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From Inside of Your Mind to Outside of Your Closet: Making a Case for Dressing >

by Seth

Diversity What are OS/OT?

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We all know that a good dressing can make or break a salad, but what can it do for your day? No, I’m not talking about dousing yourself in ranch, Italian, or even a tasteful balsamic vinaigrette, this blog is about clothes! The American Occupational Therapy Association’s Occupational Therapy Practice Framework (OTPF): Domain and Process (4th ed.; 2020) defines dressing as:

Selecting clothing and accessories with consideration of time of day, weather, and desired presentation; obtaining clothing from storage area; dressing and undressing in a sequential fashion; fastening and adjusting clothing and shoes; applying and removing personal devices, prosthetic devices, or splints. (p. 30)

When I am asked about dressing, however, I simply define it as one of my favourite occupations.

We all know the basics: is it hot outside? Put on a t-shirt. Is it time for bed? Time for pajamas! Do you have an interview later today? Gotta wow them with your best business casual. Some people may find these decisions a chore, as something that takes up those precious moments in the morning that you could instead use to snooze your alarm. It could even be that you may be one of these people, but I often think that there are a lot of missed opportunities when it comes to dressing and I’m here to push the envelope. Although AOTA’s definition is dynamic, two parts stand out, two parts that open the door for this conversation, and those are “consideration” and “desired presentation.”

The Black
I have to admit that it took me some time to understand the nuances of what “desired presentation” really meant. To set the scene for you, I want to take you on my personal journey with the occupation of dressing. If a stranger looked at me in high school, they would probably describe my sense of style as “prep.” Without fail you could spot me in a neutral or plaid button-up shirt with sleeves cuffed to the forearm over a standard pair of khakis. I woke up every morning, donned a variation of this outfit, and walked out the door without a second thought. When I look back at that time, however, I think that by dressing in preppy I was actually prepping for a day that I thought would change everything; the day I came out as gay. I thought that if I made the way I looked more palatable and if I blended in more that when the day came, people wouldn’t be so quick to reject me. That they’d at least think twice about it. It turns out that every seemingly unconscious dressing decision I made considered that outcome and I so desperately wanted it to not be the case.

A young man holding up a peace sign in front of a Chan Division sign

High School Seth before the first week of classes at USC in August 2017, AKA photographic evidence of the aforementioned button-up, cuffed sleeves, and khakis.

The White
Things began to change my senior year when I realized that that time in my life was coming to an end. Graduation was on the horizon and I began to loosen my collar, wear some jeans every once in a while, and add some colour into the rotation. Then came the news that I was admitted to USC’s BS-MA program and, although it was months before the semester started, my mind was already in LA. What was I thinking about? That a new place meant a new me, and even more importantly, a new wardrobe. I started to go thrifting and over time, with the support of my lovely community, I decided to let the world know I was capital G-A-Y, GAY! When I got dressed in the morning, this was the desired presentation I coordinated everything around. USC just had to know. Talk about a complete 180°.

A slightly older man wearing a rainbow crop top and yellow short shorts

First-Year Seth at his first LA Pride, June 2018. To this day, I stand by this outfit.

And All the Colours In-Between
As the years have passed, and as I’ve grown with my intersectional identities, the way I dress has grown with me and now lies somewhere in the middle of that spectrum. I think the single-driving force that informs how I dress is not what I want for others to see, but what I want for myself. On a cloudy day, I’ll bring my own sunshine by wearing my brightest outfit. As the leaves start to change colours, I’ll camouflage myself to match.

A matured young man smiling while wearing overalls and a vintage sweater

Me this semester, November 2021, comfy and coordinated down to a lavender mask.

I’ve found that weather and time can only change so much, but what I feel when I wake up in the morning is always something new. It’s this uncertainty that makes dressing exciting to me. It’s how one day a shirt can convey one message, but the next day when paired with a different pair of pants it says something totally different. Although what I consider may seem to be more considerate of myself, I want to highlight, however, that High School Seth was just as authentic as First-Year Seth who is just as authentic as the Seth I present to the world now. The one thing that they all have in common, and the thing we all have in common regardless of our identities, is that in each stage there was an intention for a specific desired outcome. Although this blog shares my story, it by no means is meant to capture anyone else’s. That being said, we all get dressed and we all make decisions while doing so. I invite you to take a closer look at the dressing decisions you make, and who knows, you may even help a client do the same in your future practice! Here are some questions to help guide you as you embark the journey to making dressing one of your favourite occupations too:

  • What is your intention for the day and what ways do you desire being perceived? How can you align the two?
  • Do the clothes you chose match how you feel? Or do they reflect how you want to feel? How does the way you dress support your social and emotional health? Think style with a side of self-fulfilling prophecy!
  • How does dressing interact with other occupations? Does it influence your social participation? What’s its relationship with hygiene and grooming occupations?
  • I shared how I use dressing to express my identities, do you use dressing to express yours? If yes, which and how?
  • Who says dressing can’t be leisure or play! If today was a costume party, what theme would you dress for?

And lastly, it’s a new day, what do you want to put out into the world?


Fight, Fight, Fight On! >

by Teresa

Admissions Classes Diversity Living in LA

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Tomorrow is the big game and with it comes the long-standing question of Los Angeles: “USC or UCLA?” Forget sideline reporters, say goodbye to sports commentators, play-by-play who? I believe I am the most qualified individual to provide an answer for these reasons:

  1. I went to UCLA
  2. I go to USC
  3. Refer back to reasons 1 and 2

All jokes aside, when I committed to USC for graduate school, I had some concerns about how I would transition from the nation’s #1 public university into the #1 occupational therapy program. Without further ado, here is one Brojan (Bruin turned Trojan, or vice versa)’s totally impartial, and absolutely not at all biased, take on my experiences at both schools.

Quarter System vs. Semester System
At UCLA, we followed a quarter system, meaning each term was 10 weeks long, three terms each academic year. Because of how fast-paced this was, I thought a semester system would be an easy adjustment but sometimes, it still feels like my mind functions on 10 weeks’ time. Kind of like when you return from traveling somewhere really far and have to readjust to the time difference. Yeah — just like that, but for a much longer period of time. For example, I am currently entering week 14 out of 16 and my mind is saying to the semester, “...You’re done. You’re done. You should be three weeks into the next term already.” Because 16 weeks and NOT 10? The math is just not mathing for me. What is mathing for me, however, is how nice it feels to have time to sit with content, follow up about anything I need clarification on, and really feel like I’m learning and not just regurgitating. And it doesn’t hurt that with the longer terms come longer breaks!

Public University vs. Private University
Growing up, the words “private school” sounded so elite and since public school was all I had known, attending a public university like UCLA after high school felt like the natural progression, so I didn’t even bother applying to USC.

A photo of Teresa in May 2012 standing in the USC Bookstore. She has superimposed a bear emoji on top of her face. She is wearing a UCLA shirt and gesturing to the USC shirts hanging in the store.

Sophomore me visiting the USC Bookstore on a high school field trip in May 2012. The irony is not lost on me that I now have the sweater in the background, which I am currently wearing while writing this.

When applying to OT school, a part of me still held the notion that private = elite and public = diversity, but that myth was quickly dispelled when I met my classmates, who are each so different and unique in their backgrounds, life perspectives, age, appearance, and interests, thanks to the holistic admissions process implemented at USC Chan. The insights shared by my classmates both in and out of the classroom have been quintessential to facilitate my learning as I continue to develop my clinical identity. I feel an immense sense of pride knowing that my classmates will be entering practice as some of the most culturally responsive clinicians this field has to offer and that their clients and future generations will be able to see themselves in their providers.

My family always emphasized that education is an investment to give myself the best chance at life, so when deciding which program to attend, what better is there than the best? I could think of no better place to invest in myself than at USC Chan, which, in case you forgot, is the #1 occupational therapy program in the nation, and it shows. It’s pretty surreal to walk the halls of the Center for Health Professions (CHP) and know that it’s the birthplace of sensory integration, occupational science, Lifestyle Redesign, and so much more. Occupational therapy students all over the world are learning through textbooks written by the same professors you get to see face-to-face everyday. Since starting this program, it’s been clear that our faculty, staff, ambassadors, student leaders, and alumni are committed to fostering a space where the next generation of occupational therapists can both advocate for our profession while challenging it to change to meet client needs.

Undergraduate Degree vs. Graduate Degree
The pursuit of my undergraduate degree was filled with twists and turns regarding what career I wanted that degree to lead to — pediatrician, lawyer, software engineer, teacher, and at one point, even paleontologist! I am always amazed (and slightly jealous) when I hear Bachelor’s to Master’s students share why they chose to pursue OT when they were a senior in high school, because I didn’t know about OT until I was 20. While I don’t regret my journey because it’s what led me here today, I will say school was so much harder when I didn’t know what I was meant to do. It was also so much harder when I couldn’t imagine myself ever using organic chemistry or multivariable calculus in my career, yet still had to take those classes in order to get my degree. To this day, the fact that I know how to draw molecular structures using benzene rings or chair conformations has not served me. Not once!

Entering graduate school provided an opportunity for a clean slate. I was able to start over as a student at a new school but this time, as a student with a strong understanding of what I wanted while taking courses focused on what I was interested in. By acknowledging that all of the content I learn in the classroom could be applied to practice, being a student has become a more engaging and meaningful experience.

So, USC or UCLA?
This question is hard to answer because ultimately, I am so thankful to both. My experiences at UCLA led me here to USC, where I find myself growing professionally and personally everyday. Both allowed me to be close to home and near my family, who I wouldn’t be here without. At one, I was able to identify my weaknesses and at the other, take a strengths-based approach. This past weekend, I showed my friends Silvia and Vanessa around UCLA, where we sat next to Janss Steps and talked for hours.

This image consists of two separate images on either side. On the left side, my friend and fellow ambassador Silvia is just out of frame, sitting on the grassy knoll next to Janss Steps at UCLA. On the right side, there is a picture of three girls. From left to right is Silvia, myself, and my friend and classmate Vanessa.

Left: Sitting on the grassy knoll next to Janss Steps at UCLA. Pictured: Silvia Hernandez-Cuellar. Right: Me and my pals (and USC Chan classmates), Silvia and Vanessa ElShamy.

While walking the same paths I used to take to class, I remembered how I felt there when the thought of becoming an occupational therapist seemed like a distant, unattainable dream because I couldn’t see past who I was on paper — just another GPA, GRE score, and 1000 words. And becoming a USC Chan occupational therapist? Dream on.

Look at you now. Fight, fight, fight on. 💙🐻💛✌️❤️


La Primera, Pero No La Ultima >

by Silvia


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To my sisters and to the siblings of other first-generation students: you belong here. We may be the firsts, but we won’t be the lasts.


Hermanas, I will hold your hands every step of the way — Photo by: fatimajphotography

“Everybody looks rich and smart.” — An observation of the USC Village made by my sister

Sis—do I look rich to you? Maybe a little smart, but rich? Talk about a “she doesn’t even go here” moment. I think about this moment a lot because reading between the lines it means that she can’t fully believe that I do go here, and even more upsetting, I don’t think she sees the possibility of herself going here either. This speaks to feeling like you don’t belong in certain spaces because when you look around, there isn’t many, if any, people who look like you. Though her description may not encapsulate everyone who goes to USC, her feelings and thoughts are valid. I, along with many other first-generation students, have felt this way throughout our collegiate journey.

Graduation Picture

Graduating Undergrad as 1st Gen — Photo by: Madison Noelle Photos

When I tell you that immigrant, three-year-old, non-English speaking me could have never imagined being here today—finishing my master’s degree at the top OT program— I mean it. Growing up, college was never a topic of conversation in my house, yet education was always emphasized to be the key for a better future. Getting good grades was expected and not something to be rewarded for—the one time I asked my mom if I could get an allowance for having straight A’s she was quick to say “…mira mira, ya parece que te voy a dar dinero por hacer tu trabajo en la escuela…esa es tu responsabilidad.” Being a good student was my responsibility and something I took great pride in. Subconsciously, it was also something I held onto with the hopes of getting into a “good” college one day.

Meeks at our undergrad graduation

Baby Meeks and I at our undergrad graduation


3 year-old Meeks and I celebrating the end of the summer semester

Going to college is such a romanticized notion though…from choosing your dream school, to moving away from home, living in a dorm, meeting the people who will become your lifelong best friends, and everything else that you daydream about until reality hits. How do you get to live all these experiences when you don’t even know the name of any universities (besides the ones stamped onto the sweaters your classmates wore), when you don’t know how/where to apply, when you’re poor and probably can’t even afford to live these experiences? I remember asking my dad if he had a savings account because, if I decided to go, college would be really expensive. He didn’t give me a clear answer but assured me that if I wanted to go to school, we would make it happen. In his words, “Hay mucho sacrificio que se tiene que hacer, pero independientemente de eso, [mientras que tenga el apoyo de todos, yo puedo] salir adelante.”  Needless to say, pursuing higher education has been a very tiring journey.

It’s almost like being completely lost in the application process and scared that somehow you incorrectly inputted something in your FAFSA is a rite of passage for first-generation students. And I know for a fact that this isn’t true for all college students because I can name some of my high school peers whose parents did everything for them—but that’s besides the fact and my point is simply that we’re not all on an equal playing field. Being first-gen means figuring it out on your own and paving the way for those who will follow after you. Though this is rewarding, it is exhausting.

No one really talks about the culture shock that you may experience, the impostor syndrome, the burnout, the guilt, and all the other not-so-good things that come with college and that are compounded by being first-gen. Fully unpacking what it means to be first-generation, however, cannot be done in one blog, so stay tuned for the sequel. But I don’t want to end this blog without acknowledging that in the process of chasing and living out this dream of being the firsts in our families to go to college, we often lose sight of who we are and what we want. We carry the hopes, dreams, and sacrifices of our parents and families, which fuel our academic drive but also hold us back from other things we want to do with our life. So, I encourage you to check-in with yourself; what do you want?


My Class is a Nexus Point >

by Marvyn

Diversity International Living in LA

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A nexus is a connection of multiple links into a common point or place. In the Post-Professional Master’s program, it’s just that.

If you read about my previous blog post (OT was not my first choice … but I have no regrets), I mentioned that time and destiny have their unique way of bringing people together. The program I’m in is no exception to this. For the most part, it’s almost serendipitous. Can you imagine that more than 30 unique individuals, having each their own personal experiences and life stories across the globe, flew into Los Angeles to study OT? On top of that, we’re still in the middle of a global pandemic!! It sounds so crazy and thrilling to me that I have classmates from India, Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea, Singapore, Colombia, the Middle East, and of course my home country the Philippines. Being at class in person, it’s essentially a melting pot of unique stories and personalities: flavors from all around the world! It still baffles me that despite all the circumstances we were all dealing with individually, life just situates us to be together in a class to learn and grow from each other.

You see, experiencing LA is one amazing thing. But can you imagine exploring it with a class that’s as diverse as this? Check out this hike we did at the Eaton Canyon we did on our second week of class! Some say the trail is pretty basic, but it’s much less about the hike but more about the company you’re with. And if you’re hiking with this bunch, you will always run out of breath from having endless, great conversations (oh, and from hiking too of course).

classmates on a hike

The PP-MA class on our first hiking trip in Eaton Canyon! Photo credits to Yu-Hsuan (Florence) Yang.

On top of that, Dr. Danny Park along with the Global Initiatives team has been very hands-on in support of International Students at Chan, like us in our class. We had events like social mixers and support groups to emphasize togetherness in a culturally diverse environment. A chance to meet and learn from somebody else’s stories and experiences are really irreplaceable, and they are doing an amazing job at that. Fun fact: Did you know that Mooncakes symbolize togetherness and prosperity? Look at some of my classmates celebrating the Mid-Autumn (Mooncake) Festival at the CHP Patio!

classmates in patio celebrating Mooncake festival

One of the many events hosted by Global Initiatives: Mid-Autumn Mooncake Festival! Photo credits to Joshua Digao.

In my classes so far, I have learned the importance of togetherness and community as a crucial part of a person’s optimal occupational performance. My class is the epitome of that. I thought that coming into a class full of foreign students would isolate me, but I was wrong. It is in our different backgrounds and experience that actually makes us even more together! I found an even bigger, cohesive community that is PP-MA. A home outside of home, as you may say.

So to my classmates at PP-MA, you’re all awesome. I am so honored and thrilled to be part of this class as if I haven’t made that clear in this blog post. We all come from different parts of the world, but USC Chan was the nexus point that linked us all together. How cool is that?? I am looking forward to learning more from each of you and to taking even more unforgettable adventures and experiences together this school year. Fight On!

class on white coat ceremony in front of the CHP building

Our white coat ceremony! Photo credits to Godfrey Lok.


Hola, Yo Soy un Terapeuta Ocupacional (Hello, I Am an OT) >

by Daniel

Diversity What are OS/OT?

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“Hola, yo soy un terapeuta ocupacional…” (Hello, I am an occupational therapist). This is part of my weekly introduction with Spanish-speaking clients. It is also a reminder of the reason I pursued this profession, as well as the sacrifices my family and I have made over the last three years. Walking into a room or simply calling a new client and starting a conversation in Spanish puts a smile on my face. Every time I speak to one of my clients, I picture my mom and dad. It feels incredible to be able to advocate for people who come from a similar background as mine.

During my time at USC, I have shared many personal things with you all. I understand the privilege of being able to write and freely express myself on this platform. Not everyone gets this opportunity, so I wanted to show that my experience as an undocumented student is as valid as anyone’s. That it is okay for those reading to feel proud of their language, culture, and history. That you belong in this program and profession.

Today I write to you just a couple of days away from walking the stage for my doctoral program. It feels really strange to say that; I think it’s the impostor syndrome that lingers. My family and friends still need to remind me that this is a huge accomplishment and to take a moment to celebrate. But those who know me pretty well know that I think this is just another step in what’s to come. First-generation, undocumented students are capable of so much, and for me, it’s time to capitalize on that. This is the end of one journey but the beginning of a new one.

This grad school journey has not been easy at all. Some semesters I wasn’t even sure I would be back given the financial limitations and ongoing immigration rhetoric surrounding DACA. The people around me made it possible to pursue this dream. There are so many who helped me along the way, and I want to acknowledge them as best as possible.

  • Mi familia, gracias por todo, I love you so much. My parents are the most courageous people I know. Growing up, they always told my sister and me to study hard because we would end up like them if we didn’t. But as I grow older, all I want to do is be like them. Thank you to my sister and my girlfriend for always being there for me. The sleepless nights studying and finishing assignments was all for them.
  • The CSUN Dream Center, I am forever grateful for your mentorship and for giving me the confidence to even apply to USC. You made me believe that I could accomplish my goals despite my undocumented status.
  • Thank you to the Chan Division, Norman Topping Family, Latino Alumni Association, and Immigranted for supporting me when I had no idea how I would pay for OT school. You all made this moment possible.
  • Thank you to the LRCC Research Lab and the Student Ambassadors team; it has been an honor to work with two outstanding teams. During the pandemic, these two teams faced many obstacles, adjusted, and we got things done! I have worked with two of the best bosses in the Chan Division, Kim Kho and Dr. Beth Pyatak.
  • Thank you to all my classmates who challenged me and helped me grow. A special thank you to Katie Bui and Marilyn Rodriguez, two people who always had my back since day one.
  • Lastly, a special thank you to Dr. Celso Delgado (el profe). You became a mentor to me throughout this entire OT experience. You reminded me that I belong in these spaces, that a Latinx kid from Van Nuys could make it.

So, this it! I have never been good at saying goodbye; I tend to simply move on and take on whatever is next. I want to take a final moment to honor my ancestors and the generational sacrifices that it took for me to get to this point. This right here is what our parents believed in as they decided to migrate. But I don’t want to be remembered as “the successful immigrant” because all immigrants, undocumented people, etc. deserve the same level of respect and acknowledgment as the “educated ones.” I had different opportunities and circumstances. Para toda mi gente Latinx y indocumentada, este logro es por todos ustedes, nosotros seguiremos luchando y echandole ganas. Although I don’t know for certain what my future looks like in this country, I do know one thing, that I will always continue to Fight On! No one can ever take away what I’ve accomplished these past years and my soon-to-be title, Dr. Daniel Padilla Vega.

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