People sometimes say that a good education is the greatest equalizer of all, and I very much agree with that notion. A good education allows for increased socioeconomic mobility, and it also develops well-rounded critical thinkers, which are beneficial to any society. Although the general goals of schooling are basically the same across most countries, the approach to education differs from country to country. On that note, I want to give my readers (especially those who did not attend school in the US growing up) a glimpse into what it’s like going to school in America, from kindergarten all the way through college. First, a little disclaimer: this is my personal experience with the education system in the U.S., and everyone’s experience is different. My experience will not be the same as every American, but I hope this blog post will give international students a glimpse into what the American educational experience is like.
I was born in Portland, Oregon, and attended school in the same school district my entire life. First, my educational journey started at Ventura Park Elementary School. At my elementary school, the grade levels went from kindergarten to 5th grade (which I believe is the norm in the U.S.). I had a great time in elementary school because it was mostly play, and very little homework was assigned. Most of the learning began and ended in the classroom. I don’t remember exactly what time my school started and ended, but it was somewhere around 8am – 3pm. After school, I also attended the Boys and Girls Club of America for a number of years, where we basically played a bunch of games every day. It was great. Looking back, I had a very fun and relaxing experience in elementary school. I even remember all my teachers’ names: Mrs. Tiegs for kindergarten, Mrs. Wattanabe for 1st grade, Mr. Dobson for 2nd grade, Mrs. Belgarde for 3rd grade, Mrs. Stapleton for 4th grade, and Mrs. Coye for 5th grade.
Next up, we have middle school (also known as junior high in the US). I went to Floyd Light Middle School, and the grade levels here were 6th to 8th grade. For many, middle school is where the social hierarchy starts to become much more noticeable, and this is the age where various cliques start to form (e.g. the popular kids, the jocks, the geeks/nerds, the nerds, etc.). My middle school experience was also quite nice because I had a great group of friends and I never had to experience bullying. I remember in middle school, there was a huge anti-bullying campaign (especially in health class), and my school had a zero-tolerance policy when it came to bullying. I think historically in the U.S., bullying has always been a big problem in middle schools and high schools across the country, and as a result, schools started implementing anti-bullying campaigns, especially in the past 20 years or so.
After middle school, I entered David Douglas High School, which is also where I graduated from (Class of 2018!). High school is where I really started to take my academics and extracurricular activities seriously because those were important for getting into college. Although I spent a lot of time studying, doing homework, and participating in extracurricular activities, I still had a significant amount of free time left over to hang out with friends after school and do other fun things. High school was probably the most memorable period in my life as I had a lot of fun experiences with great people during this time. High school teachers are also the best (from my experience anyway). Not all of them were great, but most of the ones I had were amazing. In my experience, the high school teachers I had truly cared about their students, wanted them to succeed and took time to get to know them. Senior year was the most memorable because it was my last year of high school, although I did slack off a bit. I had what they call “senioritis.” Don’t get me wrong, I still focused on my grades and extracurricular activities, but I also spent much more time than in previous years on fun things such as prom, skipping school to go to the beach with friends, and skipping my morning classes because I didn’t want to wake up early (I know, a lot of skipping things). At the end of the day, everything still worked out even though I wasn’t the most perfect student.
Finally, we move on to college, which is where I’m currently at in my educational journey. I began my first year of college at Pacific University. However, after realizing that I didn’t like small-town life, I decided to transfer schools and move to a school located in a lively city. That eventually led me to USC, where I am currently situated, heading into my senior year studying biology at the undergraduate level. This wraps up my journey through the American educational system, a fun ride thus far. Hopefully, graduate school (Physician’s Assistant school specifically) will be just as memorable as all the other levels of education that I’ve experienced so far. I suppose only time will tell.
One trend that has been gaining traction lately is the push towards integrating environmental sustainability into our everyday lives. The issue with trends, however, is that they always fizzle out. Changing small practices in our everyday lives to make them more sustainable is easy and can have long lasting impacts on future generations. As humans, we have created a lot of great technologies that make our lives more efficient. The tradeoff has been the negative impact they are having on the environment. Sustainability involves using practices in our everyday lives that reduce waste, reverse the impacts of climate change, and allow us to support the continual health of the population. Living sustainably is too important to just be a trend! So, what can we do as a generation to make sure sustainability stays relevant?
Eat less meat! Animal agriculture is unhealthy for the environment because of the pollutants that are released by factory farms. In fact, factory farming is one of the leading contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, it is not very sustainable. Chickens, pigs, cows, and most of the other animals we eat are herbivorous, so they don’t eat any animals. Thus, eating animals is like eating second-hand plant nutrients. Also, they eat much more than humans. If we eat less animals, factory farms will breed less animals because it is not cost-beneficial for them, and the crops used to feed animals could directly feed humans (and since we eat less, it would feed many more of us)! As if sustainability and was not a good enough reason to eat less meat, the impact on our health is another great benefit. One documentary that I watched on Netflix called The Game Changers explained the numerous health benefits of a plant-based diet. Even if you don’t want to give meat up completely, try starting with Meatless Mondays! Starting a plant-based diet can seem very intimidating and limiting at first, but in my experience, it can also create opportunities to try new foods!
Use less water! One thing we have probably all heard is to remember to turn off the water when we brush our teeth, and that is very important. The EPA estimates that leaving the water running while we brush our teeth wastes an average of 4 gallons per brush. If you brush your teeth twice a day, that is 2920 gallons (11054 liters) per year! Another simple way we can save water is by buying low-flow shower heads. They are usually inexpensive, and there are a wide variety of options to choose from. Another benefit for you is that you will save more money on your water bill each month!
Compost! This is one of the most underrated practices in our world today. So what exactly is composting? Compost is essentially the controlled decomposition of biodegradable materials, including but not limited to: leftover food, eggshells, paper waste, and some plastics. Instead of throwing these items in the garbage, we can compost them! Many people can create a compost bin in their backyards, but if you don’t have a backyard, you can create an indoor compost bin. Composting can enrich the soil with nutrients, which creates healthier plants for us to eat because it reduces soil erosion and runoff. Composting is not only sustainable, but it is also regenerative. While it is important to live sustainably, it is even better to be able to live regeneratively. This means that we are living sustainably by not depleting Earth’s resources, but also giving back by creating more resources for the Earth. Composted matter brings a lot of organic matter into the soil, allowing the soil to store more water, sequester (or extract) carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere, and give plants more nutrients. By diverting compostable waste from landfills, you will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and it will reduce your carbon footprint!
By Veronica Sundin, Brianneth Rocha, Lauren Anderson, Sara Ta and Jasmine Zahedi
[16 minute read]
This year has been full of unusual circumstances. The Covid-19 pandemic has dramatically altered the academic and professional trajectories of many people’s lives, and has put all of us in a position where we are apt to feel loneliness, confusion, and impatience. Time indoors and to ourselves, something which we once looked forward to as respite from a bustling life, has become the norm. What makes these circumstances particularly hard is the isolating effect they can have on us. College students in particular, going through a time when they feel they should be experiencing life to the fullest, feel the isolating effects of the pandemic. However, sometimes as college students we forget that we are not alone in this situation, and sometimes hearing the experiences of others can make us feel a bit better about the reality we are still learning to come to terms with. Below, five USC seniors share their thoughts on what it is like to be a senior in this time, and share tips on how to adjust and find solace.
-Natalie Grace Sipula, Editor
My Unusual Senior Year Experience at USC
By Veronica Sundin
As a transfer student from a small community college in Texas, I was so excited to experience everything USC and Los Angeles had to offer. First of all, I would be moving from a small town in East Texas of about 15,000 people to a huge city of nearly 4 million. On top of that, I had been attending community college for 3 years and I was excited and ready for the challenge I knew I would be thrown into in classes at USC. I grew up in this same area in Texas for most of my life, and though I knew I loved being in big cities, I hadn’t had the chance to live in one just yet. I was excited to experience the culture and scenery of Los Angeles, and to really kickstart my academic career at USC.
I transferred in the fall of 2019 and, probably unlike most students, I was excited for school to start. I couldn’t wait to see where my huge intro to IR lecture was going to be held, or to begin completing hard assignments for my classes. Attending USC was the academic and personal challenge I had been craving for most of my life, and certainly for the 3 years prior to coming to LA. I got involved with organizations and events on campus, started making friends in my classes, and began exploring all the parts of LA I had dreamed of visiting my whole life. Between going to Salsa nights hosted by USC Break On 2, the Salsa dance team on campus, attending tailgates, football games, and concerts on campus, and hiking up to the Hollywood sign, I was living a life I was happy with and was so ecstatic that I would be able to do it for another four semesters as I finished my degree at USC.
Of course, everyone’s plans changed when COVID-19 hit in the Spring of 2020. I remember packing up my suitcase to go back home to Texas and just wishing and hoping that I would be back on campus and in Los Angeles soon. Having to adapt to taking classes on Zoom and not being able to interact with my peers in person was really hard, especially as I did it from my childhood home in East Texas, when all I wanted to do was to enjoy the big city life that I had been craving for so long. I missed the California beaches, discovering all of the delicious food and culture around Los Angeles, getting coffee in the USC Village, and hanging out with my friends after class. Finishing up my first year at USC when I had only experienced very little of it on campus was very strange, and I knew in my heart that would probably be the reality of the rest of the time I attended USC.
As I started my senior year at USC, I was more familiar with how remote classes would work on Zoom, so at least I had that out of the way. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t upset when I realized that my one semester that I got on campus in the fall of 2019 at USC would most likely be all I ever got to experience in-person. Despite this, I was determined to make the most of my senior year at USC. I was still studying at an incredible university, with all of the tools and resources that I needed to be successful at my disposal, and now I had professors who were willing and eager to help their students out in any way they needed. I found that my professors were a bit more understanding in knowing that their students were learning and doing their best under very strange circumstances. I joined more organizations on campus and around LA, such as CALPIRG (the California Public Interest Research Group), and got more involved at ALI (which I have loved and have been very thankful for!) Despite all odds, I still wanted to make my senior year as memorable and fun as possible. Although it’s not quite the year I wanted to have, I am so thankful for the opportunities that I did have while on campus at USC. This experience has taught me, above all else, to cherish every moment you have where you are. Don’t wish your time away or worry too much about the future, because you never know if you’re going to get to re-live what you’re experiencing right now!
USC: An Experience Like No Other
By Brianneth Rocha
My time at USC has been the most rewarding, challenging, and exciting period of my academic career. I have been a Trojan for three years now, and it feels like just yesterday I was moving onto campus for the Summer Bridge Program. My senior year experience is a bit unlike that of my peers, as my time at USC will not be ending this spring in the midst of the pandemic. I, like many students, didn’t start college with my current major. I was a pre-med student majoring in Health and Human Sciences, and I later added Environmental Studies as a second major to fuel my interest in the environment. Soon after, I realized that I wanted to leave my impact on the world by strengthening environmental conservation. During the fall semester of my sophomore year I began to research graduate programs, and learned that USC has progressive degree programs. I was accepted into the progressive degree program the next semester, and I am now extending my time at USC to pursue an MA in Environmental Studies. However, I still can’t believe how little time I have left, and I am unsure if an opportunity like this would have presented itself the way it did at another university.
This past year didn’t go as I expected. A cliché, I know, but there is no better way to describe it. Who would have foreseen that college students would go through multiple semesters of online courses? Navigating the world of Zoom was an initial challenge, but one which has allowed me to explore many new talents, projects, and reflect on my life, but I’ll be honest—while I have learned a lot by reflecting on everything that happened in 2020, it took me many months to reach that state. The first month of quarantine felt like a much-needed vacation, but that quickly changed. Being someone that enjoys the outdoors, I developed strong symptoms of cabin fever. I felt anxious, claustrophobic, unmotivated, and impatient. Since all my summer plans were canceled, I had nothing to keep my mind busy, making it hard for me to escape the feelings. I think my main problem was that I had the wrong mindset at the time. I kept seeing the situation as; “I am stuck at home” rather than “I have the opportunity to focus on myself”. But with changes to my daily routine, I found the right attitude to become a better homebody. It helped to take up hobbies and small projects. I believe it is important to openly discuss these challenges because I know I wasn’t alone.
The essential tool I’ve gained in adapting to online learning is keeping an organized schedule. While in some ways not having to get ready and walk to class is a blessing, not having that structure can make it difficult to find motivation. To get out of a rut, I created a routine to give my life a stronger sense of productivity. Most days I wake up around 7:30 AM and get ready for the day as if I had to go to morning classes (even though I only have afternoon and evening classes). Dressing up to “go to school” can simply mean switching into another set of sweatpants and a hoodie. Then, I have breakfast to start my day on a good note. For anyone dealing with a lack of energy, I recommend starting a realistic workout schedule. I do emphasize the “realistic” part of it. A workout schedule is something to build up to if you want to be successful. I turn on an audiobook to do something I enjoy (read) while getting some much-needed exercise. Another challenge of online courses is the exhaustion that comes with being on camera. This semester I have found it helpful taking brief breaks from being on video throughout lectures. It allows me to stretch and relax a bit. I also purchased a monitor to improve my study space. When people say once you get a monitor you don’t want to go back, they are right. This semester, I have a remote internship in addition to all my long online courses, and having a monitor has completely changed the game; back and neck pain are now problems of the past. While online classes make networking and getting to know peers feel less personal, having access to recorded meetings has made keeping up with info sessions and workshops better suited for any schedule. In the past, being someone that always scheduled classes from morning to afternoon, I had to miss many events that I wanted to attend, and now I don’t have to!
Although the pandemic has made the college experience less enjoyable in some respects, it is only a small part of my experience at USC, and it doesn’t taint the many positive experiences I have had. USC prides itself on inclusivity and diversity; something I have experienced myself. I am a first-generation student of Mexican heritage with a visual impairment. There have been many obstacles throughout my education, but I have always been able to overcome them by remaining determined and true to myself. I have found great support at USC. In searching for the right university for me, I looked for a campus that acknowledged the diversity of their students, whether it was through their courses, programs, clubs, advisors, etc. I have always found faculty and peers to be respectful of the accommodations I receive. Professors that I have had have always been knowledgeable about the issues facing minority communities; something which I deeply value, and makes engaging in my education so much more rewarding. USC has prepared me to ask the difficult questions and take initiative to achieve the change I want to happen.
For some final words of advice, I would say remember to stop and live in the moment. Undergrad, like high school, will fly by. While focusing on giving my classes maximum effort, sometimes I forgot that my life shouldn’t be all about school; it is about strengthening my relationships and exploring my interests. When it comes to having a difficult time with a course, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Professors make assignments challenging to make students think and open their minds to new perspectives, not to make you fail. USC has many resources to aid students through difficult classes and establish productive habits. I am thankful for my time at USC thus far and look forward to the time I have left. And remember once a student at USC, you are always part of the Trojan family. Fight on!
A Brief Guide to Combatting Senioritis
By Lauren Anderson
After working so hard for so long, it is only natural to be exhausted by the time senior year rolls around. Sometimes this exhaustion is reflected in lower levels of motivation and an overly relaxed mindset. Senioritis is a term used to describe this lack of motivation that occurs in your last year of college. After all, senior year is a time to relax and take a break, right? Well, there are still exams, essays, and assignments that must be completed before you are able to graduate. To combat these low levels of motivation, here is a guide to balancing your school life and personal life while suffering from some of the common symptoms of senioritis.
Take easy classes
It’s your last year of school; hopefully, you got all of those difficult courses out of the way earlier on so you could take it easy for your last semester. Even loading your schedule with a bunch of electives can turn out to be stressful, so try to take classes that do not require a lot of energy if you feel yourself losing motivation. Of course, everyone has a different idea of what an “easy” class is. If you are one to skip class, do not take courses that require attendance. If you are one to avoid studying for exams, try to pick classes that have fewer exams over the semester. If you hate essays, do not take courses that have multiple essays and writing assignments. If you do not like doing readings, pick a course that has lighter readings and does not require expensive textbooks. You know yourself as a student by now. Make your life easier by looking into syllabi before committing to classes.
Keep yourself busy
When you give yourself an abundance of time to relax, this often makes it way more difficult to complete schoolwork. If after class you immediately turn on Netflix, you will find that the assignment you have looming over you is not going to finish itself by its deadline. The best way to combat this is to stay a little bit busy. If you have a part-time job, for instance, you may use the gap you have after class and before work to get that assignment done or study for an exam. Also, if you have to balance a schedule, you will likely check your schedule more often and stay on top of deadlines. This helps create healthy habits to keep powering through.
Change up your study setting
By the time senior year rolls around, endless nights studying in the same place can get old. A good way to feel more motivated to get work done is to try out a new study setting. There are plenty of cafes and coffee shops in Los Angeles that are quiet and peaceful to study in, and this could be a good way to explore the city more before graduating (while staying socially distanced, of course!). Studying outside is a great alternative during quarantine, especially because you can get some fresh air and remain distant from others.