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.

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