Sunday, July 22, 2012

Summer of a Lifetime

My journey to New York did not begin on June 18th. It began in October, with the Pinole Valley High School College Fair, at the ILC booth run by Alex Elms and Don Gosney. This was not my first time hearing about the program or meeting Don, but it was when things really began. The road from then until now has been a long, difficult, and undoubtedly rewarding one, that I know will have a lasting impact on my life. 

I think I can break up my trip into two chronological sections: the first week, and then the following three. They differed greatly. When we first arrived in New York, we were constantly on the move. It was really exciting. One moment we would be at UPenn, and the next we would be having dinner by Central Park. We did so much in each day, that I honestly thought more time had passed than actually had; every time I thought of "yesterday," it would feel like several days ago.

The highlight of that first week wasn't the extravagant dinners, or the excitement of NYC, or even learning about amazing schools. For me, it was getting to have conversations with the students and alumni of the colleges we visited. It didn't matter if it was at a Cuban lunch, a Greek dinner, or while walking through a Universities quad; the profound insight they can give us into what life at their school is like is priceless. 

On a brief side note, I also enjoyed the train rides. I wish public transit in California was as extensive and mainstream as it is back East. It's a far more efficient, Eco-friendly, and enjoyable way to travel. I know there are a lot of factors limiting such a system existing out West, but it would be nice to have. 

The second portion of our trip was very different from the first. While before, we had been constantly on the move, we were now spending most of our time in one place. That's not to say that it was less exciting, but it was certainly more relaxing. 

I spent my last three summers taking classes at UC Berkeley in the Academic Talent Development Program. It was a great experience, but it doesn't even compare to my time at Columbia. The sheer number of different regions and cultures represented made the population a micro-UN. 2/3 of the residential students were from other countries. I can't say that they come from ALL backgrounds though, as nearly everyone there was a private school student and came from a privileged home. You need to have a high income to be able to send your child to the program, especially if you are from out of state. It seems that the ILC is the only program of its kind, because everyone I talked to said their parents were paying for the trip and were amazed to hear that my school district sent students there for free. This is yet another opportunity to thank the sponsors. I'm realizing more and more how lucky I am to have had this experience. Most people can't say they took a class at Columbia while in high school, let alone with the expenses paid for by benefactors. 

I made a lot of friends in this program. Thank goodness for the internet, because it's the only way we can stay in  touch. I'm still in contact with people from New York, Florida, Canada, the Netherlands, India, China, Australia and farthest of all, Los Angeles.

The high light of my trip was definitely the class. I may have already said this, but this was the best coarse I've EVER taken. Everything about it was fantastic. The material was interesting, and I've already been able to apply what I've learned to my conversations back home. The other students were all brilliant, though most would never admit it. A large portion (if not the majority) of the class time was spent on discussions, which were intelligent and constructive. When opinions came into play they were always backed by solid logic. Most importantly, the teachers were amazing. They were a really dynamic combination. Jeffrey usually led the teaching of the cases, while Luke led discussions concerning the theories behind the Constitution. They were always really good at explaining things, and usually did it with a sense of humor. They understood that many things about our nation's history seem ridiculous to us today, and they both capitalized on that to keep our attention. I'm still blown away by how much we all enjoyed and thrived in this environment. 

It wasn't all study, though. I found time nearly everyday to explore the city with Resident Advisors, fellow students, Ms. Lilhanand, and of course, my cohort. I saw the beach, parks, museums, restaurants, Time Square, the Brooklyn Bridge, NYU, and plenty of upper Manhattan, I only saw three of the five boroughs (Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens), but I can't imagine having had time to see the other two. I think my favorite experience was going to the Neon Trees concert. The rush of being so close to the bands, surrounded by friends was, for lack of a better word, awesome. 

In general, I loved New York. The skyline, the art, the performers in the subway, the food: it was all fantastic. That being said, I don't miss it. New York's a great city, and I may even want to live there some day, but right now, I'm glad to be home. There's something different about the atmosphere in the Bay. People seem more relaxed, even in the cities. Maybe it's just because I grew up here, but this area is just more comfortable for me. I may have gotten used to tall buildings and an unforgiving sun, but I think I still prefer, homes in the hills and a nice cool breeze. Sorry NYC, but Bay Life is where it's at.

I guess that pretty much wraps up my experience out East. This is the most amazing summer I've ever had. I think the most profound thing I've gained from this trip (besides memories) are the ideas that have formed in me. I can't really show this through my blog, but I've grown over the last month. My class and my experiences have taught me so much, and I'm beginning to develop opinions and beliefs based on them. I have a better idea of what I'm good at and what I'm passionate about. For example, I now believe that the Constitution needs to be reformed. I didn't want to write about any of my views on this until I had completed the class, but I now think that if the Constitution is to accurately reflect the beliefs of the people it has power over, it needs to be re-written every generation. The morals of the current American people are different from those of the very limited pool of legislators back when it was written. I also believe that the Supreme Court has too much power when it comes to Constitutional interpretation, so we need a more specific document that is easier to change. This will most accurately reflect the changing views of the people. I don't think that the beliefs of the hundred or so rich, land and slave owning, white, christian and male writers of the Constitution reflect that of our extremely diverse nation. Of course, this is only my own opinion, and I'm sure the other students in the class came to their own unique conclusions. I just wanted to express my beliefs in what may be my last blog entry.

I'll sign off by thanking you, the readers. Who ever you may be, you are the reason we wrote this. Wanting to impress you is what kept us trying to outdo ourselves with each new entry. I hope my posts stayed interesting and that you enjoyed and learned from them. Sorry that this one lacked photos, but I've already shared most of them with you. If it's any consolation, below is my favorite picture from this trip. I took it on a train returning to Manhattan from New Haven, CT. Once again, I hope you enjoyed what you read. Thank you.

A Check off the Old Bucket List

February 10th, 2012. I don’t think there was a time in my life that I was so anxious, excited and relieved. With the support of my peers, family, and friends, I finally accomplished a goal in life I thought I would never achieve; I was selected in the Ivy League Connection. As clichéd as it sounds, no words can describe the instant that my name was called to go the American Presidential Powers course at Columbia University for the summer. It’s funny to think that I kept my composure while talking to the panel, Mr. Ramsey and Don Gosney but once I stepped foot out the room I squealed like a fan girl- along with Morvarid Mehdizadeh of course.

Fast forward about three months and eight days later, and all the preparation the 2012 Columbia cohort received finally was put to use. The tutorial, dinner, meetings and orientation built the momentum for out departure to the Big Apple. Here we were, a group of six California teens flying about three thousand miles away from home with a chaperon for a month in the bustling city of New York. Yes, it’s still unbelievable to even me that I was part of such an experience.

Before the Columbia Experience
Most people associate this trip with the course the students took but often forget the enriching trips we had along the way. Before stepping foot on Columbia’s campus, we stayed at the Beacon hotel for the beginning duration. But do not mistake our first week as relaxed- it was everything but that. We bounced back and forth between college campuses- even states- trying to fit as much activities into our first week.

We began each morning and ended each night the same way; bright and early to start the day while dark and exhausted to end the night. We visited Sarah Lawrence College, University of Pennsylvania, Yale University, Vassar College, and New York University- although the latter wasn’t until our third week into the trip. The group listened to information sessions for each school and toured the campuses, taking in as much detail for memory. Being a rising senior, I knew these opportunities to see different college environments were vital to the upcoming application process. Schools that I once thought were for me turned out not to be. Now I have a better idea to what I want in my education after secondary school. Medium sized campuses with an urban or suburban setting are a must with me along with study abroad programs. I’m happy to announce that my college list has drastically shifted from California based schools to out-of-state schools, such as a one in Hawaii and a few in New York. I know my family won’t be too thrilled with my decision but a good four years outside of Cali will be good for me.

Along with our college sight-seeing were dinners with alumni from the above schools. Unfortunately we were unable to meet with Sarah Lawrence and NYU alumni, but the dinners with Yale, UPenn, Vassar, and Columbia alums made the experience even more elevating. Not only did I learn valuable information about the colleges the alumni and admission officers were representing but I learned general college tips that most students my age would never think to ask of. Colleges don’t want the perfect model students who work like robots; they want unique individuals who will impact the campus in such a dynamic way that may be deemed as inconceivable. I learned that one does not have to major in a specific concentration to have one’s dream career. I learned that one should be as true to one’s self when writing a personal statement; don’t use clichéd, dramatic happenings in one’s life, write about what’s shaped the character of one’s self. I learned that networking is probably the greatest resource and skill a college student have when defining his/her career. And finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help when needed.

During the Columbia Experience
After a week of non-stop action- okay, we did get a few hours of sleep in during the nights- we began what the donors and sponsors poured their money into, the Columbia High School Summer Program. And of course the time and effort from the ILC staff. Thus was the start of a three week course I will never forget.

To start off, residential advisors for the Columbia High School Program laid down the rules. The most important of all is to ALWAYS make it back before curfew. If one’s late, depending on the duration of one’s tardiness, consequences vary. Also security at Columbia University is very strict. Most buildings, if not all, require students to have a Columbia identification card.

Residential advisors also planned trips around NYC. From eateries to Broadway plays, students were able to tour the city with a group. But if students didn’t want to go on a planned RA trip, students were given the freedom to go out as long as they notified their RA’s of their whereabouts. I had the pleasure to see Maroon 5 on the Today Show, see the 4th of July fireworks at Riverside Park, see the Bodies Exhibit and Seaport Village, visit Coney Island and the beach, walk the Brooklyn Bridge, go on a Sunset Cruise, and of course go shopping on 5th Avenue and Macy’s. Whether it be fun or work, NYC will always keep you busy.

Dorm life for me at Columbia University was adequate; I had the necessities- a bed, sheets, pillow, desk, bathroom, and air conditioning. I, along with Lucas, Lenny, Adrianne, and Tomi, stayed in the Carman building while Morvarid stayed in the Hartley building. Carman dorms consist of two double rooms and one bathroom. I say adequate because it wasn’t the nicest dorm on campus but I could have had it worse by staying at John Jay, where the whole floor had to share a bathroom.

My roommate was fresh graduate from a high school in Hong Kong and was taking the College Prep class. Unfortunately she left the program early for a college interview back in Hong Kong, so I had the whole room to myself for the last week. My floor was comprised of many different girls. In my RA group, I met a girl from Greece, New Jersey, and other parts of the world. Columbia’s High School program for this summer had more international students than usual, so we all had our fair share of cultural learning along the way.

I know you’ve all read about the fun aspect of my trip but it wasn’t all fun and games. With my American Presidential Powers class, I was required to go to a two hour session in the Schermerhorn building then another session at a library. For me, the class was less rigorous as I anticipated. My first session consisted of discussions on fifteen to twenty page articles on presidential power. Then my second session was devoted to researching for my paper. The best advice I can give to anyone taking this class in the future is to manage your researching and writing. No one wants to be up finishing one’s paper till dawn- although this didn’t happen to me, just very late into the night.

My favorite part of the class was probably the debate we had on court cases. Like the Constitutional Law students, we debate two sides of the case and legality of it. Court case debating is definitely different from the type of debating I do- which is policy debating- so it was a learning process for me along the way.

My professor was laid back and not only taught us the class but college prep tips as well. Professor Porwancher laid down his college experiences and the best advice I gained from his class was to never be upset about not getting into the “best colleges.” It should never put down one’s own spirit when going to school. Although the one thing my professor wanted me to take from the course was to learn to qualify my argument and frame it to a more sophisticated one; I know, I liked the college tidbit better.

Along my journey at NYC I made not only close friends with my cohort but with others as well. Although I met lots of people, from Australia to Turkey, the two I bonded with the most outside of my cohort were Rowland and Brittany. Rowland is a rising senior from southern California while Brittany is a rising junior from Texas. Our group slowly incorporated the two and we all got along wonderfully, cracking jokes at each other here and there. But other than our laughs, we also had meaningful talks to learn about each other, such as our backgrounds and where we would go to college. The two became so inclusive of our group that Ms. L even knew the two!

After the Columbia Experience
Sadly my twenty-six days at NYC had to end and now I’m back here in the Bay Area. Although I loved the Big Apple, home is such a nice place to be. I know that I would love to go out of state, preferably New York, for college but I couldn’t stay there the rest of my life.

For me, this trip has made my college decisions bounce back and forth. I thought that engineering was always for me but learning from my actual course and the alumni dinners made me realize that it may be not for me. Engineering would be something I would be good at but in the end I don’t know for sure if it’s something I would do for the rest of my life. Political science has never been so tempting to me before along with a psychology. I know, two different ends of the spectrum.

Due to my fickle heart and mind when regarding my future, I’ve actually narrowed down my college choice list. I’m now down to eight schools that I’m applying to; Boston University, Columbia University, New York University, Sarah Lawrence College, Stanford University, Syracuse University, University of California Berkeley, and University of Hawaii Manoa. I don’t plan to apply early decision anywhere since my mind is having an internal struggle with itself. Who knew the future could be so stressing?

Since my last blog was inadequate in my thank you’s, I’d just like to give them here:

Ms. L, thank you for being such a great chaperon. Actually the word chaperon doesn’t bring to justice the role you played for us while at NYC. For me, you were literally a second mommy to me while on the East Coast. You read all of us like an open book, especially me when I was on my off days. You were lenient yet strict when dealing with our outings and were always available when needed.

Columbia University High School Summer Program staff, thank you for the opportunity of a life time. Being able to study at such a prestigious school was such an honor. Thank you especially to Darlene Giraitis, the director of the summer program, who will be retiring after twenty-four years. And of course, Andrew Porwancher, the professor for the American Presidential Powers course, who taught me that better arguments aren’t always the obvious. My enriching trip would not have been so without their key roles in my learning experience.

Pinole Valley High School ILC staff, thank you for the help and support. Dyana So and Alex Elms are two students I would like to acknowledge separately due to their help. Without your advice and guidance, I probably wouldn’t have made it into the ILC. I’d also like to thank Mr. Wilson, who not only helped me with my essay and interview but with my research paper as well. His assistance on what would be a better thesis for my paper really helped me frame my essay into such a complex argument.

Ivy League Connection staff and sponsors, thank you for the life-defining trip on the East Coast. No words can explain my gratitude to such an amazing organization which lets middle class students go on an opportunity of a lifetime. I’d like to especially thank Mr. Ramsey for the hard work he puts into the program, such as planning functions and finding sponsors. Thank you Ms. Kronenberg for going back and forth on the East Coast and checking up on how we’re doing as a group and how we plan to give back. Thank you Don Gosney for all the time and labor you put into the program, from emails to personally delivering items and letters. And of course, thank you all the sponsors who have invested their money into an incredible trip. Your investments will not be wasted, especially when the ILCers give back to our community.

The 2012 Columbia Cohort, thank you for such a fun experience. Due to such a different group, from sense of humor to morals, conversation was never dull with any of you guys. Lucas, thank you for your patient, calm, and honest disposition. Having you around always made us mindful of others and courteous. Plus we would never get lost in NYC with you! Lenny, thank you for your sense of humor and witty remarks. Although half of them did provoke teasing, your remarks lightened up the mood. Tomi, thank you for your quiet and down to earth personality. Although you were silent for a few moments, the impact of what you said always left me amazed and laughing. Morvarid, thank you for your cheery personality. Not matter what the situation, you always tried to look past the negative aspect and work something out. And finally Adrianne, thank you for being you. Although some people may find your disposition bold, I admired that aspect of you, since not many people can truly be themselves around everyone.

Although my summer at NYC has ended, that doesn’t mean the ILC won’t hear from me. I plan on keeping in touch with as many people as possible. Also for potential ILCers, don’t hesitate to ask me any questions. There’s a reason as to why the ILC picked us as ambassadors for our community, so feel free to ask for advice anytime. Once again thank you for the marvelous experience!

From the Mother of Adrianne Ramsey

It seems like ages since Adrianne pushed the trunk lid open, grabbed her suitcase, and joined her anxious, shivering cohort around 4:00 AM for their journey to The Big Apple and a Columbia University summer program. Don Gosney's friendly, yet informative presence, and Cheryl Lilhanand's polished attentiveness eased our separation.

Over the course of weeks, I envied the variety of sumptuous dinner plates, drank in eclectic photographic perspectives of various east coast towns and cities, and commiserated with students as they put in long hours of critical reading, note taking, rewrites, debate preparation, and daily blogs. Individual ILC student blogs continue to relate the fascinating mix of social and academic activities in which they participated. For example, I never knew a woman could devour 48 hot dogs in eight minutes at the Coney Island eating contest. There were just 29 competitive high school students in the Constitutional Law class at Columbia University.

Members of this cohort were not intimidated by subway nor train travel while in New York. In many cases, this cohort responded to challenging or unusual situations as a team. As a parent, I would like to take credit for the confidence my daughter exuded during her ILC experience. However, I am sure her veteran chaperone, Cheryl Lilhanand provided this group of ILC selected high school students with the kind of preparatory advice, sage direction, and personal accessibility that formed them into a consolidated cohort. I thank you, Cheryl, for graciously managing with care my daughter and the rest of the ILC cohort for a month in a mega-city at a prestigious university. I am most grateful that you dealt with my concerns abouth the availability of the reading material with such aplomb at an ungodly hour, as well.

As a witness to the blood, sweat, tears, readjustments, advocations, inquiries, refinements, and commitments of the team of dedicated public servants, private individuals, professional businesses, and working men's and women's institutions that continue to steward and fund The Ivy League Connection, I say to all ILC parents and ILC cohorts that showing our nation's top educational institutuions that West Contra Costa Unified School District students are willing and able to compete and contribute in their academic programs is a good thing! I am most thankful for the kind of program that showcases some of our best and brightest. Thank you, to all of the people that make this possible.

Now, here is some brief advice for the ILC cohorts: Education is like a bountiful meal. It is best shared with others. Please find a way to share your academic and social experiences with your peers. Let them know that it is all right to want to learn about the world in some way, that is good to seek help for what is not understood, to stop by a career center for college info, to attend a college presentation or two, to join your community in making the environment better. It may seem bothersome, yet you may be planting a good seed in the heart and soul of another.