Tag Archives: journey

Facing a Changing Path with an Open Mind

By Vincent Yang

Starting something new can be quite daunting – whether it is starting a new job after quitting your first, settling in with a new roommate after moving out from your old college dorm, or declaring a new major after leaving your former field of interest. While those who are motivated by new challenges would be thrilled to charge into the great unknown, most people would feel apprehensive about stepping outside of their comfort zone and walking down a new path in their life. Let’s face it – fear is a primal human emotion that everyone has felt at least once in their lives, and facing uncertainty will arouse a degree of fear in anyone who is about to start something new. However, if you were faced with a situation where you had to decide whether to stick with the familiar ways of life that no longer interest you or to take a leap of faith towards a path untraveled, what would you do?

The year 2016 was a crucial yet tumultuous year in my academic career. Back then, I was a Ph.D. student in the field of Organic Chemistry. It was not that I was performing poorly academically, but more that I was losing interest in the field that I was working in. Having studied chemistry for 4 years throughout my undergraduate years and excelling academically in that field, I was convinced that chemical research was the right career path for me and remained in that field through graduate school. However, after my first year into the program I started to feel something was amiss. Even though my experiments and projects were going smoothly, the fervor I had when I first undertook my research project for faculty labs was no longer there, and nothing in this field seemed to stimulate me as much as it used to. In short, I was losing interest in the academic field I had centered my life around.

Photo from Unsplash

The loss of interest must have been quite obvious to others: My Primary Investigator (the person guiding me in my research project) and I had a long talk about this, and he suggested that maybe organic chemistry was not the right field for me. He proposed two options – if I truly thought chemistry was what I wanted to study, I could stay in his lab, but I would have to put more enthusiasm into my work; otherwise, I could switch disciplines to some other field in chemistry or find another academic field that interests me more. If I were to go with the latter option, I would either join a different research group of my interest in the chemistry department or leave the chemistry department altogether and join another department. That meant I would have to start over with a different project or delve into another unexplored academic field.

Throughout the 10 months after that discussion with my professor, my life went through a sharp turn of sorts. I would get into intermittent arguments with my family over my decision, fervent discussions with my friends in New York about possible options, and numerous advising sessions with various career/academic advising officers on campus to seek advice about what to do. For nearly 6 years of my life after high school graduation I had been studying only chemistry and related scientific disciplines and had no experience in any other field. Oftentimes I got conflicting suggestions from everyone: I had one person tell me that starting over completely in an undergraduate institution for a second bachelor’s degree could work out; another source told me that I should jump straight into the job market with a master’s degree in chemistry; a third suggestion was to seek a job in a different field other than chemistry after completing some useful certificate programs. Ultimately, the decision was up to me – I had to make a choice from all the options available to me based on my interests, priorities, and any constraining factors.

In the end, I decided to stick with advice from a close friend of mine and a family friend who worked as a software engineer in a Banking firm based in Manhattan: Learn how to program and look for a job as a programmer. When my friend first suggested this idea I found it to be quite preposterous: I didn’t know where to begin, had no idea how a computer program worked, and just looking at the work stations of engineering students scared the wits out of me. How on Earth would I learn how to code at all? Fortunately this good friend of mine was patient enough to direct me to the right points where I would learn the very basics of coding. He first directed me to Codeacademy, an online website dedicated to teaching various programming languages to people who wished to begin programming. It wasn’t a major step, like attending a boot camp for programmers and jumping straight into the job market, but it was a start. After taking several online courses, I found them quite engrossing and decided to continue learning and laying down the groundwork for understanding how to write a program.

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Pushing the Comfort Zone through Solo Backpacking

By Stephanie Corrigan

I look around at the international students in my classes and around campus and I am overwhelmed by the feeling that they are on a great journey. I know this feeling well and am excited for all the adventures and new knowledge my international peers will experience in their studying here from abroad. And for my soon to be peers, perhaps getting ready to jump on a plane and arrive at USC for the first time, let me share some of my fears and triumphs when I was the person from another land.

As some well-versed travelers will tell you, one of the best feelings in the world is that moment of victory when you realize you have reached your target destination. Though there are merits to getting lost and enjoying an off-the-beaten-path adventure, there is pride to be found in navigating your way through winding roads, complicated subway line systems, and inevitable misunderstandings with the local population with little to no effort. Unfortunately, I am not this kind of traveler. Last summer marked my second backpacking trip abroad, but the first of which I traveled solo. As a young female traveler, I had many fears and doubts before my first flight to East Asia. I hopped on the plane with extremely limited linguistic knowledge of Chinese, Japanese, or Korean. To say this was a daring, whirlwind venture for me is an understatement. However, I felt I needed to push the boundaries of my comfort zone, so I refused to let myself back down from the challenge that awaited me. Looking back now, I am incredibly grateful for the transformative experience I received. I learned more about the people and cultures of China, Japan, and South Korea than I ever could have by reading a book. From trying xiaolongbao in Shanghai to spending too many hours stuck in the labyrinth of Tokyo Stations, I became more culturally competent and self-aware than ever before.

Photo is author’s own

Since returning home, I have had plenty of other interested backpackers ask me about going solo. While there are undeniable risks to traveling alone as a young female, I believe the benefits far outweigh any of those fears. More often than not, people will bend over backwards to help you, going the extra mile to show you where your hostel is or to purchase the correct train ticket for you. In Japan, a man bought me a special type of tea, telling me that I need to understand “how important tea is to the Japanese people.” In South Korea, a hostel worker taught me key phrases to employ in my adventures around Seoul. These are just two of the innumerable moments that I had the good fortune of experiencing this summer.

Photo is author’s own

If you are venturing out to a new country for the first time, do not let any fear, anxiety, or self-doubt stop you from pursuing this fulfilling goal. Travel will always be a bit intimidating at the start, as it is a fear of the unknown that plagues us all. Nonetheless, immersing yourself in an unfamiliar and foreign environment is the best way to conquer your jitters.

Featured image is author’s own

Stephanie is an USC graduate who studied Political Science. She is from Orlando, Florida and loves to spend time outside, whether hiking or exploring a new city, as well as practicing her photography, writing in her travel blog, or planning her next backpacking trip abroad. She discovered an interest in working with foreign exchange students through her study abroad experience in Turkey the summer after her junior year of high school. She is interested in learning foreign languages, as well as better understanding cultures different from her own.

Ball If Life

By Anna Ngo

5 seconds left. The crowd was silent. 4 seconds…Sweat trickled down my face. 3 seconds…I weaved through my opponents. 2 seconds…I tossed the ball in the air. 1 second…The ball bounced around the rim. EERRP! The buzzer went off, and the crowd went wild as I made the winning shot. “Anna! Anna!” My name echoed throughout the stadium as the audience and my teammates chanted it repeatedly.

Those are the moments I live for. Basketball has been a huge part of my life, and it all started when I was five years old. My mom had dragged me to this Tracy McGrady Basketball Camp at a nearby church. At that time, I had no interest in basketball, let alone know what it was.

I vividly recall my very first steps into the gym. The stench odor of sweat wrinkled my nose as the shrill whistles drummed in my ear. Pounding fast, my heart beat to the dribble of the basketball. I stood there motionless as a sea of eyes glared at me. I felt their critical stares penetrate my skin. I was mentally and physically unprepared for this, so I sat down on the bleachers and refused to participate. However, my mom desperately wanted me to try it out, so I made a deal with her. If I participated in the camp, she had to take me to Build-A-Bear. It was the hottest commodity at that time, and all my schoolmates had a bear from there. (Don’t forget, I was five years old at that time.)

With each day, I started to develop a liking for basketball and that liking turned into a passion. One thing led to another. After the basketball camp, I joined the YMCA basketball league in elementary school. As I got into middle school, I played for the school’s team as I led it to the zone championship. I also played for my high school team, going from the freshman team to varsity. On top of that, I played for the Athletic Amateur Union (AAU) during the summer during the offseason. Thus, I had played basketball for 18 years straight up until I got into college.  Thinking I’d need time to try other things, I took a break from basketball during my freshman year, but I soon realized that this was a mistake. I missed being on the court. Therefore, I tried out for the USC Women’s Club Basketball Team and made it in, thus reuniting with the sport that became more than just a passion, but a life lesson.

I can honestly say that the deal I made with my mom was the best thing in my life because not only did I get my Build-a-Bear, I also got a life-long experience that has helped shape me into the person I am today. It has taught me the value of teamwork, communication, commitment, and hard work. I guess you can say, “Ball if Life.”

Featured image from PublicDomainPictures.net

Anna Ngo is a rising junior majoring in Mechanical Engineering (Petroleum). She is from Houston, Texas but is loving the Los Angeles atmosphere. She has been dancing and playing basketball since she was five years old. However, she loves all sports and enjoys cooking and exploring. The one thing she loves the most is engaging herself in new cultures and experiencing new things.