It seems like just yesterday, the world stopped in response to the pandemic. For the first few months of social distancing, I lost track of the days. Before I had time to perceive it, weeks had gone by. All plans were thrown out the window, and the year that marked the third decade of my life has been nothing like I originally expected. I could have spent all of my time dwelling on the lost moments and experiences, but instead I chose to see the light at the end of the tunnel. So, after giving myself time to reflect and acknowledge that my home would most likely be the center of my whole life for the rest of the year, I worked to find my motivation and passion.
At the beginning of the pandemic, things weren’t so bad, as I had school to occupy myself with. Society as a whole went on an exploration through the world of Zoom. There was frustration and even hatred towards technology, and for many learning technology has been like learning a new language. However, once we all settled into the basic framework of living in an online world, technology became the bridge connecting everyone via a virtual landscape. Lately, Zoom has been a key feature in my life. From classes to weekly meals with my friends, it seems that we are all in long-distance relationships these days. We have found a way to connect without the need for physical presence.
“Are you excited to graduate?” This is always the first question I get asked when I tell people I’m a senior. I never know how to answer this question because I am filled with so many different emotions, and it is hard to pinpoint one simple way to describe all the things I am feeling. On the one hand, of course I’m super excited to graduate! I will no longer have to take exams and I’ll have the freedom to do other things with my time. On the other hand, I’m sad to leave as well. Becoming an adult comes with more responsibilities, like paying bills and working constantly. But as I reflect back on my past four years at the best university in the world, the most resounding thought I have is this: I can confidently say that coming to USC has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made and I don’t regret a thing.
I remember the one piece of advice that all of the older students I’ve spoken to during my time at USC gave me: to enjoy college to the fullest and take advantage of everything before it’s too late. I feel that I have really taken that to heart and made sure to try and explore new things. One of those new things was studying abroad. Studying abroad was one of the biggest highlights of my undergraduate years. It allowed me to discover a part of myself that I didn’t know much about. I’ve always wanted to travel but I never knew I was capable of it, because it seemed too expensive and there were so many variables to consider. Fast forward four years and I am already planning a backpacking trip in Europe for the summer after I graduate. Traveling for two months will not be cheap, but there are so many ways to experience a new country while saving money. Instead of staying at nice hotels, there are many cheap hostels in all the big cities that allow you to sleep with other backpackers in a smaller accommodation. Couch surfing is another way to save, as this option is usually free. Locals host the people who come to their hometown from around the world by allowing them to sleep on their couch. I believe this is a great way to learn the culture while making lifelong friends.
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.
Academic and Professional English Language Instruction