High School Students, University of California Los Angeles, US Colleges, College Admissions, College Applications, Global Studies Major, Art History, Urban Planning, President UC Students Association, Study Abroad in Shanghai"> Podcast | Aidan-Arasasingham-on-UCLA-Global-Studies--UC-Students-President--and-Dinner-with-12-Strangers-e1f069i

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Episode Notes | Episode Transcript | AskTheGuest

 Hi Fives (5 Highlights)   2-Minute Listen

As an engaged member of the UCLA Alumni, Aidan Arasasingham looks back at his Undergraduate Experience in this podcast. Aidan is a graduate of UCLA with a Bachelor’s degree in Global Studies and minors in Art History and Urban Planning.

Aidan’s transition to UCLA was challenging and rough due to its size, but he shook that off, to have an enormously rich and meaningful undergraduate experience.

Aidan took his interest in Politics and Government and ran with it. His active involvement and leadership in the student government at UCLA and his subsequent elevation to the President of the UC System-wide Student’s Association was truly a crowning achievement.

In addition to majoring in Global Studies, Aidan pursued two minors which spoke to his interests in Art and Architecture - Art History and Urban Planning.

He also took time for a Study Abroad in Shanghai.

Hi-Fives from the Podcast are:

  1. Overall Experience
  2. Why UCLA?
  3. “Challenging” Transition to UCLA
  4. Student Gov Journey
  5. Advice to College Aspirants

Episode Notes

Episode Title: Aidan Arasasingham on UCLA: Global Studies, UC Students’ President, and Dinner with 12 Strangers.

Aidan’s deep interest in History and World Politics was shaped by his own and extended family, being displaced by the civil war in Sri Lanka, to different parts of the world.

Aidan Arasasingham is a graduate of UCLA with a Bachelor’s degree in Global Studies. Now, as a member of the UCLA Alumni, Aidan shares his Undergraduate Experience.

In particular, we discuss the following with him:

  • Choosing UCLA
  • Majoring in Global Studies
  • Passion for Politics and Government
  • President of UC Students System-wide
  • Advice to Aspiring Students

Topics discussed in this episode:

  • Introduction to Aidan Arasasingham, UCLA [0:45]
  • Hi Fives - Podcast Highlights [1:49]
  • Overall Experience [4:10]
  • Why UCLA? [5:05]
  • High School Interests [7:00]
  • Passion for Government and Politics [8:43]
  • “Challenging” Transition to UCLA [12:05]
  • Difficult Academic Transition [15:58]
  • “Favorite Part” Classmates [18:25]
  • The Classes [20:16]
  • Campus Living [21:54]
  • Student Govt Journey [24:34]
  • President of UC Students’ System-wide [31:56]
  • Summers [35:26]
  • Minoring in Art History and Urban Planning [39:11]
  • UCLA Redo [42:57]
  • Advice to College Applicants [46:03]
  • Memories [48:47]

Our Guest: Aidan Arasasingham is a graduate of University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) with a Bachelor’s degree in Global Studies and minors in Art History and Urban Planning.

Memorable Quote: “I really felt when I left UCLA, I left without any regrets. It is a place where I think it's really encouraged to follow your passions, follow your heart, and have a really balanced and exciting college experience.” Aidan on UCLA.

Episode Transcript: Please visit Episode’s Transcript.

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Episode Transcript

Transcript of the episode’s audio.

Aidan 0:14

We've all had such incredible experiences and opportunities that have come from the school that we leave with a great deal of gratitude and excitement. And I think that's what's so exciting about UCLA is like even amongst all its diversity, even amongst it being a ginormous and scary and challenging school. You know, there's that common shared humanity and interest and excitement that comes from being in Los Angeles that comes from being in a school like UCLA that just rubs off on you.

Venkat  0:45  [Introduction to Aidan Arasasingham, UCLA]

Aidan Arasasingham is a graduate of UCLA with a Bachelor’s degree in Global Studies.

Hello, I am your host, Venkat Raman.

While in High School, Aidan developed a deep interest in History and World Politics shaped by his own and extended family, being displaced by a civil war in Sri Lanka, and scattered to different parts of the world.

Aidan was involved in Model UN, Mock Trial, Student Government and helped start the school’s Democratic Club.

He knew he wanted to pursue something related to International Relations in college.

Venkat Raman  1:29

Aidan  joins us on our podcast to share his UCLA undergraduate experience.

Before we jump into the podcast, here are the High-Fives,  Five Highlights from the podcast:

Aidan  1:49  [Highlights - Hi Fives]

[Overall Experience]

I'm really grateful to look back on you know, three wonderful years and maybe one challenging year. Well, they were all a bit challenging, but wonderful in their own way.

[Why UCLA?]

I knew I really wanted to go to a school with a great global studies or international relations program, and a school that was politically involved and engaged. And a school that was kind of in a major city.

[“Challenging” Transition to UCLA]

You know, when I went to middle school, it was a smaller public school where I graduated in a class of 90 people than going to a high school that I thought was ginormous, graduating class of 600 people. And then suddenly I show up at UCLA, where there are 30,000 undergraduates and another 15,000 graduate students.

 

[Student Gov Journey]

That's when I ran on an election on campus. It was also a very difficult and challenging and competitive election, one that, you know, was a mix of exciting and exciting and exhilarating, but also tearing my hair out. And I was elected thankfully and then I was grateful after that, that the other elected representatives of the other nine UC campuses, unanimously elected me to serve as the system wide president.

[Advice to College Aspirants]

One of my essays, I ended up writing I remember at UCLA was I love puns. So I wrote the essay, just interspersing punch throughout. And I felt you know, I want to do this because this is me. Like if I were to sit down for an hour with an admissions person I probably would have struck upon anyways. So, you know, this is me Take it or leave it and I'm glad they took it.

Venkat Raman  3:41

These were the Hi5s, brought to you by College Matters. Alma Matters.

Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

Venkat Raman  3:52

Now, I'm sure you want to hear the entire podcast on UCLA with Aidan.

So without further ado, here is Aidan Arasasingham!

----------------------

Venkat Raman  4:02  

So maybe the best place to start and all these things is give us an overall impression of your experience at UCLA and then go from there.

Aidan A  4:10  [Overall Experience]

Sure, so I mean, my four years at UCLA were some of the best of my life I really enjoyed being at that university and in Los Angeles. Of course, it came with its challenges and the transition to UCLA. If you would have asked me my freshman year, I would have told you, it was probably one of the most miserable years of my life but as I have gone through the experience, and as I really got to get to know the school, the people, the culture, all the opportunities there and made my way through my college experience. I'm really grateful to look back on you know, three wonderful years and maybe one challenging year well, they were all a bit challenging but when wonderful in their own way.

Venkat Raman  4:59  

Okay, so Maybe we can start with why, why you picked UCLA? Where do you end up going there?

Aidan A  5:05  [Why UCLA?]

Yeah, so it was, you know, thinking back to college applications, I knew I really wanted to go to a school with a great global studies or international relations program, and a school that was politically involved and engaged. And a school that was kind of in a major city, I grew up in a suburban area where, you know, politics was a bit different. And I was hoping to kind of have that big city political environment, in a place that also had an eye looking outwards to the international relations issues that I cared about. And initially, I thought the school that would be for me, and the one that I really wanted to go to was UC Berkeley, a school that I ended up I didn't end up getting into. So actually, what ended up happening was, even though UCLA was still a great choice, I felt a little bit disheartened that it wasn't Berkeley at first, since that school is so associated with politics and being in a city like San, and near San Francisco, and kind of the movements of student organizing. And so UCLA seemed like also a really good spot when I chose it. It had similar things that I was looking for, from what I really resonated with Berkeley at first. But then as I was at UCLA, and spent my years there, I learned far more about it, and really got deep into the culture of the school and the community. And it ended up being a much better fit for me. So I'm really grateful that even in that kind of twist of fate that I wasn't expecting initially, I ended up being in a school that I really loved in the end.

Venkat Raman  6:55  

What were you like in high school? What kind of things were of interest to you?

Aidan A  7:00  [High School Interests]

Yeah, so in high school, I think the the classes that I most resonated with where my history classes or my political classes, the ones that were kind of talking about what was going on, in world politics, the kind of movements in America and US history, those were the classes that really inspired me and got me excited. And outside of the classroom, politics also started to excite me.

This was, I was in high school, just as the 2016 election was kicking up. And, you know, a very important election in our history, a very divisive election, one where the issues are really on the line. And so I was also involved in high school and in kind of organizing for the Democratic Party, or at least I helped start our, our high school Democratic Club. I was involved as the student representative to our Board of Education, advocating on on issues of importance to high school students in education policy. And then also, I was involved with, you know, our a few clubs on campus like our ASB, our student government, our Model United Nations, and then our mock trial. So all of these kinds of political and international relations issues I had been interested in, I still only knew as much as you could from a high school experience, kind of outside of a major world city. But those were the the issues that I knew I wanted to learn more about in college.

Venkat Raman  8:32  

So do you know why you were interested in all this? Why did government and politics interest you or excite you so much?

Aidan A  8:43  [Passion for Government and Politics]

Yeah, well, for me, I mean, both my parents came from Sri Lanka. And, you know, the history of that is there was a civil war and a lot of Tamil Sri Lankans were had to emigrate, or were displaced. And by virtue of that, you know, my parents ended up here in the States, but most of our family was scattered all across the globe. So a lot of early years, were, you know, just us in California, but scattered with these moments of traveling abroad to meet with our broader family. And so that's where I'll, I would feel that bigger sense of familial community. And all of that came through traveling, seeing different cities in different parts of the world and seeing how even though, you know, I had cousins who were Australian or British, or, you know, elsewhere, we had different experiences growing up, but we were linked by these, you know, global trends that led us out of Sri Lanka.

And so I think that family part was something that was important to me in seeking out, you know, international relations and Global Studies as a kind of thing that I I was very intrigued by, and then also just going on at school in terms of domestic politics. I went to a public school that, you know, for 40 years had been underfunded.

And it right after a kind of, and it was also around the time in which, unfortunately in the state school shootings were increasing. And there was a school shooting attempt thrown at it at a nearby High School, thank goodness, but it really exposed to us the the kinds of fear and danger in in our public systems failing us the fact that even as a 15 year old in a high school, I was worrying about the fact that our because there wasn't investment in our public schools, our doors would unlock. And I would, you know, sometimes think, and my classmates would think you know, what would happen, if it were us, we wouldn't even be able to be safe. And so it was that issue that really got me involved it kind of spurred action on our campus.

And I helped organize and go door to door with parents and other students to try and get more funding for our school district, so that we can make those necessary facilities improvements for student safety. And that's when I really got to see the power not only of my own voice, but the power of our collective voices as students that, you know, when we mobilize and when we organize together, our voices actually matter. And that measure did pass, we were able to get the investments and funding for the first time in decades, you know, Orange County passed a tax increase to fund it schools, which is if you know anything about Orange County, California, it's a very hard thing to do to pass a tax increase on anything. And so that I think those two pieces of the of my childhood and my adolescence were what drew me to politics and and International Relations.

Venkat Raman  11:51  

Okay, so let's come back and talk about your transition from high school to UCLA. You said the first year was challenging. Tell us what happened.

Aidan A  12:05  [Challenging” Transition to UCLA]

Yeah. So you know, when I went to middle school, it was a smaller public school where I graduated in a class of 90 people than going to a high school that I thought was ginormous, graduating class of 600 people. And then suddenly, I show up at UCLA, where there are 30,000 undergraduates and another 15,000 graduate students. So the coming from these kinds of smaller environments, which I thought at each point in my life was a big entire world to UCLA was a really jarring experience, I think, you know, it's full of incredibly accomplished and talented people. But it's still a very big and competitive school. And I can go into the culture of that a bit later. But it was scary at first, my freshman year, I knew I had a sense of wanting to focus in international relations, and politics, but I didn't know what that path would look like for me. And with 30,000 other students trying to figure out their path, it was a bit intimidating at first. On top of that, you know, it's a very dense campus. And people are, you know, practically every first year is living in a triple. And those first few weeks of school, everybody gets sick, and for me, ended up getting pneumonia. Funny, and it was, so I was bedridden for the first almost, you know, staying in my dorm room for the first month of school. And as other people were making friends, as they were, you know, building their social communities at school, I felt like I was feeling left behind. And so it took me a while to kind of find my groove and find my friends and find my fit at UCLA. And I think that part of that is just the college experience. But also UCLA is a really big school.

Venkat Raman  13:55  

Tell us a little bit about how you made made that. I don't want to say transition. But how did you smooth things out? I mean, from that challenging start, which, you know, for a variety of circumstantial reasons, including falling sick, how did you navigate to a better, better spot?

Aidan A  14:16  

Yeah, the advice that I got was, that really stuck in resonated with me was, UCLA is a very big school, but you can go out and find communities to make it small. And so for me that came through clubs, I went and applied and joined, you know, an office of the Student Government. And I joined another club that was kind of culturally oriented towards the South Asian community on campus. And in both of those smaller settings where there were fewer students who were, you know, either shared similar identities as I did, or shared similar kind of beliefs and values as I did. That was a really easy way to To make friends and connections, and make the school feel less, you know, big and intimidating and more small and kind of caring and kind, you know, that's where outside of the kind of craziness of trying to, you know, meet people on your floor who feel like strangers or talk to people in a dining hall, which is for, you know, me was was a bit socially intimidating, like in the smaller clubs settings where I knew that we shared commonalities, and we could talk about them, I found it much easier to make friends, and actually ended up making friends who have been friends for years now, up until this day, in those early weeks when I started looking for and joining clubs.

Venkat Raman  15:49  

Tell us a little bit about the academic transition. And then we can talk about your classmates and professors.

Aidan A  15:58  [Difficult Academic Transition]

Yeah, so you know, the other thing that was difficult, I think this is true for for any kind of college transition, but it is particularly true at UCLA is you for the first time, or in a lot of our lives going from high school to college, we're given so much choice, maybe more choice than we know what to do with. And coming from high school where there were a set number of classes, your path was kind of more decided for you. There were your kind of four core subjects have maybe math, English, history, science, and then electives here, and they're coming to a big public school like UCLA, really, there are over 100 departments and classes that you can take all of different subjects. And for me, even though I applied as a global studies major, I had an inclination that I wanted to do other things. I was interested in economics, I was interested in urban planning and art history, I had just a bunch of different interests and coming to school that fall, and just figuring out what classes do I want to take was a bit of an eye opening experience, when you have all the choice in the world of all these classes you want to take but only four slots for fall. You know, that's a bit difficult. And then if you pick one of them, and it's a class that maybe you don't resonate with, it's harder than you expected, that is a lot more work. It's something that's hard to transition to. So I remember that, first of all, I wanted to take every class that I could, because you know, this is the first time that I could do that. And I think I might have put on too much on my plate. And realizing, you know, college classes are very different than high school classes. It's not so much about the small little homework assignments that you're doing maybe in high school and a series of tests that help walk you through it. In college, you really do have to be a self starter, and it's all about the midterm. It's all about the final maybe your term paper. And if you aren't used to that kind of academic process, where it's on you to do the studying versus on your instructor to tell you how to study. It'd be difficult and that was difficult for me to make that transition.

Venkat Raman  18:17  

What about your classmates? What did you think of them the folks that you met and both in class and in these clubs And...

Aidan A  18:25  [“Favorite Part” Classmates]

Yeah, I I will say that's honestly one of my favorite parts about UCLA is the people and the and my classmates. I think I mean, UCLA is a competitive school. It's, it has a reputation as being a very academic and highly ranked school than it is. But I would say that the the level of competition isn't that of what you hear of other schools, like the students that you meet in your classes, the the folks on campus, I think there's a very different culture around competition where it isn't, as you know, maybe cutthroat or competitive as, as one might hear in, you know, it's through gossip from other schools or see on TV. The one thing I will say is classmates at UCLA, yes, we are academically driven. Yes. All of us in order to get in are incredibly smart. But there isn't that same level of, you know, zero sum game. I, there was a great degree of collaboration, Mike's classes, people were really friendly, wanting to help support each other. And when we left class, and when we left the library after you know, our hours of studying, we felt okay, knowing that, you know, there's other things to life than just focusing on grades. I think there's a really positive and affirming culture that I appreciated at UCLA of we can be really good students, but also have other interests we can go for hike, we can go to the beach. And you wouldn't have to feel guilty about that. As, as I've heard from other peers at other schools.

Venkat Raman  20:10  

How were the classes? I am assuming it was big at first and then got smaller.

Aidan A  20:16  [The Classes]

Yeah, so, you know, UCLA like, like a number of other big public schools, the classes are very big at first, the first class that I walked into was something like a 400 person lecture hall. And that was also a bit of a transition in terms of the way in which you interact with instructors, you know, coming from a high school where maybe there's 3540 kids in a class. And you get to see your teacher every day and have some level of FaceTime to a place where you see a professor maybe twice a week amongst 400 people. And then you'd have to, if you want to see them more, you have to go and find office hours. I think that was difficult. But what was nice is that the in, in those early classes where it's much bigger, they UCLA does do a good job of having smaller discussion sections with teaching assistants TAs. And in those smaller group settings, you're able to kind of unpack the material, go over questions, practice in a way that takes the pressure off of that one big lecture, absorbing all the information.

Venkat Raman  21:36  

So let's sort of transition from there to overall campus life. You started to talk a little bit about the dorms as you came in. So what was it like to through the four years and then we can talk about the various activities?

Aidan A  21:54  [Campus Living]

Yeah, so one of the things that makes UCLA special is it's one of the the densest campuses you can find. And that can be a little bit jarring, as I mentioned, with so many people, but also it's exciting because in the dorms, it's really a full of activity at UCLA, all the underclassmen dorms are on a hill called the hill. And, you know, there's there's plenty of dining halls, plenty of study spaces, lounges. There's something like 10,000 people living in this really small area. And so it's just really lively and full of social activity. And so my first year, I lived in the most kind of the most low cost and dense housing configuration, which was about, you know, maybe 100 people on a floor with three people in each room, the bunk bed style. And it was you to always coming back from class taking the elevator up, you'd always see somebody you knew in the lounge and say hello and get to chatting, you know, you would make, you'd get really close with your roommates because you were just physically close together all the time. And so I will say, as as difficult as it can be moving to a large school, the housing configuration helps because you're always seeing people and by virtue of always seeing people, you'll get to know them, you'll get to strike up conversations. And that makes the school feel a bit smaller. And the other great thing about UCLA housing, as your listeners might see in the rankings, is UCLA has the best dining hall food in the nation. And I stand by that it's really, really good food and it comes with your housing plan. And you know, it's not the kind of dorm food you see on TV. It's really incredible, like restaurant quality food that now I'm in you know, living life as a as a salaried employee. I wish I could have that kind of food, breakfast, lunch and dinner now. So the food is a great draw for UCLA, you will have you know, some of the best culinary experiences in those four years.

Venkat Raman  24:12  

You were super active in the Student Association. Tell us about that. Tell us about that whole journey over the four years. And you know why you got more I think, I think I know why you got involved. I mean, it was right from the beginning. That seemed to be your MO but tell us how you got more and more involved in this.

Aidan A  24:34  [Student Govt Journey]

Yeah, I mean, I got involved in the beginning because I had done similar things in high school and I thought it was a natural fit. It ended up being a quite a different journey, imagined in the sense that student politics in any college campus in the States, but particularly in the public campuses of UC is just a crucible of ideas, personalities, motivation. Is everything. It's really a tough but exciting and exhilarating, and stressful political environment. In terms of campus culture, so when I, I remember the first student government event that I went to having come from, you know, a somewhat more conservative district in in California where I was kind of raised somewhat middle of the road, just by virtue of my surroundings. The first panel that I ever saw that student government put on at UCLA, was about anarchism and how we have to overthrow the government. And so that was my first taste. And it was a very different taste than what I had experienced in high school. It was exciting and something intriguing that I wanted to learn more about, because these were ideas that I had never heard before. But as you can imagine, it also came with a level of difficulty in parsing through certain conversations. And you know, always, you know, kind of wondering, Am I saying the right things? Am I hearing the right things? Is this the right space for me. And so those, even though, I felt I was surrounded by a group of like minded people, in the sense that we all wanted, you know, progress, we all wanted a better university and a better country and a better society. We all have very different opinions on how to get there. And some folks who are more vocal than others and in advocating fervently for their opinion over yours. And so that difficulty, I think it pushed me away from student government and those political spaces for a little bit. Realizing just the magnitude of the problems that we had at UC and in the country during the Trump years, kept me involved, even though they were sometimes difficult and stressful, and, you know, sometimes disappointing and disheartening spaces to be in. But I think the the kind of issues at hand kept me involved. And then also, the other thing that kept me involved that I think is really exciting at a public university is, you know, you are a constituent, you really do have a stake in the university, you can, if there's something you see wrong, you can demand to see an administrator and say, what needs to be changed, you can call your legislator, you can even go to the Capitol, and, you know, sit in and make and make your voices and opinions heard. And the system wide and the state and federal advocacy is something that I got really excited about and involved in, you know, how can we translate? What were the problems we were seeing on campus into the broader policy and political discussions happening at the state capitol at the National Capitol. And so the, what I ended up being appointed to and a role that I had applied for was to lead. UCLA is advocacy off campus. I mean, some of the on campus issues are in terms of free speech in terms of, you know, housing and racial justice and other things like that. They get a lot of attention, they get a lot of press on campus, but I was interested in how do we, you know, make change in policy, off campus and in some of these other places. So that led me to actually and one of the great opportunities that that student governments, like the ones that you see provide, is a lot of really exciting and challenging travel learning experiences. So during my sophomore and junior year of practically, you know, every few weeks, I was flying up to Sacramento to San Francisco to Washington, DC, to meet with legislators to meet with decision makers, highlighting the issues that we were seeing on campus, and pushing for the kind of the changes we saw. And that opportunity was something that, you know, I it was the best opportunity ever had at UCLA, I learned so much from that. And that's something you only get in a public school environment where you are a stakeholder in these conversations. And so after that, you know, I learned a lot more I got to build relationships on and off campus. I got really knowledgeable on the issues and then COVID happened.

Aidan A  29:25  

And suddenly everything changed. And the problems we were facing got a whole lot worse. And there was real, you know, vacuum in our student government of, you know, thinking how can we really meet all these crises head on and I was grateful in all of the roles I held before I was hired. I was appointed I worked for other elected students officials. But I thought you know, after you know, my friends and communities on campus kind of pushed me to it made sense. And I thought, you know, this is a place where I can step up, and I can be of service. And that's when I ran on an election on campus, it was also a very difficult and challenging and competitive election, one that, you know, was a mix of exciting and exciting and exhilarating, but also tearing my hair out. And I was elected, thankfully. And then I was grateful after that, that the other elected representatives of the other nine UC campuses, unanimously elected me to serve as the system wide president, which is something that I'm very grateful for, to this day. And over the past, you know, my last year at UCLA, I served in that role, you know, representing the 285,000 students that call UC home or, or at least called UC home via zoom during that year. And that taught me a lot, you know, about representation about politics, about the need to really move what's going on, on the ground to these higher level spaces, and really make good on promises. And yeah, wrapped up that year, thankfully, having accomplished a lot of what we set out to do, and, you know, graduated after that. So, all throughout student government and my time at UCLA, I think that was the experience that I learned the most from and, and was able to feel the most fulfilled by and I'm very grateful that UCLA was able to give me that experience.

Venkat Raman  31:48  

What were some of the things that you were able to do in that tenure there on the last year, a couple of highlights.

Aidan A  31:56  [President of UC Students’ System-wide]

Couple of highlights, I'd say, you know, when you represent a system as large, as you see, you know, you are really able to push and drive change in a way that leads the national conversation. The UC Student Association is one of the largest and, and oldest student associations in the country. And through that, we were able to, you know, launch our double the Pell advocacy campaign at the federal government, which introduced legislation to double the Pell Grant and then also through the the federal administration, they were able to increase the Pell grants that year in the budget. I, you know, served on on and advise the the Biden administration's transition team on higher education policy and was grateful that, you know, of the folks they consulted, that they consulted the students, and I was very grateful to be that student. And I think the thing that I was most proud of, and one that related to just my education in international relations was, in a way, even though, you know, all of us are at UC, we're still different campuses trying to, you know, build consensus around things in a way that countries do at the UN. And that taught me a lot about diplomacy. And then the final thing that we were able to do after an entire year of advocacy for this was to get all the UC Student governments on board, and get our Board of Regents on board with changing our funding process from being a process of voluntary dues from the student governments. And some government Student Government's paying more others paying less, it was very inequitable system where, you know, we weren't able to be as strong of an advocacy organization as students deserved, we were able to switch that to a more union like model where every student is able to voluntarily pay in. And that, you know, grew our budget by over almost 40%. And I'm really proud of that, because, you know, for for 50 years, we had been fighting as students with that level of resourcing and that model of resourcing. And students would, yes, we're able to get some wins and, you know, achieve change, but for the problems that we were facing for the next 50 years, we weren't we weren't operating at the, to the level of capacity that we needed to. And with this, we were able to, we're now able to provide more students scholarships, were able to fund our opportunities. We're able to make all of these advocacy, roles much more accessible to the student body and become much more powerful in our voice in the state and federal capitals.

Venkat Raman  35:05  

Let's, let's talk about summers. How did you spend the summers? I'm guessing it was some combination of things that you just mentioned. But if we could just talk about how you, you know, took the various summers and did something interesting with that.

Aidan A  35:26  [Summers]

Yeah, I honestly wish I had, you know, more interesting summers that other people might have had, I didn't put too much thought into some of my summers and then COVID took out my last one. But but my I remember my the summer between my my freshman year and sophomore year, I went back home during the summer, and I volunteered for the local campaign for it was Katie Porter's campaign for Congress. And so that was it, it was kind of like an internship, but it didn't really pay. And I was more just helping out here. And they're just trying to get some more experience. And so that I did for that summer. And then I also was taking a summer class at the local school, UC Irvine since that was closer. So that was nice, because I you know, I, it still went through UCLA, and the associated, you know, financial aid, but I was saving money by staying at home. And so that flexibility was nice. The the summer after I was so at home, but I was working an internship in Los Angeles. And that I helped the UCLA Career Center helped connect me it was with the Los Angeles Business Council, which was kind of like a chamber of commerce type advocacy organization that represented progressive businesses in LA that cared a lot about climate change, housing, homelessness, issues like that. And so I would take the train between Orange County and Los Angeles and then take a subway and then take a bus. And it was, it was a long commute. But that was a really worthwhile experience that I learned a lot from. Oh, and actually, you know, that I'm getting my my summers mixed up. The first half of that summer, actually, I did a UCLA study abroad, I was in Shanghai. And that was a really incredible experience. It was a four week program. You know, looking back, I wish I went longer, but four weeks was was a great time. That point it was it was for Global Studies, if you're a Global Studies major, you doing a study abroad as part of it. And so we stayed in the dorms at a university and I, there were other UCLA students, there were other students from other universities also at that university. And it was just a really incredible experience. And then one of the highlights of it was being able to do your own research project, where you would go out and interview folks in Shanghai, I had been speaking and learning Mandarin for a little bit. So I was able to do a little bit of that in Mandarin, and then other bits of it in English. But that was a great opportunity. And when I came back, that's when I worked at that internship between in Los Angeles but I was back home, living and visiting friends at UCLA whenever I could, since that was nearby. And then the final summer was was just the kind of height of the pandemic so I was also back home.

Venkat Raman  39:00  

Talk a little bit about your minors, I mean, Art history and Urban and Regional Studies. Where did art history come from? How did how did that interest sort of develop?

Aidan A  39:11  [Minoring in Art History and Urban Planning]

Yeah, well, long ago, I really wanted to be an architect when I was young. And so you know, I love playing with Legos. I love playing Minecraft. I just loved building things and making things and got interested in architectural design. And so that has always been something that I was interested in and had an appreciation for. You know, eventually as I got into high school and in classes and things like that, you know, my interests diverge professionally but I always cared a lot about art history and then even at home, my parents, my sister, they all paint and so I always appreciated art growing up as well. And in high school, one of my favorite classes beyond the his Three classes, that focus just on normal history wasn't was an art history class. And I just liked learning about more creative things more, you know, inspiring in the more like deeper philosophical sense, an aesthetic sense. And I thought that, you know, after taking a few of those early classes at school at UCLA, were, I mean, they were great classes, but they were they focused a lot on just very like, real world, like serious political problems, like, I understand that more creative side of education. And so I started taking art history classes first to satisfy GE requirements. But as I started to like it more and more, I ended up making it my minor. And I would try to, you know, even as I was taking classes about war, and peace and politics, and this and that, I would always try to fit in an art history class, just add some balance and to, you know, keep me sane, and thinking about much more beautiful things in life. And so I loved it, it honestly, if I could do it over again, I would have double majored in art history, because I loved it so much. And I think the classes also taught me in a way that other classes couldn't about creative writing about analysis about creativity. And that I'm very grateful for even in the work that I do right now, in international relations and foreign policy. It's my art history writing that has sometimes served me best because it's more you know, creative and an eye catching than the kind of policy writing you do in your other classes. And then urban planning was also a similar thought process of, but at this point in time, I had been a Global Studies major and an art history minor, and it was approaching my third year, and I realized, coincidentally, well, because I care about architecture and art. I've constantly taken a lot of urban planning classes. And if I just take a few more, I'll have a double minor. So it was, it was less of a intentional choice. But by virtue of what I was interested, I realized, well, without knowing it, I was minoring in urban planning. And so I just, you know, made it official.

Venkat Raman  42:37  

You know, it sounds like you had a full life at UCLA, and more. So if you were to go back and redo those four years, anything you would do differently? Is there anything that or everything that you do differently?

Aidan A  42:57  [UCLA Redo]

I mean, honestly, I thought a lot about that question, because I really felt when I left UCLA, I left without any any regrets. It is a place where I think it's really encouraged to follow your passions, follow your heart, and have a really balanced and exciting college experience. You know, the one thing I just mentioned was was, you know, jokingly, but but also a bit seriously, as I think it would have been nice to major double major in art history. At first, when I came to UCLA. I thought that the academic path that would make me more professionally viable or, like made more sense, or would please my parents would be to double major in economics. So I started taking economics classes. I didn't to do too well on them, because they, they require a lot of math and math was not always my strong suit. And I, my sophomore year after putting a lot of time, effort and energy into studying economics, in that very quantitative sense. Realizing that I wasn't too good at quantitative economics, and then dropping out of that major. I, then you know, that's when I picked up the art history minor in the urban planning minor, which ended up teaching me much more than I think I was able to absorb doing quantitative economics. And so that's, I mean, I'm glad that it taught me those lessons. But if I were to redo it, I wish I learned that lesson earlier of, you know, follow your heart, follow your passions. I felt like keeping that economics, double major was, you know, something that would be better for my job prospects or would help please my family more like these were all external motivations. I've been following my internal motivations. And it's funny because in the end, And I now work in economics. And I didn't need that economics degree. Funny enough, the thing that got me the interview was Mike, talking about a painting that my boss had in his background. And that, you know, cued him into an eye for detail and attention and all the things that, you know, economists look for. So I think that would be my only regret, is I too early, I was kind of swept up with some of the external motivations when I should have been following internal motivations.

Venkat Raman  45:36  

So let's turn our attention to aspiring students. So the, you know, slew of high school students out there applying to get into colleges, maybe applying to the UC system, UCLA, what would you advise to them? B, what should high schoolers be doing? As part of their process as they prepare for college?

Aidan A  46:03  [Advice to College Applicants]

Yeah, and, you know, this is a question I thought a lot about, I used to serve and oversight of UCLA admissions, and we would think about this question a lot. Who Who are the kinds of future students we look for? And how can we make sure that, you know, they aren't lost in the, in the, in the over 100,000 applicants to UCLA, which is crazy. Now, I would say, and this is the advice that I give to anybody who's applying is, you know, be authentic, be yourself and let your uniqueness shine through. Just as I mentioned, right now, one of my regrets being I was following external motivations, or versus internal motivations, it's very easy to get sucked into that trap with college admissions, as well. You tried to make yourself be the version you think the university wants you to be, when really the version the university wants you to be is yourself. So be authentic and how you present yourself and your interests and your passions. In what you want to get out of your college experience, it's okay to be vulnerable and saying, I'm still figuring that out. Or, you know, this is an opportunity that that would really make a difference, because I'm still figuring it out. But I think if you lead from that, that is, is so much more powerful in the admissions process than then, you know, trying to make yourself out to be someone you're not. And don't be afraid to have a sense of humor, and to be unique and different, especially since there are so many other people that need to stand out from one of my essays, I ended up writing, I remember at UCLA was, I love puns. So I wrote the essay, just interspersing punch throughout. And I felt, you know, I want to do this, because this is me, like, if I were to sit down for an hour with an admissions person, I probably would have struck upon anyways. So, you know, this is me Take it or leave it. And I'm glad they took it. And so I encourage you to do the same. You know, be you be authentic. And if it doesn't work out, that's fine. Because you will find the place you're supposed to be and the only place you'll find that where you're supposed to be is by being authentic.

Venkat Raman  48:27  

Aidan we are sort of coming to the end of our podcast, I would like you to spend a few minutes and maybe talk about some memories or some thoughts or whatever you want something interesting that you want to leave behind. For our listeners. Anything specific you want to share?

Aidan A  48:47  [Memories]

Yeah, you know, I was thinking about this because there's, there's just so many memories.

But the one that I think stands out is a UCLA specific tradition. One that I first attended as a student and then helped land once I was in a student organization called Student Alumni Association. And I'm now doing as an alumnus, which is called Dinner for 12 Strangers. And I think that is such a fond memory because it perfectly encapsulates what's so fun and great about UCLA.

And it's been going on for decades now. And basically, it gathers 12 strangers together all with the UCLA connection for a dinner for one night, usually at the you know, it's an alumnus that hosts students that attend or sometimes other alumni attend. And the first time I went I was so nervous, because, you know, I think I maybe I want because, you know, there was some perk involved, where it's like, okay, if I go we'll get this free thing. I'll get a free meal out of it.

But I was still you know, a bit strange because it's like, I don't know any of these people like what do I expect? But when I showed up there was actually one of the best dinners I ever went to because you Um, it was this group of UCLA students who are UCLA alums, who met about five years ago when they were students, but they were still such close friends. It was basically like a group of friends that was hoping, having us over for dinner.

And even amongst all these strangers, we all realize we have some kind of shared connection or interest or, you know, love of UCLA. And even though you know, it's such a big school, there are 1000s of students and 10s of hundreds of 1000s of alumni out there, we all share that same kind of bond.

And after two hours, we left, you know, feeling really close.

And I did that dinner again, the next year, and the next year and the next year. And every time, I have had a wonderful experience. And actually, it two nights from now, I'll be for the first time hosting my own as welcoming folks. And so I think that kind of memory of, you know, even amongst strangers, only linked by this shared association with our school, we've all had such incredible experiences and opportunities that have come from the school, that we leave with a great deal of gratitude and excitement.

And I think that's what's so exciting about UCLA is like, even amongst all its diversity, even amongst it being a ginormous and scary and challenging school. You know, there's that common shared humanity and interest and excitement that comes from being in Los Angeles that comes from being in a school like UCLA. That just rubs off on you.

So yeah, it's my fondest memory. And hopefully, it'll continue to be my fondest memory. This will be my first dinner this weekend, and hopefully one of many.

Venkat Raman  51:56  

Fabulous. So in this was fascinating, exciting and great story, and great experience. So I'm sure listeners are going to be super inspired by this. So I will talk to you more in the future. I want to keep track of where you go. For right now. Take care, be safe, and thank you for your time.

Aidan A  52:19  

Thank you so much. Take care. Bye.

---------------------

Venkat  52:27  [Close]

Hi again!

Hope you enjoyed our podcast with Aidan Arasasingham on UCLA.

Aidan’s transition to UCLA was challenging and rough due to its size, but he shook that off, to have an enormously rich and meaningful undergraduate experience.

Aidan took his interest in Politics and Government and ran with it.

His active involvement and leadership in the student government at UCLA and his subsequent elevation to the President of the UC System-wide Student’s Association was truly a crowning achievement.

Despite the time commitment associated with the Student Government, Aidan pursued two minors which spoke to his interests in Art and Architecture - Art History and Urban Planning.

He also took time for a Study Abroad in Shanghai.

I hope Aidan’s action packed experience motivates you to explore UCLA further.

For your questions or comments on this podcast, please email podcast at almamatters.io [podcast@almamatters.io].

Thank you all so much for listening to our podcast today.

Transcripts for this podcast and previous podcasts are on almamatters.io forward slash podcasts [almamatters.io/podcasts].

To stay connected with us, Subscribe to Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or Spotify or visit anchor.fm forward slash almamatters [anchor.fm/almamatters] to check us out.

Till we meet again, take care and be safe.

Thank you!

Summary Keywords

UCLA Alumni Podcast, Podcast for High Schoolers, Undergraduate, UCLA Alumni Podcast, College Podcast, Undergraduate Experience, UCLA Alumni, High School Students, University of California Los Angeles, US Colleges, College Admissions, College Applications, Global Studies Major, Art History, Urban Planning, President UC Students Association, Study Abroad in Shanghai


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