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16 Hour Flight to Hang Out With my Occupational Therapy Pen Pal >

by Global Initiatives Team

Getting Involved International

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By Jared Bague (he/him), OTD ’25
Edited by Christelli Carmona, Entry-Level Professional Master’s student

Jared Bague

Jared Bague

There is a certain charm and chaos that comes with the final days of the year — the simple change of a single digit after 365 days sends people into a frenzy of ending the calendar year living life to its fullest. I would be remiss if I didn’t admit that I too subscribed to this “final frenzy” by meeting up with my pen pal . . . that lives on the other side of the world.

In October of 2022, Global Initiatives announced that they were organizing a “Global Pen Pal Program” where they connected USC Chan students with other OT students from around the world. With OT schools spanning South Korea, Palestine, Poland, and more, the Global Initiatives team matched Chan students to OT schools abroad according to their interests found in their application. For me personally, I’ve always felt a deep calling to be a bridge for the dissemination of knowledge in a place where my roots run deep — the Philippines.

A few days after I submitted my application, I was overjoyed to see that I was paired with the University of Santo Tomas in Manila, Philippines. Even more so, I was excited to see that my roommate, Joseph Quiambao, was also paired with the same school. After we shared a few embarrassing cheers of excitement in our living room, I received my first email from my pen pal, Jose Maria Miguel Burgos (Miggy for short). We immediately began emailing back and forth introducing ourselves, which eventually evolved into direct messaging each other on Instagram, which eventually evolved into Zoom calls. Despite the 16-hour time difference, Miggy and I’s friendship grew quickly over the span of 2.5 months.

I gifted Miggy with a USC Chan shirt as a Christmas/New Year's gift

I gifted Miggy with a USC Chan shirt as a Christmas/New Year’s gift.

Prior to applying for the Global Pen Pals program, I was planning on taking my first international solo trip to spend New Year with my grandma in Sison, Philippines. In full honesty, the idea of navigating the stresses of international travel by myself was deterring me from following through with my plans. But after thinking about the possibility of having a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet up with my pen pal, I knew I had to book the 15-hour flight. I pitched the idea to Miggy and Ray Torres (my roommate’s pen pal who I also got to know), and they were on board. After a few weeks of planning, we all settled on meeting up on December 28th.

It was only when I was surrounded by hundreds of balikbayan boxes (gifts that overseas Filipino families send home to the Philippines) at LAX that I realized how crazy of a plan this was. I began thinking to myself, “Jared, you just spontaneously booked a solo flight overseas to meet up with someone you had only seen the upper half of on Zoom.” But as the great philosopher, Drake, once said, “. . . you already know though. You only live once, that’s the motto.” With that song on repeat in my head for the entire duration of the flight, I finally touched down at Ninoy Aquino International Airport on December 27th.

At 7:00 am on December 28th, Miggy and his childhood friend, Raffy, picked me up from my hotel in Bonifacio Global City. We went on a short road trip to Tagaytay where they took me to their favorite food spot, and then we headed back towards Makati where we grabbed coffee, went sightseeing, and shopping.

Miggy experienced my first taste of 'sinigang na baboy' and 'puto bong bong,' which are Filipino dishes

Miggy experienced my first taste of “sinigang na baboy” and “puto bong bong,” which are Filipino dishes.

Our first stop in Tagaytay was this lookout point. Tagaytay is located an hour and a half outside of Metro Manila

Our first stop in Tagaytay was this lookout point. Tagaytay is located an hour and a half outside of Metro Manila.

Apart from the amazing views, food, and shopping malls, the part that I enjoyed most was the conversations we had in our downtime. I got to learn a lot about Miggy — he is a big fan of Florence Clark and Erna Blanche, and he eventually wants to work in the mental health setting as a life coach, he and Ray Torres put on “Camp Kabahagi” which aims to enable children with disabilities through play, and so much more. While talking about our passion for OT, I was able to see how different yet similar the profession looks in our own respective experiences as OT students in different countries. We shared moments where we talked about Sensory Processing, therapeutic use of self, dysphasia, and other OT-related topics that sparked our interests. Overall, it was inspiring to witness OT students outside the United States sharing the same desire to make a difference in the world, one intervention at a time.

Going to Tagaytay was a special experience because Miggy and Raffy expressed how COVID has restricted them from leaving their houses too often

Going to Tagaytay was a special experience because Miggy and Raffy expressed how COVID has restricted them from leaving their houses too often.

We ate at 'Balay Dako' in Tagaytay. The restaurant had a beautiful view of Taal Lake in Batangas!

We ate at “Balay Dako” in Tagaytay. The restaurant had a beautiful view of Taal Lake in Batangas!

The “final frenzy” that I experienced led to me gaining a deeper understanding of the global community that we, as future OTs, are a part of. It is easy to forget that there are OTs around the globe that share the same hopes and dreams that we do — I find it quite beautiful. Once we set sail in our curiosity to learn more about OT beyond the borders of our own country, we can experience an exchange of knowledge that propels the profession forward. This is in hopes that OTs around the globe can provide the best quality care that we can as future practitioners.

In regards to my pen pal, Miggy, I know this isn’t the last time I will see him. His dream is to eventually attend USC Chan to pursue his PhD but until then, I’ll make sure to make a stop in Makati whenever I find myself in the Philippines again.

Tania

Latinx Heritage Month Celebration >

by Tania

Community Diversity First-Gen Getting Involved

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Asociación Hispanohablante de Terapia Ocupacional (AHTO) is a student organization in the Chan Division, with the goals to improve the educational experience of Latinx students and to provide care/resources to the Spanish-speaking community. We are a group of aspiring OTs passionate about working with underrepresented and underserved communities. AHTO hopes to support the retention of students of color within the division and to advocate for the needs that our community requires. AHTO is a student organization made by the students and for the students.

We all know the importance of representation in higher education and healthcare. Therefore, the AHTO board worked together to create several events in celebration of Latinx Heritage Month.

The first event was café con pan dulce, which allowed students to connect over some cafesito and conchitas. That same day during lunch students gathered to play Loteria, which is similar to Bingo.

The next event was Case Studies en Español, and this event was made possible with the collaboration of Dr. Celso Delgado Jr.. Our two presenters, Dr. Marilyn Thompson and Dr. Daniel Padilla reviewed two different case studies in Spanish and provided tips on how to best serve the Spanish-speaking community.

We also had a social at a local Latinx-owned restaurant, Casa Fina Restaurant, to support businesses in the community. We enjoyed good food, good music, and great company. We had over 30 people at the event. It was beautiful to see so many people in one room building community.

We closed the celebration with Dia de Los Muertos. Students enjoyed tamales, pan dulce, and crafts.

AHTO hopes to create a safe space and a home away from home for those in the division. We understand that there have been other Latinx organizations before us that maybe have not lasted, but the fact that an organization keeps arising time by time lets us know the need for support in the division and the willingness of our community.

If you are a student and you are interested in getting involved, stay on the lookout for elections next semester!

If you are staff / faculty and wonder how you can best support our student group here are a few ways:

  1. Attend our events
  2. Promote our events
  3. Advocate for funding for student orgs
  4. Ask us what we need

Special thanks to Dr. Celso Delgado Jr. and Dr. Danny Park for their collaboration and support!

Tania

OT for a day! >

by Tania

Diversity Getting Involved International

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This month I had the opportunity to collaborate with another student organization on campus called Flying Samaritans. Flying Samaritans is an international volunteer organization that provides free health care for the underserved population in Tijuana, Mexico. The group meets on main campus and drives together to the border, parks on the US side, and then travels via taxi to a clinic in La Colonia Independencia in Tijuana, Mexico. I was very excited to participate in this project because I grew up in Tijuana, Mexico and having the opportunity to give back to my community feels amazing. I drove to the site and met the rest of the team there as the clinic was only a 10-minute drive from my parents’ house.

When I got there, I introduced myself to the volunteer group in Tijuana called Casa de Leones, which had partnered up with USC Flying Samaritans to run the free clinic. I helped set up tents, tables, and chairs for patients to sit in while they waited their turn for services. Patients first checked in and signed consent forms. Then they transitioned to the first room where undergraduate students will check their blood pressure, oxygen levels, insulin, height, and weight. Here, students will also collect patient history and ask questions regarding any concerns that brought the patient to the clinic. Patients will then transition to the second room to see a clinician for a general check-up and receive their free prescriptions. Finally, patients will meet with me to work on medication management, diabetes management, or lifestyle interventions.

Some of them shared that it was very hard to remember and be consistent with medication. Therefore, I created an individualized plan for each patient. For some, using a pill box and labels seemed to be the best option while for others teaching them how to put cellphone reminders was the way to go. Many of them had been told in the past that they needed to exercise more. However, their idea of exercise only consisted of running or weights. We had discussions of what typical days looked like for each patient and together we planned movement throughout their days.

Some patients had been coming for months and shared that they look forward to clinic days. Flying Samaritans have done a great job building rapport and providing free services that allow individuals to manage their chronic conditions. Being the OT for that day was extremely rewarding. It allowed me to put my classroom learning into practice. Not only that, but I was able to be part of an interdisciplinary team where we put our knowledge together making the patients our priority.

If you are interested in being part of this volunteer opportunity, please email me at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). You do not need to be fluent in Spanish and the team could always use more people. The next free clinic is on November 12th!

Bryan M.

My Two Left Feet >

by Bryan M.

Getting Involved What are OS/OT?

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A common experience for burgeoning occupational therapists is the difficulty in explaining what OT is and why “occupations” are significant. Rather than giving you my “elevator pitch” definition, I thought I’d show you one of the ways I came to discover the superpower that is “occupation”.

Admittedly, I have two left feet. I am no dancer, and those closest to me can attest to that. Sure, I can find a rhythm, but you will never catch me impressing a crowd with my movement abilities. However, a key part of my undergraduate experiences, shaping me into the occupational therapy student I am today, was a dance performance that I took part in on USC’s largest stage in front of hundreds of people.

For context, I was a part of a student-run nonprofit organization in undergrad at USC called Troy Camp, which worked with elementary, middle, and high school students in the Greater Los Angeles Area, providing mentorship, leadership experiences, and academic support. Through this organization, I was able to put on a weekly creativity workshop for 3rd-5th graders at Vermont Elementary School. Modeling after a creativity-based course I took as a part of USC’s Occupational Science Minor, I developed a curriculum to provide an outlet for my students to express their creativity through mediums like filmmaking, dancing, engineering, crafting, and storytelling, among others.

One of my campers and me at the pool during our summer camp

One of my campers and me at the pool during our summer camp

The ending event for this program was a live performance of Zedd’s “The Middle” in front of an audience at USC’s Bovard Auditorium, being a guest to one of USC’s premiere dance groups. The troupe came into the classroom to teach the students and counselors the choreography to the song, and then they gave us the opportunity to showcase our abilities at their yearly showcase.

I remember the night well, but what stands out the most was my interactions with one of my students, Vladimir. A bright, more reserved 3rd grader was attached at my hip for the night. When I first met Vlad, he showed a lot of apprehension and discomfort when exploring the various creative media. He did not feel comfortable expressing his creativity, and he had a lot of trouble connecting with his peers. However, over the course of the 5 months, his confidence had grown immensely, juxtaposing how timid he was when we first met. His attitude changed every week, with phrases like “I don’t want to…” turning into “When are we going to start?” Despite my own uneasiness in performing (because, as a reminder, I am not a dancer), Vlad’s newfound eagerness was heartening. We joined the rest of our group on stage, as Zedd’s “The Middle” came on through the speakers…

This experience, especially my work with Vladimir, serves as a testament to occupation. Vladimir’s disposition exemplifies how occupational opportunities can impact individual lives and inspires me to make my own mark in the field of occupational therapy. Though my program with Vladimir only lasted a year, I saw how his opportunity to engage in new creative occupations drastically improved his demeanor. I want to be an occupational therapist to empower individuals, especially those in marginalized communities, to live rich, fulfilling, meaningful lives, dancing alongside them with my two left feet.

My Creativity Class in front of Bovard Auditorium after our dance performance

My Creativity Class in front of Bovard Auditorium after our dance performance

Andrea

This Summer with the Community >

by Andrea

Community Diversity Getting Involved

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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.”

Elaina Rodriguez Garza

Elaina Rodriguez Garza

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.

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