Gorgeous brick-red and ivory buildings, wide and clean streets, various shops and restaurants, a verdant lawn, a fancy "Hogwarts-style" dining hall with bright stained-glass windows … This beautiful resort-like compound located in downtown Los Angeles, California, the US, is the new home for 2,500 students of the University of Southern California (USC).
McCarthy Honors College of USC Photo: Courtesy of Gus Ruelas
A home far away from home
USC, a renowned private American university, opened its $700 million, 15-acre residential and retail complex - USC Village - last month after three years of construction. A five-minute walk from USC's main campus, the Village provides a new residential option for its students and faculty, as well as a shopping and social community for all Trojans and surrounding residents.
There are six similarly structured five-floor residential buildings throughout the Village, with college suites on the upper floors and shops, restaurants, gyms and bike-parking lots on the ground level.
"When students come to study at USC, it isn't just for what they learn in the classroom, but also for their experiences outside," said USC President C. L. Max Nikias. "We need a first-class residential life for our students, and we founded it [the Village] for USC in the 21st century."
The Village has 663 residential suites, most of which are equipped with kitchens. On each floor, there are also laundry rooms, multimedia study halls and lounges open 24 hours a day.
A highlight is an outdoor courtyard on the second floor, with sofas and plants neatly arranged. "Here you can have band, video, barbecue, film … whatever activities you like to enrich your residential life," said Dan Moran, associate director of USC Housing.
On the first floor of each of the six residential buildings, 25 retailers including Target and Trader Joe's have already opened or will open, as well as a bank and a FedEx. All these are available for both USC Village students and visitors. The fitness center is exclusive to USCers, open through midnight every day.
USC guarantees in-campus accommodations for all the freshmen and sophomores. For other students, they either rent an off-campus apartment (USC cooperates with some apartment companies) or apply for a limited on-campus residential quota (first come, first serve basis).
USC President C. L. Max Nikias Photo: Courtesy of Philip Channing
For juniors and above who prefer living on campus, the newly constructed USC Village, with more than 2,500 beds, undoubtedly results in more opportunities.
Junior Vanessa Toh from Singapore successfully moved into the Village as she hoped. The 19-year-old now lives in a two-room suite, shared with another student. "It looks so nice, and it's so close to campus," she said.
Last year, Toh lived in a four-room suite with seven roommates inside the campus and spent a good time there. The only thing was that at the time USC didn't have any retail shops on its campus except a bookstore.
"That was definitely an issue I found kind of [inconvenient], especially for a girl who likes to shop," she told the Global Times. "To buy snacks, drinks and supplies I had to go a Ralphs downtown."
As USC students can enjoy free Uber or Lyft services at night after 7 pm, Toh usually waited for a free ride when she planned to go shopping. "That's not that bad, but it means every time I needed something I had to wait until evening," she said.
Now, students living in USC Village need not have to wait. Instead they can shop at Target or Trader Joe's right downstairs.
Residential College interior courtyard Photo: Courtesy of Gus Ruelas
Cheaper cost of living
Before moving into the Village, some worried about possible high rental fees due to its brand-new rooms and sparkling facilities. But to their surprise, the cost of living in the Village is almost the same as on campus.
Ranging from $3,125 to $6,725 per semester, students have their pick of room types depending on their personal budget. "And my rent is even less," Toh smiled. "Last year I paid $5,600 per semester with no kitchen, and now only $5,000 with a kitchen!"
Nearly 10 percent of USC Village's 2,500 residents are international students. For them the Village has become their home far away from home. Chinese national Xiong Hao, 20, is a sophomore at USC. He shares a suite in the Village with a roommate.
"The room is bigger than the one I lived in on campus last year," he said. "It has larger space and looks like a standard hotel room."
Though Xiong doesn't shop as often as Toh, he appreciates the convenience. "It saves not only time but money," he said. "Yesterday I bought my breakfast and some household supplies at Trader Joe's, all for just $15 - much cheaper than outside."
Affordability is an important standard of any business hoping to open in the Village. "I don't want expensive brand names," President Nikias told the Global Times. "Students told me that if a salad cost $15, that is expensive, and I identify with them. That is expensive. So we brought in shops and restaurants with both good quality and affordable prices for the students."
USC Village and great lawn Photos: Courtesy of Gus Ruelas
5,000 Chinese students
Sophomore Cai Han, a 19-year-old from China, likes to cook, and found that buying food ingredients at the retail stores downstairs cost much less than downtown. "I can get all my ingredients for a whole week with only $30."
Cai is also excited about a forthcoming Asian restaurant opening in the Village. She recalled that, in the past, if she wanted to eat Chinese food, she had to take a 40-minute taxi ride to Chinatown to please her stomach. "Fortunately it will be a lot easier soon."
According to Katherine Harrington, USC's vice president of admissions and planning, some 5,000 Chinese students are studying at USC. Of them, 955 are undergraduates, accounting for one-third of the university's undergraduate international students.
Several months ago, Chinese student Zhang Yingying was reportedly kidnapped and killed after arriving to study at an American university, causing panic among many overseas Chinese students and their families.
Safety and the US's high crime rate are now major concerns for Chinese parents.
"Sometimes my parents also worry about it, but each time I tell them that living here I feel quite safe," said Cai, who mentioned USC Village's access control system. "The Village is open to the public in the daytime but closed at night," she explained. "Only those with USC student cards can enter after 9 pm."
USC Village dining hall Photo: Courtesy of Gus Ruelas
A labor of love
Anyone who wants to enter the Village's residential building must pass an additional fingerprint recognition system, introduced by President Nikias. "We also provide free Uber and Lyft services for students at night, amounting to 40,000 rides per week," he said. "We have tight security."
USC Village benefits not only the university but also the surrounding neighborhood. It's accessible to the public in the daytime, offering a variety of shopping and dining options to its surrounding residents.
There is also a community room open to the public for local programs and events. Moreover, the Village has created nearly 800 permanent full-time and part-time jobs.
"This project has been a labor of love for all of us," Nikias said. "We built this Village to show our enduring commitment to our exceptional students and our beloved neighbors."
USC Village Photo: Courtesy of David Sprague
USC President C. L. Max Nikias and the Trojan Marching Band with Hecuba Photo: Courtesy of MOB
New USC Village grand opening celebration Photo: Courtesy of David Sprague
Residential college lounge Photos: Courtesy of Gus Ruelas
Interior of residential suite Photo: Courtesy of Gus Ruelas