All posts by Shelly Hacco

Social solidarity in the City of Angels

By Richard Petrosyan

Wherever in the world you go, wealthy or poor countries, the name of the City of Angels sparkles in the eyes of all souls. Money, celebrity, luxury, and power are all they believe L.A. revolves around. Nonetheless, contrasting socio-economic conditions from one suburb to the other, from one street block to the other, contribute to moderate that illusion. 

One epitome of this disparity is the coastal city of Santa Monica, most famous for its iconic pier. The independent city is also home to hotels, restaurants, business, and educational institutions. Under its sunshine, we sometimes spot homeless people and often overlook the daily struggles they might encounter. Numerous non-profit organizations ally with local officials to actively combat this persisting crisis. Five percent of all social housing constructed in the city lawfully remains subjected to rent control and is destined for the elderly and financially underprivileged, thereby braking the fast-growing real-estate development on the shore to the benefit of the downtrodden. Financial and food assistance is provided to the greatest number. Countless donors keep promoting philanthropic and altruistic projects, but these are far from enough. Many of our fellow Angelinos live near the coast. For the underprivileged, the life of tranquility we tend to idealize is so close, yet so far, as they remain constantly preoccupied by survival.

I have been volunteering for the past 4 years in a non-profit organization that delivers meals to the homes of the disabled. My time volunteering provided me with so many rich experiences that they are difficult to summarize in this article. I thought, however, that I would share some highlights.

Firstly, we attempt to alleviate their solitude. As we deliver to the same clients every day, we bond with people who depend on our help. When they have children, the latter live cities, sometimes states, away and only call every once in a while. Their partners, if any, are long gone. In a nutshell, these people live in absolute solitude. Our goal is to deliver more than a meal, and it does not take much. Just a trivial conversation, some human contact, a short help in carrying something from one location to another, providing comforting words…or just a smile. That is all they need to keep them going for the day. Seeing their faces light up when you prepare to leave is priceless: you feel that you were actually useful to society today.

Secondly, we fight hunger. Too many times, we, the community of volunteers, have seen clients without the strength to stand up, and without the ability to perform basic, daily housekeeping duties. how can they be expected to leave the house, to buy groceries, to stand up in the kitchen for hours preparing their meals and washing the dishes. We attempt to provide the best-quality food that we get and distribute it to all our clients in priority, and if some is left, it is not difficult to come across a homeless local who needs it. The most heart-breaking cases include when hungry individuals approach you with the food in your car trunk and ask you for a piece of bread when you must give it to the client upstairs. You generally dig for extras, or anything you can give to them, and most of the time, you can find something to bring a smile back to their faces.

Thirdly, volunteers and clients enrich each other. Speaking to your regular clients leads to both the volunteer and the client to open up about their life experiences as part of the bonding process. You may come across people with unbelievable pasts and cannot help wondering how they got there. They share their experiences, successes and mistakes, and you learn from them more than you would first expect. On the other hand, the volunteer’s experiences broaden the client’s visions, sometimes change their outlook on life, give them something to rejoice about, somebody else’s story to root for. You end up forming strong relationships in places you would have never expected, all the while, through the little you do, spreading happiness at the level of your community.

In conclusion, Los Angeles embodies a gorgeous landscape and shelters a vibrant community of interconnected professionals who excel in their respective fields, but its problems cannot be overlooked. By increasing our awareness and joining our strengths, we definitely can make a difference in the long run.

Richard is an undergraduate freshman majoring in Neuroscience and minoring in Health Care Studies. Growing up in France and arriving to the United States in his early teen years, he understands very well the hardships of immersing yourself in a new culture with a new language and new customs. He interacted with multiple immigrant communities both in the US and in France and developed efficient methods of discovering new cultures comprehensively. In his free time, he enjoys playing the piano, working out, learning new languages, and reading books.

The Language of Humans and Me

By Iric Hong

Language is such a sophisticated concept. It can be studied and practiced for years and yet some things will just never be conveyable, or be the same, with only words.

Language, as the words you and I speak, the words your friends and everyone you do not know speak, is universally understood in the general sense. For me, I learned Cantonese alongside English so that I could communicate with my grandmother who raised me for most of my childhood. So I have two languages in my arsenal to convey my ideas. But what about everything else that life consists of? What happens when you do not have the vocabulary to translate your ideas? How are those things explained when words become dull and pointless?

This is where the third “language” I grew up with comes into play. Throughout my childhood, music, a classic way to convey passion, was passed on to me by not only my grandmother and my mother, but also my community, my brethren and sistren.

Passionate music is a truly universal language that transcends the boundaries of the languages we speak. Music has allowed me to understand myself and help others understand more about me than I think I know about myself. One does not have to understand the spoken language to understand the vibe of music. Music, in my opinion, beats to the frequency of one’s core, the frequency hiding behind the many walls setup to protect oneself from whatever life has in store for its people. 

Music has helped me to better understand the world around me and has also helped me to improve how I can convey my ideas when words fail me. In fact, listening to music that is not too fast paced has actually helped me to better understand languages that I am trying to learn while also teaching me specific lingo from where different artists herald from.

I listen to pop, indie pop, hip hop, swing, jazz, etc. But regardless of what you call it, at the end of the day, music is all about passion. Passion speaks louder and clearer than the words that can come out of one’s mouth. Anyone can listen to completely polarizing types of music but still get the same fulfilling feeling of strength because the passion and emotions a composer or artist feels when putting out music is all the same.

While I only listen to the music that people make, that is not to say that music only comes from people and their passion. Our passion was created by nature and we translated that with our instruments but nature has its own instruments in the form of its constituents and its many forces. Rain, the chirping of birds, the crashing of waves, the buzz of insects, the roar of the wind are in its own special way music that beats to the frequency of us all even if we all beat at different frequencies. So, if you’re ever feeling lost in words, whether in English or otherwise, listen to some music, or step outside and listen to the roar of nature, to find yourself again.

Iric is a sophomore majoring in Electrical Engineering. His career inspiration from a very young age was on-screen robotics like Iron-Man and Gundam. He hopes to work in the aerospace industry, as that industry resembles what he wants to strive for the most. He likes to play tennis, play video games, and watch movies in his spare time.

How Are You? Does it Matter?

By Samantha Wong

It’s always fascinating—illuminating even—to take a step back from the comfort of our daily interactions and to ask, why? Why do we do some of the things we do? 

During one of my first sessions leading as a Conversation Partner, an international student asked me, “How do you respond to how are you?” Immediately, I reacted with the oh-so-familiar reply, “Good; how are you?” Unconvinced, the student questioned why people respond that way even when they are not good. Like an automatic reflex, it seemed to her as though people ask and return this ostensibly benevolent greeting without any genuine interest at all. 

This inquiry into the utmost timeless greeting focused my attention on to the standard of politeness that Americans have become accustomed to. Why do we continue to blindly ask each other “how are you” when we simply expect a moderate variation of the same answer 99% of the time?

In America, I believe we come to ask each other “how are you” because, frankly, we are afraid to come across as impolite otherwise. It is due to our crippling fear of appearing “rude” or “crass” that we ask a question that does not seem to bear much weight anymore. Indeed, when we ask this question, we more often than not are returned by a one-word response and a dreadfully long, awkward pause… Consequently, we need to move beyond these greetings that yield one-word answers to unlock opportunities to stimulate dialogue we are sincerely interested in. It is only then may we bridge meaningful relationships.

Across all cultures, we hope to reciprocate both courtesy and respect during our interactions with new people. For, every day, we inevitably cross paths with dozens of new faces under distinct circumstances. Particularly as USC students, we have the unique ability to meet and learn from hundreds of different perspectives through a simple “hello” and informal introduction. With one of the largest international populations on campus, we truly are a melting pot of diverse and similar stories waiting to be told. Thus, why should we waste our perfect opportunities to engage in thought-provoking conversations by asking a question that leads to nowhere?

In reference to a Forbes article, there are countless questions to ask that can prompt dynamic and distinctive conversations. What has been the best part of your day so far? What are you looking forward to this week? What has inspired you recently? Truly, the possibilities for good questions are endless. 

With this untapped reserve of productive conversation starters, we can (and should) begin exchanges with positivity, purpose, and ultimately, genuine interest! After all, who wouldn’t want to make a great first impression?

Let’s do ourselves a favor and ask better questions. Who knows, perhaps we can gain something more valuable during our conversations!

Sam is an undergrad business student at Marshall School of Business. While raised in a small town in New Jersey, she loves to explore diverse cultures through travel and unique eats (particularly, desserts). Since flying 3,000 miles across the country, Sam has continued her passions for consulting, interacting with students across cultures, and helping others! Sam is greatly involved in the Marshall community (AIM Marketing Consulting, Marshall Business Network), and is an enthusiastic American pop culture follower.