Life Goes On >
September 27, 2022
From the words of the great BTS,
“Life goes on.”
This song lyric often comes to mind while I scroll through videos online that romanticize life abroad, sometimes too much. Don’t get me wrong, having the opportunity to study abroad at a prestigious university is a great honor, especially during the pandemic. I thank the great gods of the universe for helping me manifest this dream. However, things are not always what we imagine, like anything in life. My first month in the States was a rollercoaster of emotions — 30% crying because I miss my home, 20% feels like I’ve been living like a caveman as I explore the wonders of Trader Joe’s and Bath and Body Works, and a great 50% being an absolute FOB* (or in my case, a FOP — Fresh Off the Plane) trying to learn and adapt quickly to an entirely new culture. Believe me, it takes a great deal of cognitive power to constantly convert Fahrenheit and miles to the metric system, understand why cars turn right at a red light, wondering why no one uses the umbrella to shade themselves from the killer heat of LA summer, and try to find the whereabouts of any celebrity visiting LA.
Kidding aside, I think the greatest adjustment I had to deal with as an international student was the grief I felt about the loss of occupations and the usual routines I performed back home. One thing I learned from the pandemic is that grief does not only come in the form of dealing with death; it is also what you feel when you lose anything — a person, a pet, an activity, or an object — that is of value to you. I felt grief because I could no longer walk my dogs and play with them after coming home from work. I could no longer drive to my favorite coffee shops back at home anytime I wanted nor randomly messaged my friends to bike around with me in our neighborhood. I struggled with this feeling mostly when I realized I would no longer see my child clients weekly and feared losing friendships since I’ll be in a time zone different from those I valued most. I often doubted my decision to move and worried that I was wasting my energy, time, and resources.
My perspective of things changed when I recalled one of my favorite quotes by Friedrich Nietzsche: “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.” My why — my patients and the desire to be a better Occupational Therapist for them — pushed me to refocus my energy back on this ordeal and take things day by day. Slowly, those nights of grief and loneliness turned into nights of endless laughter and amusement as I got into the rhythm of new routines here in LA. Pushing myself to go out of my comfort zone and develop new friendships eventually led me to meet the kindest people. Somehow, they felt like home even if I had just met them.
My first month here in the States taught me that we are where we’re supposed to be and that everything will eventually work out as it should. Life does go on for the better, and if we choose to see the beauty of everyday despite the little adjustments and changes, we move one step closer to who we are meant to be.
*FOB — Fresh off the Boat, A slang term used for someone who recently moved to America
My Grandma and Why I Chose OT >
September 23, 2022
When my aunt first told me about OT, I was intrigued! I still didn’t quite know what OT was, but I liked the idea of a profession that considers a person’s mental and physical well-being. As a high school student, psychology captivated me because it emphasized the importance of mental health. At the time, I had concerns for my mental health and wellness. However, my mom was apprehensive about sending me to a therapist whose values didn’t align with ours. It was the catalyst that inspired me to strive towards becoming that person for people in my community. In college, my OS minor courses taught me how occupations could impact all aspects of an individual’s health.
I first witnessed the power of occupation with my grandma. She suffered a stroke several years ago, and I observed this lively woman, who loved to belly dance and cook, develop symptoms of depression and decline in function. I vividly remember bringing her to the dance floor at my cousin’s wedding. We were spinning around, dancing, and having a good time. From behind her wheelchair, I saw she was moving BOTH of her arms and raising them higher than she had in a long time! When I looked at the pictures later that evening, I saw the pure joy on her face. That picture reminded me how powerful meaningful activities could be in motivating people and supporting health and well-being.
After her stroke, my grandma was sent home from the hospital with no rehab services. The disparities in the healthcare system and the limited access to resources impacted her recovery. I want to help ensure underserved communities have access and the knowledge to advocate for resources/services. OT, a profession that holistically considers the person, their environment, and the occupation and focuses on what matters to the patient, is the perfect way for me to pursue that goal. I want to be that person my younger self and individuals like my grandmother needed while consistently practicing cultural humility and respecting unique cultures.
My road to OT and its many detours >
September 15, 2022
Growing up, education was always seen as a privilege. I knew I needed to do something with my life but never knew exactly what that could be.
So, I decided to fully explore everything I was ever interested in because what better way to spend my 20s? I tried EMT, but the gender dynamics and the low pay made me run away quickly. I tried CNA in an attempt to be an RN, but the burnout is real. I moved to an oncology lab, but the hyper fixation of looking at cells didn’t last too long. My all-time favorite was working at a morgue performing autopsies, but to my surprise, I do enjoy working with people who are alive. Then I decided to be an internship and career advisor but reading resumes and talking to different corporations entail long working hours. I also created a small business decorating sugar cookies, but I had to pause because the repetitive movements of piping exacerbated my carpal tunnel pain. Finally, I was a university counselor and while I enjoyed helping students navigate higher education, something was missing. I loved all my previous jobs but none of them fully cover what I was looking for. I thought to myself if only there was one career that could allow me to be in health care, allow me to be creative, and allow me to teach…
It wasn’t until my grandfather had hip replacement surgery that I learned about OT. As his medical director, I approved an occupational therapist to come over for a home visit. The OT came over and guess what was the first thing she pointed out during the inspection? If you thought RUG, then you are correct! The rug in the living room was a tripping hazard. As she inspected the home, I took the opportunity to have a conversation with her about her job. I remember her saying “think of OT as a combination between a doctor and a teacher.” My brain immediately lit up! Oh, what! my two favorite professions in one? She had very convincing arguments regarding having a profession in OT because well here I am today. I am so glad for my journey because finding what you love and loving what you do is amazing.
I know the pressure of needing to figure life out, especially as a first-generation student, but I am here to tell you that taking a break in between undergrad and graduate school is fine, changing careers is fine, not getting all A’s in school is fine, and not knowing what specific area of OT you want to work in is fine! Don’t place extra stress on yourself thinking that you must figure every single detail out. I’ll let you in on a secret, no one has everything figured out in life, some are just better at pretending!
First-year students, you will have the next few years to decide what you would like to focus on and second-year students you will have your career to figure that out. Give yourself grace because being in grad school at USC is already stressful enough.
This Summer with the Community >
August 12, 2022
Throughout this summer I was able to volunteer in the Vivir con Diabetes and Vivir con Dolor programs. Alongside the guidance and leadership of current OT residents Daniela Flores-Madriaga and Elaina Rodriguez Garza, we were able to reach Spanish-speaking community members to help educate those with chronic conditions.
During my time as a volunteer, I helped lead discussions, exercise activities, and educate about habits and routines to participants. The education and culturally sensitive strategies through a lifestyle redesign lens provided by Daniela and Eliana helped support the journeys of participants with diabetes and chronic pain.
Daniela shares her experience with Vivir Con Diabetes as a rewarding experience that has shaped the way she interacts with chronic conditions. One of the biggest lessons she learned in facilitating these classes was to be attentive to the needs expressed by the participants. She found that “in order to make an impact in their lives, I had to provide strategies that were reasonable and applicable to fit their routines, habits, and roles.”
Since 2019, Elaina has volunteered to be a part of Vivir con Diabetes. Like myself and Daniela have expressed Eliana has found fulfillment in the program. “Not only is it an opportunity for me as a facilitator to connect with community members, but it is an opportunity to facilitate new connections between community members and create a space for them to bond over shared experiences living with diabetes and navigating problem-solving barriers around their health,” Elaina shares.
What is unique about the classes is the accessibility for community members to ask facilitators slightly more tailored questions they may not be able to ask in their primary care appointments. The tight community within these classes is something I found beneficial not only to myself as a volunteer but to participants as well. For example, during one of our classes on physical activity, I modeled examples of low-intensity exercises and lead a group discussion on participants’ current physical activity. In our discussion, a participant expressed their desire to walk more but is limited due to their arthritis. Another participant shared another program offered by the wellness center that can help their concern with exercising. Such interaction demonstrates the collaborative community fostered through the program.
Being a part of this program this summer was a learning experience, one that allowed me to observe OT in practice and for us to tangibly serve our community.
Learning and Applying >
July 15, 2022
Coming to USC, specifically to USC Chan, my passion for OT grew as I became more immersed in my classes and the opportunities for learning more about the profession. One of the ways I was able to explore my desires as a professional was through the Summer Institute.
I attended the Summer Institute in the summer of 2021 in the hope of gaining a clear direction in my journey as an OT student and exploring the unique disciplines. Throughout the six weeks, we explored our goals academically and professionally, gained mentorship, and the ways in which we can reduce health disparities in minority populations.
The most impactful week for me was when we held a student panel. It was a space where current students provided honest insight into their journey into OT as it related to their identities — first-generation and/or POC. Hearing from each panelist about how they were introduced and came to love their professions was definitely a highlight. The diversity in their journeys was a reminder that everyone has their own set path.
Some aspects that I continue to utilize even after the program are the tips on how to seek mentorship and professional development. Seeking mentorship can be a daunting task, but I was able to understand that it can be a process. It’s not always that the first person you cold email will respond. Being a mentee in any program requires flexibility, following up, and good communication. I utilized these skills in my sophomore year in the USC First-Generation Mentorship Program with my own mentor which better prepared me as a mentee. Learning how outreach to OT professionals was a skill I gained confidence in.
As the current cohort for the Summer Institute of 2022 is in the midst of their program, I encourage you to invest in fruitful connections within your cohort and faculty. Each person in that zoom call has a passion for OT and the ways we can impact our communities. Through my experience in the Summer Institute, my passion for serving the Latinx community was solidified and my confidence in my own journey was strengthened. The growth and learning don’t stop at the end of the six weeks, instead, it only marks the beginning of your journey as a healthcare professional.