Sunday, June 24, 2012

I Lost My Self In a Book and Found Myself In a Story

This is where it shall all begin. This is the very moment we've all been waiting for anxiously for months, and the day has finally come with welcoming arms for all of us ILCers.

This morning we exited the our hotel rooms permanently and entered a new world in which none of us ILCers are quite familiar with. We were greeted very kindly with the Assistant Dean of the school and the head coordinator of the summer program as they expressed the great reputation of Ivy League Connection students at their Ivy League institution.

We all started out by first going in line to get our room keys and heading to our appropriate destinations after signing in. Above my name I recognized an Iranian name as I was particularly excited to know someone here in this program has a similar background as I do. However, that excitement slightly faded away after realizing that EVERY Ivy League student is in one house, excluding me...

I actually didn't mind being separated because I understand we are here to reach out to different individuals and take opportunities that are not presented to us as soon as they strike, but that's when I thought we were all going to be jumbled up together and only a few might be in the same house. I know I will make new friends, but I just felt so excluded knowing that all my ILC  friends are going to be together except just me. At that very moment, I felt so empty inside seeing everyone so excited and me so scared about what was going to happen next...

The story turned out pretty ironically, though. I live in Hartley while Adrianne, Lucas, Lenny, Tomi, and Aurea all live in Carman. They all have smaller dorm rooms sharing with another individual while I have a two story suite including a kitchen, television set, living room, and a room approximately double their size!

But wait for it, it gets even better... My room has TWO beds, TWO desks, TWO closets, a carpeted floor, and an amazing view all to myself. All I can say is, "thank you God...”

So this can simply goes to show that anything we ever find "unfortunate" can only lead to more prosperous gains, just something I learned from The Alchemist.

I told everyone in the ILC that if they ever want to meet up for a discussion or anything in particular, they are all totally welcome and I will invite them all with open arms. (As long no rules are broken such as the curfew rule). Like Adrianne always jokingly says, "Mi casa es su casa!”

After settling down I walked a little around to meet my floor-mates and they were all equally unique and I truly enjoy their company so far. We all went to the Barbecue together and later came home to a mandatory suite orientation. It's really cute because our entire suite is filled with crafty works of art and attractive "girly" magazine cut-outs. Each room is personalized with a creative door name-label, and the stairs are wrapped with pink daisy flowers. Also, one of the ways is a "blank canvas" area where we are urged to draw or write whatever we'd like. The people who created all of this were RAs. I actually have two and they're both awesome! They're both exchange students; one is from Bosnia and the other from Israel. I had the opportunity to meet them all really well in the orientation, as well as a variety of very different individuals. We started out with an ice-breaker where we introduced ourselves and spoke about our backgrounds and interests and then later went into detail about the rules we must adhere to. During the ice-breaker, I realized there are actually two other Iranians in my suite! Well, they're partially Iranian but that's still something! One is half Iranian half German which is actually my neighbor in regards to rooming, and the other's grandfather was Iranian but is a Jewish Venezuelan. As you can tell by my excitement, I am Ms. Persian-Pride wherever I go and If I see some sort of Iranian connection between us, I will literally burst with excitement. It's not often I see one, and I love my culture and heritage so I enjoy communicating with others who share such similarities with me.

Aside from those two, we also have 9 other students in our suite -- all amazing in their own way. For example, one student is directly from Taiwan, another from Latin America, and another speaks 7 languages. I connect with others very well so by the first 15 minutes I was practically talking to all of them, laughing, telling stories, and just sharing ideas. One thing I did notice was that they were all part of a more elite upper class, even our RA.

After the orientation a group of us gathered together to head out and buy some supplies. The stores were actually closed but we ended up exploring the campus more. The campus is beautiful and very welcoming, I love it! Also, for the very first time I saw fireflies! I was especially excited about that because for the past 16 years of my existence on this planet, I've only seen fireflies in cartoon shows like "Fairly Odd Parents.”

Last but not least, the day officially ended with many of the summer program students outside mingling and getting to know one another. Faces were blank with a sense of awkwardness creeping amongst the students at night in thoughts of how to approach one another, but by the end of the night I'm sure people met a lot of different individuals. Speaking for myself, I'm sure I met at least 50 people from at least 10 different locations.

I Hope no one thinks I'm weird by now but I just went up to people and introduced myself.
Just a few of the many awesome individuals I will be sharing a suite with for the next month.
Today and every day that shall come, the sky will be my only limit. Even the connections made with students is an important opportunity. Opportunity is something that I will not miss out on on this trip, trust me.

Now the story will begin tonight at 12:00 AM; the story of a simple bay area girl living above and beyond expectations in an environment of high competitive nature. The story begins now.

Once upon a time...

A Laundry List of Emotions

Today is the day the 2012 Columbia cohort has been waiting for; to live and experience college life at the university! No words can describe the butterflies I’m feeling from the morning to this very moment. So my day started with a very relaxing morning; I finished packing the night before, and I was ready to go. After we had breakfast, we grabbed our luggage and a cab and now we are all here. Once we arrived on campus, we settled ourselves into our respective dorms. Morvarid is staying in the Hartley building while the rest of the Columbia ILCers are in the Carman building.

After unpacking a few things, Ms. L and the group headed to Pinkberry for a treat of frozen yogurt before going to the bookstore. Although we did not acquire our textbooks today, we were able to buy supplies and Columbia apparel. After being shown the subway and bus stations, we faced, according to Adrianne, the hardest part; separating from Ms. L. Although we will meet up every day with Ms. L as a checkup, it’s definitely a different experience to not have her here. It’s okay, it’s our time now to come out of our shells and mingle with our peers.

So after departing with Ms. L, we all returned to our respective dorms for the BBQ Columbia holds to welcome all the high school students taking courses. I finally was able to meet my roommate when I returned; her name is Abi and she’s from Hong Kong! After a few introductions with all the other girls on my floor, my residential advisor Jennifer took us to the BBQ. Here at Columbia, we are separated into groups with a residential advisor to oversee us. My group consists of my roommate Abi who is taking College Preparatory, Zoe who is taking Creative Writing, Miranda who is taking Engineering and a girl from Greece who is taking Theatre Arts. After dinner, Jennifer held our group orientation in front of the Low Memorial Library on the grass. To summarize, we went over the behaviors of conduct as well as Jennifer’s RA rules. We were given a packet with maps, restaurant suggestions, events, and other useful information for our three weeks in the university.

After our orientation, I headed back to my dorm to do laundry. Yes only a week in New York and I have so much laundry! It’s okay, I passed my time with a good conversation with Adrianne. And doing laundry relaxes me for some odd reason.

I will admit that I really didn’t think anything of it at first, you know the moving and going to school here for a few weeks. But now that I’m actually here, my mind is all over the place. I’m meeting so many different people and living with people I don’t even know so well. Yes, I knew that this was part of the program but experiencing it has such a greater impact on me. Let’s go Columbia, give me what you got.

Keep Calm and Roar On

Today was the day we had all been waiting for - we would finally move out of Hotel Beacon and into our dorms at Columbia University. Tomi and I awoke at 10 in the morning and organized our suitcases. Then we went to the lobby and went with the rest of the cohort to the local diner to eat breakfast. I had a wonderful breakfast of waffles with scrambled eggs.

After we all finished eating, we went back up to our hotel rooms to get our luggage and take it downstairs. We took two taxis to Columbia University, and in no time, we were there. I must say that the university is absolutely gorgeous, it looks just as beautiful in person than it does in the brochures. Blue and white balloons were decorated around the campus and RAs were running around, giving directions or getting a slice of pizza. We were directed to John Jay, where we checked in, received our room keys, and even met the Dean of the summer programs! Everyone except for Morvarid is in Carman Hall, and Aurea and I are even on the same floor.

Columbia University!
Welcome to Columbia!

We took our luggage up to our dorms, where I found I was sharing a suite with six girls! The two girls in the room next to mine are Nas and Tori. Nas is from Washington, D.C. and is taking Intro to Business, Financing, and Economics. She also participated in the Summer@Brown program at Brown University last year - what a coincidence! Even though I didn't meet her there, it was interesting to know she went. She took a financing course there as well. Tori is from New Jersey and is taking Biomedical Engineering. The girls who are in the room that is connected to our suite are Jennifer and Sangia. Jennifer is from Ohio and is taking Biomedical Engineering and Sangia is from Hong Kong. She was originally going to take Leadership and Law but plans to transfer into Creative Writing. My roommate arrived much later due to flight delays, but she is absolutely wonderful. Her name is Nathalie and she is from Lebanon! She is already so sweet and loving. She is taking Intro to Business, Financing, and Economics. We've bonded pretty well.

A wonderful welcome
My side of the room when I first walked in
The amazing view!
In front of Columbia's library
After settling into our dorms, Ms. L took us to Pinkberry (think Yogurtland) and brought us all frozen yogurt. We then went to the bookstore, where we bought school supplies and one piece of Columbia clothing that the ILC pays for. I bought a long-sleeved Columbia shirt. While we were originally going to buy our textbooks, they were not in storage. We'll probably have to wait until tomorrow to get them.

And then came the time that we "cut the umbilical cord", as Ms. L put it. I'm sad that we're not going to be all together anymore, but we're going to meet with her every day after class. We also have two more dinners, one with Vassar and the other with Columbia, a boat cruise, and Fourth of July adventures, so she's not completely gone from us!

Once we had gone back to the dorms and acquainted ourselves with more of our floormates, our R.A.'s came and gave us wristbands so we could go to the welcoming barbecue. I satisfied my growling stomach with a head of corn, two sodas, a hamburger, and a hot dog (to say I was hungry is an understatement). The food was delicious! My R.A. is Kristen, and this is her second year being an R.A. for the Columbia program. She just graduated from Auburn University and plans to go to graduate school for speech therapy.
Some of the delicious food served to us at the barbecue
After the barbecue, we headed out to the Main Green, where Kristen and the rest of the suite sat on steps of Hamilton Hall and explained R.A. trips and behavioral standards. Essentially, Columbia is very strict and will expel you for any slight violation of the rules. However, the rules seem very straightforward and I am sure everyone will behave accordingly. After that, Kristen treated us to Pinkberry, and even though I had already been there once, I definitely enjoyed another frozen yogurt.

Once we got back to the dorms we were pretty much free to do what we wanted. I went with Aurea and Lucas to the local convenience store to buy laundry detergent. I plan on doing all my laundry tomorrow; I desperately need to. When we got back, I took a small nap to catch up on some sleep but spent time with Aurea in the laundry room, keeping her company. Lucas came as well, and once they finished putting their laundry in the dryer, we went outside to the Gabezo, where a huge meet-and-greet function was forming. Lenny joined us as well, and I met a lot of floormates. I also saw Morvarid and she introduced us to one of her roommates, Demi, who is a sweetheart and from Taiwan. We went in Morvarid's dorm, which is in Hartley Hall, and were jealous behind belief! Her dorm is HUGE and there is even a common room and a kitchen! Can you say UPGRADE? We all agreed that we would definitely have pizza parties in there.

Then the time for curfew came around and I was pretty much done for the day. Tomorrow we have to rise early to go to orientation and be sent off to our first day of class! I'm excited to see what Constitutional Law has for me. I met some of my classmates already - two of them are from Cairo! - and I can't wait to meet all of them. I have such a good feeling about Columbia University...sometimes I have to pinch myself to remember that this is really happening and isn't just a fabulous dream.

Upper West Side

Today we moved out of the hotel and into our dorms at Columbia. Our morning wasn't too interesting, so I'll focus on the important stuff. We arrived at the gates of the school, at 116th and Amsterdam, in the afternoon. Registering, finding our rooms and unpacking were all finished within an hour. I met my suite-mates: Jamey, an Italian, Sebastion, a Puerto Rican, and Mike, a native of New Jersey.

After setting up, Ms. L. took us to Pink Berry for ice cream. I've had frozen yogurt before, but I had never had yogurt flavored ice cream. It was... interesting.

We then went to get school supplies and our Columbia apparel. I chose a light blue hoodie. When we got back to the campus, Ms. L. said her farewells. From now on, she will only see us on most days in a brief meeting. From now on our chaperones are our Resident Advisers (RAs)

My RA is named Danny Chow. He's in charge of my suite as well as one other. He seems pretty approachable. At 5:30, he took us to John Jay dining hall. The Columbia High School Program was having a barbecue for all of its students. I didn't eat too much; wasn't hungry.

When we were all full, Danny took us to a field of grass in front of the Columbia Law School. You could see the endless stacks of paperwork through all the windows. He explained some of the rules of the program as well as some safety guidelines. We also played an icebreaker, but it didn't go very well. After that we just chilled for a few hours. I wandered around the school for a while with some guys from my hall. When I got back to the dorm, I called my sister on Skype. She's doing a study abroad program this summer in Italy, but right now she is in Norway, visiting relatives. I called at about 7:00 or 8:00 PM. It was 2:00 AM there. We kept the conversation brief, and agreed upon a time to call each other again, tomorrow.

Around 9:00, people started gathering in the quad. By 10:00, there were hundreds of students out there getting to know each other. I've come to the realization that there are more international students here than there are American citizens, which is awesome. I met a ton off people, but none were taking Con. Law. Sadly, our conversations were all so brief that I'll forget most of there names by tomorrow.

We had to be back in our halls by 11:00 PM (weekday curfew). All the RAs on my floor brought tubs of ice cream into the halls for us to share.

I'm sorry, but I spent much of today trying to familiarize myself with my surroundings, so I didn't take to many photos. I'll definitely post a ton over my time in this class. We start lessons tomorrow.

Home, Suite, Home

Today was the day that we've been all waiting for--the day that we finally visit Columbia and move into our dorm rooms. Ultimately, my morning can be summarized with three words--packing, panicking, and pancakes. Packing because I had neglected to do so the previous night, panicking because I had no idea of what to expect next, and pancakes simply because that’s what I had for breakfast this morning. When we finished breakfast, we returned to the hotel for the last time and after gathering our all of our luggage, we went by taxi to our new home--Columbia University. 

Each hall has it's own theme--our's is Powerpuff Girls!
At first, I was worried about being separated from everyone, but as it turns out, everyone was placed in the same building--Carman Hall! Well, everyone expect for Morvarid. As it turns out, rather than having single sex buildings, Carman Hall has single sex floors. Because of this, Lenny and Lucas are on the 9th floor, whereas I'm on the 10th, and Aurea and Adrianne are on the 11th. While none of us are on the same floor, I think just being in the same dormitory is lucky enough!

After we figured out our dorm situations, we made our way to our respective dorm rooms. This was when I met my first of my 3 suite-mates, Elizabeth "Lizzy" Pott. Lizzy and I soon found out that we both had a lot in common. Not only are we both rising juniors and think that flight is the best super power ever, but we’re also going to be taking the same class, Constitutional Law! However, before I could get fully situated in my new dorm room, Mrs. L arrived along with Aurea, Adrianne, and Morvarid so that we could pick up the boys  for a make a quick trip to the University’s bookstore in order to buy or textbooks, school supplies, and Columbia memorabilia.

While there was a minor mishap that prevented us from getting our textbooks, we were still able to buy our school supplies and our Columbia souvenirs.

After we finished shopping, it was time to say goodbye to Mrs. L, since after students move into their dorms, no parents or guardians are allowed on campus until the final day of the program. While we will be meeting with her everyday afterschool, it was still a bit sad to have to say goodbye, since she spent the entire trip taking care of us and making sure that everything went according to schedule. Honestly, I miss her already!

After saying goodbye, we went our separate ways once more. When I returned to my room, I finished settling in and met my other two suitemates not too long after. After hanging out and chatting for a bit, we met with Andrea and two other girls who we shared an RA with, Francis and Kristen. We introduced ourselves and then headed down to the auditorium for the mandatory BBQ.  

My RA--or Residential Assistant--Andrea.
Unlike most BBQs, this one was held indoors and after all the grilling had been done. The food on the other hand was a lot more traditional and they had all the classics, including burgers, hotdogs, watermelon, potato salad, and pasta. In addition, all the food was absolutely delicious—I just hope that the dining hall’s food is half as good!

When we finished dinner, we headed back to our floor for an orientation with our RA. During the orientation, we went over the program’s rules as well as the consequences for breaking them, which tends to be expulsion. One of the most important rules concerns our curfew. We’re to be either on our floor or in our rooms my 11:00 PM Sunday through Thursday and midnight on Friday and Saturday. Being between one to five minutes later results in your curfew being reduced by one hour the next day, while, being five minutes to ten late means that the next day your curfew is at 7:00 PM. If you’re more than 10 minutes late means a referral to the main office. Even if you were to call your RA beforehand about being late, no matter if you’re excuse is valid or not you would be held liable for being late and you will receive punishment. While this may seem a bit strict, I understand that this is both for our safety and to help instill a sense of responsibility within the students.   After we finished going over the rules, we went over the procedures we need to go through to go in and out of our dorms, and when that was over, we received free Columbia water bottles!

Later, Andrea took our group to a local sweets cafĂ©—Crumbs. There I shared a cupcake with one of my roommates, Francesca, while we talked more about ourselves and our expectations for the upcoming three weeks. When we finished eating, we returned to the dorms for a well-deserved rest after a long day.   

It's only been a few hours since we've arrived, but I already really love it here. The campus is wonderful, and everyone here is really friendly. The only thing left now is one more orientation, this time with all the high school students, and the first day of class. I’m really excited for tomorrow, but also really nervous. Tomorrow is that day that all the work that everyone has put into making this a reality finally pays off, so I fully intend to make the best of everything and make sure that our hard work doesn’t go to waste. 

Wrapping Up Our Last Day Before School

Being the last day for us of life away from Columbia University, today was planned in a way that would save our energy, entertain us, and kind of wrap up the past week. We woke up much later than usual, and after a good breakfast next door, took two buses down and over to the East River at 45thStreet, the site of the United Nations.

This was a particularly important visit for me, as I am a huge fan of the goals of the United Nations. I don’t know enough about how they carry out these goals to say that I am a huge fan of everything they do, so I’ll just say that the set of goals they have are a set of goals I strongly support. It’s not that the UN is corrupt or anything, I would just like to be sufficiently informed before I give my opinion on something. Anyway, we entered the UN and slowly walked through the various exhibits, viewing the various art, photos and statistics. One exhibit concerning the protection of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) really caught my eye, as I have a great interest and passion for helping those in need. Internally displaced persons are those who have been forced to leave their homes to escape conflict, famine, persecution, etc. I personally believe that reaching out a hand to those in need whenever possible is not just an act of kindness, but a moral expectation, and for that reason I have great interest and passion in reaching out my hand to those in need of a helping hand. The exhibit included a number of cases of families in Colombia, Senegal and other places around the world, all displaced due to issues they faced in their home countries. Thankfully, the UN is there for support.
To give you an idea of my reasons for supporting the United Nations, the United Nations:
-provides food to 90 million people in 73 countries
-combats climate change and heads a campaign to end leaded fuel in over 100 nations
-assists over 36 million refugees and people fleeing from war, famine and persecution
-vaccinates 58% of the world’s children, saving over 2.5 million lives a year
-keeps the peace with 120,000 peacekeepers on 16 operations on 4 continents
-advances democracy assisting some 30 countries with election
-protects and promotes human rights on site and through treaties/declarations
-fights poverty helping 370 million people rural poor achieve better lives in the last 30 years
-mobilizes $12.4 billion US dollars in Humanitarian aid to help people affected by emergencies
-promotes maternal health, saving the lives of 30 million women a year
Some other alarming statistics
After visiting the UN, we made our way back to the hotel, although it took much longer than expected. Nevertheless, we were able to grab some delicious pizza, explore a part of Manhattan we had never seen, and we even stumbled across an awesome Colombian fair on 49th Street. At the fair, we stopped and listened for about 10 minutes to an amazing group of artists performing some Latin music that excited the entire crowd of about 100 people watching.
Later that night, after returning to the hotel for a nap/start to my blog, we went out to a Greek restaurant on 56thStreet for a fancy dinner with four alumni and two current students from Yale University. I sat again next to Yohanna Pepa, and we talked about an assortment of things, such as how we can best utilize the Ivy League Connection to help more students generate a college-going attitude to how I can best utilize my Ivy League Connection experience to get into the schools I would like to attend. We both have had trouble at times with science in the past, and I asked her how many science classes she had to take. Thankfully, she said it was only a few, and she was able to weave them all into her interests, similar to what I did with my physics class this year, so it wasn't bad. I would go over more about what we discussed, but a recap of my day would take way too much time (although I've taken way too much time already).
To recap the four of our college visits, I found something that appealed to me in each of our visits; however I can picture myself enjoying myself much more at Yale University and the University of Pennsylvania. I’ll start by stating why I ruled out Sarah Lawrence College and Vassar University; Sarah Lawrence I found to be far too small, and Vassar far too isolated. My reason for wanting a larger university is that I’d like to have the opportunity to meet new people every day and see new things every day, and I feel that going to school at Sarah Lawrence (and Vassar, although not as much) would become much too repetitive. I’d like to be in a urban area when I go to school for a number of reasons; I like to be very involved in my community and an urban area leaves with me with far more opportunities to be involved and volunteer. Additionally, similar to my reason for not wanting a small student body and campus, I’d like to always have something to explore in the area I live in so that my life would not seem as repetitive. While I am no longer considering these schools, visiting them has helped me to direct my focus more on schools with a student body of at least 3,000 (hopefully 5,000) and in more urban areas.
Yale University and University of Pennsylvania gave me exactly what I was looking for in this regard. Both are in urban areas, with sizable campuses and large enough student bodies. Students at the schools also seemed to have extreme passion in calling themselves a Penn or Yale undergrad, and gave me a really warm atmosphere to learn and live in. The campuses of each also were gorgeous, and it goes without mentioning that these are two of the best schools in the nation. Core curriculum at both of these schools is not extremely flexible, but loose enough. My top reasons, though, are the location, the campus, the atmosphere created by the passion of students, and of course, the academics.

Secrets, Thoughts, and Honesty.

I've been staring at this computer screen for a good amount of time, still lost in an array of emotional feelings and sentiments, as well as realizations and character development. I feel like a mute woman right now in the middle of a jumbling urban street hearing everything and absorbing all things around her but not being able to communicate. In my case, so much has happened today that it is hard to explain through writing the journey that I, in particular, had.

First things first, I think after reading my blogs you should at least have some sort of idea as to how passionate I am about the United Nations. Well, I'm sure our chaperon has also gained a glimpse of my enthusiasm for the UN and allowed us to visit the center this evening. I was so excited this morning about this opportunity that I woke up literally with a tremendous smile on my face and I got ready a lot sooner than I've ever been of this trip so far. Thank God we had more sleep last night so I had the ability to be more alert while experiencing today!

Lately I have been so desperate to start a UNICEF club on my campus, it's unbelievable. Pinole Valley High School has a lot of great clubs and extracurricular activities that students can be a part of. Amongst these clubs, only one of them functions to help the community, and that is interact. However, unlike other schools, Pinole Valley High does not have any sort of organization that dedicates itself to the PEOPLE of our community, or the world. To be fair, leadership does arrange different fundraisers once in a while for different causes, but we never have anything with a specific motive that dedicates itself solely to one specific cause. There isn’t a “target” or a main focus, it’s usually just scattered which prevents it from having huge success. Having a club with something it’s specifically dedicated to gets more things done, and contributes a lot more to the cause. As a leader I am determined to start this club, the first club on campus made solely for the interest in fighting global child survival. The club itself will affirm the power of young individuals to make a major difference, and that in itself is very important in our modern day society. Today, the world may see us as just a minor set of individuals in society, but it's up to us to prove to the world that we are more than just kids; we are the world, and we are the future. Some outlets to self expression us teenagers find are organizations such as Junior Statesmen of America that allow us to step outside into a world where teenagers' voices do counts and we aren't considered children, naive, or inferior in regards to philosophy or belief. One sort of change that I can make in my community/school is create another one of these "outlets" where young students despite their age or background can somehow contribute to something larger; thus day by day until I provide this to the students of my school my passion for starting such a club will continue to grow. I think the reason why Pinole Valley High school students aren't as involved in philanthropic activities isn't due to the fact that they are not interested, but they are not given the opportunity due to lack of resources to take advantage of such organizations. Sure leadership may contribute to a wide variety of such organizations, but lets be honest, aside from the more limited group of individuals that contribute in leadership, not many regular students know such things are event going on on campus! Of course they are contributing to a good cause, but I believe the involvement of our school community in helping other individuals is a lot more powerful and creates a more active school body. These are only a few main reasons why I am so passionate about it. The reason why I chose UNICEF in particular is because of the sense of unity it also provides and my passion for United Nation as a whole. The past three years I have been trying endlessly to take every opportunity I may have and volunteer at a center, but each time it has been completely impossible. In Iran, I went with my mind set to volunteer, but it turned out the center was way to far for it to be possible for me to volunteer there. Now we're in New York and again, it's way to far from campus but I also want to make sure I'm focusing mainly on my course to ensure I fully take advantage of what is being provided to me. I worked very hard to be here today, and I'm determined to make the best out of it so study most definitely come first!
On our way to the UN.
So overall, the reasons behind my excitement for such a visit were very clear, and once I arrived I was breath-taken. The first thing I noticed was a group of individuals performing a royal Scottish dance. I just sat there for a good amount of time while my cohort looked around the visitor center and I felt a deeper meaning of the dance as a whole. It wasn't just a group of people dancing, it was a group of different individuals of different backgrounds uniting in respect and despite their differences, holding hands and smiling in a peaceful environment. I'm not quite sure if the spectators thought as deeply of it as I did, but the dance certainly amazed me. Lately I've been seeing a lot of people in the city that don't care at all about one another, and this simple dance symbolized just so much to me.

Secondly, the photos on display were extremely touching. Just viewing each photograph was like entering a portal into a world of differences and feeling the pain others feel that you might not have ever experienced. While looking around I noticed a hidden door on the side of one of the exhibitions and couldn't help but to take a peek and I'm really thankful I did. Beyond the hidden doors was a room dedicated to silence in the outward sense and stillness in the inner sense, opening doors to infinite lands of thought and prayer. However, while authorities and nations today fight over matters causing blood-shed, discriminating against one another based on faith, and disrespecting each others beliefs, people here unite under one roof practicing many different religions together respectfully. When I entered the room, it was dead silent and completely empty. The room was simple and relatively ornamented, but I sat there for about 20 minutes completely fascinated. I later called in all my friends to join me, but I'm sure they all felt like I was crazy for being so excited about an empty room. Regardless though, I still loved what it stood for and I will always continue to admire the purpose of it's creation. There, people scream with their thoughts than speak with their lips.

Totally mesmerized by the such a simple room.

Sending a postcard to my mom and dad from the UN.

A while later we were each called out from the room to speak to Mrs.L privately to communicate our thoughts about our trip so far. The meeting was completely confidential, but I will tell you that everything I mentioned was positive. I'm proud that I'm among a group of such welcoming students because we all practically feel like family.
As soon as we were all done we walked towards the hotel and through a fair. What was different about this particular fair was that the most attention was attracted to a toddler! It was actually one of the most amazing things I've ever seen in my life because that specific toddler was playing the drums in the most professional manner that perhaps a lot of people 5 times his age could not. He was so talented that we all put down everything we had in our hands and just stood aside for at least two full length songs to witness the genius of this young boy.

When arrived back to the hotel, we had a lot of time to relax and prepare packing for the following day when we move to our dorm rooms. The dinner that followed was the most emotional dinner I've had thus far. It seems to me that each dinner for me has been memorable for one particular characteristic, and this one will probably always stay in my heart for the level of intense learning. I talked to one of the alumni's at Yale who is also a life coach. I started talking about myself and my interests, and later progressed to what we expect of colleges we might like to attend. For me, the answer to this was a school that not only can provide me with endless opportunites, but a school that I can use those opportunites provided to me to utilize my resources and actually give back to the community that develops my character. So for me, a school is a "good fit" if I know I can take advantage of all things and use it for the benefit of the school itself. Later, he asked me questions and we started speaking about how I feel like there's so much to say about myself and theres so much I must say about my character, but in the personal statement I feel like I can't express the level of my passion and personality as much as I'd love to. Throughout the dinner, the conversations just became more and more intense to a point that Aurea and I became so emotional that we actually teared up by the end of the dinner and had to go to the bathroom. Let's just end it at that...

By the end of the night, I was walking under a dark, starry night just trying to absorb everything that had gone throughout the day.

Quick recap of colleges: I've definitely gained more interest in the universites that we have visited and learned a lot from both things I like and dislike as well. I'm definitely interested in Yale and UPENN, but I'd like to speak to more individuals from Vassar and Sarah Lawrence to make my final decisions. The community and student body is very important to me and all four schools consist of very passionate students that take part in a variety of activites. Academic wise, the schools were all challenging in their own unique way and interested me in regards to different aspects that I have previously mentioned in my former blog posts. Overall I can say I will definitely apply to all 4 universities, that's for sure.

United Cohorts

I honestly have to say; today was probably one of the best days of the trip thus far. Not only were we able to sleep in, but our schedule wasn't as jammed pack as usual with only two events planned for the day--one being a trip to the United Nations and the other a dinner with our Yale alumni.  

In the spirit of our "relaxed" day, we chose to start of the morning by eating breakfast at a nearby dinner, rather than quickly picking something up from the subway station like we usually do. After breakfast, we were off to our next stop--the United Nations building in New York City. Speaking off bus stops, ended up taking the bus instead of taking our usual subway ride. While the bus itself wasn't really spectacular, the view from the windows were! Not only was I able get a better look and feel of the city, but it helped give me a few ideas of some other places I would like to visit before the end of the trip. Unfortunately, when we arrived at the UN building were unable to get a tour, so we were restricted to only the main floor as well as the gift shop downstairs. That't not to say, however, that that UN didn't have plenty of thing to keep us entertained-- in fact, it was quite the opposite. 

One of the exhibits they had on display were the cultural artworks from various indigenous people. The art came in the forms of painting, weapons, wood carvings and many other mediums that traced their roots from places from all over the world including Australia, Europe, and various tribe from multiple African countries. I found the art to be gorgeous and seeing it collected all in once place just shows that the United Nations is not only a center of peace and progress, but also a cultural melting pot where many different backgrounds are both represented and admired. 

Another exhibit was the live performance of a traditional Scottish dance group. The dancers, who were all amazingly talented, continuously danced in a section of the Visitors' Lobby, whilst people enjoyed the show.  

Better yet, not everyone in the group was of noticeable Scottish descent; there were African American and Asian dancers as well. Though I may just be over thinking the situation, I think that it shows just how important both diversity and the appreciation of different cultures really are. 

Their final exhibit was, in my opinion, the most impacting one. It topic was that of a major issue that is currently affecting millions of people--the number slowly increasing trend of refugees and country displacement. Presented by the United Nations Refugee Agency--or the UNCHR--the exhibit was created to help raise awareness about this issue and to celebrate World Refugee Day, which was the 20th of this month. Every year, millions of people are forced to leave their homes and refuge with horrible living conditions. Reason for their need to flee tend to vary--they can range from internal conflict, to war, to even natural disasters--but the main issue is the same. The exhibit showed everything from why and where this was happening, to many country's initial neglect of this issue, to success stories of refugees being able to regain their citizenship and return to their home country. I think that this illustrates the UN's mission to improve the quality of living for all around the world, as well as their effort to advocate these issues. After we left the UN we returned to the hotel and began to get ready for our dinner with the Yale alumni.  

Our Yale alumni included Tana Fridland, Yohanna Pepa, Angela Ning, and Beatrice Ma. During the dinner, I mainly talked with Beatrice Ma about her time at Yale, the ILC, and what my own school is like. 

After dinner, we returned to the hotel for what will be the final time--tomorrow we move into our dorms in Columbia! 

However, before we head off to Columbia there's still one thing I have to do, and that is review all of the colleges we've visited. 

First is UPenn. What I love about UPenn are it's student policies and the extent to which they try to ensure their students' time in college is as great as possible. UPenn seem like a very encouraging environment with plenty of resources and a wonderful staff. The only thing that I wasn't a big fan of was the amount of students. Personally, while I think I get along with people well enough a college of over 10,000 students is just not for me.  

Next is Sarah Lawrence. First I would like to say that I absolutely love it's campus as well as it's student policies--this school really seems to understand the financial and social situations a prospective student may be in as well as how to academically support that student when they arrive on campus. What I'm not too in love with is Sarah Lawrence's curriculum. While I think the idea of concentrations may be a great method of learning for other student, I would personally prefer a more structured curriculum to help guide me.

Now time for Vassar. With yet another beautiful campus and a student body that is not too big or not too small. I also really enjoy it's curriculum--it's has some required classes to keep you a well rounded student, but it also allows students enough freedom to also take courses that relate to their majors. 

Finally, let's talk about Yale. Like Vassar, I also love it's curriculum. In addition, I also think that Yale's populace is nice size for me. 

Street View

This was the most relaxing day I've had, all week. We didn't wake up early. We didn't tour a campus. We didn't take any long train rides. All we did in the afternoon was take a bus down to the United Nations. But, I'm getting ahead of myself.

We ate breakfast at a diner right next door to our hotel. I had a strawberry smoothie and a bowl of frosted flakes cereal. Lucas noticed a sign outside the restaurant stating that a fine would delivered to drivers that honk their horns. Ms. L. explained that those have been placed all over the city in recent years, because there was too much noise in busy intersections. I hadn't realized until then how rare it is to hear a horn in NYC.

We boarded the nearest bus and headed to the UN. On the way, we had to switch lines at Times Square. While waiting, I saw a vintage car, a giant golden hand, and, my favorite, Sponge Bob having a conversation with two Minnie Mouses.

The UN was awesome. We didn't know that they offered tours today, so we just perused the exhibits in the Visitor's Center. There was a Scottish dance troop performing in the lobby the whole time that we were there. I was amazed at how everyone there, even in the Visitors' Center, was speaking a foreign language. I bought my sister a little something while I was there.

A series of missed buses and subway trains made us take a much longer time getting back to the hotel. On the bright side, we saw a whole new area of Manhattan. We passed by a small Colombian street festival, with food and music. The band was great, but the main attraction wasn't the music they played; it was the second drummer: a 5 year-old.

Back at the hotel, we got a head start on packing (we leave tomorrow) and dressed for the dinner with Yale.

Tonight's dinner was Greek. We met with Yale alumni and students at a Milos, near Petrossion. The environment was great. The restaurant had high ceilings, to make room for olive trees, growing right by our tables.I sat next to Max and Tanya, Yale class of '11. Max works in finance, and Tanya is a Harvard law student. They were both a lot of fun to talk with.

I really have no complaints about this week. We were really overworked the first few days, but we got a lot done and rested up yesterday and today. I was really impressed with every school that we toured, and even if I didn't fall in love with them, I enjoyed my time there and learned more about my own tastes. I'll go into greater detail about each school on their individual blog posts, mainly discussing what I liked and disliked. My two favorites were Yale and UPenn.

Tomorrow, we move into our dorms at Columbia.