Recently I have been having fascinating conversations about cultural competency and cultural awareness. I was first introduced to the idea of cultural competency a little while ago and found it to be an interesting and important concept. My understanding of cultural competency is as a way to understand and invite people to share about their culture in order for one to become more “competent” in that culture.
While I know this term was coined in an effort to encourage more cultural appreciation and inclusivity in education, research, and work, the word “competency” did not encapsulate the understanding of culture I was striving for. Just because I have a Bachelor’s degree in East Asian Area Studies, have traveled around the world studying culture, and shadowed patients from different cultures doesn’t mean I’m competent in their culture. I will never be competent in someone else’s culture. However, that doesn’t mean I’m not striving to be culturally aware and respectful. I constantly check my assumptions and try not to place my western viewpoints onto people I meet.
As a conversation partner with the American Language Institute, something as simple as using Line, WhatsApp, WeChat, Or KakaoTalk instead of using text messages makes the students I work with more comfortable texting in English. As a future occupational therapist, I anticipate that I will work with people from very different language and cultural backgrounds. In my fieldwork and volunteer experiences I’ve heard many therapists and doctors say that “the client needs an interpreter because they can’t speak English”. Although it is probably unintentional, this Western viewpoint blames the clients we serve instead of working with them in a culturally sensitive way. Instead, the therapist must take responsibility for meeting the clients where they are by having an interpreter for the therapist instead of for the client. This is how therapists can build an empathic and cultural bridge when serving their clients.
It’s easy to feel like college is supposed to be the most important and formative part of your life. At least, that’s what many of us have been led to believe through media and film. However, after some time, I’ve come to realize that’s not true for everyone. It’s hard to not get muddled up in what you think your experience is supposed to be, but it is best to focus on making it the best version of what it already is. I felt the same way about high school — like everything that happened was the most important thing in the world. Yet, the number of people that I still keep in contact with that I used to see every day can now be counted on one hand. Even my most embarrassing or happiest moments have all become a blur.
High school and college can be all-consuming while you’re in them, especially because they are a cesspool of unhealthy comparison. However, everyone is on their own path — it may take longer to get from one place to another for some, but that doesn’t determine your destination. Trust that everything will work out, and if it doesn’t, worry about it when it happens because everything, good or bad, eventually comes to an end.
Here are a few tips I’ve gathered over time to help remember how to keep things in perspective in college:
1. Start studying early to minimize stress around exam time.
Annoyed how tests, projects, and papers all seem to pile up at the same time? Start studying early by going over your notes for a few minutes each day so you don’t have to cram for four classes at once. When you have some free time, study even if you don’t think you have to because exam time can sneak up on you before you know it. Easier said than done, but try not to procrastinate! This way you won’t be so concerned about where you stand in relation to others when you are cramming during exam week.
When I first learned that the fall semester at USC would be largely conducted online, I was disappointed and confused. I couldn’t stop thinking about my future plans and goals, and how this would be a major obstacle in my life and happiness. But as time passed, I began to realize that my personal concerns, although valid, did not consider the fact that everyone is experiencing problems similar to mine, all around the world. Adapting to a new way of taking class and working in the fall will surely be a struggle for many, and I have compiled a couple of tips to help keep perspective and stay focused during this unusual semester.
1. Wake up at a consistent time in the morning
Managing your own schedule at home can be challenging, especially for those (like me) who aren’t morning people. However, disciplining yourself by making a daily routine can make you a lot more productive throughout the day. If your earliest online class is at 10:00, for example, set your alarm for 9:00, and wake up at that time every day (even the days where you don’t have class until later). If you maintain a consistent morning routine, you can use that time in the morning to prepare yourself for your day or just work on assignments when you don’t have morning classes. Even though it can be hard to force yourself to keep a consistent sleep schedule, without on campus life and social activities, it should be easier to go to bed at a set time every night.
2. Take breaks from looking at a screen
With classes and activities being primarily virtual this semester, it can get exhausting staring at a screen for so many hours in the day, and the blue light exposure can interfere with your sleep. Block out time in your day where you are doing things that don’t involve looking at a screen, and when you do those things, leave your phone or laptop in another room. Some examples are taking a walk, spending time talking to family or friends you are quarantining with, cooking, or reading. If you have a lot of homework, try to find alternative ways to work, such as taking your work outside or printing out articles or materials you have to read instead of reading them on your computer.
3. Make time to talk with friends
If you are quarantining in the fall semester and have little to no time to socialize in person with your friends, you may start to feel lonely and isolated. This can lead you to spend more time on social media or texting friends, which can make you stressed because it takes away from class and work time. The best way to curb those feelings of loneliness is to schedule a regular time to talk to your friends. You could schedule a weekly Zoom call with a group of friends, or plan to call a friend one-on-one at a certain time every week.
It is understandable to feel stressed during this time, but keeping a positive outlook and working towards personal goals can greatly mitigate that stress. Adapting to change is never easy, but if you stay on track in your life and in your work you will feel a sense of accomplishment and, by the time quarantine is over, may have succeeded in finishing some important projects or fulfilling certain goals.
If you are in search of a guide to maintain your wellness and personal well-being, Mindful USC offers classes and guided meditations which are now occurring through Zoom: http://mindfuluscstg.wpengine.com
Natalie Grace Sipula is a rising sophomore studying Philosophy, Politics, and Law with a Spanish minor and plans to pursue a career in criminal or immigration law. She is from Cleveland, OH and is a Presidential Scholar studying in Thematic Option. Natalie is an active member of Phi Alpha Delta (Director of Membership), QuestBridge Scholars (University Relations Chair), and Grupo Folklórico de USC. Growing up she was dedicated to theatre, including studying and performing at Cleveland Play House. She is a volunteer camp counselor with Mi Pueblo Culture Camp in Cleveland. Since arriving in Los Angeles she has enjoyed volunteering with Angel City Pit Bulls animal shelter and in her free time enjoys reading, writing, and going to the beach.
Academic and Professional English Language Instruction