!
Spring is in the air. In a few short weeks, I will be leaving for Ireland for our Leadership Externship. The experience is a student-organized two-week externship, which means it can be whatever you want it to be. Some of us are going internationally and many more are staying within the United States. For me, I wanted to get more education experience and see how occupational therapy and disability are taught in another country. I’m going to be at the University College Cork for the two weeks and then I’ll have part of Spring Break to explore the country on my own.
Plus, they have a juggling team!
Our final semester is focused on electives, giving students a chance to focus on one or several areas that they find interesting. I have three general areas of interest: education, disability studies, and older adults. For the first two, I’m working on independent studies focused on teaching pedagogy and disability education in occupational therapy. My other electives are Universal Design and a course on housing and older adults through the Davis School of Gerontology.
All in all, it promises to be a fun semester.