Over the past year, I’ve spent almost all of my time at home (as most people have), doing my part to flatten the curve and stop the spread of Covid-19 by doing absolutely nothing. Well, not exactly nothing, as I’ve filled the time with a number of TV shows and films I’d been meaning to watch but had previously not had time for. The pandemic certainly freed some time up for me to catch up on these shows. Watching a show or movie can be more than just mindless entertainment; it can be an informative or even educational experience, especially if you watch the right things. By watching American classics and international standouts, I believe my quarantine binge-watching habits have been more productive than one might expect.
With travel being impossible, I’ve scratched the itch to go abroad by watching shows and movies that take place in Mexico and Italy. I speak Spanish, but I know that in order to maintain fluency in a language, practice is essential. As such, I began watching Netflix’s Club de Cuervos, a show about a soccer team in a small town outside of Mexico City. It was not only highly entertaining (I enjoyed it so much I watched the spinoff series it produced), but it also helped me maintain my ear for the language. The show even improved my understanding of the Central Mexican dialect and a variety of accents which are quite prevalent in Los Angeles.
I’ve also been learning Italian at USC for the past couple of years, and by watching a number of classic Italian films on Kanopy, a streaming service for classic and indie films (which all USC students have access to), I’ve bettered my understanding of the language while watching some of the most artistic films ever made. Here’s a tip: if you’re watching a show in a foreign language you’re trying to learn, turn on the subtitles in the foreign language. For me, Spanish and Italian are much easier to understand when I have subtitles on and can read along. If you’re working on your English, try using English subtitles and the dialogue should be easier to understand.
Travel needn’t take place abroad as traveling through time may arguably be even more exciting. I was quite young when AMC’s Mad Men and HBO’s The Wire first began airing, and having heard nothing but good things about the shows, I’ve always wanted to watch them. Quarantine provided the time for that. Mad Men is set in 1960s Manhattan. The title is derived from the show’s main focus, which is the advertising industry along Madison Avenue. It’s an excellent period piece, and I enjoyed all seven seasons. It helped pass the time in the early days of lockdown. It also provides fascinating insight into 1960s America and the professional and business world. The show includes important examinations of misogyny and sexism through the story arc of Peggy Olson, one of the main characters and a fan favorite, as well as the social and racial justice movements of the 1960s. It also provides revealing vignettes of American culture. It’s not only an excellent show, with great shots and suave styles, but an interesting look into American history.
The Wire, a Baltimore-based crime drama, is also quite insightful. I just wrapped up the first season and it very deftly handles controversial subjects such as the criminal justice system, drug trade, racial tensions, and corruption. It shows the perspectives of all parties involved, giving the audience the space to receive the information and interpret it on their own. It also has some of the best scene transitions I’ve ever seen, and I eagerly look forward to watching the remaining four seasons. While the show was made in the early and mid-2000s, the topics it covers are still wholly relevant today.
These shows are worth watching, especially if you are an international student that wants to gain a better understanding of American culture, language, and history, just as I learned by watching shows from Mexico and Italy. These shows also help pass the time, because even though schoolwork is a large load on all of our plates, there still isn’t much to do besides staying home, staying safe, and watching shows.
Connor is a junior majoring in History and Italian at the Dornsife College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences. Born and raised in California, in Los Angeles and the SF Bay Area, he has long been interested in experiencing diverse cultures and learning new languages. He is fluent in Spanish and proficient in Italian, drawn to both by his love of history and cuisine. He enjoys adventuring in both the urban and natural landscapes of California, as well as playing and listening to music, and is always happy to recommend the best taco spot to eat at, beach to walk along, or album to listen to. He is a huge sports fan and loves to chat about everything from the Lakers to soccer.
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.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, it seems that we spend most of our time switching between screens while taking classes, socializing, or completing work and internship projects. The digital fatigue we get from constantly looking at screens has eliminated the enjoyment and happiness we are supposed to receive from these activities or events. Because of this, a new question has been raised: How can educators infuse more excitement and motivation into online classes? Currently, I am taking online classes for the second semester in a row at the graduate level. I’m working from China and am also a student-teacher for a class at the USC International Academy. Therefore, I’ve gone through the process of adapting to online learning from both a student’s and a teacher’s perspective, and luckily, I’ve gained some insights and hope to shed some light on this issue for everyone who is also facing this issue.
Perspective as a graduate student
During this past semester (Fall 2020), my online classes seemed to always have group discussions and tasks. Having participated in many Zoom breakout rooms, I became aware of a sense of separation occurring when being grouped with different classmates. One experience I remember in particular is when I was in a breakout room with three classmates I’d never spoken to before. When we first entered the breakout room, no one started the conversation but just stared at their screens. I wondered to myself, ‘What are they doing? Are they checking the rubric or looking for something?’ Eventually, I couldn’t stand the awkward silence so I broke the ice by saying “Hi, guys. Have you found the work document?” which started our conversation. Although we pretty much finished our assigned task, our discussion was superficial and did not really reach my expectations for that class. I was genuinely disappointed and felt upset about what I felt was a loss in value of that class time.
However, there was another time when I was grouped with a classmate who was talkative and willing to share their ideas, and that experience was totally different. From the beginning, our greetings naturally warmed up our discussion, and some common thoughts that we expressed about the class deepened our conversation and elicited more thinking and sharing. This experience showed me that if all of the members of a breakout room are willing participants, the conversation can be great.
Perspective as a teacher
Recently, I was granted the opportunity to observe as a student-teacher in a class. Student-teachers at the graduate level typically learn to teach by observing the host teacher’s practices and teaching micro lessons in real classrooms. This is what I did at the USC International Academy during Spring 2020 and Fall 2020. Due to the sudden shift to online learning, I’ve noticed a drop in student engagement and motivation in the classes I have assisted, especially compared to the behavior of students that I observed in in-person classes during Spring 2020. In particular, I noticed one odd but common phenomenon in breakout rooms: although the teacher had carefully explained the activity the students were about to perform before going into breakout rooms, the students tended to keep silent when they first entered the room and still needed some time to discuss what the task was about. Even though the teacher had asked if the students had any questions before they joined the breakout room, sometimes they even started the breakout room discussion by asking “What are we supposed to do?”. Even though they performed better in group activities after several weeks of class, communication efficiency distinctly decreased compared to in-person classes.