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. 🙂

A Day in the Real World of Urban Planning Geography

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the Transportation Geography class I am taking this session promised a day-long field trip to Los Angeles International Airport (known to Angelenos as “LAX”) and the Port of Long Beach.  In fact, this past Wednesday was our lucky day!  It began at Flight Path Learning Center, a small homey museum tucked away in a little-known corner somewhere on the southern border of the airport grounds, which none of us had known the existence of prior to the visit.  Yet, there were so many pleasant surprises in that quaint little establishment alone that it would have been well worth it if that had been the only thing on the itinerary.  Firstly, our tour guide was an enthusiastic and adorably bubbly ex-stewardess in her 60s, who not only loved her job as the manager of the museum but was also incredibly proud of the whole LAX heritage.  From her, we learned the LAX song (who knew airports had their own theme songs?), some brief history, and took a bus tour of the tarmac.  Weaving in and out between airplanes on the runways in an inter-terminal transport bus was definitely one of the coolest things I’ve ever done at an airport!  It was also a great privilege to see the official runway of Air Force One (aircrafts carrying the President of the United States) and the terminals where famous celebrities like John Travolta and Kobe Bryant disembark their private jets.

The museum itself was a sanctuary of aircraft and flight memorabilia, including hundreds of old stewardess uniforms dating from the 1950s, maps of service routes, and antique airline silverware.  What a wonderful and rare opportunity to experience an airport and flight history from an educational perspective!

Our day continued at the Port of Long Beach, and we took our lunch break in the cafeteria of their administration building, which happened to have an outdoor rooftop patio with stunning 360º view of the Port.  Despite our guide covertly telling us that the building was seismologically uncertified due to its sinking foundation on infill land (basically, the building was built on loose sediment that was piled into the ocean to extend the coast ocean-ward through land reclamation), the presentations given by three important figures on the Port’s board of administrators captured our attention until it was time to leave.  My inner Geography nerd was fascinated most by their environmental equity programs that sounded great in a presentation but on second thought were sometimes on shaky ground.  The great thing about field trips such as this is that we get to apply the historical and theoretical knowledge learned in class to real life situations and current events that are happening right before our eyes.

The final stop of our excursion was SA Recycling, a facility that purchases, processes and sells all sorts of scrap metals for recycling.  Although that branch did not do any actual melting of metal (this was done wherever their metal was sold to), they still had some astounding machines on site.  The tour of the scrap metal yard felt like a walking tour of the backlot set of Wall-E, had it been filmed in real life.  Mountains of scrap metal spotted the huge yard in seemingly random piles, although the excavator operators knew exactly which piles were sorted/unsorted.  We gaped at the huge grapple machines as they picked up hundreds of pounds of metal as though they were sheets of aluminum foil, and watched another split a small truck in half with three easy snips.  (We concluded that the machine operators must be unbeatable when it comes to the claw cranes in arcades.)

The sheer volume of metal that passes through the yard baffled us, and we were taken aback by how much behind-the-scenes work goes into every discarded metal product of our daily lives.  This is one of the most pressing concerns of a Geographer: collecting, processing, and recycling (or discarding) products of human waste can easily be unsustainable and inequitable.  SA Recycling was an example of waste export, a company passing on our waste overseas to another country that is willing to process, recycle, reuse, store, or demolish the vast volume of waste products.

Overall, it was an exciting day packed with invaluable field experience that we could never have gotten sitting in a classroom.  During our return trip back to UCLA, I asked my professor how he managed to convince the department to fund the field trip (we had traveled in a very nice charter coach), and he answered that he had applied for a grant set aside especially for educational field trips.  This is just one example of the myriad of opportunities that await UCLA students, and I am grateful that my professor took time out of his busy schedule to organize and coordinate a composite field trip itinerary with numerous presentations and multiple destinations.

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!

End of the Quarter Procrastination

Students are able to experience many things on the UCLA campus, but as soon as the end of the quarter hits you can feel the tension in the air. It’s just about time to crack open those textbooks and start memorizing those flash cards. We are currently on our eighth week of school going onto our ninth week and instead of staying on campus and studying, I decided to take a little vacation before finals and go home to the Bay Area.

UCLA just makes it too easy for us to leave campus. We have a FlyAway bus that only costs five dollars and it will take you all the way to LAX. How simple and easy is that? There are also bus routes that can take you to union station if you are looking to take the train. In no way am I promoting procrastination, but just know that there are ways to travel around and off of campus. I’ve got to get back to enjoying home. Go Bruins!