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University of Southern California
University of Southern California
USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
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What I Wish I Knew When I Started the Program


April 28, 2020
by Kaho

First-Gen Life Hacks

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– I belong.

Immediately after starting the OT program at USC, I was astounded by my classmates and future colleagues’ fiery passion for occupational therapy. I was inspired, motivated, excited, and grateful to be learning with them and growing alongside them. However, at some point along the way, it began to make me question my own passion. Perhaps it was because I was going through the adult rehabilitation immersion – the most rigorous immersion in my opinion – in my first semester of grad school and I was losing confidence in my capabilities. On top of that, anyone that has sat through lecture with me would know that I am not one to raise my hand and share my thoughts in front of the whole class. I don’t have a problem with public speaking or small group discussions, but I am reserved when it comes to my opinions and prefer to learn just by listening. I have found that I focus and absorb the material better this way anyway. While American culture often values traits of extroverts, I grew up in a culture that values the opposite. This quiet characteristic of mine made me feel like I was somehow inferior to my more vocal classmates. I wondered if I preferred not to speak up because I didn’t care enough about the topic, because I lacked passion.

Additionally, I couldn’t help but feel like an outsider when I entered the program because I faced financial hardships, as well as a complicated and difficult past. Committing to USC was a tough decision, but I still chose this program because it was my top choice, it was highly ranked (#1 in the US woohoo), and I believed it was worth the additional loans. As a financially independent first-generation immigrant and first-generation graduate student, I had difficulty finding community and people that were in or had been in similar situations. I couldn’t find a community that I identified with or related to because my situation and the challenges I faced differed from typical international students. I had difficulty finding a space that I felt comfortable discussing various topics about being Asian in the United States. Now as I reflect, I figure I just didn’t look hard enough or give existing resources a chance. I was internally perpetuating the model minority stereotype by assuming that there were no supports for Asian Americans, who are “supposed to be” successful and well off. I isolated myself by refusing to share my insecurities and thoughts with others. I felt alone and confused. “Should I have gone to a more affordable school?” “Am I here by mistake?” “Am I the only one that’s struggling?” I would get hit by waves of self-doubt.

As I approach the end of my last semester and prepare to graduate with a master’s degree, I wish I could tell myself from 2 years ago to relax and look up because I belong. My passion for OT has been reaffirmed and I can confidently say that I chose the right career path for myself, whatever my learning style may be. Even if I may not be the most outspoken participant in class, I found my own way of expressing my love for OT through the student ambassador position. Two years may seem short, but there’s a lot of growth that can happen within it. Furthermore, there are resources for everyone and anyone who seeks support, regardless of race, background, etc. I have access to friends, faculty, and alumni in the Trojan family that come from diverse backgrounds and have various experiences. I wish I knew to open up more, break down my walls, and seek support because needing help does not make me incompetent or less deserving of my admission to USC. I am extremely grateful for my friends, coworkers, professors, and mentors for their continued support and guidance, and helping me to come to these realizations. Whether you’re applying to the program, starting the program, going through the program, or finishing the program like me, I hope you know and believe this to be true: you belong too.

Next Steps

Once I finish finals and take the comprehensive exam, I have one last level 2 fieldwork this summer for the master’s program. Then, I am continuing on to pursue my doctorate degree and completing a clinical residency at Keck Medicine of USC. As sad as I am that my role as a student ambassador is coming to an end and I have to say goodbye to some friends/classmates, I’m super excited for this opportunity and to see what all is in store for my OT journey. I’m also happy that I get to stick around campus for another year. Thanks for reading my blog or blogs this past year and I hope to see you all around. 😊

my cohort and student ambassadors

Special shout out to the ambassadors team and the best cohort ♥