Thursday, May 27, 2010

Matching Your Personality to Your New Neighborhood

I loved West Los Angeles. It fit me. When I first moved here, it was thrust upon me, as that was where my aunt lived and I was moving in with her. I stayed there for over five years. I literally had to be kicked out (new ownership) to move. I decided to broaden my horizons and try the hip new area, Silverlake. Hip it was, but perhaps I am not as "hip" as I thought. We were mismatched. I had plenty of friends who lived near there who were totally in love, but I just couldn't get into it. I spent a lot of time that year in Downtown Burbank, where my boyfriend lived. I immediately knew that area was not for me, reminded me too much of the suburban, generic chain restaurants and petite, lacking interest houses that seemed just like Maryland. However, compromising when we moved in together, the small village of Toluca Lake reminded me in many ways of the sweetness of Brentwood and the proximity I required to areas outside my neighborhood.  I was home again.

Los Angeles is the epitome of urban sprawl. Neighborhoods and "cities" and villages spring up from block to block, each with their own personality and set of rules. This specific blog entry is dedicated to all the new LA transplants, whether you intend to make this home forever or you're just trying it out, it's important to find a neighborhood that feels inherently "YOU." I hope this information helps.

You have options. Yes, Pepperdine is in Malibu, but I will warn you now, it is almost as far from the LA Basin as one can get. Some facts about living in Malibu:

- It's gorgeous.
- It has temperate weather all year round.
- The apartments that most students could probably afford are going to be insanely tiny, especially if you want one on the ocean.
- Shopping and city amenities are get what you get. It is 25 miles of Pacific Coast Highway and there are intermittent strip malls with grocery stores, banks, etc. A lot of it caters to the upper class because that is who primarily lives there. If you want to shop elsewhere, you'll have to drive to Calabasas or Santa Monica or maybe Pacific Palisades (which is as equally upper class).
- There is limited public transit to get you into the LA Basin. So if you are living in Malibu without a car, understand you will probably rarely leave. Which is fine for some.
- It is definitely the place to be if you are a beach person. If you have no interest in city amenities, pull out a beach towel, a fruity cocktail and enjoy.
- You will be nearest to campus.
- There is limited parking in some neighborhoods, so just be aware.

As I mentioned above, if this does not sound good to you, you have options. The most obvious choice after Malibu is Santa Monica. Some facts about Santa Monica:
- It is also near the beach.
- It is not nearly as beautiful.
- It is a city designed around "beach-going" tourists. This keeps the area bustling and busy, and not always in a good way.
- This means there is a homeless population, riddled with so-so street performers and obnoxious teenagers who took the bus to get away from mom and dad.
- It has amazing weather. It is a cool 70-some degrees most of the year. It can get cool at night, so you will almost always need a jacket or sweater. But it's lovely.
- Compared to Malibu (or Calabasas which I'll discuss in a second), it has the best access to the rest of "real" Los Angeles.
- The bar scene is top notch and has great variety. There is stuff near Main Street and up Wilshire and Santa Monica Blvds.
- It is EXTREMELY difficult to park here. Many neighborhoods are permit parking only, which is fine if you live there, but hard to have guests over.
- There are "bad" parts of Santa Monica. I personally would suggest not living south of Olympic Blvd. Stay closer to Wilshire and Santa Monica Blvds...also easier to walk to many, many things. Stay away from apartments that boast close proximity to Santa Monica College! Not a good area and too far south anyway.
- You should have a car or at least share one with another student/roommate because the public transit to school is a nightmare. However, there is plenty to walk to, lots of variety, and good public transit around Santa Monica and surrounding neighborhoods (so won't need to drive all the time).
Surrounding Neighborhoods
Almost as easy to get to Malibu (about a 20 minute drive from Santa Monica), for a bigger bang for your buck (Santa Monica can get pricey too), try West LA. Yes, as I mentioned above, I'm a bit partial. But if you stay just south of Brentwood, you can hop on the 10 to the PCH and get to campus almost as quickly. You will have a less touristy feel, still near plenty of bars, less permit parking, and bigger apartments/nicer apartments for the money. You are also closer to UCLA and the nightlife that Westwood has to offer. I would suggest staying out of Westwood as they start to jack up the prices for UCLA students. Again, if living in West LA, stay North of Pico Blvd, West of Veteran, and East of 26th Street (which is the Santa Monica border) for the best deals and quality neighborhoods. 

One more main option, and less discussed, is Calabasas. Here are some facts about Calabasas with the caveat that I have spent less time there, however, I did ask many friends and coworkers to compile this information.

- It's going to be a lot quieter. It's the suburbs. As one friend said "it's suburban cowboy." There are some fantastic rodeo bars in the area. Line dancing, anyone?
- It's going to be HOT. Anything in the "valley" can get hot during the day and cool, even cold, at night. The temperatures vary greatly. Make sure the apartment has central air!
- The BIGGEST bang for your buck will be in Calabasas or Agoura Hills (a close neighbor to Calabasas--most of this information goes for both).
- Parking is a breeze. It's the burbs!
- You will need to drive around here. Not a lot of walking, it's definitely more chain restaurants and shops, and you need to drive over the Canyon to get to campus. Also, as some networking events are in the LA basin, you will want to drive to those as well.
- You probably shouldn't pay more than $900 for a one bedroom or $1400 for a 2 bedroom in this area.
- Pools are a common feature for apartments in the valley.
- The drive to campus is GORGEOUS! You are also near tons of outdoors activities, such as Malibu Creek State Park which has some of the best rock climbing, tons of hiking trails, and cute watering holes.
- You are closest proximity to the valley and the 101 freeway. Which makes it easier to get to Burbank, Sherman Oaks, and even all the way to Downtown LA.

Surrounding neighborhoods
 As I mentioned above, Agoura Hills and also Thousand Oaks, but it can be a bit pricier as it starts to become "upscale cowboy." It's not Hollywood money, so it will definitely have a different feel than Santa Monica, which can have a Hollywood money sort of feel. If you want to live on the Valley side but get closer to the action in the LA Basin, Sherman Oaks or Encino have more you can walk to if you live off Ventura Blvd. You will definitely need a car from here, however, you are sort of in the middle a circle from Malibu to Santa Monica to Sherman Oaks to Calabasas. So it's convenient to many off campus activities. You are now approaching closer to a 30-35 minute commute, but if you stay just west of the 405, you should avoid some annoying traffic at rush hour. And there might be even better apartment deals.

I hope this helps you figure out what neighborhood will fit you best. Here's some advice regarding HOW to find an apartment.

Craigslist. It can be rather precarious, as there are sometimes people looking to con people (do NOT send money through bank transfer or wire transfer EVER). However, it is one of the best places to find people who already have an apartment (more likely to be mostly furnished) and are looking to replace a roommate who is moving out. These people are established and can be, though no guarantees, a great way to make friends outside of school. If you are looking for a place just for you, or 2 new students have paired up and are looking to start fresh, you can try Craigslist or Westside Rentals. I found Westside Rentals to be less successful when looking for a roommate situation, but more successful for brand new, unoccupied apartments. They tend to be screened beforehand and have more information. For either one, never give out too much personal information. Also, SKYPE or talk to them on the phone at the very least. When an ad on either website looks too good to be true, it probably is. Ask for references of past tenants.  If you are specifically having issues or questions, just leave them as a comment and I can probably add some insight. However, this blog is long enough.

For other people who were LA transplants, please leave helpful comments and feel free to disagree with me. These are just my observations and opinions. I hope you can all find a neighborhood and home that fits you.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Studying Mandarin

Working at the Census, my inclination to learn another language has been reinforced tenfold. I have always believed that those who speak more then one language have a benefit, a profound natural understanding of a variety of cultures, especially if they were raised bilingual. Not that I am any closer to having children, but I have always wanted to raise my kids bilingual. Unfortunately, both my boyfriend and I are failed Spanish students who have retained almost nothing from generic high school programs. Beyond that, I attempted Italian during my sophomore year of undergrad but never really immersed myself in it.

Living in Los Angeles is a constant reminder that I do not have the added language skills I wish I did. My friend Jane is Taiwanese and speaks both Mandarin and Taiwanese. At the census, it has been practically a requirement to have additional language skills, especially Spanish or Armenian, as I live in a highly Armenian area. I find it totally charming and fascinating, and as I begin to think about my internship next summer (premature, I know), I am trying to decide what language to learn. Ideally, I would like to be in Hong Kong, which I know speaks Cantonese, however, a girl I work with at the census from Hong Kong said that Mandarin is quickly becoming the Asian business language of choice and it would behoove me to learn that opposed to Cantonese. Also, the idea of learning 9 tones versus 4 (something I have come to discover as a big difference between the two languages) seems wildly overwhelming. My friend Jane gave me an example of 4 tones, and I could honestly barely tell the difference.

So, in an effort to begin expanding my repertoire early and get a jump on potential internship opportunities in Hong Kong, I will be learning Mandarin. Oddly enough, my boyfriend has expressed interest in doing this with me. As shocking as it may be, I might be able to raise my kids bilingual after all. Fingers crossed!

By the way, any help or advice as how to go about learning Mandarin would be greatly appreciated! I am looking forward to speaking with my Mandarin-speaking classmates as well!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Making peace with my commute

Today, Friday May 7th, I went to my first MBA-related event, The Chick-Fil-A Leadercast. Leaving my house at 6:45am to arrive by 7:45, I realized this was going to be my life. I live in Toluca Lake, a small neighborhood near Burbank, a good 35 or so miles from Pepperdine. My lease is not up until February, so for at least the first six months of school, I will be commuting.

During the simulcast, we heard from more then ten speakers, focusing of various subjects revolving around good leadership skills and tactics to employ if you are to be more successful in your life; job, personal, or otherwise. One speaker in particular reminded me of something very important. Steve Uzzell, a National Geographic photographer, spoke about the spirit of the open road. The “spirit of the open road” is not just the freeing feeling you get when driving through the Malibu Canyon toward Pepperdine, but is a specific mindset you can put yourself into in an effort to achieve greater clarity. He explained that by using the spirit of the open road, you could begin problem solving, as it helps to clear your mind and give you a different focal point. He, of course, had the luxury of using this concept literally, having traveled down many open roads throughout his life. Living in Los Angeles, we may not always be so lucky.

However, this is not just a literal experience, but can be a frame of mind. He said there are steps you can take to access the spirit of the open road.
- Make all preparations necessary. This means a few different things.
*Know where you’re going. You don’t need to know how to get there, but know where you want to end up.
*In addition, question all previous expectations, everything, and be willing to start at the beginning. Even things you thought you knew can be reexamined and perhaps reconfigured to suit your needs better.
*While attempting to challenge what you know, ask an additional question: “Are you sure?” In other words, is this the best way to go about this?

When you ask all the right questions, and put yourself in a prepared state of mind, you are more likely to solve even the toughest problems. Because you were in the right place at the right time. As Steve Uzzell said, “Chance favors the prepared mind.”
- Have the courage to always pursue your passions. This is something that, in business, sometimes falls to the wayside, as life gets in the way. Obviously having the ability to combine to two is ideal, but making time to pursue your passions, regardless of how it impacts your career, could surprisingly do just that. Impact your career. He explained that by expanding your knowledge base and becoming an “expert” in something, you are more likely to find a use for this surprising knowledge. No knowledge is useless. In addition, when you feel passionately in something, you are more likely to trust your instincts and be more finely in tune with them.

-Lastly, you have to love and respect the journey. This brings me back to my commute. My trip home began with the winding, sunny road and shadowy mountainsides along Malibu Canyon Road, a reflective smile across my face and enjoying the commute just a little bit. Hitting Calabasas, the nature I had been entranced in slipped away the closer I came to the 101. The ups and downs of this short trip turned into a near standstill as I creeped home, my car seemingly stuck in the rolling parking lot that is the 101. Eventually, once past the 405, my car picked up speed and I was briefly blessed with as close as one can get to an open road in the middle of a Friday in Los Angeles.

On this brief hour-long trip, I reflected on the many speakers I had heard and planned article after article in my head. Hastily jotting down notes when the traffic allowed me to, I realized what Mr. Uzzell was talked about. By respected my commute, and making peace with it, I could get a surprising amount of work done. The pre-planning stage unraveled in my head, barely noticing the annoying traffic or the people who don’t know how to use a blinker. I honestly barely noticed it had been an hour. And I respected the journey. I knew that there were beautiful moments thrown in amongst the chaos and on either side of this voyage were a stunning college campus with reflective ocean moments and on the other, a warm bed and a smiling kiss from my boyfriend. This metaphor may have not only opened my eyes to the benefits of a long commute but also reminded me that everything in our life is a journey, and as long as you start out with a positive frame of mind, you will end in a similar fashion. Just be prepared for the commute.

**For those interested in other reflective articles about the rest of the event, please leave me a comment with your email address and I’ll send it to you. It was far too fruitful an event to post everything here. Thanks!