A day trip to Oakland: Northern California Transfer Reception

Last Friday, I took a day trip as an international student representative to Merritt College in Oakland for UARS’ Northern California Transfer Reception.  Amid getting up before dawn and flying on Southwest Airlines for the first time, I found plenty of time to enjoy the lovely weather in the Bay Area and the view from Merritt College (which is situated atop the rolling hills of Oakland).  The trip brought us into the Bay Area to our admitted transfer students in Northern California and to answer any questions they had about UCLA before making the decision to submit their SIR (Statement of Intent to Register) by June 1st.

It was a wonderful time for me to share my UCLA experience as an international student with those who were obviously torn between their decisions.  It was a refreshing reminder of the fact that we received more than 90,000 applications this year from increasingly diverse backgrounds (1), and yet maintained the high academic caliber of our applicants (measured by grade-point average, test scores, and coursework).

I even reconnected with someone who I had never met before but had heard of one another through our mutual friends.  We both attended International School Bangkok but at different times, and apparently knew the same people.  What a small world, and what are the odds that we would run into each other at the event that day!  The best part of it all was that he decided to submit his SIR to come to UCLA following the event. 🙂

To the new freshman Bruins out there who have already submitted their SIR, congratulations and welcome to the Bruin family!  We’re so excited to have you on campus this fall 🙂  To potential transfer Bruins who are still struggling with a decision, don’t forget that your SIR deadline is Friday, June 1st!  My biggest piece of advice to you would be to visit (if possible) the campuses you are deciding between to get a hands-on experience of the campus climate.  Choosing where to spend the next chapter of your life can seem daunting, but being there in person and talking to current students and department counselors will be a huge step forward in helping you find out whether that place is for you.  Good luck!

(1)  http://newsroom.ucla.edu/portal/ucla/ucla-receives-record-number-of-221695.aspx

International student’s tips: Getting to LAX

Photo Credit: sfxeric

It may seem daunting to get out of Westwood to LAX on Thanksgiving and the holiday break when everyone seems to be leaving at the same time, and throughout my time here I’ve accrued some favorite routes I like to take to get to the airport.  If you are an international or out-of-state student, or from Northern California and want to know some tips for a less stressful trip back home, read on!

1.  Take the FlyAway bus.  This is a shuttle that picks up in front of Lot 32 on Kinross (in Westwood) and takes you straight to the airport, making stops at each terminal.  The fare is $10, which is much cheaper than that of a taxi (usually costing around $45-50) which takes the exact same route.  Because the FlyAway only has two stops (Westwood and LAX), there’s less potential delay that you might get from taking door-to-door shuttles (see below) that pick up different people in your area before making its way to the airport.  The FlyAway buses run on natural gas and offer free wifi too, which is a cool bonus.  See its schedule here.

2.  Take a door-to-door shuttle.  These shuttles may take a longer time in order to pick up multiple passengers in your neighborhood, but it picks you up at your door.  In exchange for a few more minutes of your time, you won’t have to worry about getting yourself to a bus stop or paying a heftier fare that taxis often require.  The most popular shuttles around UCLA are the SuperShuttle (blue vans) and Primetime (red vans).

3.  Take the Big Blue Bus.  From Ackerman Terminal or Hilgard Terminal at UCLA, you can take “Line 3 Montana Ave & Lincoln Blvd” that goes all the way to LAX for just $0.50 for UCLA students if you swipe your BruinCard!  The only downside to this route is the time; it can take up to an hour and a half, so make sure you plan ahead.  Depending on the day of the week and time of day, the bus may not leave from Ackerman Terminal, so make sure you check out the schedule before planning your trip.  Tip: Be aware that this stops at the LAX bus terminal rather than individual flight terminals.

4.  Take the Culver City Bus.  This also picks up at Ackerman Terminal, and costs $0.50 per ride.  Regarding ride time, see above (Big Blue).  Check out the schedule and the route map before you go.  Tip: Be aware that this stops at the LAX bus terminal rather than individual flight terminals.

5.  Ask a friend for a lift.  More people are willing to give you a lift than you think.  If you know anyone driving home, don’t be afraid to reach out and see if LAX (or the FlyAway stop) is on their way or in their direction.

6.  Take a cab.  Although not the most economical way to get to the airport, this is still an option if you don’t have time to figure out another way.  Find out more about the Yellow Cab here.

Final tip:  If you can, travel with a buddy.  More than once I’ve ended up with roughly the same flight time as a friend, and traveling to the airport with someone else makes it a lot more fun.  The terminals of LAX are all connected by a loop, so it’s no big deal if you and your friend want to hang out for a bit before heading through the security checkpoint of your respective terminals.

International Student Tip: Make use of the Dashew Center

Hi international students!  It’s that time of the year when we’re starting to review or book our plane tickets to LAX in anticipation of the beginning of our journey abroad here in LA.  As you’re making your preparations for life at UCLA, make sure you don’t forget to check out the Dashew Center!

The Dashew Center for International Students and Scholars (DCISS) is housed in Tom Bradley International Hall (named after a late mayor of Los Angeles, same guy the international terminal at LAX is named after), found just downhill of De Neve Plaza on the Hill (where UCLA’s on-campus housing is located).  Bradley International Hall not only houses a lovely front lobby with high ceilings and comfy couches great for relaxing and catching a break, but further in on the first floor are the offices of those who staff the Dashew Center and help make its wonderful activities happen.

For one, there is the New International Student and Scholar Orientation (popularly known as “NISSO“) that all F-1 and J-1 students must attend to complete the mandatory check-in and workshop.  In addition to helping you straighten out your student visa materials and requirements, NISSO is also loads of fun.  There are not only helpful workshops but also scavenger hunts to orient you to the campus, as well as off-campus trips in the evening that take you to popular tourist attractions in LA like Rodeo Drive.  When I attended in September of my freshman year, I met students from all over the world and immediately made friends with the other incoming international students of that year.  Although many of them were on one-year exchange programs and only stayed a year, we had many great memories and continue to stay in touch.  My favorite thing about mingling with international students is that in addition to maintaining your network of friends back in your home country and at LA, your network also expands to the home countries of your new international friends!

Moreover, Dashew sends out a weekly digest of upcoming activities that are open to not only international students and their families, but everyone in the UCLA community!  This past year, I attended a TV-show taping (a great way to make some extra cash or win cool stuff) for America’s Funniest Home Videos at Disney’s California Adventure park.  It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done in my life, since I got to stand around a small intimate stage on which Tom Bergeron stood, and be filmed for the audience footage of that week’s episode.  We also had a preview of California Adventure’s famous World of Color attraction that was being filmed for the episode (which usually costs a hefty $80 park ticket to watch).  All in all, I got to talk to Tom Bergeron, take a peek at the World of Color, be on television, AND earn a free 1-day park hopper pass for Disneyland and California Adventure (worth $105) instead of the usual $18 compensation!  What more could one ask for in one evening?

Another one of my favorite things that Dashew Center holds is the Global Siblings Program.  It pairs an international student with a domestic student and makes “families” of pairs that meet up at designated Global Siblings events a few times a quarter.  I participated in this program for two years and had great experiences both times as the international sibling; my “sister” during my first year gave me a lot of “local” knowledge about LA, Southern California (popularly abbreviated as SoCal), and America in general that would have taken me much longer to pick up otherwise.

And there are still more great things offered by Dashew.  They include the English Conversation Program, Spouses Circle, International Film Nights, International Coffee Breaks, International Graduation Ceremony, apartment-hunting workshops, annual longer-distance trips during long breaks (such as ski trips and roadtrips), and more.  I would highly recommend putting your email on Dashew’s mailing list to stay tuned to their weekly digests that announce all of their upcoming activities, and participate as much as you can since they are lots of fun and are usually sold at incredible discounts.

If you are attending NISSO, I will be volunteering at a few sessions and look forward to seeing you there!  I will also be giving a presentation titled “Culture Shock” at one or more of the sessions, so drop by and say hi if you are there and get the chance. 🙂

Happy Fourth of July! An international student’s perspective

Fourth of July fireworks seen in Los Angeles

As an international student, I have never understood nor fully experienced all the enthusiasm that goes into planning and preparing for annual Fourth of July festivities.  I have watched fireworks for Chinese “Double Ten Day” or National Day (October 10th), Thai Coronation Day (May 5th), and Canada Day (July 1st), but have never known the excitement of an American Independence Day.

Today marked my first Fourth of July celebration ever!  It was spent with fellow Bruins at their family’s backyard poolside barbecue, and I had such a wonderful time.  We spent most of the day swimming in the relentless heat (it must’ve gotten up to a scorching 30ºC at least, aka 86ºF), playing timeless games like UNO and Taboo, and enjoying each other’s company as we set off and admired fireworks in the driveway.  As I had previously only played with “Morning Glory” sparklers and Chinese firecrackers, this was entirely new to me and incredibly fun!  Although our fireworks were small and remained closed to the ground, I felt safer and we still got a sneak peek of a neighbor’s flamboyantly high fireworks on the next street.

I am so thankful for the wonderful day and their hospitality, and am even more appreciative now of LA’s lovely summer weather.  We may groan under the heat, but compared to other areas of the country, LA’s summers are comparatively mild.  (This is something Geography majors learn in one of our first lower division courses, Physical Geography.)  I love jumping into a glittering blue pool of cool water and being able to air dry without the need to hide indoors from a cool breeze or mosquitoes.

Involvement and Working on Campus

It is a lovely Monday morning in the UCLA Admissions Office!  I have been working for UARS‘ Recruitment Unit for a week now, and it has been a great learning experience for me so far.  Many students at UCLA (myself included) want nothing more than to get involved and, at the same time, take advantage of opportunities to make some extra money.  It seems to me that many of these opportunities continue to present themselves to us in and around campus.

Two years ago, when I entered UCLA as an international freshman student, I was unsure about how integrated into the campus I would become.  My worries about having trouble adjusting have since been repeatedly dispelled as I became more and more involved in activities related to my hobbies (such as joining an a capella group to sing), met people who have been integral to my college experience (friends from orientation, classes and student groups), and took classes that interest me (to help me find my major).  I began with the vaguest possible identity (an Undeclared international student who had no idea where she was from–more on that next time), and have since developed my own personalized shell of someone who possesses features of a UCLA student (Bruin spirit, knowledge and experiences about UCLA), whilst preserving the inner core of what makes me, me (my values and beliefs).

Some people think that international students aren’t allowed to work on campus while they are at UCLA–they can! Working on campus while taking classes is just another way for me to exhibit and express my involvement at UCLA.  I love that so many students feel the same way and are experts at balancing their classes with work, as one becomes a nice break for the other when we do too much of one in particular.  I enjoy going to work in the morning, attending class afterward whilst I am fully alert, and spending the beautiful summer afternoons studying for the fast-paced coursework of summer classes and getting ready for the next day.  I am glad I chose to remain in LA for at least half the summer, even though my mom was curious about what I would be doing during the six weeks that I am taking only two classes.  I always assure her that UCLA will keep me on my toes and that there is no doubt I will find ways to make my time here worthwhile.

Welcome to Summer Session A!

It’s great to be back!  Although campus seems a little empty for now, I blame it on the early morning and the fact that it’s the first day of summer session so not many people find the need to study in the library before classes have begun.  I got to campus early to meet a friend before our first class of the day; it’s refreshing to see the campus in its pristine quietness after a weeklong break anyway.  Summer session does seem slightly quieter than the usual school year, which may be just what you’re looking for if you’d like to take a class while relaxing and enjoying the slower pace of summertime.

I am excited for the two classes I plan to take during the six-week-long Session A.  The first is Urban Planning 120, Introduction to Cities and Planning, which I’m taking to get a taste of the Urban Planning minor that I’m very interested in picking up.  This class is about cities, the mechanisms that they run on, and the role of urban planners in their operation and maintenance.  Since our world is becoming increasingly urbanized, soon more people will be living in cities than outside, and this is true on a global scale.  I’m interested in this topic because I’ve grown up in megacities in Asia, and I am fascinated by topics such as urban sprawl, traffic congestion, and zoning.

The second course I will take is Urban Planning M150, Transportation Geography (also known in the Geography department as Geog M149).  I’m taking this class to fulfill both major and minor credits, hitting two birds with one stone, which luckily happens a lot in the social sciences! 🙂  The class studies the complexities of intra-urban transport.  The professor for the class has already emailed us the syllabus for the class, and from it I found that there will be a day-long field trip to LAX to see the behind-the-scenes workings of a large international airport.  The trip includes a talk from an airport historian and a bus tour of the tarmac.  This proves to be interesting, and I really can’t wait!

From dorms to apartments

The week between the end of spring quarter and the beginning of Summer Session A is always busy with students moving off campus to go home for the summer, or getting ready for other plans such as study abroad or internships (in LA and elsewhere).  I am blogging from Vancouver where my family currently resides as my sister attends high school, and am taking a break from the busyness of Los Angeles up here in Canada.

Before taking a trip up north, my past week has been spent moving from the dorms to the apartments.  It has been quite a journey even though it is a short trip from my dorm room to the apartment; the stress was more emotional than physical, and I was (and still am) very reluctant to leave the Hill because of all the wonderful times I have had there.  It’s great to be near so many fellow students in one centralized location, because it’s quick and easy to visit a friend any time of day no matter where they live in the dorms.  With so many amenities on the Hill, I have never had to trek further than Covel Commons (literally next door to where I lived) to print a packet of reading or homework, or past the Hilltop Store for late night snacks and other necessities.  As an international student, my parents were especially worried whether I would be eating properly and that my surroundings were safe; I have always been proud to tell them that not only is our dorm food among the best in the nation’s colleges, but that we also have the safest campus.  The Hill is extremely well lit and always bustling with life, sometimes to quite late hours in the night.  It is this accessibility that I appreciate and cherished during my two years as an on-campus housing resident.

One of my favorite memories of OCHC events was Casino Night, during which I volunteered as a blackjack dealer and had training with someone who worked as a professional dealer in Las Vegas for more than 20 years.  I will really miss these great opportunities and fun activities always available to us on the Hill!  Thankfully, these events are open to students not living on the Hill with an additional entrance fee.  The Hill will definitely see me back again soon next year!