Monday, September 2, 2013

A Changed Person

For nearly two years, I have been a part of The Ivy League Connection. It is hard to articulate into words how much I have grown since being part of the program. I have become a far more confident and engaged person. I have become a more independent learner, yet my ability to work with others has improved. I now understand how to approach and overcome obstacles in a more efficient way. The Ivy League Connection enabled me to expand my horizons. Because of Ivy League Connection, I now have a clearer idea of who I am and of who I want to become.

After participating in the Women and Leadership Program at Brown last summer, I wanted to try out a more academic program. I applied to the Constitutional Law Program at Columbia University in New York City. I remember the part of the application essay prompt clearly:
Considering the influence corporations and Super PACs had in these elections, does this Supreme Court ruling rise to the occasion of a Constitutional Amendment? Did the Supreme Court overstep their authority in their ruling?
After reading the prompt a few times I still didn’t understand it. I knew that I would have to do some research and put some serious time into writing in order to submit a solid essay. If I had not participated in the Women and Leadership Course last year, I may have just given up. Participating in this program, however, taught me to persevere despite all odds.
After several hours of writing, and even more time spent researching, I finished my essay. Before writing this essay, I knew almost nothing about the Supreme Court or the Constitution. After completing the essay, I couldn’t wait to learn more about it. I found the topic extremely interesting. Even if I wasn’t accepted into the Constitutional Law Program, I would have continued to learn more about issues surrounding the Constitution and the Supreme Court.
I vividly remember reading the email Don sent to inform the applicants of who made it to the interview part of the application process. I remember scrolling down the page to the list of names. A wave of relief flooded over me when I saw my name. I had made it to the interview part of the selection process!

Surprisingly, I was far more anxious for the interview this year. When I was interviewed for the Women and Leadership Program, I didn’t care as much if I was accepted. I had no idea that participating in the program would have such a profound positive influence on my life. This year, I knew that being accepted into the Constitutional Law program would ensure another life changing experience. When Don called my name to announce that I was accepted, a feeling of pure excitement overcame me. The smile on my face lasted for days. It was the middle of the school year, but I could not wait until summer.

Fortunately there were several ILC events during the school year that gave me a taste of my summer experience. At the Columbia potluck, I met my incredible chaperone, Ms. L, and my amazing cohort. The school board meeting enabled me to recognize the gigantic group of remarkable people I would represent during my time back East. I left the event knowing that I would have to consider a lot more than just myself when making decisions. The choices I would make would reflect not just myself, but my entire community. I felt honored to represent such an amazing and diverse group of people. The Columbia dinner in San Francisco was a once in a lifetime opportunity to meet and mingle with students and alumni of Columbia University. It was a privilege to meet these remarkable people and I left the dinner feeling even more excited to go to Columbia. By the time the orientation came, Ivy League Connections had already provided me with so many valuable experiences that it was hard to imagine that the bulk of my experience was still to come.

As our departure date grew closer, my anticipation for the trip grew larger.  Arriving at El Cerrito High at 2:45 AM was definitely the most anticipated moment of my summer. It was, however, pretty anticlimactic due to the fact that nearly everyone except Don was half-asleep. Still, it was one of the most exciting moments I’ve ever had while half-asleep. It was the first step to our trip across the country.

After a relatively uneventful plane ride, we landed in New York. Once we went outside, I was struck by the green landscape. Unlike California where grass must be constantly irrigated in order to stay green, the frequent thunderstorms on the East Coast keep the landscape lush. As we drove closer to the city, the green grass and forested areas slowly faded into an urban landscape. Eventually, the buildings grew taller and closer together and we found ourselves in the heart of New York City.  I was blown away by the size of the City. It was absolutely gigantic and I could not believe that I would have an entire month to explore this vibrant place.

Our first week spent in New York was incredibly full. Our mornings were filled with sightseeing while our afternoons were spent on college tours. Nearly everyday was concluded with a fancy dinner where we had the opportunity to meet with current students and alumni of Ivy League Schools. This week really got me thinking about what I want in a college. After seeing so many schools, I now feel much more confident that I’ll pick a school that is truly right for me. The people I met at the dinners are people I’ll never forget. I was so grateful to hear honest and insightful answers to my questions. I know I’ll keep in contact with many of these remarkable individuals.

The opportunity to attend these dinners is something only accessible to those who are part of Ivy League Connections. The chance to have a real conversation with students, alumni, and admissions officers of Ivy League schools is incredibly valuable. In just one conversation with a student, I was able to gain a sense of what their school is really like. Having the chance to introduce myself to admissions officers was such a privilege. Everyone I talked to taught me something important. I received advice that I’ll carry with me not only in college, but also throughout my entire life.

Despite an incredible first week, I could not wait to move into the dorms at Columbia and begin class. Waiting outside the long line outside of the Hartley dorm was one of the most exciting lines I have ever waited in. After we received our room keys and student IDs, the rest of the day flew by. That evening, there was a welcome dance where I met students from all around the world. I couldn’t wait to spend the next three weeks with these amazing people.

We dove straight into the material on our first day of class. I remember feeling the energy in the classroom. Despite our different values, backgrounds, and views we all shared a common love of learning. This made for an incredible three weeks of learning, debating, and growing.

Our first homework assignment was several pages of very dense Supreme Court cases. Simon and I spent hours in the library trying to decipher the text. It was the most difficult reading assignment of my life. As the days went on, however, the reading became much easier. I understood what to look for in each Supreme Court case. Eventually, I was able to finish each reading assignment with good comprehension of the material and in a timely manner. Having the challenge of such dense reading material enabled me to grow as a reader. I now feel much more confident in my ability to read college level material in an efficient way.

In my opinion, one of the most valuable aspects of the class was the essay assignment. The assignment was very open ended. Basically, we had to write a 2000 word essay on a topic related to the Supreme Court. I choose to write my essay the Citizens United v. The Federal Election Commission Supreme Court ruling. We had limited time to write the essay, so I knew that I needed to be efficient in order to complete the task on time. I also knew that my instructor would be grading us on a college level. After completing the essay, I became confident in my ability to write at a high level in an efficient way.

The three weeks I spent at Columbia University prepared me to succeed at a college level. The rigorous course work in conjunction with the distractions of New York City forced me to manage my time effectively. I now feel far more confident in my ability to succeed in college. Without The Ivy League Connection, I know I would feel very differently.

My trip to the East Coast was definitely the most valuable four weeks of my life. Each day I learned countless lessons and met amazing people. The best part is, though, that it doesn’t end here. I will share what I’ve learned with those unable to experience it for themselves and give back to my community in a positive way. Thank you Ivy League Connections for providing me not only the best four weeks of my life, but also with the tools necessary to go out and make my community a better place. 

Monday, July 29, 2013

Rather Extraordinary

It is hard to express in words, or any tangible way for that matter, how grateful I am to have been given this amazing opportunity. To travel from a small town in California's East Bay, across the country to New York City, New York is astonishing. (I don’t think the idea that I was on the other side of the country really registered in my mind; there wasn’t as great of a culture, weather, or lifestyle shock as I was expecting.) To visit six amazing universities and live in the dorms of one, is beyond belief. And not only to be able to say that I took a course at Columbia University but to use my new found knowledge in the future is fantastic. Not to mention the unforgettable conversations I was able to share with alumni from some of the universities I visited. And all of the delicious food! Being a member of the Ivy League Connection has been the experience of a lifetime, one which I wouldn’t give up for the world.

I’ve returned to reality and have had some time to reflect.

During the months, weeks, days, and even hours before the departure I was terrified. How could I, a little nobody with nothing extraordinary to say about herself, travel to New York City, maintain intelligent conversations with more than intelligent people, and survive in an economics course at Columbia University? The whole idea of everything that I would be able to do, see, and accomplish on this trip was so amazing and mind-boggling that it seemed almost impossible.
Now that I have returned and looked back upon everything that I managed to accomplish, it was all very possible. Everything that was set up by the ILC and already planned out by Mrs. L seemed intimidating but once I was on the Subway or in the midst of a conversation with a university alumnus, it really isn’t as bad, or hard, or scary as I assumed. I was afraid that the course would be difficult and overwhelming, which it wasn't, but it was only three weeks and I feel very accomplished and fulfilled now that I have successfully completed the course.
The first week of this amazing adventure, the time before courses started, was the busiest of the whole trip. When Mrs. L told us before the departure that we would ‘hit the ground running’, she was not exaggerating. That week was full of long days, late nights, and little sleep. In less than a week my cohort and I managed to visit, tour, and sit in on info sessions for some amazing East Coast universities, traveling by train and Subway. We visited Sarah Lawrence, UPenn, Yale, and Vassar all before courses started. All the while we were meeting amazing people on the university tours and at all the fancy dinners with the alumni. We also managed to squeeze is some time to see amazing things such as Times Square and Hyde Park. The Saturday after classes had started we attended an info session and a tour of NYU; then visited the 9/11 Memorial.

When visiting colleges, info sessions are one thing but going on the tours, talking to the tour guides, and talking with the alumni are a whole different thing. Once you’ve been to one info session, you have basically been to them all. Other than the different curriculum for the specific school, info sessions are all the same. They advocate the school, say how great it, why everyone loves it, and why that particular school should be chosen over others. Talking with current students and alumni is where the true magic is. (That’s sounds a little corny but it’s true.)

Listening to the alumni talk about their schools, with all of the passion and love they have, really opens your eyes to the university in question. For example, after visiting Vassar I was impressed by the university but thought it wasn’t a place that was fit for me. Now, after talking with a Vassar alumnus and hearing the love and passion he has, I want to apply to Vassar. When properly conveyed, an alumnus’ love for their school can be quite an effective way of recruiting prospective students. An alumnus’ excitement for their school makes you excited as well and brings the university to life.

On Sunday, June 23rd my cohort and I moved from the Beacon Hotel, where we had been staying, to the dorms at Columbia. This is the point where true independence began. Before this I had never really been alone. Of course, starting the previous week, I was away from my family for the first time but I was sharing a hotel room with my cohort member Anmol, so I wasn’t alone. But on that Sunday night, I sat in my single bed dorm room (I didn’t have a roommate) and I was on my own. That afternoon before Mrs. L left us she said she was ‘cutting the umbilical cord and setting us free.’ In all honesty, that night I cried. In my defense, the week leading up to this night was very hectic and stressful and the idea of everything that was soon to befall me in the next three weeks was a little overwhelming.

Luckily, I quickly befriended many of my suitemates. Some of which were Sally from Washington state, Lucia from Argentina, Emmi from Switzerland, Gabriela from Brazil, and Alicia from Singapore. Unless you are a relatively confident person who is perfectly fine being alone or prefers being a loner, it is essential to make friends as soon as possible. Having friends, who are in the same boat as you, makes the rest of the trip so much more enjoyable.

On Monday, June 24th classes started! It was like the first day of high school all over again. You don’t know where anything is, you’re on this big unfamiliar campus, and you meet a ton of new people. During my three weeks at Columbia University, I was the first ILC student to take the Introduction to Business, Finance, and Economics course. Although I applied and interviewed for both the Constitutional Law and Presidential Powers courses, I am so grateful that I was able to take this course.
The seminar TA and I

Everything that I learned in this course, everything that was said by the professor in lecture and the TA in the seminar are useful and applicable to the real world. Regardless of whether or not I decide, or happen upon, studying or working in a field that involves business, finance, or economics, all that I have learned, I can use in the future. Having a general knowledge of how the world communicates with itself on a business level, through money, is very useful. Not only did the material in the course open my eyes but Professor Mesznik provided me with a whole new perspective on how the world functions. Knowledge is power; what I learned from this course is priceless.

Although the fact that I was taking a course at Columbia University and living in the dorms for three weeks is impressive and overwhelming in and of itself, Columbia is in Manhattan! I was in New York City, New York! When I either didn’t have homework or had already finished it, I utilized my free time to the best of my ability. There are so many things to go do and see in the city and because Columbia is right next to a Subway stop, traveling so much more convenient.

I visited Times Square several times as well as SoHo. I also managed to see a Broadway show through a RA trip. Before the show I continued to say that there was no way I could leave New York City without seeing a show; I decided to see Cinderella  and it was absolutely marvelous.
Times Square
The Statue of Liberty
On my last day in New York my cohort and I were out to brunch in Central Park. I remember Margaret suggesting that we go around the table and say what our favorite thing to do in New York was. My favorite thing to do was visit the museums. If I had the chance, I would spend days wandering around the Met and then another several days exploring the MoMA. Unfortunately those were the only two museums that I managed to visit. They were both mesmerizing and amazing in their own unique ways. I had to leave both the Met and the MoMA because the people I was with were leaving. Afterward I felt, and still feel, incomplete for not being able to see each museum in their entirety.
I now realize that I am going to have to travel back to New York City, either as a tourist or as a student. There is still so much I want to see and do that I didn’t have time for in my far too short adventure this summer. I will have to attend one of the many amazing universities the East Coast has to offer. If I were to attend Columbia or NYU I would spend my weekends in the city, utilizing my free time to experience everything the city has to offer. By visiting museums among other places and seeing Broadway shows, I would further broaden my mind and my perspective of the world around me.

Although I am now no closer to knowing what I want to study or what I want to do in the future, I have a much fuller understanding of what I want in a university and what I want for my future. Most importantly, I have a fuller understanding of myself. (Don’t worry; I still haven’t given up my dream of being a well-educated, successful actress.) The time I spent in New York, the independence that I was given, showed me what the future would entail. Talking to people who attended prestigious universities and are now leading successful lives, is inspiring. My experience in New York has given me a taste of the real world, a world that I am now ready for. The Ivy League Connection is a rather extraordinary program that has given this little nobody an extraordinary experience and stories to tell.

I would like to end my final blog with saying, ‘Thank you’ to the Ivy League Connection and all of its supporters and donors. Madeline Kronenberg, Charles Ramsey, and Don Gosney, you have given me the experience of a lifetime and I will be eternally thankful. And of course, ‘Thank you’ to Mrs. L who is absolutely amazing; it is obvious that you went out of your way to take this experience of a lifetime and push it over the top. And finally, (though not involved with the ILC) ‘Thank you’ to Professor Mesznik who managed to blow my mind every day in lecture.  

"Most people who aspire don't succeed, but the opportunity to do so is amazing." 
                                                                  -Professor Roger Mesznik, Columbia University

Saturday, July 20, 2013

What A Journey

Where is the line drawn between a voyage and a residency? How long does it take to consider some new place your “home?” Is there a rulebook? Has somebody established the conditions that must be met to qualify the difference? Or is it subjective? Over the last 4 weeks, I have attended more events and more shows, covered more ground, been more places, and learned more things than I have ever before in such a condensed period of time. I lived in a college dorm, and took the compressed equivalent of a college-level course. I wrote my first research paper, and learned exponentially more about the history of the presidents and executive power in America than ever before. I spent the majority of my free time downtown, in the heart of New York City. I lived in the Upper West Side on Columbia’s beautiful campus, went to Greenwich Village, SoHo, Chinatown, Little Italy, Times Square, the Financial District, the piers, a boat cruise around the city, Long Beach… the list goes on. Nearly every single day I went somewhere to see a Broadway show – or go shopping in the cute boutiques around Washington Square Park - take a chance and try the Korean Barbeque across the street? Why not! - or just sit and enjoy the temperate (evening) weather on the stone steps that surround the statue of the Alma Mater. 
Though we were only really living in New York for about 4 weeks, the actual Ivy League Connection process lasted for much longer. I don’t even remember when I wrote that first essay about Martial Law to qualify me for an interview at the next level. That was the very first official step I took towards attending a class at Columbia University. A few weeks later, I was admitted to an interview round with some other students, and that very day, Anmol and I were chosen to be a part of the Ivy League Connection. When I initially applied to be a part of the ILC, the grand scheme of the ILC didn't really occur to me. At the time, it just seemed like a good opportunity, and a fun way to spend a summer. All of this happened months ago. I remember wearing a coat to the interview so it was probably during the winter, which was the end of first semester. (Ignoring the fact that Bay Area weather is very strange and I was in fact wearing a coat yesterday despite it being the middle of July.) So when I finally heard that I was accepted, and came to terms with the fact that I would get to take this class at Columbia, I was beyond excited. Anyway, my point is that the Ivy League connection has been a significant part of my agenda for longer than just the time of my stay in New York.

This last blog is a tough one. It’s our last chance to get everything out, to actually look back on everything we experienced and come to terms with how we’ve changed, how we’ve been affected, and how we’ve been influenced. Over the last couple of days I’ve found myself reading my draft  and adding a paragraph here, getting rid of a couple of sentences there. Wondering if I’m going to accurately describe the way I feel and come off the way that I intend to. It’s my last chance to tell this audience what I did, who I met, where I went and how I felt.
The Alma Mater
Our first dinner with alumni, in San Francisco, was terrifying. It was the first time we were sitting down with actual Ivy League graduates, at a very nice restaurant that required at least minimal etiquette knowledge – with our parental units, to boot, so we really had to be on our best behavior. The intimidation factor hindered my desire to communicate, and in retrospect I really regret not talking to the graduates more. From there on however, it got easier. At our first alumni dinner in New York City, I sat with the most eloquent, articulate man I’ve ever met. He basically told me the story of an art fraud case he handled in the past as though it were a prepared speech or the narration of a dramatic film. Alright, so that was pretty intimidating too. He was very invested in our conversation and frequently jumped into others across the table as well. It was fun dining with the Yale alumni, although now I think about it I’m not sure if Chad ever even got to eat his entrée. The dinners got less scary from that point on. We began having dinners with current students, admissions officers, and recent graduates, all of whom were much closer to our own ages and extremely interesting people. I got more comfortable talking to them and asking them questions, which was definitely a relief because I learned a ton about the schools they attended and got a real, accurate representation of the kinds of students that attended those schools.

From our trip to the 9/11 firefighters memorial
Some of my favorite experiences during my journey took me by surprise. My favorite location in the city quickly became Greenwich Village – I was instantly in love with its peaceful, tranquil vibe, and every time I visited I made it a priority to spend a decent amount of time in Washington Square Park. Now, Greenwich Village was on my top ten, but it’s hard to accurately portray a neighborhood just through photos and saturated paragraph-long descriptions online. During my stay in New York City, I went to the village 3 or 4 times (not including one failed attempt to cross the street into the Village due to the Pride Parade). I expected to love the off-Broadway show: Potted Potter. Potter was terrible. Seriously. If you’re in the neighborhood reading this blog, I don’t recommend it. In a complete spur of the moment, three friends and I decided to buy tickets for a matinee of Annie, and the only reason I was excited about that was because of the appeal of the Broadway seal. Annie was fantastic. Beforehand, a trip to the piers at sunset to see a shore-side showing of The Silver Linings Playbook seemed like just something fun to do on Wednesday after class, but the excursion was easily my favorite of the whole trip. I’d never seen the film before and it was amazing. The temperature was perfect, and our spot on the lawn was top-notch. Just hanging out for hours before the movie even started was enjoyable. Just being there was relaxing and fun. I also expected to prefer the contents of the MoMA over those of the Met, but spent an entire 3 hours in the European paintings wing alone of the Met, whereas I felt totally 16 at the MoMA walking around that one floor of solidly colored canvases, going “what?”

The Pride Parade

My favorite spot in New York City - Washington Square Park

Some weeks into the program, I was having difficulty writing substantial blog posts. The issue came to my chaperone’s attention and she then brought it to my own. Now I can’t speak for everybody on this, but the idea of having to blog every night for a month was hardly the most enticing aspect of the Ivy League connection. I know that I personally spent more than a few nights blogging, instead of socializing, or sleeping. Typically, it would take me the better part of an hour just to string together a semi-coherent series of thoughts to substantiate a “good” blog post. Don’t just talk about your day, event by event. That was the rule, basically. And it was hard. And often, I didn’t succeed at doing that. So my blogs were short, and boring. When I was, from multiple sources, chastised for my lacking blogging output, I acknowledged the concern but really tossed it over my shoulder. What’s the point of blogging every night? Is what we’re doing really that interesting? Obviously not if we’re supposed to avoid talking about how first waking up early sucks but breakfast was good and then class was interesting and after that we went to the MoMA … But that isn’t the point of the blogs. So what was the point? To say why class was interesting, what you experienced at the MoMA. Straighforward right? Easy enough. So what was my problem? My peers were consistently shoveling out deep, soul-searching stories about how amazed they were by the elements of Columbia: diversity, intellectual commitment, college life. I think one of the inherent expectations of those in charge of the ILC is that we will go through a metamorphic phase during the trip. That experiencing Ivy League life will change ours. And I guess my problem was that I had this stubborn mindset that it didn’t.

The diversity of Columbia didn’t blow my mind. I actually honestly think that our very own Bay Area is just as, if not more diverse than what I experienced at Columbia. On the surface, the student body of Columbia’s summer programs is incredibly manifold – take my own RA group for instance: Germany, Turkey, Belgium, South Korea, Washington, DC, New York. It doesn’t stop there either, something like 40% of all of the students were international. But diversity goes beyond nationality, beyond race. That kind of diversity was really the only kind present of campus. The official application process was pretty uncompetitive. All we needed to get into the class was a good transcript – and something like $8,000. So there’s the kicker really, everybody there, no matter what country they came from, what elite boarding school they attended, everybody was from basically the same socio-economic background. Obviously there are exceptions to this, but besides my WCCUSD classmates and I, the kids that I met at Columbia all came from well-to-do, successful families. Don’t get me wrong, they were smart. Not one kid that I met was unintelligent. Everybody had a colorful, captivating story, personal experiences etc. This one girl down the hall used to be in a relationship with the son of a celebrity, another girl did commercials, and another interned for a senator. So in a way, there was diversity present in all of these kids’ experiences, but these experiences were not specific to certain countries, and though I’m sure there was some cultural specificity, I didn’t get to immerse myself in a whole lot of it.

The level of intellectual commitment, I had expected. The classes offered were all taught at the same level as actual undergrad ones, and everyone there was a straight-A student, so I wasn’t surprised in class when all of my peers were capable of articulately answering confusing questions on the spot. The thing that differed between the classrooms of Columbia University and the classrooms of El Cerrito High School wasn’t the presence of the educationally devoted, but the absence of the intellectually uninterested. My classmates at El Cerrito High are smart people. My friends care about their education and performance in class, they want to go to good colleges and they work hard. So I wasn't surprised to find that my peers at Columbia were the same way. I definitely admired it, and I adored being in the midst of such academic dedication - but it didn't surprise me. 

The college life – well this was something new. I’ve been to sleepaway camps, but that’s a lame comparison really. Dorm life at Columbia is vastly different, you get one roommate, and you live in close quarters with the rest of the girls in your hall, in the 13 story building you live in. You go get food at the dining hall when you want to go get food; John Jay was open for a good portion of the day. It’s totally different from camp in the sense of all of the freedom we got. Friends of mine spent the day touring Princeton one day – you could literally go anywhere you wanted, to other states if you so desired, so long as you made curfew.

I was blandly unfazed by it all at the time. In my eyes, the many-cultured student body was just a student body. People are people. I liked a lot of the people I met, and I befriended them. There were a lot of people I didn’t like too. That wasn’t because they came from a certain country, and it wasn’t because they came from a certain economic background (because almost everyone came from that economic background). So it wasn’t until after I got home, that I realized that maybe, I’ve been looking at the wrong sense of the word “diversity.” When it all boils down the true essence of the diversity I experienced, it wasn’t the kind that you measure in color and number. The diversity in the people I met lay in their personalities. Race, nationality and personal wealth definitely all play into personality, but that personality factor often lies under the surface of the aspects of diversity that are easier to measure. So that’s why I was so exceedingly underwhelmed by the superficial state of diversity at Columbia during my stay, because I was not, at the time, able to see the diversity that everyone was seeing; I was too focused on the external aspects, and incapable of seeing why it mattered where everybody came from. One aspect of diversity that did take me by surprise was the political diversity I experienced. I've never attended school with as many conservative students as liberal, and there was so much political focus and involvement. People were in the loop, they knew what they were talking about. 
4th of July on Long Beach

Carnegie Deli
The class - oh my goodness, the class alone was an experience for me. American Presidential Power at Home and Abroad - From Washington to Obama. That was the full name of the course, and it was true to what it entailed. The class examined a few of the presidents throughout American history, and how they handled their claim to executive power. I totally expected the class to be a history class, and was taken off guard by the huge focus it had on political science. Even more so, the class was geared rather intensely towards the how-to's of research paper writing. Half of the total class time was dedicated to research in the libraries and writing our papers. Professor Porwancher, the instructor, taught me more about writing than I've learned in most of my english classes to date. I feel incredibly prepared to write research papers in college now, something that I would be terrified of, had I not taken this summer course. This class has left me feeling confident about writing college-level papers, and participating in engaging academic conversation. I've gotten the opportunity to learn about the atomic bomb in so much more depth than I would have gotten a chance to otherwise for a long time. The entire  Columbia library was at my disposal for weeks! The class was a real interest to me, and I just love having an increased amount of background knowledge about our country. 
My class! 

Something that I wasn’t completely aware of before my arrival at Columbia, was just how many classes were being offered as a part of the summer program. To put it into perspective, there were nearly 1,500 students there for just one session. I went into the program expecting there to be something like 7 or 8 classes around campus. Beyond that, I was surprised that not all of the classes were academically focused. A girl down my hall that I met was taking an art class, and from the various people I met, it seems like there were more than a couple art classes. I think it would be great, in the future, if the ILC offered scholarships in other areas, like an art, or theatre. Some of the universities we visited during the first week of the trip (Yale comes to mind) have fantastic art departments, and being given the chance to participate in an art program would definitely benefit somebody who is devoted to the field.

I truly can’t believe a program like the ILC even exists. The fact that it is so generous and recurrently successful is unbelievable, and that the program is exclusive to my school district puts into perspective just how incredibly lucky I am. I’m exceedingly grateful to everyone who is a part of the ILC, who makes it possible for students who would not be able to otherwise, take advanced summer courses on the other side of the country – at Ivy League schools nonetheless.

The ILC is incredible. I’m amazed at all of the work and time that its founders have dedicated to keep it afloat and raring ahead. I’m grateful for it. And I’m grateful to the sponsors that make it possible for all of the ILC students to attend the classes. Though I honestly think that I missed out on the life changing aspect of the ILC, this past month has truly been the time of my life. I had a great time as a whole and I have so much gratitude for everybody who made it possible for me to have such a great experience.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Experiences That Will Last a Lifetime...

Life has a tendency of presenting those  who seek and deserve success with incredible opportunities. For me this came in the form of the Ivy League Connection. An incredible program that offers students a once in a lifetime opportunity to further their education at Ivy League schools on the East Coast.
The Cohort during our first week
I remember the day I was first admitted into the program. All applicants anxiously waited in a El Cerrito High School classroom to hear the final decision from the panelists. I could not even begin to put into words the excitement I felt that day when I was accepted. It was a dream come true and after so much prior work through the years, I was being rewarded with an incredible opportunity to experience what the outside world is like and to learn exactly what it takes to be able to be admitted into these prestigious schools of the East. I was being allotted an opportunity that not many could ever have and the gratefulness I felt to everyone in that interview room cannot even be explained.
The Cohort with the Director of the High School Program
The work did not, of course, stop right after I was admitted and the months that led up to our departure date were not easy in any way whatsoever. It was full of hard work and extensive preparation for our future experience back East. This included events such as a Columbia alumni dinner in which we were able to get insightful information as to what we could expect during our three weeks there and also become comfortable speaking to these alums about their experiences throughout their time there. Also part of the agenda were various events that required public speaking such as a School Board meeting and City Council meeting. Not only was it incredible to be recognized by our peers and on live television, but also the honor that it was to head East and represent our district. The life lessons about public speaking, timeliness and preparedness are lesson that I felt were crucial to my survival at Columba.

Every day leading up to the trip seemed to go by immensely quick, to the point where it seemed like a few days rather than a few months. However I was excited nonetheless and eager to embark on this life changing journey. As time flew, I found myself in awe the day before my departure, that in less than a few hours I would be experiencing a completely new side to the nation. This thought also made me a bit sad however, because when I thought about it, this would be the very first time I would ever be going away from home for that long of a period and without either of my parents. There were times that I began having second thoughts about leaving, but I willed myself to overcome them and focus on all the new things I would experience in New York.

As our flight took off from SFO and we glanced down at the familiar sights one last time, I felt proud of myself for having made it this far.  After so much work and preparation I was finally going to enjoy an experience unlike no other.

The first week in New York was in no way easy-going. Even on our first day there, we only had a short amount of time to settle into our hotel rooms before we were off to have dinner at a lavish restaurant.  Every day involved waking up bright and early to embark on a new and life changing adventure.

Each day mainly consisted of taking a train to a college to learn more about it and the type of student each one is looking for. There was a total of five schools we visited on top of Columbia: UPenn, Vassar, Yale, Sarah Lawrence College, and NYU. It was incredible to learn how each of these schools was completely different from the other. Each school had its own curriculum and lifestyle that catered to very different individuals. I fell in love with each campus and I felt that I really learned what it is exactly that these schools are looking for, a piece of knowledge I would never have been able to receive were it not for this program.

Another part of many of the days of the first week were dinners/ lunches with alumni, admissions officers and current students. There was a broad spectrum of people we met and each person really showed great interest in our life stories and seeing us succeed. Through these outings, I gained knowledge about the lifestyle of each school and the type of students each one is best suited for. Apart from that I also was able to establish connections with the people we met, which I am positive will be of great assistance when my time to submit applications comes around.

My suitemates
After the end of the first week, it was time to continue with the real reason for our excursion to New York, our stay at Columbia. When we first checked-in I will admit that I was extremely nervous. I had no idea what dorm life would actually be like or what the people I would meet would be like. It was all a giant mystery that I had to uncover for myself. However what I did find was unlike anything I had prepared myself for. Unlike many of the other dormitory layouts, my floor was significantly smaller which means there were only eight other students including my self and the RA, which meant everyone knew each other. I had a single room, but the entire floor seemed to act like one huge extended family. We all bonded quickly and even after the first couple days, it seemed as if we had been close friends all our lives. The majority of my suitemates were international students so it was amazing finding out about there background and culture. We did almost everything together, from explore New York City to eat in the dining hall. Even my RA quickly became part of the family, and was so helpful that he would even stay up late with all of us to help us with our homework. He appeared to be more like an older brother in the sense that he was incredibly supportive of each and everyone of us and helped clear up any confusion we had, no matter how frivolous. My RA was also an inspiration to me because he motivated me to come to the decision of being an RA after my freshman year in college. The way he described the fun and incredible experience it was really sparked a desire within me to experience that too.
My Con. Law class
My actual course was beyond what I could have expected it to be like. The workload at times was heavy but the amount of information that I obtained each night was beyond compare. It really illuminated my mind to why laws are the way they are today and why the government operates the way it does. During the actual class session we would discuss the material we read the previous night and the ideas presented by some of the other students were mind-blowing. Students who were of the same age or a couple of years older than me were coming up with these intense philosophical stand points that I really felt amazed by. Never had I been able to sit in a classroom and discuss with such depth and respectfulness extremely controversial topics such as Affirmative Action or Abortion. Another great perk of the course was the professor, who not only was incredibly intelligent but also very supportive. He encouraged each student to email him about any complication in the readings or confusions, something not many teachers at my school would encourage. His replies to these emails would also be very extensive and offered a better point of view to understanding a confusing topic. I can honestly say that I learned more in those quick three weeks than I had ever had in my lifetime.

The excursions were also incredible for seeing more of New York City. I gained so much knowledge from these trips and saw so many iconic landmarks. I must say however that the place that had the greatest impact on me was the 9/11 Memorial. It was not until the day we visited that I realized the great sorrow and significance that was tied to it. Apart from that one of my favorites by far was watching the Book of Mormon at a Broadway theatre. I had watched theatrical performances before, but never to this scale of quality. It was unlike anything I had ever watched before and really brought out a higher degree of appreciation within me for Broadway. The museums were also breathtaking and the degree of innovation that was behind the design of each of them was really breathtaking.

In the last couple of days of our stay at Columbia, emotions began to hit an all-time high. The realization of the little chance of seeing each other again began cascading over everyone and soon we were talking about how fast the three weeks had gone by. In retrospect, they were a quick three weeks and it still amazes me how much I gained from them. I made connections with people from all over the world and who had many different ides of the world. I gained knowledge about the Law which I am sure will help me in my dream of becoming a lawyer and raises me up closer to the playing field of other students around the world.

I can never fully begin to explain my gratitude to every member of the ILC program. Don, Mr. Ramsey and Ms. Kronenberg all put in so much work and time to make this program prosper and I am in awe at the success it has on the lives of students. I must also show my appreciation to my chaperone, Ms. L who not only guided me through my entire experience at Columbia, but also inspired me to reapply next. Lastly I must extend my gratitude to my parents who have been supportive of me from day one. The skills, people and experiences I had on this trip will stay with me for the rest of my life and I can proudly say that the ILC program has completely changed my life forever.

Time to Reflect!

I remember the interview day like it was yesterday. The moment when my name was called, I remember how shocked I was. I thought that since I was the first to interview I would not be chosen and the others would be. When my name was called, I was so surprised yet so happy! I had heard from past ILCers how much fun and how interesting this program was. They kept going on and on about how much this program affected their life and I knew I wanted to be a part of it right then. 

We have survived all of the dinners, the meetings, the tutorial, and now the course. It seems so odd to think that it has all ended. I feel like just yesterday I was on my way to the dinner where I was seated next to people I did not know at all. I remember how nervous I used to get with the idea of being with strangers and talking to people I did not know. Now, it's not so bad. It's very difficult to put into words how much this trip has affected me, but I will try. 

The first part of our trip was the college tours. The past three years in high school I had been thinking about college, but I was not giving much importance to the colleges in the East Coast. I thought they were full of people who would be snobbish and think they were better than others. How wrong was I? All the tours opened my eyes to the truth that most of the kids on those schools are just like me. Perhaps they had gone to better schools or had more classes open to them, but they are not better than me. These tours showed me that I actually like campuses that are urban but not too urban. I also want to be part of a medium or large campus, more than a very small campus. I never would have thought of these things before. I honestly did not even know that I had to consider things like this. I thought that I would just apply to the UC's and that's it. Now I feel like I have a wider variety and that I am more knowledgeable of the college process. All of the info sessions and tours have truly helped me so much. I have brought back so much knowledge that I will be glad to share with my peers when we all apply to colleges.

The college that I absolutely fell in love with is Yale. I did not have very high expectations because like I said before, I thought it was a school full of preppy people. However, our meetings with the current students showed me that they are so much more than that. The students are well rounded and are extremely intelligent. I know that Yale will be one of the colleges I apply to in the fall.

The dinners in New York city with the alums and current students were amazing. I think that those honestly have made me more confident and I think these interactions taught me a lot about college. I think the college tours and information sessions are nice but having the interactions with current or past students is something else. This adds a human touch to the colleges and shows that actual people attend these colleges. It gives a face to them. Also, these people did not just talk about the college they attended or are attending but about the process overall. I think I learned a lot from them and I am so thankful that I was given the opportunity to dine with them. Most of them have also given us their contact information and told us we could ask them any possibly questions we have. I loved eating and talking with them.
The program at Columbia has changed my life in a way that is honestly very difficult to describe. I remember the first day we had to move into our dorms and how nervous I was because no one from the cohort was in my building and I knew no one on my floor. I thought that I would be a loner and my weeks would go by slow. Now I know how wrong I was.  I began to talk to everyone on my floor, in my dorm building, and in my class.  They gave me confidence and made me less self conscious. I was able to strike up conversations with strangers in the elevator or on my way to class. I never would have done that if I was still in the Bay Area. There were people from all over, from Russia, Turkey, Hong Kong, and more, that I became friends with. I learned about the different curriculum and different standards all over the world. 

The course at Columbia has made me a better person as well. We had to speak in front of each other, answer questions when called upon, have discussions, and do a research paper. I was not prepared for any of these things but I managed to do them all. I am a much better public speaker now because I am not as nervous. Before I did not want to even stand in front of a crowd but now I think I can speak in front of one. Having discussions in class where the teacher randomly calls on people is no big deal anymore. My professor was so intelligent but he made all of us feel so welcome in the class. I had never written a research paper of this caliber before so it was a challenge. I am so proud that I was able to write it and I think it has made me a bit more prepared for college. I know that in college I will have to write research papers like this so this was a step in the right direction. Also, my professor taught us how to do footnotes correctly using Chicago style citation and he gave us writing guidelines that most professors would like us to follow. All that my professor has taught me, I know will help me in the future. 

The hardest part of this trip was leaving the dorm. My dorm had become my home and my family was there. These people did not ever let me feel homesick; my hall mates became like my sisters, they were my home. It was so hard to say goodbye to all of these amazing and bright people but they have truly changed my life for good. They have made more mature, easier to talk, and more knowledgeable about the world. I am happy with the memories I have made, and I hope to see them in the future. 

This entire experience is a once in a lifetime kind of thing. Not many people have the opportunity to be a part of it, but I am so thankful that I was. I think when we read these reflections, we just say sure and that sounds nice but I doubt it will affect me as much. That's how I was. I honestly did not think that this was going to affect me as much as it did. I thought that I would gain more knowledge but that is it. No, that is not it. I have matured all around, not just knowledge wise. New York was great to me and I loved every second I had there. 

I would like to thank everyone for allowing me to go on this trip. I hope I was able to convey how much this trip meant to  me. I would like to thank Mr. Ramsey, Mrs. Kronenberg, Don, Mrs. L, and all of our sponsors. You all have worked so hard on this program and I hope I was able to make all of you proud. Mrs. L, a special thank you for being a wonderful chaperone. I  am sorry if we ever bothered you or worried you when we forgot to text. I am so glad that you were our chaperone. Thank you to everyone else for taking time out of your  busy schedules to make sure that this program worked as smoothly as it did. I am so honored and glad that I was a part of this program. I know that I have gained so much knowledge and experience through this experience that I will be sharing in my community.