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Lunar New Year Away from Home ⟩
February 26, 2024, by Cindy

International Living in LA

Speaking of the New Year, the first thing that came to my mind is not January first but the Lunar New Year. It is not the end of the Christmas break, but the holiday week takes place roughly at the end of January and the start of February. This year, the Lunar New Year is a time for reconstructing meaningful rituals.

I came from a not-so-traditional Taiwanese household. I did not go to temples to ask for blessings for my family in the coming year and watch the dragon and lion dances. I did not set off firecrackers with my family at midnight. On Lunar New Year’s Eve, I did not have a traditional Lunar New Year dinner, a feast of numerous dishes that have meanings and blessings. I did not need to visit my mother’s family strictly on the second day of the Lunar New Year. I did not have so many relatives and friends of our family that we needed to visit and wish them a happy new year with witty haikus to get red envelopes.

Although my Lunar New Year celebration does not have all the Chinese and Taiwanese customs, I have always spent this time with my parents and brother. Always. We would have a hotpot as our Lunar New Year dinner at my grandma’s place. We would play mahjong (麻將) while watching the Lunar New Year gala on TV. We would complain about listening to Lunar New Year songs on repeat everywhere we go. We would go camping, go to the movies, go hiking, etc. It was a week when we were all home and spent this blissful time together.

I have never realized the meaning of the Lunar New Year in my life until this year. I am not in Taiwan with my family anymore. As I approached February tenth, the grief of loss started lurking in. I kept searching for the scenes I used to overlook: red lanterns and spring couplets at every door, random firecrackers in the middle of the night, people cleaning their windows in the yard, old furniture sitting in the lobby of the building waiting to be picked up by recycling trucks, and candies stacked in plastic boxes on sale at hypermarkets. I miss the smiles on people’s faces when they greet each other with “新年快樂 (Happy New Year)” and “恭喜發財 (Wish you prosperity and wealth).” Happiness flowed through every corner. The atmosphere is radiating red and gold. It was so joyous that the time paused and celebrated with us.

My tears sat with me, recalling those memories in the peaceful atmosphere of LA. The atmosphere was so quiet, as if time disappeared. At that moment, I realized the significance of the Lunar New Year in my life. I knew I needed to celebrate the Lunar New Year in new but meaningful ways.

On the day before New Year’s Eve, the Global Initiatives Office celebrated the Lunar New Year just like they would celebrate festivals from different cultures. The Global Initiatives Office prepared tangyuan (湯圓), oranges, and red envelopes. In addition, all my Taiwanese classmates came to our house and had the Lunar New Year dinner that night. We ordered soup base, sliced meat, meatballs, and vegetables online to make a hotpot. Everyone brought Taiwanese cuisine to share: candied fruit, rice wine drunken chicken, and Taiwanese cookies. We cooked the hotpot and ate at the same table. We shared all the interesting clinical experiences we had. We played mahjong on our phones. We ate together, laughed together, and missed our Lunar New Year rituals together. When I said goodbye to everyone at 12:30am, I thought with a big smile: “This feels like Lunar New Year.”

I learned that celebrating festivals is an integral part of my identity. Those festivals are my culture, values, and how I measure a year. In addition, the festival celebrations in my life are memories that shaped me, representation of social connections, and a part of my life narrative. I am so glad that in Los Angeles, at USC Chan, it is not hard to find people with the same cultural background as mine. I am also grateful that the Chan division put in so much effort to celebrate festivals valued by different groups of people. Celebrating our festivals gives us a chance to be seen and accepted. In this new year, I can try to maintain and reconstruct my festival celebration rituals and make them as meaningful as I have enjoyed them.

The author and her Taiwanese classmates having a hotpot

My Taiwanese classmates and me having a hotpot


California Love ⟩
January 24, 2024, by Jaida

Community Life Hacks Living in LA

California. The Golden State. Never would I have thought that I would be calling this place ‘home’ for 3 years. Filled with numerous beaches, palm trees, and sunshine for days, this state has more to offer than I realized. As someone who is not a local, I can recognize where my own understanding of this unique environment falls short of the experiences that make this place so special to Californians. I can also recognize where my own biases and upbringings as a Southerner have impacted my perception of the people here (I had no idea what an ‘Erewhon’ or ‘Cava’ was).

Here are some of my own takeaways about California that you should be mindful of and how you can take advantage of your new home!

Be mindful of:

  • Traffic/Driving: “It’s only 5 miles away. The drive can’t be that bad.” That’s what I’m used to saying when driving around home in Arkansas. I was so quick to judge my friends here who would complain about driving (I am humble enough to say now I have learned the error of my ways; sorry friends). Driving in California is not for the weak; there will be days where you will spend more time on the road than at your actual destination. Californians have unspoken rules about driving that as an outsider, until you get yourself on the road, you won’t understand until you’ve experienced it. Tip: call a friend/loved one while you’re waiting in traffic! You know they’ve been dying to hear all about your life in the program and it’ll make you feel better. You can also listen to podcasts or take it as an opportunity to practice some of the mindfulness techniques you will soon learn from RRE class!
  • Prices: I remember as I was driving from Arkansas to California, the progressive increase in gas prices as I got closer and closer, had me shaking my head the entire time. The days of cheap items and tax-free weekends were over. Since then, I have accepted my new reality of the high cost of living here, but understand now that California would not be what it is today without it. Tip: if you can, sign up for EBT to receive monetary assistance for buying groceries.

Take advantage of:

  • Fun Experiences: My bank account hated me for the amount of money I was spending at Disneyland and Universal, but just like a kid in a candy store, I couldn’t help myself! Although I love all the nature activities there are to do back home, being able to go to amusement parks and beaches whenever I want is a plus in my eyes. Cool events like themed club nights (High School Musical and One Direction night made teenage Jaida so happy) and shows at the Hollywood Bowl are ones that I would’ve never experienced back home and I am grateful to be living in a state that gives me access to new and exciting experiences.
  • New Cuisines: Being raised in the South, I pride myself on the delectable cuisine that is ‘Southern/Soul food’. Comprised of foods such as ribs, fried chicken, cornbread, baked beans, mac & cheese, I was a bit saddened to know the “southern food” here will never taste like how it is back home. However, I have been able to try so many different cuisines that are not as widely present in Arkansas (shoutout to cohort A for introducing me to Korean bbq, pho, and chilaquiles!).

While your experience may be completely different than mine, I hope that this advice can help you in preparing for your transition to living in California.

Kbbq always hits the spot!

Kbbq always hits the spot!

Food & wine at Disneyland? I’m sold

Food & wine at Disneyland? I’m sold

GoT at Hollywood Bowl: an experience I’ll never forget

GoT at Hollywood Bowl: an experience I’ll never forget

First Dodgers game!

First Dodgers game!

Movies on the beach!

Movies on the beach!

Transported back to Medieval Times

Transported back to Medieval Times

Supporting a fellow classmate on the ice!

Supporting a fellow classmate on the ice!


These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things ⟩
January 21, 2023, by Mika

Housing and Transportation International Life Hacks Living in LA School/Life Balance

Hello again and Happy New Year, my friends!

I wanted to start off the year with a blogpost about one my favorite childhood songs from the movie, The Sound of Music. If you have watched the movie, you might have remembered the scene where Fräulein Maria comforts the children amidst a storm. She tells them (or rather, sings to them) that whenever she feels scared or sad, she remembers her favorite things to help herself cheer up. Now, as a material girl, I kind of used this coping strategy as well to help me adapt to life here in Los Angeles. With that, I present to you some of my favorite things or must-have’s that helped me the past months.

1. Water Filter Pitcher
Moving to a new country requires you to find ways on how locals get their basics, like food or water. Based on the suggestions of some friends and family living in the States, they recommended me to get the Brita water filter pitcher. So far, I don’t have any problems with this brand that I bought; however, you can also opt to buy cheaper brands. These water filters also come in different sizes (even in a dispenser) and are available in local supermarkets like Target and Walmart.

2. Tide Pods
This has been a game changer for me doing laundry since it makes everything more efficient and quicker. This was not a common product back at home so when I discovered this, I really felt like a caveman discovering new technology.

3. Sink Garbage Disposal Unit
Okay, this device got me shouting U.S.A., U.S.A.! to my friends back at home LOL. Again, we don’t have this technology so I was happy to discover this in most American households since it made washing the dishes more convenient.

4. Air Fryer
This is not new technology for me but it definitely helped me save time in cooking meals in between studying. Shoutout to my lovely roommate for sharing this with all of us in the apartment!

5. Tabo (Dipper)
The Filipino in me is definitely showing with this one. I definitely cannot do my self-care occupations or other household chores without my beloved tabo or dipper. Although you can purchase these through Amazon or in Filipino supermarkets, I was able to buy a portable one (it was made of a rubber-like material so I could fold it to fit in my luggage) back home in the Philippines.

6. Dustpan
From what I understand, most locals use vacuum cleaners to clean their floors. However, I like to go Filipino old school and use a broom and a dustpan to clean some of my floors. For those who prefer cleaning this way like me, I wanted to share that I bought a detachable dustpan back at home and brought it here since most of the dustpans here were hand-held and quite-small, which often triggered my back pain when cleaning.

7. Mobile Applications
I found several mobile applications that had made my stay here in L.A. more convenient. Here are a few I found helpful:

  • Ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft
  • Public transportation apps like Transit and Tap
  • Online shopping apps like Amazon (As a student, you can get Amazon Prime for free for 6 months!)
  • Food and grocery delivery apps like Door Dash, Uber Eats, Amazon Fresh and Wee! (an Asian grocery delivery application)
  • Yelp to find recommendations of places to eat around the area
  • USC Gateway mobile app to help you know everything that’s happening in campus and to navigate your university life

8. Gifts (and snacks!) from home
Moving out of your comfort zone to a new country will bring about bouts of homesickness and loneliness from time to time. That is normal — it’s okay not to feel okay sometimes! To help me get through those moments, I’m blessed to have a good set of family and friends who sent some gifts and snacks to help me remember home. It definitely also helped that social media made keeping in touch with them possible!

And that’s the end of my list! What about you, what are your favorite things that get you by?

Bryan M.

Cycling Saved Me! ⟩
January 18, 2023, by Bryan M.

Community Living in LA School/Life Balance

Whenever prospective students ask me what I wish I would have known at the start of OT school, I always say the same thing: find something removed from OT school that you love doing, and keep consistent with it. Finding balance during your few years learning how to be an OT practitioner is a key part of preventing burnout and enhancing the learning experience in the classroom. Prioritizing your life outside of school is so important because it directly influences the kind of professional you are when you graduate. In this blog, I’m taking the time to write about my favorite non-OT related occupation: indoor cycling.

I began indoor cycling consistently in 2019 after I signed up for a class with an on-campus club I was a part of. My first class was rocky: I slept through my alarm, showed up late, and my foot got unclipped from the bike so I wasn’t able to take half of the class. Luckily, thanks to a new rider feedback form, the studio gave me a free class to try again, so I gave it another shot. This second class is where my love for cycling sprouted.

SoulCycle advertises itself as an “immersive and intense full-body workout,” and I can certainly attest to that. I fell in love with SoulCycle because I appreciated being able to work out both my body and my mind during class, mindfully listening to the inspiring words the instructors spoke while also cuing the exercise progression. I loved the classes so much that I ended up working for the company as Front Desk staff, something that I do even to this day while in OT school.

My love for indoor cycling exemplifies the power of meaningful occupations. Through the activity, I am able to provide myself a just-right challenge, keeping me engaged and motivated each time I go. Because of my commitment to this occupation, I am able to live a more balanced lifestyle in which my life isn’t consumed with only school and work. I’ve been able to remind myself that I am not just an occupational therapy student and have a life outside of school that I value and prioritize. I’m a well-rounded occupational being! This is something I think OT graduate students tend to forget, which is why I’m trying to remind others through this blog.

4 years later and nearly 500 classes later, I still consider indoor cycling one of my favorite occupations. Truly, I am so grateful for SoulCycle’s ability to keep me grounded during the trials and tribulations of school.


Finding Housing in LA When Moving from Out of State! ⟩
January 9, 2023, by Leah

Community Housing and Transportation Life Hacks Living in LA

While from Northern California, I had been living in Seattle, WA for a few years before moving to LA for USC.

Things I considered when looking for housing in LA

While there are plenty of benefits to living in Currie Hall (convenience / community aspect of living around a lot of other OT students) I thought it was too expensive for my budget. I wanted to find something more affordable in the East LA area. I paid $860/month the first year and now $950/month (boo inflation) but I still found this more affordable than a lot of other options I was seeing.

Some neighborhoods I checked out
Alhambra, Pasadena, Highland Park, Monterey Park, San Gabriel, Arcadia, Los Feliz, and Silverlake.

Who to live with
I was interested in living with other graduate students since we would be understanding of each other’s schedules and interests. I moved in with 2 second year physical therapy students. I loved that we were in fields similar enough to be excited about what the other person was studying, but I felt like it relieved me from pressure of always having to talk about school with roommates. It was also super helpful that the apartment was already mostly furnished since I did not have furniture from when I lived in Washington.

My interests / hobbies
While living in Seattle, some of my favorite occupations included being outdoors hiking or camping. I decided to live in the Alhambra area due to its easy access to the Los Angeles National Forest. I love seeing mountains from my window and being only 20 minutes away from several trailheads. If you are really interested in the beach / surfing / etc. then West LA might be a better fit!

Helpful Facebook pages I joined

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