Ok, full disclosure, I was not thriving last week…or the week before that.
Sometimes life is just hard, you know. You may have big assignments due, an application to submit, an exam (or two) to take, and work deadlines to meet—all while you’re trying to resolve family issues, your printer decides to stop working, your computer crashes, and your ex has the audacity to text you and ask how you’re doing. Two or three of these things I can handle, but all of them together felt a little excessive.
And here’s the thing about me, I do not handle being stressed or overwhelmed very well. My go-to coping strategy is to eat ice cream with under-baked cookies and watch Mulan, which is not exactly the answer I gave during my OTD interview—but that’s besides the point. What I am trying to say is that the first half of October was rough. I had so much going on that I felt like I was just doing and not being. Honestly, a lot of us felt that way (per the brief research I conducted, aka my “Surviving vs. Thriving” Instagram poll) and maybe you are feeling that way right now. If you are, I want to say this: there is more to life than this moment, let it go and let it be.
Data from my very (non) scientific research
Like many things, this is easier said than done, I know. It took me having a mini emotional and mental breakdown to finally give myself some grace. I don’t always have to have it all together, and neither do you, but I do think that we should always be kind to ourselves—and this is something I am working on. On the days where I feel defeated, I stop and tell myself that there is more to life than what I am feeling right now, I think about all the things that make me happy and give me life, and I give myself credit for how far I’ve come. I affirm myself.
How it started vs. How it’s going…
When I do this, I realize that I truly am thriving. I am living in a new city, meeting beautiful people, making new friendships, halfway through the master’s program, and pursuing a doctorate (ok, this one is contingent on being accepted, but speak into existence ok).
Life is about perspectives, and how you choose to look at things may shift the way you view surviving and thriving.
Living in LA
Hello and howdy folks! Here at Chan, we are officially halfway through our semester and I think I could speak for most of my classmates and, dare I say, students everywhere that it’s time for a breather. From midterms to applying to graduate programs, or even just putting the pedal to the metal over the past eight weeks, now is a perfect time to renegotiate your time and reconnect with who you are in addition to being a student.
Before we dive in, I want to make something clear: the way you’re feeling, be it smelling the roses, being deep in the thorns, or somewhere in between, is valid. As rewarding as school is, it’s also hard work, and giving space for both of those things to coexist is important. It’s also easy to say that all of our stress is coming from school, but if I’ve learned anything about occupational therapy (and I sure hope I have!), it’s that we’re multifaceted people with unique roles, habits, and routines. Life does not go on pause because we’re enrolled in an academic program. My peers are parents and partners and more, oh my! No matter what those roles and routines are, I’m here to remind you that you are not alone. Check-in on each other, share support and resources, and sometimes make sure to give yourself a reset!
Here are some questions that I found valuable heading into, during, and after Fall Recess. I hope they can guide you through your reset too!
On the Horizon
- How are you? This everyday question, the one most people respond to with “I’m fine” or “I’m good” can really pack a punch when you give yourself the space to reflect on an honest answer. If you feel that punch, it’s time for a reset. This question is also a perfect launchpad for the rest of these questions.
- What is contributing to these feelings? and What do you need? Together, these questions are the first step to time management. Identifying our hierarchy of needs with our responsibilities can help address our stressors while also providing the opportunity to get back in touch with ourselves. Addressing what needs to happen paves the way for the wants. That may mean studying for the next midterm, but it may also mean sleeping in. It may even be a meal you didn’t prepare yourself or a skateboarding adventure around LA. Don’t be afraid to challenge your definition of “need” and explore what nourishes you because that is just as valuable to your well-being as being productive with your work.
Into the Thick of It
- What is something that you’ve missed? Is there something you’ve put off or even forgotten that you’ve enjoyed because things kept piling up? That’s a reset moment. These are the sort of things you can return to time and time again. Maybe it’s the book that’s sat untouched on your nightstand for the past eight weeks. Or the embroidery project of Judy Garland that you only dedicate 12 minutes a week to between classes (Just me? Good to know). No matter what it is, find what brings you joy and make it happen! The world is your oyster, it’s time to look for your pearl.
- When did you last have an enjoyable experience? What was it? What can you do to capture that feeling again? This is more of a one-and-done sort of moment, but that doesn’t mean you can’t go out and find it again. Sometimes the moments and experiences that are fleeting are all the more impressionable.
The Weeks Ahead
- What will you take with you for the rest of the semester? Although it’s easier to have a reset moment when you’re given the time to do so, the little things go a long way too! Think about how you will integrate your reflections into your schedule (or just commit to spontaneity) and be the change.
- What will you leave behind? Just as important as adding meaningful activities into your days is letting go of those that aren’t serving you as well anymore. There are only so many hours in the day so this time to explore reorganizing yours.
- What have you learned? The questions above may be best answered by this one. Maybe your reset experience was much more abstract and you’re taking away lessons and reflections, or maybe you’re leaving behind an attitude or perspective.
How you go about your reset is up to you, but it may be helpful to journal, talk with someone, or just think to yourself. If I could leave you with anything, it’s that first and foremost, you’re a human being and it’s okay to reconnect with your humanity. Otherwise, if I see you in the halls, if you engage with Chan on social media, or if you want to comment below let me/us know how you’ve spent your Fall Recess, we’d love to hear about what brings you joy!
International Living in LA
When I was younger, I always dreamt of experiencing life beyond the borders of my country, the Philippines. This isn’t because I hate my country, but it is because I always felt like I knew there was more I have yet to explore and learn from around the world. And frankly, when I graduated with my undergraduate degree in Occupational Therapy, I didn’t think I could.
So, before I became a student at USC Chan, I have been already a pediatric occupational therapist for almost 2 years. But because of the lockdown situation from COVID-19 in Manila, I was forced to be in my own thoughts: to reflect and contemplate about my life beyond the four walls of my bedroom. After some time, and most importantly with the help and support of my family and friends, I realized that USC Chan was my next big step. And the rest was history!
I have always had experience traveling with either my friends or family, but this was my first time traveling to a very long distance all by myself. After a couple of months of preparation and goodbyes, I boarded the plane from Manila and moved to Los Angeles. It is from that moment I knew that my life will be much different from what it was.
On my first ever long haul flight all by myself!
If there’s anything anyone needs to know when they arrive in a new, foreign environment, it is to find people you can connect with. I took every opportunity I can get to meet new people and to dig my feet deep in Los Angeles. I was able to meet a couple of familiar faces from the Philippines, which is amazing, and I was fortunate to be in such a diverse class at PP-MA (I made a blog about them last time here).
Filipino PP-MA students represent! Had great ramen at Koreatown with great company.
I consider myself extremely lucky to be in USC because I get to do what I have always been looking for. It is crazy to think that a couple of months back I was stuck in my bedroom back in Manila, and now I am (safely, of course) exploring life in LA and taking that chance to experience life that is beyond the boundaries of the Philippines. And while I’m still in the thick of it all, I am most certainly relishing every single moment I can get.
PP-MA hangout in Santa Monica beach!
The White Coat Ceremony for the entry-level-MA class of 2022 felt like a long time coming. With everything moving to Zoom, many of us were concerned that our ceremony scheduled for August 2020 would also end up in the virtual void. Luckily, my class voted to postpone the ceremony instead.
Speaking honestly, I had not been looking forward to the white coat ceremony. You can’t look forward to something you didn’t know about. So at first, missing the experience did not feel like a big deal. Upon learning more about the meaning behind the ceremony as the uncertainty loomed, I felt more and more disappointed. The White Coat Ceremony is a tradition to induct and welcome occupational therapy students into the profession — what a sad thing to miss out on.
We were sent our white coats in the mail. Since we could not try on samples in person, the division had a few students from the class of 2021 virtually show us their different sizes of coats so we could make our best guesses for our sizes (as you can imagine, the accuracy of our guesses were mixed). Opening the white coat package felt like it should have been a big moment, but honestly, it felt kind of empty. I wished I was receiving it with my classmates, most of whom I had only ever seen shoulders-up in a Zoom screen box.
The limbo of if/when the ceremony was going to happen felt endless. A whole year later, in July 2021, we received the save-the-date email — it was finally happening! On a very warm late August day, under a huge tent on the lawn outside of CHP, the excitement was palpable. Dr. Rafeedie stepped on the stage 5 minutes before the ceremony even started to set up water bottles and everyone started cheering. After a hard year of online/hybrid classes and fieldwork, the class of 2022 got our in-person ceremony surrounded by our friends, family, and faculty. My voice felt croaky afterward from cheering my friends on.
I can’t speak for the rest of my class, but I think the ceremony would have felt really different if we did it at the beginning of the program. Doing it in the middle of the program was an opportunity to look back, look ahead, and look around at all of the friends and colleagues I have come to appreciate so much over the last year. It was definitely worth the wait.
MA ‘22 friends left to right: Elizabeth “Lizzo” Bowers, Maggie Young, Alyssa Matlosz, Mariamme Ibrahim, Daniela Flores
With my fellow Chan student ambassador friends Silvia Hernandez Cuellar and Teresa Pham
Step 2 — Managing your time and money as you prepare to apply to graduate school
If you read my last blog, you know the classes you need to take and are starting to get some idea of some of the other requirements you need to complete to apply to graduate school. (Oh, if you don’t know about those other requirements like finding volunteer/observation hours with an occupational therapist, or finding people to write your recommendations, I’ll touch on those in my upcoming blogs.) So, now what? You need to come to terms with how this change will impact your time and money. Below is what I did, but you may decide to do something different. Remember to do what works for you. You do you!
Before I even took classes and while I was working full-time, I mapped out a timeline for how long it would take me to complete all the requirements to apply to OT graduate school. I looked at all the schools where I was going to apply and found the one with the earliest deadline and worked backwards to make sure I would complete everything by that deadline. (Side note — I failed to make that deadline — whoops, life happens. However, in retrospect, no big deal because that mistake led me to be here!) Next, I thought about what I would be doing while I was waiting to find out if I got into grad school (usually about 3-4 months of waiting), and I thought about what I would do in between getting into graduate school and going to graduate school making sure to factor in moving. I also made a contingency plan for if I didn’t get into graduate school the first time. (I didn’t make plans for applying more than two times. That was me and you might feel differently.)
In the end it took me approximately 22 months to complete all the requirements to apply to graduate school, and then an additional 6 months until I started school. During the first year, I worked full time and took one class each semester. Financially this was manageable because my classes were very inexpensive, and I still had a good income. In terms of time, it had very little impact on my work week. Once a week I went to class for 3 hours at night right after work. While the class time was manageable, it was an adjustment to my weekends. Now Saturdays and Sundays meant studying or doing assignments. I hadn’t been to school in so long; my studying skills were rusty. Also, getting used to Blackboard and submitting work online was a bit strange. My first written assignment I printed it out and tried to turn it into the teacher — whoops.
During my second year, I got a part-time job, and started taking two classes a semester while also volunteering/observing at least 8 hours per week. Six months or so before leaving full-time work for part-time work my partner and I examined our expenses then and came up with a household budget that could be sustained not only once I went part-time but also when I went to graduate school. We basically came to an agreement about what my piece of the pie had to be while going back to school. While my income would be less, working part-time in the service industry gave me so much more time to study and more importantly gave me the chance to see occupational therapy in action so that I could get a better understanding of the profession. Once I finished the application process, over the next 6 months I continued to volunteer, and I also worked as much as possible to save, save, and save more. Fortunately, I did not have to factor in moving because I moved prior to applying to graduate school where there were schools that I had been considering applying to anyway. (My partner and I decided to move before I even started the application process because we wanted to be closer to family.) However, after talking to many of my classmates who had to move across country once they found out they got in and during a pandemic, I will say this, DO NOT underestimate the amount of time, money, and mental head space that goes into a move. Not that moving is ever easy but moving to a city like Los Angeles and figuring out the housing situation can be very hard to navigate. FYI — Reach out to me or another ambassador if you are from out of town and thinking about going to USC. We can give you some ideas about where students live and how much it costs to get a place in LA.
I never imagined going back to school let alone getting myself together to apply to graduate school because it seemed almost insurmountable. I didn’t have the time or the money. Also going from working adult to student with no money seemed like a far stretch of the imagination. After one year into going back to school, I recall sitting in one of my community college classes after working a night shift at the restaurant and thinking here I am in my forties, I said to myself, “What am I doing?” Well, I’ll tell you what I’m doing, and what you might be starting to do too. Learning and changing! Has it been hard? Yes! Has it been worth it? Absolutely! As we occupational therapy students have learned, don’t forget to break it down into manageable steps, chunk it up! Give yourself the time and space to make the insurmountable doable. Then get it done!
Quick note if you have a partner —
Although I had the full support of my partner during this time, I needed to redouble my efforts to consistently consult with them about what I was thinking about doing. I also needed to actively listen to their ideas and feedback, and to remain steadfast in collaborating with them to do things that would work for the both of us. Despite my best efforts, I didn’t do this so well. Like the time I came back from my first day of community college and said, “I think it would be best if I stopped working and just took classes.” At which point my partner said, “Best for who?” Fortunately, I have a very understanding partner who gives me numerous opportunities to work on things together…So, before you make any plans about your time or money as you prepare to apply to occupational therapy graduate school, listen to your partner, make sure you and your partner are on the same page, and above all else remember this is a big change for them too.