Week 1 of winter quarter freshman year is officially over! This week was INSANE, but in the most amazing way possible. So much has happened in the span of seven days, and by leaping out of my comfort zone on several occasion, I have grown tremendously.
Monday: Monday was the first day of winter quarter classes! Nothing crazy happened in my math or chem lectures, just the usual introductory spiel from the professor and review from the previous quarter’s material. At 4:00 p.m., I attended my first research lab meeting under UCLA head and neck surgeon, Dr. Maie St. John. I faced considerable anxiety before attending this meeting, as I had no idea what to expect, and I was worried about appearing dumb or incompetent amongst the MDs and PhDs in the room. Thankfully, everyone was super friendly and welcoming. Another newcomer that day was one of Dr. St. John’s 4th year residents, Kelly. I spoke to Kelly about my dance vs. medicine career path dilemma, and she told me that dancing competitively in med school is definitely doable, which gave me hope. Dr. St. John was a bit late to the meeting, since her surgery went overtime. She was very welcoming and sweet to everyone, and I’m looking forward to getting to know her better. Once we went around the room and introduced ourselves, the meeting commenced. I didn’t understand much of what was being discussed, as I was unfamiliar with the current projects the team was working on. I was terrified of being asked for my input, because I struggled simply to understand the complicated medical jargon being used– I had to pull up my computer and look up what a “tracheotomy” and “trach tube” was. To my relief, I didn’t have to say a word during the meeting. At the meeting’s close, I stayed behind to talk to one of the head researchers, a UCLA professor of engineering (or something along those lines). He instructed me on the lab safety courses I had to take before I could even begin doing any research. I made it clear to both him and Dr. St. John that, as I’m currently questioning whether or not I’m even pre-med track anymore, I didn’t feel comfortable with committing 100% to the lab– at least not until I was more certain that I’d be going to med school. They understood, and told me to just keep coming to the lab meetings while completing the lab safety training on my own time. I told them that I’d try to make a decision by the end of this quarter about pre-med. However, even if I’m not a pre-med student, I think getting involved in undergraduate research is still an invaluable experience, so I may stick with research, even if I’m not looking to go to medical school.
Tuesday/Wednesday: These two days were pretty normal. On Tuesday, I went to my morning chemistry discussion section, did some studying on campus, then made a Target run with my friend Tracy. I bought athletic tape and band-aids for the dance-induced blisters scarring the heels of my feet. For snacks, I got these Fiber One 90-calorie/pack brownies. Tracy and I took an Uber back to campus, as it was raining pretty hard. I was able to squeeze in a couple hours of gym/dance time on Tuesday night. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to dance on Wednesday, since I had to prioritize my schoolwork, which had begun to ramp up that day.
Thursday: Thursday was a formative day. I went to my 8am math discussion in the morning and was pleased to discover that one of my closest friends at UCLA, Chiana, was in the same discussion! After lab, I stayed on campus and studied at the Kerchkoff coffee shop. There, I ran into some members of UCLA’s Dancesport club, who had planned to pass out fliers on Bruin Walk to advertise the club, but were driven inside by the rain. I joined them in some online media advertising. Taylor, a third-year math major who is the club’s head Latin dance teacher and coordinator, recently split with his dance partner, so he and I discussed competing together in collegiate ballroom. While I recently found a dance partner outside of school whom I’m training with to compete in amateur Latin, I figured that a partner in collegiate ballroom wouldn’t hurt. I was originally hesitant about competing in collegiate dancesport, since I didn’t feel I’d be challenged enough, but I think any competition/performing experience at this point is better than nothing. I’m just dying to get back out on the floor. At 12:00 p.m., I attended my first Bruin Toastmaster’s meeting to help with my public speaking anxiety. Was I nervous to be the first one to go up to the podium and introduce myself? Yes. Was I nervous to participate in the Table Topics segment of the meeting, which involve answering a random question spontaneously? Double yes. But in this state of anxiety and discomfort, I also grew more confident in my ability to EMBRACE the unfamiliar, instead of run away from it. In challenging myself to face my fears, I grew. It was also wonderful being in a room full of people who shared similar fears of public speaking and creating that supportive and nurturing environment needed for people like me, who find public speaking to be a nerve-wracking ordeal. When answering the question, “What makes you unique?”, I somehow got into the topic of my current career path dilemma. Dance, medicine, both, or something else altogether? Later that day, I was pleasantly surprised by a voicemail from a member of Toastmasters who had heard me speak. He told me of this resource I might find useful in helping with my decision. This is what I love about Toastmasters– not only do you get to practice your public speaking skills in a supportive environment, you also have the opportunity to make connections with so many different people. Bruin Toastmasters is open to undergrads, grad students, post docs and faculty. It’s really enlightening and inspiring to hear so many different perspectives from people of all different walks of life. I’m definitely going to make Toastmasters a bigger priority for this coming quarter. After the hour-long meeting was adjourned, I went to my math professor’s office hours. There were only two other girls there, so I was able to have all my questions answered. My GE class on human aging that day featured a guest speaker, a UCLA geriatrician. Before class started, though, I headed to one of the professor’s office hours, just to chat. This professor was sitting alone in a room, and her eyes lit up with surprise when she saw a student actually utilizing her OH’s. I didn’t have any academic-related questions for her. Rather, I wanted to get her perspective on my whole career dilemma. I’m trying really hard this quarter to ask as many people as possible for their input on my current struggle to choose what career path to embark on. Of course, the decision is ultimately for me to make, but hearing multiple perspectives will give me more information to work with in making the final decision. Dr. Effros told me that I don’t need to make a decision right here, right now. She advised me to stick with both dancing and pre-med, and see where it takes me in a couple years. It’s true that at some point, it will be nearly impossible for me to do both to the degree I want to. Should I stay with medicine, dance will be rendered a hobby, nothing more. Am I okay with that reality? My heart says no. Dr. Effros also gave me the name of an accomplished UCLA pediatrician who was a serious ballerina before she decided to embark on the medical path. We talked for so long that we lost track of time and were both late for the 3:30 p.m. lecture! I thoroughly enjoyed Dr. David Reuben lecture on geriatrics. He concluded the lecture with a 25-minute film he made about one of his patients, Freda Sandrich. She lived until she was 103 years old. Each year, she would be invited as a guest to Dr. Reuben’s second-year medical student lecture, and perform a series of tests assessing her physical and cognitive abilities. Freda’s personality exuded wit, humor, and love of people, even up to her final days. Freda gives young people hope that not everyone will become the stereotypical “grumpy old man/woman” in their latter years. After lecture, I had originally planned to attend UCLA Hooligan Theater’s pre-audition workshop at 7:00 p.m. This quarter, Hooligan is putting on Footloose, a production perfect for dancers. I was really considering auditioning for it, and even practiced singing “All That Jazz” from Chicago as my audition piece. At the last minute, I decided that I had too much going on, with studies, UCLA dancesport, UCLA Latin dance team, competitive dance outside of school, Toastmasters, and research to also be a part of a play (as much as I love Footloose). Instead of attending the pre-audition workshop, then, I practiced my rumba walks by myself at John Wooden Center. At 8:30 p.m., I met up with a couple other dancers from the Latin dance team, who taught me the new choreography to our bachata routine (I had missed the final practice last quarter, due to studying for finals). We practiced until 10:00 p.m. I concluded the night with some more studying and went to bed at 11:30 p.m.
Friday: Friday was another day of immense growth. I had morning math and chem lectures until noon. At noon, I headed to Bruin Walk, the pathway most students take to head to their lecture halls, and helped pass out fliers to advertise the Dancesport club, which would be holding their first class of winter quarter that evening. Taylor and I would be teaching a beginner’s cha-cha class. I will admit that initially, I was not too crazy about the idea of shoving fliers in strangers’ faces. I don’t think fliering is an effective means of marketing, as students rushing to class could really care less about a piece of paper shoved in their faces by complete strangers. I personally try to avoid people handing out fliers when I walk to class, or just take the flier for good measure and throw it away at the next trashcan. Being on the OTHER side of the grass as one of those people who scream and shove fliers in people’s faces was definitely a humbling experience. My dancesport friends and I faced rejection after rejection, hit after hit– people either politely refused the flier, or simply averted eye contact and continued walking. To better advertise our club, Taylor and I decided to dance cha-cha in the middle of Bruin Plaza, while Shatakshi, another member of dancesport, passed out fliers around us. THAT proved to be a more effective marketing strategy. Many people stopped to look at us dancing and even grabbed a flier! It’s interesting that with dancing, I feel significantly less social anxiety than I do with something like speaking to a roomful of 20. I love dance. It’s what I’m confident in. At 2:30, after 2.5 hours of fliering, I headed back to my dorm. I originally planned to grab something to eat, but I was so exhausted from the day’s events that I decided to take a nap instead. Plus, I was pretty nervous about the idea of teaching to a large group of people that night, that I probably couldn’t eat if I wanted to. At 5:00 p.m., I awoke from my slumber, got dressed, and walked back to campus for the 5:30 p.m. intermediate Latin class. It was wonderful being surrounded by fellow Bruins who share a love of ballroom dancing. By the time the class began, all nerves had subsided, and I was genuinely excited to share my passion for Latin dance with others. Taylor did most of the teaching– I was mainly up there with him, demonstrating. I also walked around the room, giving corrections to individuals. It was indeed a great teaching experience for me. If I decide I want to pursue dance as a career, I will have to teach for a living, so it’s great that I’m starting early. Teaching is also a great way for me to reinforce my concepts of the mechanisms of a certain dance figure. For instance, at the end of the intermediate class, I tried to explain the mechanics of the “figure-8” hips to a small group of dancers. Teaching forces me to really understand what’s going on in my body so I can clearly and effectively convey the concept to others. 6:30 p.m. was the beginner’s class, and I was so happy to see the familiar faces of supportive friends in the crowd. As this was the beginner’s class, there were many people present who had never danced in their lives. Many were nervous about dancing, but my heart warms at the fact that they took the first courageous step to show up to a Latin dance class. I remember clearly two years ago, when I was in the exact same shoes as these beginner dancers. I was super nervous going into my first beginner’s Latin class at Cheryl Burke Dance studio. When we had to partner up to dance, my eyes were trained at the floor the entire time. To look back and see how far I’ve come since is incredibly fulfilling. And now, I have the incredible opportunity to share my love of dance with others. As we were short on guys compared to girls, I assumed the role of the “leader” dancer. I remember dancing with one girl, who had never danced before in her life. In the beginning, her palms trembled in anticipation. When she started to get the hang of the cha-cha basic, however, her face broke out into the biggest smile you could imagine, and it was all she could do to keep herself from laughing aloud! She was having the time of her life! I found fulfillment in the ability of dance to bring joy to individuals’ lives. After the 7:30 p.m. class was over, I rushed to Latin dance team practice, which lasted until 9:30 p.m. At that point, I was pretty exhausted and hungry, as I hadn’t eaten since 8:00 a.m. that morning. Practice was frustrating because not everyone knew the choreography, so we couldn’t move on with the routine. It was our first formal class since winter break, so we were understandably rusty in our bachata choreography. Nonetheless, practice had its fun moments as well. For instance, I tried to execute a side body roll, but completely butchered it, causing our salsa/bachata teacher, Joel, to laugh at the cringeworthiness of what I had just done. At the end of practice, I grabbed a super late dinner with one of the other dancers, Colt. He is one of the most committed dancers on the team, and his story of joining the Marines and overcoming various mental health conditions is truly inspiring. We ended up talking for nearly two hours about… life. Never have I been able to share such a conversation with someone so like-minded as I. I won’t go into the details of what we discussed, because that in itself is a whole other blog post. But this was one of those raw, brutally honest, soul-baring conversations that resonate with you for a lifetime. It was the first of such conversations I’ve had in college, and I hope to have many more in the future. At 11:30 p.m., I headed back to my dorm and called my mom, telling her that I was completely happy and doing very well. She was obviously pleased to hear that my mental health was good. And honestly, even though this week had its fair share of challenges, I’ve tasted what it feels like to be ALIVE. When you push yourself to do things you think you cannot do, you experience so much more than you do if you choose to stay in your comfort zone. Life truly begins outside your comfort zone.