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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Creating a virtual community for international students
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Amidst a global pandemic and powered by online technology, USC Chan's Global Initiatives proves that it's a small, small world.

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By Areli Benitez MA ’19, OTD ’20 and Mariah Morris MA ’19, OTD ’20

A vibrant, virtual world has grown within USC Chan’s Global Initiatives during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. From virtual hangouts on Friday afternoons, to hosting an international mentorship panel with recent USC Chan graduates via Zoom, the Global Initiatives team has strived to continue its mission of expanding our global collaborative relationships and to support and nurture our current international students.

As USC Chan’s international students prepare to graduate this week, we asked a few members from the Class of 2020 about how the coronavirus pandemic has impacted their final few months at USC.

Facing a pandemic

“As an international student, I heavily relied on social interactions with my peers to feel safe and secure,” said Prutha Satpute MA ’20. “Due to the lockdown, there’s a complete restriction on that, and it has certainly taken a toll on my mental health.”

“I am most concerned about finding a job,” said Hung-Yi Lin MA ’20. “I, as a foreigner, already have the inherent difficulties of finding a job in the U.S., and now it is even more difficult with the pandemic. I am really worried about my career here.”

USC Chan students meet with occupational therapy students from Kaohsiung Medical University in Taiwan in a virtual classroom on Zoom.

USC Chan students meet with occupational therapy students from Kaohsiung Medical University in Taiwan in a virtual classroom on Zoom.

Resilience and creativity

Despite these challenges, students have continued to strive for occupational balance, and the pandemic has not stopped them from being creative and resilient through it all. We asked students about their occupation-based strategies to maintain health and well-being during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Talking to my parents, brothers and boyfriend,” said Valentina Vera Carrasquero OTD ’20. “Sometimes we bake together at the same time from three different cities — Seattle, Los Angeles and Caracas in Columbia.”

“I’ve been given the chance to take a good look at my life and see what truly matters,” said Raffy Wagas MA ’20. “I’ve taken up the old hobbies — the ukulele, reading and baking (I made a killer banana bread!) — and new ones such as knitting, photo-editing and exercising.”

Rising to the challenge

Our mission has remained ever strong throughout these times with the steadfast, kind and thoughtful leadership of Daniel Park MA ’09, OTD ’10, associate clinical professor and the director of Global Initiatives. He led our team in quickly adapting to the new reality.

“It was important for us to do whatever we could to maintain a real sense of family and community, especially in this time when we are at such risk of being isolated,” said Park. “We therefore not only decided to quickly reformat all of our upcoming events to online platforms, but in fact added other events to connect with each other, such as Virtual Hangouts. The team also elected to be even more intentional about utilizing our social media platforms to foster connection and relieve stress.”

At the international alumni panel, USC Chan alumni share with current students about their experiences transitioning to employment in The United States.

At the international alumni panel, USC Chan alumni share with current students about their experiences transitioning to employment in The United States.

A virtual world in the making

“The international alumni panel helped me in many ways,” Lin said. “I met someone who had the same goals and I was able to form a better idea of what I should expect in the future.”

“A memorable moment from this event was meeting the Taiwanese students for the first time, and listening to how they have adapted their ways of living during this pandemic,” said Satpute. “It was a truly unique experience to engage in an open dialogue about how occupational therapy is viewed in different cultures, and the impact culture has on our profession.”

“This event was creative and a great way to break the monotony of sitting in front of the screen,” Wagas said. “The virtual hangouts were fun, and gave me and my fellow classmates a chance to catch up and play some games.”

Virtual hangouts were an opportunity to continue fostering community for international students despite physical distancing.

Virtual hangouts were an opportunity to continue fostering community for international students despite physical distancing.

A different, yet nostalgic end

Although the end of the school year was nothing expected, we will not forget the fond memories we have formed, physically and virtually, and look forward to the ones to come.

“Thank you, Global Initiatives,” said Sabika Zaidi MA ’20. “You are the happiness initiative. From very early on, you created a safe environment to communicate and make new friends. Thank you for everything you have done, and all the very best for the future!