Monday, June 18, 2012

From Sea to Shining Sea

What can I say, it's only been the first day but it's been quite an adventure. I have not been able to sleep the past two day due to my overwhelming excitement for this trip because I knew that in just a few days, I would have the opportunity to study one of my favorite subjects at the prestigious Columbia University. Every time I would shut my eyes, my imagination began to soar and virtually dream of what this trip would be like. All along I've been constantly excited for my opportunity to take advantage of what Columbia had to offer, but little did I know that New York itself has a lot to offer as well. I suppose out of all of the Ivy League Connection programs, we might have a little bit of an advantage by having the opportunity to live in New York itself. Why? Well simply because it offers us a completely different perspective of life in a totally different environment that rarely any student our age has encountered. It's one thing visiting a city like this with your family, but it's another thing being independent and developing a whole new sense of responsibility that is essential for success in the "college world." Everything here is so fast-paced that whether you realize it or not, every day becomes so much of an adventure that your experiences allow you to learn while also exposing you to crucial aspects of every day life. I realize now that the reason why many Ivy League Connection students are successful in the future may also have to do with the fact that they are a lot more prepared than many of their peers and they have already developed the techniques and the maturity required for any college student. Thus, in short, today has became just an example for me as to how are students are now one step ahead of their fellow peers.

Now, aside from what I have learned today, allow me to share with you the details of our trip. We arrived this chilly morning at 3:45 AM at El Cerrito High School ready and packed for our trip. Don Gosney greeted each and every one of us, weighed our luggage individually to make sure it was all under 50 pounds, and lastly, verified that we had all remembered to bring our Identification cards and insurance cards. We all expected these things before we arrived, however, we did not know that our "shuttle" to the airport was actually going to be a stretch limousine! I was amazed at the quality of care and respect the Ivy League Connection offers it's students. We were all so awed that we we couldn't find enough words to say.

During the ride, a lot of us were quiet but held a very delighted smile that in reality, said a lot more about how we felt than the words that we tried to use to express ourselves. Later, while passing through the security line we saw the Wayan brothers from the movie "White Chicks." I didn't notice them to be honest until Adrianne pointed them out to us. We even ended up ordering food after at the same restaurant! Just mentioning these few aspects of our trip can show that we had a great morning to start off our trip!
The plane ride itself was nice as well, I like Virgin airlines but I've never liked domestic fights. During international flights, flight attendants offer you food, pillows, drinks, snacks, headphones, and all things of the sort. However, during domestic, they rarely give you anything at all, they even make you pay for headphones! That's aside from the point, though. The plane ride as a whole and the comfort of the seats were superb. After arriving JFK airport in New York, the transition from the breezing bay area whether to the warm New York whether welcomed our cohort. Mrs.L had arranged a driver to take us to our hotel and the first thing that I noticed was his distinct accent. I loved it! Although it was obviously English, it sounded so foreign! I later noticed the accent with a few different individuals as well; its really different from anything I've ever heard of before.

Upon arrival to the hotel, we went straight to our rooms and were given each an hour to get ready for our dinner at Keen's Steakhouse. The hotel looked magnificent and I was delighted to room with my good friend Aurea Ribroso. We got ready pretty quickly and headed down stairs to greet our cohort. Now this is where our adventures in New York actually began. We had the opportunity to walk the streets, rest in the middle of the Broadway Street, rush in and out of the metro, and actually blend in with the diverse community. Interestingly, the first restaurant I ever ate in in New York was also one of the first restaurants in the nation. Keen's Steakhouse was absolutely beautiful. The ceiling was arranged neatly with thousands of pipes, the smooth, dark wooden walls were uniquely decorated with anique artifacts, and each room was surprisingly filled with different portraits Abraham Lincoln; coincindentally my favorite president. His tactic during the civil war was one with no compromise, but he managed to restore the unity of our nation and ensure it's fate to this day. Regardless of my opinion, though, I overheard a student ask the waiter why in particular pictures of Abraham Lincoln filled each and every room. The waiter kindly replied,"The creator of this restaurant was particularly fascinated with Lincoln and admired him as an individual, he collected all the things you see here today on the walls of this restaurant." Now, chewing on my tasty T-bone steak, I smiled with delight knowing that the owner of the restaurant had the same view point as I.

Later, the Creme Brulee was just as sweet as how my day was today with my amazing cohort, and my wonderful chaperone Mrs.Lilhanand.

The Suite Life of Adrianne and Tomi

When my day began at around 2:00 AM, I was nothing more than a nervous wreck. But, honestly, when you're as nervous as I was and running on only four hours of sleep, you can hardly blame me. Thoughts like "What if my luggage is overweight?", "Did I forget something?", or "What if I get arrested at the airport?"  And the more I tried to reassure myself that everything would be okay, the more anxious I became. Luckily, when my mother woke up, she was able to calm me down with some encouraging words and a nice hug.

My mother and I arrived at El Cerrito High School at 3:40 AM and began to unload my suitcases. As it turns out, I really was worrying for nothing, as my suitcase ended up weighing only 32 pounds. Not too long after my luggage was weighed and set aside with the others, the airport shuttle scheduled to take us to San Francisco Airport soon drove up towards the school.

However, our "shuttle" was the complete opposite of what I was suspecting. From what I was told beforehand, I was expecting our shuttle to be a van, and definitely not a stretch limo. I couldn't believe it--not only was I heading to New York City, but I would be spending a portion of my journey riding there in a limo. It was at this point, that I was sure that all the hard work, stress, and sleep deprivation was definitively worth it. We celebrated the arrival of shuttle with two group pictures--one simply in front of El Cerrito High and the other in front of the limo.

Soon, it was time to give our last goodbyes, and I as gave my mom one final hug I came to realize something--this trip is my first time ever being away from home. The realization was a bit unnerving at first, but now I see it as a form of encouragement. This is my opportunity to prove to my mother, the Ivy League Connection, and to myself that I'm an independent, responsible young adult who is capable of handling herself. 
The lobby!
When we passed security and arrived inside our airport terminal, Mrs. L had us pick up our breakfast and lunches at an in-airport restaurant. I enjoyed a breakfast pizza topped with eggs, bacon, and green onions, a 7-Up, and, unfortunately, due to a mix-up in my order, no lunch. After everyone had bought their food, we settled down for a quick breakfast before finally boarding our plane at 6:45 AM.

Personally, I think that plane ride was nice. Since we were seated together, Lenny, Adrianne, and I managed to bond over things like broken remote controls, wind turbulence, current events, bad reality television, and a lack of a goodnight's sleep. 

Our plane landed in New York at about 11:00 AM and after gathering all of our luggage, we were picked up by another airport shuttle, but this time it's destination was not an airport--it was our hotel, Hotel Beacon. 
My hotel room!
 As soon as the shuttle pulled up to the front of the hotel I knew that Hotel Beacon was going to be one of the most luxurious hotels I would ever see. And as expected, the interior did not disappoint.

We were then divided into groups of two--Morvarid and Aurea, Lucas and Lenny, and finally Adrianne and myself. Not too long after getting settled into our assigned rooms, we were off again as we were scheduled to dine at Keens Steakhouse for the night.

To get to the restaurant, we took the Penn Station subway, located only a few blocks away from our hotel.

New York's subway system is certainly a lot different that what I'm used to back in the Bay Area. Compared to BART, it's quicker, more crowded, and a lot more intimidating. 

After the subway ride came a walk to the restaurant, and on the way there I found the scenery breathtaking. We were even able to catch a few glimpses of some other places that we'll be visiting such as Madison Square Garden and Times Square. 
When we arrived at Keens Steakhouse, we were quickly seated and served. For an appetizer, Mrs. L had ordered everyone a batch of oysters, whereas I had order the short rib for dinner, which, despite it's name, was absolutely huge. Because of my large entree, I barely had any room any side dishes and even the idea of dessert made my stomach hurt!  
After dinner, we quickly returned for the hotel room and went over tomorrow's schedule. Afterwards, we all returned to hotel rooms for the night. 

Let's Go

And thus the adventure begins. At 3:10 AM I readied myself and did a last minute checklist to ensure I had everything I needed. I set out for El Cerrito High School, where the ILC Columbia 2012 cohort was to meet. Upon arrival we were given a few last minute instructions and of course took a few pictures before departing for San Francisco International Airport in style with a stretch limousine. I wasn’t exactly excited during that time, more likely due to the early hour and lack of sleep.

When we reached SFO, we checked in our luggage and passed through security. And guess who we saw while passing through the security check line? Movie stars Marlon and Shawn Wayans! After retrieving our breakfast, and a few inconspicuous photos, we boarded the plane. This being my first flight outside of California, and my second one overall, I thought it was a good flight. Virgin America has many ways to keep guests entertained, whether it be playing games, watching movies, or sleeping away. I won’t lie, my fatigue caught up to me, and slept for a good two hours of the flight. Although for a good part of the trip, I was entertained with good conversation with my fellow cohorts Morvarid and Lucas. Finally after five hours of flying, we arrived at our destination: New York City.

From inside the van on Brooklyn Bridge
Once we acquired all our belongings, we found our transportation service to the Beacon Hotel. While driving through the various parts of New York, my excitement began to grow at seeing the city. The tall buildings, the Brooklyn Bridge, the various streets, all made me thrilled about my upcoming time here in New York. We arrived at the Beacon Hotel around 5 PM and waited a few minutes before being checked into our rooms. My roommate will be Morvarid with team Lucas and Lenny on the same floor while team Adrianne and Tomi are staying a few floors above us.

Subway Entrace to 72nd Street
After refreshing ourselves and changing of attire, we congregated into the lobby at 6:45 PM to leave for our test; the subway station. As soon as we paid for our MetroCards, we marched into the dark underworld known as the subway system (although I will admit it wasn’t very dark). Although this part seemed to be the hardest to go through, due to New York’s upbeat pace, our group was able to stride in with the rest and safely made it through the hustle and bustle. Once the Penn Station stop came, the group hurriedly exited the subway to find the Amtrak and obtain our tickets.

Soon our group was walking through the halls of great legends from Muhammad Ali to Elvis Presley in Madison Square Garden. We roamed the streets of New York for a while, enjoying the mild weather and lively atmosphere around us. We found many attractions we wanted to visit; from the Broadway theatre to the biggest Macy’s in the world, we all gazed in awe the site around us. Due to our early departure from the hotel, we were granted a little relaxation time on Broadway where a few tables and chairs were set up. Doesn’t seem that exciting, until you find out that we sat in the middle of the street. A small strip of Broadway was turned into a small recreation park with tables and chairs to enjoy the Broadway surroundings.

Aged Prime New York Sirloin
When the time came, our group made our way to Keen’s Steak House, one of the oldest running restaurants in New York. Being the owner of the largest wooden pipe collection in the world, Keen’s is cleverly designed with pipes, from top to bottom. Once our group was seated, we all sat down for, in my opinion, one of the best meals I’ve ever had. I ordered the Aged Prime New York Sirloin and I can honestly say that this was the best steak I’ve ever eaten by far. What made the meal even better was the conversation among our group. From movies to politics, our group learned a great deal about one another. We ended our meal with a delicious dessert, from crème brûlée to hot fudge sundaes.

And now after leaving the restaurant and trekking our way back to the hotel, I am here to tell you how truly privileged I feel to be able to be part of a great program. This is only the beginning, let’s go!

Sleepless in the City

We finally took off for New York today. I'm writing this in a hotel room in the city at about 11:00 PM. There must be something wrong with me. I literally haven't slept in about 48 hours, but I haven't been hit by fatigue yet. I haven't had any caffeine, so I'm probably just running on an adrenaline rush from all the excitement. I tried to get some sleep last night; I must have been lying in bed for over two hours, before I finally gave up and decided to read a book until it was time to leave. I had already finished packing, so there wasn't much to do. None of my classmates got more than four hours of sleep though, so I'm sure I'm not the only one in need of rest. I feel pretty awake right now, but as soon as I post this, I'll probably nod off.

After a night of uninterrupted consciousness, my dad came to knock at my door at about 2:30 this morning to, he thought, wake me up. Being fully prepared to leave, all I had left to do was say my last goodbyes to my sister, Sierra, and my cat, Columbo, who tried to scratch me for waking him so early. My mom and dad drove me to El Cerrito High School at 3:30 AM, where we met with Don Gosney, Cheryl Lilhanand and Madeline Kronenberg, as well as my fellow classmates. We expected a shuttle to pick us up at about 5 AM, but instead a limo came at around 4:30. I payed about fifty dollars to ride in one of these to the junior prom this year. Now, the ILC gives me a lift in one for free. I have to say, I'm pretty smitten with this program.
Not a bad way to travel
We got to see two important groups of people at the airport. The first was Yohanna and her family. She was on her way back to Yale, where she will be our tour guide in a few days. I'm sure everyone else will write about the second group extensively, so I'll just touch on it a little. In front of us in the baggage check line, were the famous acting duo, the Wayans brothers, Shawn and Marlon. We didn't get a picture with them, or get their autographs; we just saw them, and ate near them at a breakfast shop in the airport.

The flight was okay. I'd never been on Virgin Airlines before, so I didn't know what to expect. Although it was a long flight, and the seats were cramped, I was pleasantly surprised to find that each seat had its own personal television with about twenty channels to peruse. That kept me occupied for most of the trip.

We landed at JFK airport and were picked up by a van. The driver drove really fast, but I was comfortable with it. I was able to take these shots over the drive. They aren't great, but they adequately capture what I saw on my way into New York.
Freedom Tower, under construction
This is the Beacon Hotel, where we are staying
When we got to hotel, Lucas and I got into our room and got our first moment of relaxation all day. After about an hour of watching TV, we got dressed in some nice, summery business clothes and went downstairs to the lobby to meet Ms. L. and the girls. We headed off together to the nearest subway station, where we bought our tickets and boarded our first train. I have to say, the similarities between BART and the subway were astounding. Although the cars were a bit more cramped, the system functioned basically the same way that BART does. I had been told that they make people board much faster here, but it didn't seem that way to me. The only noticeable difference to me, was the cleanliness. Not to insult this city, because I love it already, but the subway stations are filthy. Lucas mentioned to me that there is a major rat problem, and not 30 seconds after he said that, I saw a huge black rat scurry along the tracks. It was the first of two I would see today.

When we got to 42nd Street, we emerged from the tunnels and began our walk towards Keens Steakhouse, where we had dinner tonight. The stroll was really fun. The buildings here are enourmous, and even the stores like Footlocker or Macy's are at least three times as big as they are in Richmond. I'm not usually impressed by demonstrations of corporate and commercial power, but for some reason, these were fascinating to me.

We arrived at Keens Steakhouse at 8:00 PM. The place is amazing; it was founded in 1885, and is decorated all over with tens of thousands of old fashioned pipes, as well as old photos and portraits. I'm getting tired, so I'll cut right to the chase. The food, service and atmosphere were all amazing. I ordered the lobster, and was blown away. Not only was the main course great, but the bread, vegetables appetizers and dessert (a hot fudge sunday) were all to die for. I had the best fries of my entire life there, today. The icing on the cake is that this wasn't a formal meeting with the faculty of any school. It was just a nice dinner with my classmates and chaperone after a very long day. All in all, this was probably the best dinner of my entire life.

After we finished dessert, we started the long walk back to the hotel. I put away my clothes, took a shower and now here I am, writing today's blog. If my account thus far hasn't accurately displayed my emotions, let make them real clear; I'm ecstatic. I can tell already that I'm going to enjoy every minute of this adventure, and I can't wait to see what tomorrow has in store for us.

I Could Get Used To This

Today was a ridiculously crazy day. We got up at around 2:30 in the morning, traveled 3,000 miles across the country, moved into our hotel, explored the city of New York and went out to dinner. I really don't know where to start, so I'm just going to do this chronologically.

Our plane - sorry for the dots, there was sort of a plastic sheet
over the window.
The six of us, our parents, Mrs. L, Don Gosney, and Mrs. Kronenberg met up at El Cerrito High School at 3:45 in the morning for the weighing of our luggage, a photo, and some quick reminders before we left on our shuttle to the airport. While I do love to fly...let me tell you, I absolutely hate the airline industry. Fee here, fee there, 8 dollars for some fruit, restriction on this, restriction on that, etc. While I was extremely excited about the trip. it was also pretty stressful not knowing whether I'd have to pay an extra $50 because my bag was too heavy (it ended up being 4 pounds under the limit) or whether they would bug me about carrying a suit on board, as it was quite a bit bigger than a purse, laptop case or other personal items. Thankfully, Virgin America gave me no problems at all. I was out like a light as soon as we took off; the seats were very comfortable (for an airplane), the ride was smooth, and there were no crying babies. I'd say I slept a good 3 1/2 to 4 of the 5 hours we were flying.

As soon as we landed, the wheels began turning again; we boarded a shuttle to our hotel a little south of Upper Manhattan at 74th Street. The hotel was very nice and gave us everything we needed; the room was clean and comfortable, the wi-fi works well, and even though the room Lenny and I got is directly across from the elevator, it is very quiet.
View Looking Up Seventh Ave. from 33rd St.
A little over an hour after we arrived at the hotel, we set out to Penn Station to pick up our tickets for tomorrow's train to Philadelphia. I was fascinated by the fact that there is practically another world down under the streets of New York; the complex that made up Penn Station consisted of I don't know how many pizza places, the subway, three other rail lines, and more. After that, we took a leisurely walk up Seventh Avenue to 36th Street, and from there east a few blocks to our restaurant. The restaurant, Keens Steakhouse, is one of the oldest in Manhattan, and the building created a unique atmosphere of history with photos and newspaper articles from its earliest days covering the walls, along with some very old architecture and artwork. For me, though, the best part was the food. I ordered the Aged Prime New York Sirloin (well done), which turned out to be the juiciest, most delicious slab of meat that I have ever tasted. If you look at the picture below, you can see with the reflection of the light just how juicy my steak actually was. 
After eating, we all returned to the hotel on very full stomachs. We went over the plan for tomorrow, which involves waking up at 6:30...but I can say that today we only got started! Tomorrow we'll be visiting the University of Pennsylvania and Philadelphia before returning to New York for another delicious dinner, this one at a French restaurant. I already see myself steadily gaining weight from these amazing dinners, so I've decided to take the stairs 8 stories every day to maybe burn just a few of those calories. I'm not really complaining, though, the beautiful places, valuable information and amazing food...I could get used to this.

Where to begin?

Even though the concept of getting as much sleep as possible before we left for New York City, I only got three hours of sleep (the 2nd best amount of sleep in the cohort, actually!). I was way too excited for this wonderful journey! After assembling my backpack and making sure I had everything in my luggage, my mom drove my sister and I to El Cerrito High School. The difference between this year and last year is that Don individually gave us our loaner items, so that shaved off some time. After weighing luggage, checking IDs and medical cards, a talk with the cohort and parents, and necessary group pictures, we were off to the airport. Saying goodbye to my mom and sister was hard - even though I did this program last year, it doesn't get any easier! I know they are with me, though, in spirits and hopes. As soon as the parents began to drift away, a limo pulled up - riding in style, like always!
Limo ride to the airport! 
The ride to SFO wasn't too long, and after checking in our luggage and going through security, I got the best excitement of the day...THE WAYANS BROTHERS WERE IN SFO - IN THE SAME SECURITY LINE AS US. For those who do not know who the Wayans Brothers are, they are the two main characters in the absolutely hilarious film "White Chicks", which is one of my favorite films. After jumping up and down with excitement, I tried to calm down but got even more excited as we went into a small cafe to get breakfast and lunch....and the Wayans Brothers were sitting in the same cafe. To sum it was a wonderful morning. A very, very wonderful morning.

After getting food and resisting to ask the Wayans Brothers for an autograph (I respect celebrities' wishes for privacy), we headed to the gate and boarded the plane soon after. I sat next to Tomi and Lenny for the flight. The flight was a bit bumpy at times but I did catch up on some sleep and watched some TV shows. Before we knew it, six hours had gone by and we were in New York City!

New York City is fascinating. As a driver was taking us to the city from the airport, I was in awe of my surroundings. Everything moved so quickly and everything also just seemed so much bigger. The rest of the cohort, Ms. L, the driver, and I made good conversation on the hour long trip to the city. The Columbia cohort will be staying in Hotel Beacon for the rest of the week. Tomi is my roommate, which I'm very happy about.
Front of Hotel Beacon
New York City
Inside of my and Tomi's hotel room 
After doing a quick brief in the lobby and then resting in our hotel rooms, we all dressed up and went downstairs to get going to dinner. Ms. L brought us metro cards, showed us how to use them, and then we were off and using the subway. Even though it was dirty and we saw some rats scurrying around the tracks, it was not as scary as I thought it would be - it was very fast paced, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. Since we had over half an hour before our dinner reservation, we acted as tourists and took lots of pictures. New York City is so exciting - everyone is rushing, there are so many yellow taxis and pizza joints on every corner, and it's just a huge bustle...I love it.
Tomi and I
Dressed up and ready to go to dinner

Yellow Taxi Cabs...they're EVERYWHERE! 
New York City - In Action
Dinner was absolutely divine. We went to Keen's Steakhouse and had a fabulous meal. I ordered New York sirloin with a side of mashed potatoes, along with two Shirley Temple's and later a warm cup of herbal camomile tea. It was nice just relaxing with the cohort and having several debates, ranging from our favorite movies to who is our favorite president. It was a wonderful, relaxing evening. I love New York City already. It's all clicking; this is going to be great. Tomorrow we are going to see the University of Pennsylvania, which I did research on. I'm excited for what lays ahead!
Where we had our lovely dinner
East Coast (found in Maine) and West Coast (found in Seattle) oysters that the table shared
My dinner - before I ate it (mashed potatoes hadn't arrived yet)
Lenny and his lobster bib (-:
My dinner - after I was completely full
Our lovely cohort
A lot of Abraham Lincoln memorabilia was in the restaurant. The original owner loved Lincoln and collected a bunch of articles and pictures of him. This framed playbill is apparently the playbill Lincoln was holding in his hands when he was assassinated in the Ford Theater in 1865!