The Optimists: Ah Lim Lee

Have you met the UCLA Optimists? Over the next several months, the Bruin Blog will be highlighting our student Optimists. These current UCLA undergraduates will give you insight into the application process and tips, student life and culture, and what it means to be a Bruin.

IMG_3227.JPGWhen I was younger, I frequently had a hard time coming to terms with my cultural identity. I am a South Korean citizen, but I was born and raised in Indonesia due to my parents’ employment, and so I went on to attend Jakarta International School for all of my formal education. This odd mixture of being disciplined through Confucius ideologies at home but learning about Western principles at school, while immersing myself in the Indonesian culture through my everyday interactions, gave me an appreciation for my multi-faceted identity, but also created a conflict within myself. I constantly asked myself, “where do I belong?” or “with whom do I belong?”.

On the other hand, despite internal conflicts, one thing I knew for certain was that since I had grown accustomed to it, I wanted to continue my American-style education. On the other hand, coming to UCLA was a bit of an unexpected surprise. However, there was one moment when I knew that UCLA was the school for me. After receiving my acceptance offer from UCLA, I browsed through different resources on the UCLA Undergraduate Admission website to learn more about UCLA, and I came across a motto that really hit home: “WE, The Optimists”. Growing up, my parents always used to tell me that anything was possible with perseverance and hard work, that there was no barrier you could not break if you really put your heart into something. Over time, I came to take these optimistic and forward-looking words to heart as a guiding principle on how I aimed to live my everyday life. Given that, when I read those three words, I knew I wanted to be a Bruin because I had met the school that captured the spirit of who I was and who I wanted to be.

My first year at UCLA, I put aside my little identity crisis and focused mainly on integrating into UCLA campus life and culture, making new friends, and exploring Los Angeles. My first quarter I joined a Professional Pre-Law Fraternity called Kappa Alpha Pi to explore the possibility of law school. When I was in high school, I was convinced that I wanted to study international relations because of my love for Model United Nations and it made sense given the context in which I grew up. But through my involvement in Kappa Alpha Pi, where I served as the Director of Professional Activities, I was given many opportunities to connect with law students and seasoned lawyers in various fields of law which sparked my interest in a more legal than political career. To my pleasant surprise, I found not only an organization that provided me professional development opportunities in my prospective career field, but I also found a community of friends, both domestic and international, who helped me feel at welcome and at home. This made my first year a lot less daunting and lonely than it could have been for an international student 8,972 miles away from home.

Although Kappa Alpha Pi exposed me to the idea of practicing domestic law, it did not fully satisfy the side of me that still wanted to learn more about international relations. It came to my surprise when I discovered that the Political Science department offered a class in International Law (PS 123A) for undergraduate students. For those interested in international law and international relations, this class is the perfect merge between the two because the course material and readings include cases from a variety of international courts and institutions and scholarly articles by political scientists about principles and theories explaining the variation between international courts. Not only that, this class is unlike the traditional university class, which compose of large lectures and minimal participation. Professor Leslie Johns actively encourages students to participate and ask questions, which I love! In fact, usually one lecture each week is dedicated to discussing a case or an article and the whole lecture will be based on Professor Johns asking questions and students responding to the questions. This class has probably been one of the most engaging and interesting class that I have taken and it has prompted me to look for more law related classes that may be relevant to my interests and career plans.

Towards the end of my first year as a UCLA student, I stumbled upon a job opening at the Dashew Center for International Students and Scholars (DCISS), which beckoned at me and appealed to my desire to connect my present to my past as an international, third culture kid. I have been working at the Dashew Center for over seven months now and to this day, I am so grateful that I came upon this opportunity because it has given me a space to share and express my identity as an international student. Just last week, I had the opportunity to serve as a panel speaker for a Colleague Training that the Dashew Center organizes every year for staff, faculty and administrators at UCLA. There, I was able to speak about my experience at UCLA as an international student and it empowered me to learn that I could use my unique story to advocate for and emphasize the value of international students in fostering global awareness and education here on campus.

I will say that it is not a walk in the park to be a student in a foreign country. Many days I miss home and my family. It is difficult only being able to see my parents once, maybe twice a year if I’m lucky, and I crave my mom’s home cooked meals, especially when I get sick. But I think what keeps me going every day is the gratitude and happiness I feel being at UCLA. I am grateful for the many and diverse people I have met and connected with, the tremendous and generous opportunities through which I was able to grow as a person, and the fact that I get to learn about the things that spark my curiosity and inspire me to work towards something. There is obviously no replacement for home, but for now, I am proud UCLA is my home away from home.

Ah Lim Lee is a Second Year originally from South Korea, but grew up and went to school in Indonesia.
She plans to graduate in three years.

5 Tips to Help you Prepare as an International Student

I attended school abroad and knew, all along, that I wanted to study at a university in the United States. When I finally received my university’s letter of acceptance 3 months later, I was ecstatic! But the emotions that settled in after that were confusing: I was going to leave my family and live alone in a foreign place; I was going to say goodbye to my friends; I would have to adapt to a new culture and speak English every day. I was happy, yes, but I also felt this emptiness in my heart because I was not going to live at home anymore.

I know first-hand how scary the university admission process can be. Although decisions for UCLA have not yet been released (they will be released in late March for freshman applicants), here are a few things I learned from my experience that can help in  your transition as an international student:

  1. Check and read your emails: Almost all information that is shared from our admission office is done electronically. Between now and decision release, we may request more information or provide other announcements. Make sure our emails are not going to your spam box, and that you are reading what we send to you carefully. Some emails may be time-sensitive so make sure you read our messages thoroughly.
  2. Understand what documents are needed. UCLA does not request letters of recommendation or transcripts at the time of application. There are some exceptions if you are applying to our School of Theater, Film & Television, School of Arts & Architecture, School of Music and our School of Nursing, but for the most part, our decisions are based on information you have provided in your application You or your school do not need to mail or email us any documents unless we request it directly from you. We understand that you are a stellar applicant and you want to mail us all your certificates or email us all your projects; trust that you have done a great job in completing the University of California (UC) application and allow us to carefully read through it.
  3. Send your official test scores. If you have not done so by now, you must send your official SAT or ACT and if required, TOEFL or IELTS scores to us. Official scores are sent directly from the testing agency to us. Paper copies or copies that are transmitted outside of the testing agencies are not considered official scores. And remember: if you have applied to more than one UC campus, send your score to one of our campuses and we will share it with the rest of the campuses to which you applied. The only exception is the IELTS exam; you will need to send it to each individual campus.If your name on your UC application is different from the name you used on your tests, please let us know! We want to make sure your scores are matched correctly to your UC application.
  1. Applying for a Student Visa. As an international (non-U.S.) student, you are required to obtain a student visa in order to study in the United States. All universities will ask students to provide proof of financial support (in the form of bank statements, financial documents, etc.), and the amount of this proof will vary by university. Once a proof of financial support is received and verified, the university will mail/issue you a Form I-20. This document makes you eligible to apply for a U.S. student visa (typically an F-1 visa), and you will use data in this document to schedule your visa appointment at your local U.S. Consulate or Embassy.At UCLA, once you are admitted and decide to commit to us, you will receive instructions on how to submit your proof of financial support from our Dashew Center for International Students and Scholars. You do not need to send any of these documents to us until after you decide to commit to UCLA. Don’t worry, our Dashew Center will give you details and guidance on how to apply for a student visa.
  1. Don’t contract “senioritis”. Your final year of high school is also known in the U.S. as your senior year. Just because you are done with university applications does not mean it is time to party! If you are admitted to UCLA, we will still require you to perform at the same level (or better) as when you applied to us. We do check your final year grades so make sure you continue to do well.

130514_UCLA_1283.jpgWaiting for decisions is a very exciting yet nervous time for everyone. And as an international student, you certainly need extra time to make sure documents and other things are done properly. We completely understand, and have consciously built in enough time in between decision release and start of school to allow you to do all of that. In the meantime, keep these 5 tips in mind as you hear back from all your universities (and from UCLA). And once you receive your decisions, don’t forget to congratulate yourself on all the hard work you have put in!

This post was written by Olivia Loo, Senior Assistant Director, International Recruitment
UCLA Undergraduate Admission

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!


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!