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

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