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USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
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So You’re in LA. What To Do? ⟩
, by Marvyn

Life Hacks Living in LA

Here we go, my first blog of the year! If you read my last blog (which was the last blog of 2021), I said that one of my new year’s resolutions is to take more photos around Los Angeles and to explore new places. I would like to preface this blog by saying that I am an international student and by no means am I a pro at being an LA person. You may be reading this because you’re also an international student, or maybe not even an LA native, but I hope this list can help build your experience here in LA. Personally, as an international student, this is my first time staying in LA for as long as I have. Now while I am still trying to navigate the logistics for 2022 (being sensitive that there is still very much a pandemic going on), I am privileged to have been able to experience LA, even just a tiny bit. Allow me to show you some of my favorite experiences that I have had so far, and how YOU can do it too!

#1: Having a yummy meal in Downtown LA
In LA, there’s a bunch of food spots that you can go try. All I did was hit Google with the keywords, “top places to eat in LA”. From there, you can find a ton of places to eat with food that can be both inexpensive and delicious! Food blogs and YouTube videos have helped me find out cool spots too!

Delicious tacos and a bunch more food at Grand Central Market!

#2: Watching a USC football game with friends
Nothing screams America more than American Football. And don’t worry if you don’t understand the sport. You’ll be surprised to find that there are a bunch of people who watch and yet do not understand what’s going on. I do encourage you to just go in the stadium and feel the school spirit looming around. It’s one of the best feelings to experience as a Trojan! I will say, it’s been quite helpful to watch with someone who actually knows the sport so they can explain things as they happen. (I did my homework prior, and it has been helpful too!)

Go Trojans! With my friends Dustin, Vanessa and Gill at the iconic LA Coliseum!

#3: Experience the social activities (safely, of course)
As an international student, it is also crucial to create good relationships with your fellow students here in Chan. I am so lucky to be working with such a fun, diverse group of people who share the same passion as I have in occupational therapy. Attend events organized by amazing offices such as Global Initiatives. Just put yourself out there, and you’ll quickly realize that there are a bunch of similar-minded people in LA that’s for sure will make you have the best time.

Bonding with my fellow ambassadors, Seth, Teresa, Silvia, and Alyssa!

#4: Hike with your friends
You may or may not like physical activity, but I highly recommend you do at least one hike in LA. Wherever you hike, there are fantastic views and sights to see. You can easily look up fantastic places to hike up and you will be rewarded (almost always) with a breathtaking view of either California or even Los Angeles!

Looking over at the fantastic view in Angeles National Forest with my friends Vivien, Florence, and Josh!

I can go on and on about the things I did so far in Los Angeles and things I recommend doing. And even for me, as I write this, I still have an abundance of activities I have yet to do! My mantra throughout this experience is that: “You are responsible for your own memories. Craft them, and let your stories paint the colors of your life.” You’ll thank yourself down the road with all the stories and memories you have made.

Let me know what you think! If you need more recommendations, keep in touch with me and the rest of the ambassadors at our social media @USCChanOSOT on Instagram. Looking forward to hearing from you! Until then, Fight On!


When In Doubt, OT it Out! ⟩
, by Kayla

Life Hacks

The holidays were amazing, not only because I got to travel back home to California, spend lots of time with my family, and see some of my friends. But also because it came with a much needed break. A break from classes, assignments, presentations and from residency. As amazing as this journey is, sometimes the load does get heavy. This past Monday, the spring semester started and I was admittedly feeling less than inspired logging into my first zoom class of 2022. As an occupational therapist, constantly surrounded by other occupational therapists, sometimes a light bulb goes off to practice what I preach. I call it “OT’ing myself”. While settling back into my typical workflow I’ve decided to focus on engaging in some of my most meaningful occupations to fill my cup and replenish my energy so I can be the best version of myself. This week I’ve been more intentional with:

Listening to Music:
My days have been filled with music and singing and dancing (badly) around my house after work. I play my favorite playlist when I wake up in the morning, look for new songs in my free time, and play my go-to feel good songs when I’m sitting in traffic.

As an ex-college athlete, I have recently found myself missing my playing days a lot more than usual. And although I can’t go to the gym and play pick-up games because of covid, I have been more diligent with getting some form of exercise everyday. Taking online cycling classes with my favorite instructor and a few friends has been helping to keep me in the right mindset!

I absolutely LOVE cooking, and I love trying to make new recipes even more-so. This week I searched my saved videos on TikTok to find those recipes that I saved and forgot about… and actually made one! It was delicious, if I do say so myself, and exactly what I needed.

I’m also starting to write down all of my favorite recipes to make and making my own personal cookbook. So stay tuned for that in a book store near you. 😉

New year, same me. Like I may have mentioned before, I am a self-proclaimed sleepy girl. I love love love sleep, but I am also a night owl so I can never seem to get enough of it. So this week I made it a priority to go to sleep earlier to hopefully set myself up to have more peaceful mornings and have more energy throughout the day. Next skill to master, waking up on time.

As we head into the first Friday of the semester, I am feeling more ready to take on the semester thanks to this wonderful profession that I get to practice everyday, and remember, when in doubt, OT it out!


TwentyTwenty-ONE: The Ambassador Year Round-Up ⟩
, by Marvyn

Diversity Life Hacks What are OS/OT?

Happy DAY ONE (and sadly last) day of Blog-mas! It has been such a blast reading everyone’s blog entries over the past 2 weeks. I hope that this Blog-mas helped you in any shape or form during the holidays! But if you come across this blog at a random point in time in the future, welcome!

For the last blog post of 2021, I decided to round up all the current ambassadors to create this collaboration blog! Call it “The Avengers” of blogs if you will. Crossover blog of the year! While I don’t get carried away, I asked each ambassador the following questions: “What have you learned in life from 2021?” and “What is your TOP GOAL for 2022?” Let’s see everyone’s responses!


SETH: “As I look back on 2021 what I’ve learned is that no matter how much you grow and transplant yourself, you always have your roots. Up until this past year, I couldn’t wait to get out of my hometown and escape to the big LA city, but after a couple of months of quarantine, I really began to discover a newfound and indescribable appreciation for the place and people that raised me. When we slowly began to transition back to in-person classes I realized how much I missed the peace and quiet, the dinners with my family, and the pace of life. After five years, I felt like, for the first time, I had feet firmly planted in both places. At a point in my life where I am figuring out the next steps, it is nice to know that I have it in me to be adaptable, but also that I have a place that fits the stereotype of a home is where the heart is.

As I look forward to 2022 my top goal is to spend more time doing the things that mean the most to me and to find more small moments of joy throughout my day. It is easy to fall into a slump or get busy or to focus on what might not be going as planned, but being able to feel those things, quickly shift perspective, and take action is a philosophy that I’d like to more seriously put into practice. I always come around eventually, but by being more mindful, more present, and more intentional I believe I could enrich my 2022 experience. Big things are on the horizon and I want to give them, and myself, the love and attention they deserve! Here’s to the new year and new habits, roles, and routines!”


KAYLA: “While this year has taught me a lot, more than anything I learned how to enjoy the journey. When faced with difficult situations I am always anticipating something going wrong, and pre-stressing about fixing problems. This year I really tried to change my thinking from “what if it goes wrong” to embrace the ideology of “what if it goes right”. This subtle change has helped me be more present for the huge changes happening in my life, allowed me to be more mindful, and have the capacity to enjoy my experiences in the moment rather than having to reflect on them later down the line.

During this next year I want to be really intentional with what I do and how I spend my time. I am a self-proclaimed “sleepy girl” and will choose sleep over anything 9 times out of 10. In 2022, I want to take advantage of more opportunities to step outside of my comfort zone. I want to go new places, try new things, and have new experiences all 2022!”


TERESA: “Looking back, I accomplished each goal I set for myself in 2021, which is not something I’ve been able to say in a while. I think this was due in part to my primary goal for the year, which was to accept that so many things in life are out of my control and to learn to be okay with that. However, I can be in control of the way I act and react to situations. With this approach, it allowed me to tackle goals which were internally motivated but contingent on an external source and completely out of my control.

In 2022, my only resolution is to show more self-compassion and for some reason, that seems more daunting a task than prior years. I am my own worst critic because I always thought if you’re self-aware of every single one of your flaws, then no one else can use them against you . . . right? Except in 2021, I realized that I tend to use them against myself. As a student and future OT, I’m always reminding myself that I can’t pour from an empty cup but I also need to remember that outside of those roles, I am also human. As a human, I’m inevitably going to mess up but despite these mistakes, the person I need forgiveness and validation from most is myself. Also, the members of BTS said to “Love Yourself” so, in 2022, I will be. I’m going to accept love from the world, from those I love, from myself, and return that love tenfold.”


SILVIA: There’s more to life than ___.
For a long time, my life has revolved around school and family, two very important things to me. From wanting to perform at the top of my class to trying to mediate family tensions, these two aspects of my life have also brought the most stress and anxiety. This year, I have found myself sitting in the ugly and telling myself, “There has got to be more to life than this.” “This” stands for the feelings, the worries, the distress — everything that is making me unhappy at that given moment. This reminder has allowed me to sit, feel, and embrace my emotions . . . and then let them go so that I too can keep going.

Top Goal for 2022: Learn to Adult.
Some may say that I entered adulthood a couple years ago, but that is fake news. Truth is, I am turning 26 this year (next month actually) and that means going through the rite of passage that marks my transition into adulthood: getting kicked off my parents’ health insurance. In light of this, I have made a list of “important things I must learn to do as an adult.”
1. Learn to budget. Shoutout to Kimberly Kho for sharing some of her tips and tricks with me—the Mint App will be my best friend in 2022.
2. Learn to do my own taxes. I’ve heard TurboTax can help me get the job done, but I have a feeling that my father will sit me down for a 3-hour explanation instead.
3. Figure out my health insurance situation. Bless the student health insurance, for now. After graduation, I have a feeling I will be listening to another 3-hour explanation from my father on how to do this.”


ALYSSA: “In the spirit of blogmas lists, here’s my list of what I learned in 2021: (1) I’m a podcast person now. (2) There’s more to life than the coasts! I’ve flown between NJ and CA so many times and this summer I had the opportunity to explore in between via road trip from Chicago back to LA. 10/10 recommend. (3) Living with your best friends is the best way to live.

My goal for 2022 is to enjoy exercising at home. I felt like I missed my window to get #fit with at-home workouts in 2020 but who’s to say where the pandemic is headed in 2022, so . . . time to sweat!”


GUY: “This past year I learned to cherish those close relationships I hold dear in my life. Life is short! My top goal for 2022 is to continue to spend more time with my lifelong friends celebrating and enjoying life like I did on my birthday this past year.”


MARVYN: “And as for me, 2021 has been a roller coaster of a ride. Looking back, I realized that I have achieved a lot of the goals I set for myself. I was able to pause my life as a practicing occupational therapist back at home to pursue my Master’s degree here at USC. I was able to step out of the box (mainly because of quarantine and lockdowns back in 2020), and I pushed the boundaries of my comfort zones coming here as an international student. I have become more independent than I ever was, and I became more confident in myself and my capabilities as a person and as a professional. 2021 has been such a teacher for me, in such a way that even though you are miles away from your family, I am in such a great, and importantly very safe, environment to achieve my goals in life. I am overwhelmed with pride and humility at the same time because I didn’t expect to be who I have become today. If “2020 Marvyn” saw me today as he starts his 2021, he would be in disbelief at the sheer amount of growth he has had over one year.

2022 is a promising, yet daunting year for my life. I am slated to graduate with my Master’s degree this year and that my professional life will be catapulted swiftly into the real world. If there’s anything I want to look back on by the end of 2022, it is that I want to become a licensed and practicing occupational therapist here in the USA. No matter what hurdles may come my way, I do hope Destiny and Fate agree with my goals and guide me through the right paths. I am so excited at the same time nervous for what’s to come, but I hope 2022 would be my best friend much like how 2021 was to me.
SIDENOTE: I want to take more pictures around LA too (and that’s just a side quest I’m also looking forward to doing very soon)!”

And that’s a wrap! Thank you all for a wonderful 2021 and for reading our fun series of blogs over the past few days. New Years is tomorrow, and we here at the student ambassador team are so excited to greet 2022 with you.


Ranking 4 Tools I’ve Tried to Organize My Life ⟩
, by Alyssa

Life Hacks

I love to organize. I find it so interesting to see how other people organize their daily schedules and to-do lists, so I’ve decided to share my planner tool journey with all of you in two parts. Part 1 (this blog) is ranking my experience with every tool I’ve tried to use in the past few years. Part 2 (coming soon in 2022) will break down my current planner system.

Note: As with any occupation, the method for organizing and planning has to fit the person. This is my personal ranking, no hate to anyone who uses these.

#4 Paper Planners

Coming in absolute last for me is using a paper planner. I really wanted to like using one — I love the ✨ aesthetic ✨ of a nice paper planner. I tried hard to make it work and spent… too many dollars in the process. Sometimes buying an organizational tool feels like you’re getting organized, even if you don’t actually use it*. I was convinced I just hadn’t found the right planner set up, so I’d buy another one. This was an expensive self-misunderstanding.

My main qualm with paper planners is the commitment to keeping it with you. Unless I need to bring my laptop somewhere, I never carry anything except my phone. I ended up writing down random notes in my phone to then add to the planner, which was too many steps. In the same vein, I couldn’t check my to-do lists/calendar if I was on the go.

I wanted to color code it and make it pleasing to look at. The thing that got in the way of this was… me — (1) I didn’t dedicate any time to it, (2) My handwriting is not neat enough for that, and (3) I’m lucky if I have two pens on me at any time. Forget about carrying multiple colors.

Alas, my dreams of having a #bulletjournal instagram account were for naught. I moved into the acceptance phase of grief and transitioned to trying out digital systems for getting my life together.

#3 Computer Stickies

For two years in undergrad, I kept all of my to-do lists in the Mac built-in stickies program. I set up my stickies with due date lists for each class for the whole semester. I then had one master schedule that I would type out and copy/paste tasks from the other sticky notes. I realized I liked my schedule in list format, and I wasn’t as interested in the visual blocks of time on a calendar.

This solved my issues with my often illegible handwriting, and I figured I needed to be on my computer for most of my tasks. But of course, I couldn’t access my lists without my computer so I was back to making random phone notes when I was on-the-go. I phased this program out when I discovered my current system.

#2 Google Calendar

I keep a Google calendar for a visual of my class schedule, but it never made sense to me for managing tasks. I like to schedule things even if they only take 5-10 minutes, and I couldn’t see the details of those “events” on the calendar without clicking on them.

Nonetheless, I’ve included it on this list out of respect for its interface. Lots of color options, repeating events, cross-device syncing — all beautiful features.

#1 Trello

I live laugh love ride and die by my Trello boards. I was introduced to Trello in a coding class in undergrad for the classic use of “to do” “doing” and “done” lists. As someone whose work style leans toward start-to-finish in one sitting, this workflow doesn’t really work for me. BUT I realized Trello had a lot to offer. I’ll get into it more in my next blog, but in summary, it combines everything I liked about Google calendar and my stickies system. ✨ Stay tuned! ✨

* Since Trello has been by my side for the last 3 years, I sometimes miss the thrill of setting up a new personal organization system. If this resonates with you, I highly recommend playing organizing video games (e.g. Unpacking, Wilmot’s Warehouse) to fill that void 🎮


8 things I 8 this year that I used to love, but now h8 ⟩
, by Teresa

Life Hacks What are OS/OT?

As we heard more and more about a novel “coronavirus” with each day, I was working full-time as a rehab aide at a nursing home – which at the time, were severely ill-equipped to handle a pandemic with respect to manpower and physical resources. One morning in April 2020, I woke up for another day of work when I realized that overnight, I had been robbed of 2 out of the 5 primary ways I interact with this world.

The anosmia (loss of smell) and ageusia (loss of taste) lasted about 3-4 weeks, but fast forward to 20 months later, nearly TWO YEARS, and I still experience parosmia and dysgeusia, which means those 2 senses returned but that my perception of how things taste and smell is incorrect compared to my memory of them. So without further ado, here are 8 things I have consumed during this pandemic that I used to love, as well as some tips and tricks I’ve picked up along the way so I can continue to enjoy them as I adapt to this new and strange sensory experience.

  1. I’ll start off with the one that makes me saddest – potatoes 🥔. Yup, that wonderful versatile vegetable. Like a diamond, she thrives under pressure – she can be mashed, she can be fried, she can be baked and loaded. We all know and love her! My comfort food was always french fries, so you can imagine my disappointment when my teeth first pierced through that crispy exterior and I immediately wanted to spit it back out. Where I used to taste salty, crunchy goodness, I now perceive an enhanced chemical flavor of starch. My workaround? Sweet potato fries! My perception of sweet foods didn’t change much, so sweet potatoes still taste the same and even though it’s not exactly the same, I still get the oral gratification from the textures.
  2. Speaking of enhanced chemical flavor, you know that very distinct artificial banana flavor they put in candy, like with banana-flavored Laffy Taffy? Well, all bananas 🍌 taste like that to me now. While it’s not the same, I am reminded of what a banana used to taste like when it’s mixed among other fruits, like in a smoothie or açaí bowl! The banana flavor is still most prominent in those mixtures, but the “artificial” flavor is dampened some by other fruits, yogurts, and juices.
  3. If I could only have one food for the rest of my life, it would be either phở or tacos but an essential garnish to both is onion. However, I can tell the distortion of onion is resolving with time because at first, the smell of it was unbearable and truly smelled like the secretion from axillary nodes (aka B.O. 😅) but now, if I cook the onion slices before adding it to my bowl of phở or ask the taquero for grilled onions instead, I’m still able to enjoy my favorite foods.
  4. Along with #3, garlic is a staple in Asian cuisine. Growing up, I knew I needed to finish up my homework soon the moment the delicious smell of garlic filled the house because it meant my mom was about to complete the last step of dinner: sautéing vegetables. I remember the stunned look on my mom’s face as I regained my senses when I entered her kitchen and went, “What’s that awful smell?!” to which she responded, “...I was making your favorite, garlic green beans.” But luckily, as with onion, this is something that seems to be resolving with time as well.
  5. I touched on this a bit earlier, but fried foods… and that includes chips. This has been a tough one because I love the feeling of a good *crunch*. My workaround? SAUCES! Using my favorite sauces, while discovering new ones in the process, has been such a blessing and helps mask the distorted tastes.
  6. You may have heard of this one: meats. What you might not know is that the distortion can happen on a spectrum. For me, chicken 🍗 tastes the most similar to before and is the least pungent. Then comes beef, which I can’t stand to eat on its own, like as a steak 🥩, but still tastes gr8 within a mixture of other flavors, like in a burger! The most pungent taste is pork 🥓, which has been a difficult workaround because so many recipes in my culture call for a pork-based broth.
  7. Not that I (will admit I) eat this, but an honorable mention is toothpaste, since it was my first indicator which alerted me to immediately self-isolate and prevented me from spreading it to my loved ones. Shout out to toothpaste, making your BADLs and COVID prevention possible since 1824! Toothpaste companies–feel free to recruit me for your next marketing campaign. Move aside, “recommended by 9 out of 10 dentists,” “potential early coronavirus detection tool” coming through! In all seriousness, all toothpaste tastes like what onion used to taste like, while mint and mint-flavors still taste the same. This COVID symptom is most mysterious, indeed.
  8. And last but definitely not least, coffee ☕. Every cup of coffee I’ve had in the last 20 months tastes burnt but I’ve found that using a dairy alternative really helps. My favorite has been oat milk, because its strong flavor overpowers and masks the burnt taste really well. However, I’ll let you in on the true caffeinated nectar of life which has sustained this tired graduate student so far–Guayaki’s organic yerba mate, but ONLY the flavor Enlighten Mint and ONLY in the can, NOT the bottle. Thank me later.

This experience, while something I would never wish upon anyone, deepened my appreciation for occupational therapy. The child labeled as a picky eater, the adult whose high perceived pain has them labeled as a malingerer, the older adult who resists polypharmacy… We are unable to fully understand other people’s very subjective experiences, so we cannot say with absolute certainty that there is one right way to experience this world. As OTs, we approach this subjectivity by making our care occupation-based. We make it client-centered, in order to figure out how to best meet unique needs and experiences.

The way we taste and smell is so closely tied to how we engage in our occupations and in life, in regards to nutrition, mindful eating, social participation, weight management, and mental health. But in a similar way to our perceived sensations, time is also subjective. I started something called “smell retraining therapy” and was often frustrated at how little my sensory gains were in comparison to the literature and testimonials. But I continue to remind myself that recovery is not linear and everyone’s trajectory will look different, including my own, so instead of rushing my progress, I’ve come to appreci8 the process.

(But still, the return of 🍟 could not come sooner.)

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