Tag Archives: resources

But First, Take a Breath

By Yoko Fukumura

It’s finals season. Or it’s application season. Maybe it’s your first semester at college. Maybe it’s your last semester of school before you head off to the world.

No matter where you are in life, most of the time you probably have something big on your mind. And it’s not a bad thing – it means that you’re working hard and pushing yourself! But as important as it is to succeed and reach towards your goals, it is equally, if not more, important to be in tune with your mind and body.

As young adults sometimes we feel invincible. We think that we can eat cereal and instant noodles for weeks and pull all-nighters because self care can wait, but the test tomorrow will not wait. I’m also guilty of this and I can attest that this is false – I’ve done better when I prioritized eating and sleeping over studying on the last day. Even if our overworked immune system makes up for all the unhealthy choices momentarily, our physical and mental health might be taking a toll that ultimately affects your studies and future.

Doing well in school is not irrelevant, but your health will decide whether you do well, in school and after. These are a couple small things that I have found helpful along the way that don’t take up too much time.

First, you need to get to know yourself. If you don’t know your limits, it’s hard to plan ahead or know when to stop. We commend hard work, but we can’t keep working hard if we don’t know our limits. Writing a daily journal entry is one simple way to get to know yourself better, and it makes you tune in to your self at least briefly every day. If a blank paper isn’t enough structure for you, you could also get “Q&A a Day” at a bookstore or on Amazon.

Another big one for me was picking up an activity to do fairly consistently. In school, we have multiple deadlines and exams that have hard set dates and limited flexibility, but your hobbies and exercise are flexible. I try to exercise every day – nothing big, anything from ten minutes to thirty minutes on weekdays so that I don’t intimidate myself out of it. When I’m busy I can skip it without feeling guilty – it’s almost like tricking your mind and body so that when you have less time, you have surplus energy. One of the great resources of USC is the Recreational Sports program. There are many affordable fitness programs, from yoga and mindfulness to kickboxing. If you find group classes intimidating, there are 1-on-1 personal training and private session pilates/yoga as well. You can find more about the options here: https://sait.usc.edu/recsports/

Lastly, the easiest to do but also the easiest to forget, is to take deep breaths. Diaphragmatic breathing involves using the muscle between your lungs and abdominal area to breathe deeply (this youtube link explains and helps visualize the diaphragm), and one of our automatic reactions to stress is to take shallow breaths. Deep breathing has many lasting physiological effects, including inhibiting your body’s stress response. Stress affects not just your mind but your whole body, and too much of it can cause long term effects such as memory issues, high blood pressure, and migraines, among others. Breathing can be done anywhere – during class, on a bus, in your bed. It only takes a second, but you could feel better for the entire day, which affects your next day, week, and semester.

Your test tomorrow is important. But first, take a breath.

Yoko is a 1st year graduate student in USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy. She is originally from Boston, Massachusetts where she studied piano performance at New England Conservatory of Music. Born to Japanese immigrant parents, Yoko is very familiar with both the challenges and beauties of cultural diversity. She is also an expert collaborator and teacher from her experience teaching piano and performing in ensembles.

 

Five Tips for Filing Your Taxes

By Colette Au

Since taxes aren’t due until April 15th, 2018, filing your 2017 fiscal year taxes might seem a long way away, but I’ve already started preparing for it. I’m in charge of USC Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA), a student-run club that is part of a nation-wide IRS volunteering program. We provide free tax preparation services to low- and middle-income individuals and families, including international students and residents living in the neighborhood around USC. If you’re like most students, you probably haven’t needed to file your own tax return (or perhaps your parents did it for you). Although I’m not allowed to give tax advice because most advice is very situational, here are a few tips for students doing taxes for the first time:

  1. If you’re working an on-campus job this year, look out for a W-2

Form W-2 is a slip of paper that employers give you that lists your wages and any taxes withheld for the year. You’ll need this information to input on your tax return, so make sure you save it when it comes in the mail (usually in January or February). For students working on campus, you can elect to download a copy from Workday. If you work multiple jobs, you will have multiple W-2s. Note: if you’re self-employed (for example, doing some freelance work on the side), you’re still supposed to report income, even if the transactions are in cash.

  1. Keep track of your educational expenses

Did you know that it’s possible to lower your tax bill by deducting the cost of required textbooks? Make sure you save your receipts from the Bookstore, because you might be able to shave a couple hundred dollars off of your taxes if you owe anything. However, the tuition and fees deduction isn’t available for people that the IRS calls “non-resident aliens” (most international students). There are also education credits for people who are paying tuition out-of-pocket, and USC will send you a form called Form 1098-T so you can report that information on your tax return.

  1. There are different returns for residents and non-residents

If you’re an international student, don’t make the mistake of not checking if you’re a resident or not. Most international students are considered “non-resident aliens” because they are “exempt individuals” (IRS jargon) and have a different set of tax forms. The IRS uses a residency test to determine if you’re a resident for tax purposes, which you can read more about here.

  1. You might not have to file! But you need to check if you do

Generally, if you’re working an on-campus job, you are only required to file if you make more than a few thousand dollars. Even if you don’t need to file, you should consider filing a return in order to get a tax refund. The IRS has an article called Publication 501 about filing requirements here. If your employer deducts more taxes from your paychecks than you owe at the end of the year, you can get your money back!  

  1. Take advantage of USC resources

If you don’t want to put in the time and effort to learn how to do your taxes on your own, save yourself the hassle. If you meet the income limits, you can get your taxes done by free by students! Most students working in the VITA program are accounting majors like me, and some of us actually enjoy learning about the American tax system.

In summary, filing your taxes in the U.S. can be very complicated. There are exceptions to almost every rule so you have to be careful and assess the facts of your own financial situation before you can correctly file your taxes. If you’re feeling lost in the tax system, it’s okay to ask for help. In fact, it’s better that you do because that last thing you want is the IRS coming after you for filing your taxes incorrectly.

Originally from Portland, Oregon, Colette is a junior in the Leventhal School of Accounting and Marshall School of Business. Born to immigrant parents from mainland China and Hong Kong, she is no stranger to bridging lingual and cultural gaps. As her high school offered an international boarding program, she made friends with classmates from all over the world. At USC, Colette participates in several service-oriented clubs on campus, including as president of Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and an e-board member of Project 32 Tutoring. Singing, playing piano and guitar, and eating all kinds of foods (especially dessert) are some of her favorite hobbies. In summer 2018, she will be interning in San Jose at Deloitte, a public accounting firm.

USC Resources for Stress and Anxiety

By Stephanie Wicburg

As someone who has experienced instances of almost crippling anxiety in my life, I know that the avoidance of these issues in conversation is a fact.  Stress and anxiety are just not things that society addresses.  If someone wants to discuss them, it is often either with a professional, or not at all.

For me, the amount of preparation it takes to even do something as simple as making a phone call or socializing with people I don’t know is staggering.  And yet, through my years, I have learned to cope with this part of my life.  I have learned how to be able to function when I feel like I can’t breathe and how to push past it.

But imagine if I were put in a totally new environment.  An environment in which I knew barely anyone.  A place with a culture entirely different from my own, with a language that I do not natively speak.  I have personally never been in this situation, but all the students I have worked with through ALI’s Conversation Groups are experiencing this as I type.

A new place can be incredibly hard to adjust to. I know that it took me several weeks to adjust to USC when I first moved here just last August, and during those weeks, there were several moments when my anxiety took over, and it felt like every little thing was just absolutely overwhelming. Fortunately, however, I had friends and family who I could talk to, as well as an incredibly supportive roommate, and all of the coping methods which I have developed through the years.  These support systems are not something everyone has, however.  Not everyone is taught or is able to figure out ways to help their anxiety, and so stressful situations, such as moving to an entirely new country, can just be beyond overwhelming.

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