Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Inspiring Ivy League Connection

I would first like to begin by thanking everyone who made this opportunity possible for my fellow cohort members and I. I cannot express how grateful I am for this experience. It was truly life changing and easily one of my greatest memories of my life. Who doesn't want to share a great life story? This experience makes me want to shout from the rooftops and tell the whole world about it. And now I intend to try as hard as I can to achieve that goal. So big thanks to the Ivy League Connection! Don Gosney and Madeline Kronenberg, thank you so much for organizing this and devoting a lot of your time into us. Thank you to all of the sponsors, who helped us financially as well as spiritually. Dinner during the college visits with the alumni and administrative offices has taught me so much. Thank you for your time and hospitality. I would also like to thank Alana Scott, our chaperone, for having to deal with us rowdy kids, but not too rowdy, throughout our month exploring the mid-west. Now that the beginning credits have passed, let the main show commence!

Lets start with the first time I heard about the Ivy League Connection. Sophomore year, a guy in a big Hawaiian shirt and glasses came to our school to talk to us about an opportunity. Before this I have never even heard of the ILC, but knowing that you still have to qualify to even attend the meeting, made me pretty proud. To be honest, I didn't think much of it until I saw that I knew some of the past ILC'ers and listening to them explain their experiences with the program, had me pretty interested. A whole summer at an Ivy League College?! It seemed too good to be true. I knew I wanted to at least attempt to get in, after all I still had one more year if I didn't. I didn't try that hard the first time, and of course I did not get accepted.

The next year came, and I knew I wanted this really bad. I have heard from past students, this is a life changing experience. I needed exactly that for my college applications coming up. I wanted to do something in my life worth meaning. Something that I can proudly share with others. After all my hard work and determination, I was accepted into the Ivy League Connection.
The Ivy League Gentlemen 
Just the process of applying to the ILC has taught me so much. From writing and rewriting essays to perfection to rehearsing interviews over and over, has taught me to be persistent and determined to meet my goals. I have never worked this hard on something outside of school. This showed me that "when opportunity knocks" I should always be there to answer the door (The Ivy League Connection). Even if I wasn't accepted I would still come out learning much more than what I had when I first came in. It was a win - win.

Now for the actual experience. During my trip I was soaking in new information here and there like a sponge. From the college site visits to the actual academic course, I never forgot my main purpose of my time with the Ivy League Connection. I was at the University of Chicago to represent the West Contra Costa County School District. During my stay there, I am proud to say I think I have done my job. Almost, everyone I encountered, knows of the Ivy League Connection and what they have done for me. I was also there to bring back what I have learned and share it with my community. I plan to do this by joining my school's Student Education Association or SEA club. This helps students around campus with anything academic from homework to scholarship programs. This is one way to reach out to future ILC'ers hoping to apply or anyone else who hasn't even heard of the program. I also plan to spread the good news of the ILC at my community's college fairs. Many of the colleges represented, have been colleges toured by the ILC. Hopefully I will be able to tell everyone and anyone I know about my amazing experience with the Ivy League Connection. I have learned so much. You have my greatest gratitude, Ivy League Connection! Future colleges will be hearing a lot about you in my personal statements.

Being With the Connection

I can remember when the first time we had the ILC meeting in the school theater. I thought to myself that this sounds too good to be true and there is no way I am going to get into this program. Yet I still tried out for the program since it sounded so amazing. I actually didn't pass the interview process for the Brown program and I was devastated, but luckily I got a second chance with Chicago and by learning from my previous interview I felt more prepared this time. And by some miracle I was accepted.

With ILC came a lot of dinners and through these dinners I was able to expand on my social etiquette and I saw myself getting more comfortable with maintaining conversations during dinners. Just in general I saw a change in my demeanor and my confidence. As being a part of the ILC I was able to learn about so many more colleges that I didn't even know existed before. One of the greatest things that I got from being with the ILC is getting to meet the admissions officers. Doing so I was able to kind of understand how the application is processed. My original perception was that they just look at your grades and just toss out your application if you don't have good enough transcripts. The whole process started seeming more humane and less daunting. Now I feel more prepared to start shaping up my application. Lastly I was able to expand on my blogging skills as an ILCer. I feel more comfortable now with blogging in general than I did before. I am so glad I got to be a part of the ILC since it truly was an amazing experience. 

This Is NOT the End

By now, you, the reader, know exactly what the Ivy League Connection is. The Ivy League Connection is a program that provides scholarships to selected students for them to travel to prestigious schools on the East Coast and in the Midwest, all to promote the college-going culture. But is that all that the ILC is? I believe that the ILC is not just a program, but a symbol. A symbol of opportunity through determination.

Years ago, when my brother got into the ILC, I saw all the privileges he had. I decided that if my brother could do it, then I could do it, too, and began preparing myself for this opportunity. My logic was kind of backward at the time; I was driven by pride rather than the desire to succeed. 

One of my proudest moments.
Then, in the fall, it was finally my turn. Don came to our school advertising the Ivy League Connection, and I soaked up every word he said. My friends, on the other hand, were more reluctant. After hearing that we had to write several essays and applications, most of them were discouraged and decided not to apply. I was disappointed when I heard this, since an excellent opportunity like this was definitely worth the work. But I didn't let this discourage me too much, and stayed on track. I finished my application essays, and soon found myself sitting in a classroom with six other students, waiting to be interviewed. I still remember not understanding one interview question at all, and having to completely wing it. This part of the application process was very intense and nerve-racking for me, and was no doubt an important experience that will come in handy when applying for a job in the near future. But even though I had doubts about whether or not I would succeed in that interview room, my name was called, everyone cheered, and I had an amazing time in the Midwest. The end.

Remember this? Oh, the memories this brings back.
Of course, that's only part of what happened. Although we had successfully become ILCers, we still had to face several trials to show our commitment. There was the dinner, for example. One of my biggest weaknesses was my lack of sociability; this event truly put that to the test. But I got to meet some amazing people, including important sponsors and UChicago alumni. It was cool to meet people who had actually gotten into the school, since it showed me that getting into prestigious schools like these were not impossible without will and determination, just like the ILC itself. This idea would recur in the other school dinners as well. Another big test was the school board meeting, where I had to give a speech in front of the school board, and many families watching from home on TV. This, in itself, was a learning experience that tested my ability to work and perform under extreme pressure. Even though I don't want to do something like that again in the near future, I'm glad that I did it. But each of these events was more than just a challenge to overcome. At each event, we were reminded of our overlying responsibility to give back to the community, one of the most important reasons we were going to the Midwest in the first place.

I loved traveling with the cohort to places like this (WUSTL)...Just so green.
Next came the actual trip. The first week was just one nonstop flurry of meeting new people, touring schools, seeing sights, and listening to information sessions that all contained pretty much the same information. But that aside, this was an extremely rich experience. I finally learned what need-based and merit-based financial aid were, started considering study abroad in college, and became interested in Northwestern University. Around this time, I realized the complete unfairness of the situation: we had gotten this opportunity to learn about the wonderful schools that exist outside of California, but what about the others? What about the people who don't understand the possibilities, the people who just need a glimpse? This realization definitely reminded me of the responsibilities I had as an ILCer.

Of course, one of the most important aspects of the whole trip was attending class at UChicago. I believe that this ultimately changed my way of thinking about school and academics. Before I became an ILCer, I was incredibly prideful and self-assured in my abilities. I thought that things would always be the same, that I would always turn out on top when it came to academics. I look back and regret my naivete. Right on the first day, I was thrown into oblivion as the class delved into material that I had never heard of. It would not be an overstatement to say that I was one of the slowest learners in the class. But even though I lagged behind everyone else, I began enjoying myself. My parents used to ask me whether I would rather be in an easy class and get a high grade or be in a challenging class and get a lower grade. I now understand the merits of the latter choice (even though I still ended up with an A in the class). 
Some of my classmates at Yerkes. These guys were awesome to be around, and super helpful, too.
This trip - no, my entire ILC experience, has been without a doubt the most life-changing experience of my life to date. I've gotten a view of the possibilities that exist outside of UCs and Stanford, and the competition that I will face in just a year when applying for college. I've learned to live by myself, and have experienced both the upsides (freedom!) and the downsides (fatigue, poor health, apparent isolation, possible insanity). I've been inspired to push myself harder than before, and I've found the true joy in learning. For the remainder of my high school career, I hope to do my best and to strive to break my previous limits of accomplishment. And as an ILCer, I want to carry out the rest of the original mission: spread my experiences in the Midwest to everyone I know and encourage them to look beyond that ubiquitous goal, UC Berkeley. My friends who didn't apply for the ILC: you have been warned. 

To Tamika, Brandon, Aisha, and Alana: You guys are awesome! Thanks for everything.
Once again, I'd like to thank everyone who makes the Ivy League Connection possible. This is such a once-in-a-lifetime chance for students across the school district. I hope that this opportunity will continue to open doors and create inspiration for college-aspiring students. I've had a wonderful time being an ILCer, and will keep forging ahead to achieve my own goals, every single day. And even when things look bleak, maybe when everything is overwhelming, just remember:
Tomorrow is always another day.

The Chronicles of a Chicago Chaperone - Part III

This is the story of my final week in Chicago as the Ivy League Connection students wrapped up their coursework.

On Thursday, July 23rd, I was able to finally catch Moby Dick at the famous Chicago Lookingglass Theater.  I was so impressed with this performance - it was probably one of the best theatrical performances I've ever seen when I consider the carefully directed details of the play.  The stage was set up with metal piping that looked like we were sitting on the inside of the whale's skeletal belly. The play incorporated trapeze-type movement from the ropes and ribbons meant to represent the ropes from the sailing vessel. 

The set before the play started.
On Friday, I set up a last-minute optional check-in with the students at UChicago.  I want to comment on how safe the campus feels during the regular school week. There are security guards on every corner of the outer perimeter of the campus, and during school hours, the campus is populated and the sidewalks busy with people heading to public transportation or their cars.
5 o'clock on a Friday afternoon at UChicago
Rockefeller Chapel
The interior 
The organ
I was able to try my first Chicago dog at Portillo's restaurant during the penultimate weekend in Chicago.  The interior is decorated almost like a Disneyland ride with scenes and mannequins.  It was very crowded on a Friday night at eleven. For those curious about all the food us ILC employees consume, we do receive a daily food stipend from the school district during our trip, and I definitely use it as motivation to explore the food culture in Chicago.
On Saturday, I decided to check out Wrigleyville, as I knew there was a Cub's game.  I didn't have tickets, but I wanted to experience the surrounding area, because friends of mine who had traveled to Chicago told me it was a must-see neighborhood.  The spirit of the Cubs didn't disappoint.  The area around the stadium and the L train, even two hours before the game, were packed with Cubs' fans wearing red and blue.  Fans were seated behind the stadium with baseball gloves, ready to catch any foul fly balls.  There were "Wrigleyville rooftop" parties in the nearby apartment complexes, where fans could look into the stadium from the top open floor of a building.  Next to Wrigleyville was "Boys Town," the gay district.  I saw rainbow flags hanging from restaurants that identified as part of this gay-friendly neighborhood.
The crowded L train
Wrigley Field
On Sunday, I took the cohort on an optional excursion to The Art Institute of Chicago and the surrounding Millennium Park area.  I was thrilled to hear that there was a Degas exhibit, Degas being my favorite post-impressionist artist.  I did my French impressionist report on Degas at Pinole Valley High School in Madame (Deborah) Sigg's class, and it felt like everything was coming full circle to see Degas' art in person.
Many did not know that Degas was also a sculptor
His subject matter often included ballet dancers
The Little Dancer
Asian art exhibit
Picasso art
Millennium Park fountain 
When the students started their final week of school on Monday, I decided to explore the sand dunes in the nearby state park along Lake Michigan.  This visit was a recommendation from my mom's dear friend and former WCCUSD teacher, Jan Carson, who lived near Hyde Park as a child growing up. And what a wonderful visit it was!  When I first arrived at the park stop via train, I had to figure out where I was in relation to the trail.  I think most people drive to the state park rather than walk. Thankfully, I found signs that led me to where I needed to be.  The dunes are basically mountains of sand.  People hike them like regular dirt trails, but I found that because they are made of sand, they are more difficult to ascend.  Getting to the peak of certain trails felt like a huge accomplishment that day.
I walked a couple miles to get to the Dune State Park from the train station.
Lake Michigan 
Marshy part of the state park
For my last week in Chicago, I made arrangements to finally see Navy Pier.  I decided to sign up for a Lake Michigan cruise through the same cruise line as the Chicago River Architecture tour.  I signed up for the fireworks' cruise, which takes place on Wednesdays and Saturdays.  It was a wonderful, warm night.  The cruise took us along the skyline of Chicago, giving us history not only about Chicago's Navy Pier, once the naval station of World War II, but also history about the skyscrapers. And the fireworks' show was more wonderful than anything I have seen in my own hometown fireworks' shows for the Fourth of July.  Being out on the water, the bursts of light and fire felt so close!
And of course, my time in Chi-Town wouldn't have been complete without a visit to Willis (formerly Sears) Tower and its glass-floor Skydeck.
Willis Tower is 283 Barack Obamas tall.
View from the top
I concluded my Chicago theater experience by attending the IO Shakespeare Theater improv show. The audience's contribution as a title was "The Purple Rain Man."  Having seen Prince last year in concert, I enjoyed all of the "Diamonds and Pearls" references.
On the very last day of the trip before we went home, I splurged on a ticket to the renowned music festival, Lollapalooza.  I felt so carefree and happy to be immersed in the live music.  Below are some pictures of my view at the set by St. Paul and the Broken Bones and Sir Paul McCartney, member of The Beatles!
He sang "Blackbird." 
It's hard to believe that we flew home to SFO without any delay or issues, and are now settled back in the Bay Area.  I want to give kudos to my wonderful cohort members, Aisha, Brandon, Jae-an, and Tamika, who were easy-going, flexible, kind, and adventurous.  I had a great time with you all! Thank you, Don, Charles, and Madeline, for once again hiring me for this experience and giving me the opportunity of a lifetime.  I hope to see Chicago again soon.  

Signing off,
Alana, the Chicago Chaperone

Monday, August 3, 2015

Incredible Learning Chance: What Being an ILCer Means to Me

The Ivy League Connection. I first heard these three words together four years ago, when I was in the 6th grade and my older sister was a sophomore at ECHS. I learned that this organization had given her a scholarship, and this meant I would have my parents all to myself for 3 weeks in the summer while she studied at Brown University. I didn’t think much of it at the time; I knew it was an exciting experience for her but I didn’t really know the details. I remember that she always had to do random things that we’re ILC related, and that sometimes she wore really fancy clothes. Even though I observed all this, I didn’t understand what the ILC experience was until she came back. I had missed my big sister, and as we rode back home from picking her up at the airport, I hung onto every word as she told us about her trip. It sounded like a fantastic adventure, and as an 11 year old girl who loved travel, I knew that in four years, I was going to try and participate in one of these special journeys.

Fast forward 3 years, and it’s the summer after my freshmen year at El Cerrito High School.  One of my upperclassmen friends has just returned from an Ivy League Connection trip to Columbia University, and she tells me all the details over a long run together. I’m impressed by all the new insights she has from college touring, enthusiastic about her adventures in New York City, and interested in the academic experience she gained through her economics course. I can tell she’s been impacted by the trip, and she’s so positive about it and urges me to apply for the program next year. She insists that it’s an amazing opportunity and an incredible experience, and I’m anxious for sophomore fall to come so that I can attempt to be involved with this program.

Jump ahead one more year, and here I am, just returned from my trip to University of Chicago. I did it! I got into the Ivy League Connection, I went on a trip to a prestigious university, and I received all the terrific experience I was expecting and more. I’m proud to be an ILCer, and looking back over the process it took for me to become one, I realize how much it’s affected me as a person.

Back in the fall when Don first came to El Cerrito High School to share the assembly on the Ivy League Connection, I already knew I was interested. After the presentation, I remember talking with my friends excitedly, and having this nervous feeling in my stomach–I wanted so badly to get in for one of the programs, and was scared to face the disappointment I knew was a possibility. In the back of my mind, I wondered if this mix of excitement and angst was what applying to college felt like.

After pondering over the possible programs, I wrote essays for the ones that really appealed to me, desperately hoping that one of my works of writing would be good enough to grant me an interview. Even as I put full effort into each essay, I tried to remove myself from the process so that I wouldn’t be too dejected if I faced rejection. Luckily, my essay for the University of Chicago was good enough, and I got an interview. I agonized over this, hoping that I’d be able to conduct myself in a composed, intelligent manner despite knowing I’d be twitching with nerves. Sitting in a classroom at El Cerrito High School, I reviewed my notes but also began to get to know the other applicants. It felt great just to chat with them, and I was excited at the prospect that these people could potentially be cohort mates. Meeting new people is special, and even in those few hours of waiting I learned many new things. I was the last person to be interviewed, and as I waited the long minutes before the panelists told us their decision, I told myself that even if I didn’t get in, my attempts at getting into the ILC had already made me a better person. Writing the essays had made me focus on work outside of school, as well as reflect on how to represent myself in just a few hundred words. Preparing for the interview had forced me to be self aware and think on my feet, and I knew exposure to these skills would be useful for me even if I didn’t get into the ILC. Finally, the panelists returned from the interview room and listed who had been accepted....and as I heard “Tamika Whitenack”, I let out a giant internal sigh. Following this relief at not having to suppress disappointment, I immediately began to feel giddy with excitement. I was officially an ILCer now, and the experience of that identity would soon begin.

Being an ILCer is so much more than just going on a trip to a university. To begin with, we needed to fill out the online application for our courses and actually get accepted to our schools. This was a stressful process, but beneficial because I think it mimics the real college application process. I had to write more essays, reach out to teachers for letters of recommendation, and fill out health insurance forms. There was an abundance of paperwork and forms to decipher, and we were lucky that Don helped us figure everything out and communicated with UChicago to ensure everything was in order. The Ivy League Connection is also all about sharing our experiences and creating a college going culture in our community, and we are the ambassadors upon which this task is bestowed upon. I first felt the weight of this responsibility after our blogging tutorial, when it hit me how each blog I wrote would need to be a story explaining the full effect this experience was having on me. I was a little worried that I would struggle with blogging, either spending too much time worrying about wording or not having enough to say. However, I was also excited to blog, because I love writing and I believed writing every day would do wonders for my writing skills. Indeed, the process of blogging, though routine at times, was a big part of my experience as an ILCer. I’m glad that the ILC has this requirement for blogging, because it helped me to better my communication skills. Additionally, the reflective thinking I used to write each blog made me appreciate my experiences that much more.

As part of the Ivy League Connection, we also had several events to attend in the spring before our trips in the summer. At our One Market dinner, I got a taste for what University of Chicago would be like, and started learning how to behave appropriately when talking to alumni and distinguished adults. At the school board meeting, I felt a sense of unity with all the other ILCers, and the duty we had to represent our district well and return to spread our knowledge with our peers. At our meet and greet dinner, I got a glimpse at what it would be like sharing meals with the members of my cohort, and how we would become an efficient traveling troupe together. At the final orientation, I was reminded again how much work the ILC requires to run, and was thankful for Don, the chaperones, and the ILC sponsors for making it possible. Each of these events was a crucial part of being an ILCer that pushed me view myself and my role in my community in a larger context.

Finally, being part of the ILC made my trip to the Midwest different from all the other students in programs at University of Chicago. Our cohort started the trip with college touring and dinners, and these experiences were unique and beneficial for all things college related. It was cool to be able to introduce myself to people at UChicago on the first day of orientation and explain to them that I’d been traveling with a group beforehand and visiting schools, and that I’d gotten to talk to alumni and admissions officers over elegant dinners. These special opportunities are a feature of the Ivy League Connection that directly impact the college concerns of the ILCers, and I think they were one of the most important aspects of the experience for me. Additionally, my identity as an ILCer made my experience in my course at UChicago slightly different from the rest of my peers there. I was proud to be there on a scholarship, but this also meant I felt like I had something to prove, and always worked hard to achieve in my class. Sometimes I felt the disparity between my background and the perspectives of other students; it would be interesting to hear a classmate remark in surprise at the number of African American people inhabiting Hyde Park. My high school has a large African American population, and being exposed to the views that other high schoolers in the country and around the world have was an enlightening experience.
New friends from UChicago
Overall, I think being part of the Ivy League Connection gave me a much richer experience than just taking a college level course at a university would have, and I feel that I grew vastly as a person because of it. This experience has given me so much, and I know that it’s my duty to give back to my community with what I have gained. I hope that I have already done an adequate job of representing our district during our trip to the Midwest, leaving honorable impressions with the colleges we visited and informing the other students I met about my high school culture. The magnitude of everything I witnessed on our trip has inspired me to try and do something bigger with my last two years of high school, not just to look good on college applications but because hearing all the accomplishments and ideas of students and professors at the colleges we visited was motivating and empowering. Ultimately, I think the greatest role I hope to play as an ILCer is the role that past ILC alums played for me: to introduce and explain the Ivy League Connection and all the college and personal growth it has to offer to my classmates and to encourage them to take this chance. High school is a time when we are given lots of choices to make and lots of opportunities to participate in, and I think having someone tell you how important it is to take advantage of the good choices and the beneficial opportunities makes all the difference. Once again, I have to thank everyone who makes the Ivy League Connection possible because it is a one of a kind program that helps make our district better. I have had a spectacular experience as an ILCer, and I intend to share this experience and spread my new knowledge with my friends, classmates, school district, and community. 

Thank you ILC!

The Best Summer

Going into the ILC trip I was super excited yet nervous. I didn't know what to expect since this was my first time going away from my family and out of bay area.

This trip was literally eye opening. I got to see so many more colleges and places out of bay area which I wouldn't had known about if it wasn't for this program. I had the opportunity to experience the dorm life. I was able to meet some of the most amazing people. I got be incharge of myself and had to do everything on my own. There was nobody telling me to get my work done or to do my laundry. I had to learn how to manage my time and to do be more responsible for myself. I even surprised myself with how I was able to manage myself.

One of the biggest things that I am thankful for the ILC is being able to go to the college tours. I am going intto my senior year and I had no idea on what to do with my college applications, I am still pretty lost but I feel in better shape now. By doing the college tours and meeting the admission officers and listening to how they are there to help, the idea of going to college didn't seem as daunting anymore. Overall this trip was amazing. I got have so many fun and informative experiences. I got to step out of my little bubble and explore the world outside.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Truthful Thanks

This blog marks the end of an amazing journey. I have learned so much over the course of this past month. From the moment I first decided I wanted to apply to the Ivy League Connection to this very moment I am typing this blog, I have gained new experiences I can't wait to share with everyone else. I cant thank everyone who made this opportunity possible, enough.

From the moment I got accepted, I began to count down the days before my departure. I knew from the start, this would be an experience to remember. We began with the college tours. Touring the mid-west to explore some of the most prestigious universities our nation has to offer. Each college taught me new things than the previous. This showed me exactly how much I didn't know about college before. I liked how each college was pretty different from the last. Washington University had that old Gothic feeling, while Northwestern University had more modern buildings and was right next to the water. Notre Dame University had a lot of religious architecture and gave the Harry Potter like feeling. The info sessions at each college taught me a lot about actually applying to college, and helped me build a preference for what I am looking for in a college. The dinner meetings took my knowledge of the college even a step further. Dinner with Washington and Northwestern University allowed 1 on 1 in depth conversations about anything we wanted to know about the college they know and love.

Once we got to the University of Chicago, I felt free. I really liked the independent feeling of living on my own. I was responsible for eating healthy, sleeping on time, and getting all my work done. I had more freedom to do what I wanted when I wanted. Although. this came with all the responsibilities, such as laundry and cleaning, which I was totally okay with. I had a successful 3 weeks living on my own. Now that I am home, I really miss the peace and quiet, without someone nagging me to do something every 5 seconds.

The dorms were great. However, the dorm building is somewhat a big maze and took me the first week to figure out. I loved the fact that I got to control the AC. I was able to turn it ON either high or low whenever I wanted. The bathroom and trash room were fairly close to my room so I didn't need to walk very far to access them. My roommate was awesome, he was one of my best friends at UChicago and I spent a lot of time with him. My RA group was also filled with friendly people. There were very few people in the whole program I preferred not to talk to.

Although my class was rigorous, I learned a lot. I really liked the professor, she made the class interesting by providing information we can relate to. The class was from 9:30 AM to 4 PM, but we had a much needed lunch break in the middle. She also let us out of class often, if we had finished all of that days material. This gave us time to get a head start on the plethora of homework she assigned us. If I manged my time wisely, I would still have time to do anything else I wanted to do throughout the day.

Honestly, this was a once in a lifetime experience. This changed the way I saw college life before. Looking back to this past month, I realize just how much I have learned. I would like to thank everyone who made this opportunity possible for my cohort and I. Thank you to our friends at Washington, Notre Dame, and Northwestern University for hosting us and sharing all that you know about your college. Thank you to Don and the Ivy League Connection, I know this was not possible without you. I cannot express how grateful I am, that I was able to experience this at the University of Chicago. This past summer has been the best one I have ever had.

One Crazy Trip

Where do I even begin? This whole trip has been one amazing, memorable experience that I will no doubt remember for the rest of my days. So much has happened from the moment I walked into the interview room to the moment I was reunited with my parents the other day, and every moment in between taught me something new, whether it was to treat sleep like a precious treasure or how to manage my time more effectively. It would be impossible to go through every perfect moment in one blog, so I’ll hit on the highlights.

Back in January or February was one of the most hyped moments of my life. I still remember barely being able to think when I found out that I had been selected for the ILC after several hours of painful waiting. I was overjoyed, but I also had no idea why I had been selected. There must have been someone else more qualified than me in that room, so why me? Maybe it was the fact that I was interviewed first without a complaint. Maybe it was one of my several terrible attempts at humor during the interview. It’s likely that I’ll never know for sure. Whatever the reason, I swore to accept the responsibilities that came with the honor and to do my best to represent the ILC, the school district, and myself.

Before the actual trip, however, I had to face some trials, the most difficult being my speech before the school board. I have to say that this was one of the most intense moments of my life, as I learned the challenges of real public speaking. I’ll admit that the speech everyone saw was not the one that I prepared; after hearing everyone else’s, I had to revise my prepared speech on the fly so that it actually fit in with the other speeches. Another important event was the dinner with the UChicago alums and our esteemed sponsors. In these two events, I met the people that I would be representing while in Chicago. This was an awesome responsibility that I didn’t know if I could handle. Even now, I still wonder if I truly completed this part of my mission as part of the ILC.

After the months of waiting and preparing for my class, I found myself sitting on a plane, on my way to the Midwest. This was the first leg of the journey, where the cohort spent lots of time together touring schools, eating good food and staying in fancy hotels. One of the most important things I gained from this period was a look at the variety of advantages in private universities. You don’t really see a great student-faculty ratio at UCs. You don’t see very good financial aid, either. I learned that it was things like this that make private schools worthwhile. Touring these colleges also got me thinking seriously about my future. What am I looking for in a school? Is engineering what I’m truly passionate about?  These are all things that I asked myself as we went from university to university. I found answers to some of these questions, while I’m still pondering some of the others.

It was also during this time that I have some of the fondest memories of the cohort. I remember having lots of fun with everyone. There was that one time when we climbed 50 flights of stairs trying to see if we could reach the roof of the hotel, only to find that the door was locked! There was also that time that we all had a movie night in someone’s room, where we ordered room service and watched Pitch Perfect 2 (I liked the first one better). Thank you to Brandon, Tamika, and Aisha for being a great cohort! And while I’m at it, thank you to Alana for being an excellent chaperone, and for checking in with us every week.

This is Dominic, one of the wonderful
people that I met on the trip.
Perhaps the most important aspect of this trip was staying in the dorms at UChicago and attending class every day. We were given considerable autonomy, and had to keep ourselves in check. For me, this meant meticulous scheduling every day as I struggled to keep up with everyone else in class. There were times when I thought that I wouldn’t make it, when I couldn’t keep up. But I remembered why I was there, and managed to pull through. Throughout the three weeks of class, I improved my work ethic and efficiency, and gradually began to enjoy myself. I loved that everyone in my class was passionate about what we were learning about, and would study material themselves if needed, just to learn about the things that interested them. I learned about the power of the thirst of knowledge. But all too soon, I found myself on a plane back to San Francisco, California, returning to my beloved home.

These last few days have been odd for me. I’ve been trying to recover from a cough and lack of sleep, so I’ve been taking it easy, sleeping long hours. But it feels like now that I’ve gotten a taste of the challenging, even fun rigor of class and living independently, I can’t help but want to push myself again. It’s strange to think everything that’s happened has changed me from the disorganized, introverted, sullen kid I was before everything began. I’ve met new people, tried new things, pushed myself to the limit, done laundry for the first time…Even though it was a struggle at times, I enjoyed every moment. I learned. I improved. And ultimately, I succeeded.

I would like to thank everyone who made this trip possible. Thank you to: Don, Ms. Kronenburg, and the Ivy League Connection for pulling everything together; the sponsors, since none of this would have happened without them; the school board for allowing us to experience this; the panelists; my cohort again for being great people; and lastly, my wonderful family for advising me when I needed help. This trip has been one of my most significant experiences so far, and I’ve learned and grown a lot. Thank you.

Tomorrow is another day.

Journey to UChicago: 3.5 Weeks Condensed into One Long Blog

Four weeks ago, I got on a plane and began an incredible journey. Yesterday, I got off a plane and realized how important every aspect of that journey was for me. The trip I took with my cohort to the Midwest and Chicago was a wonderful experience in so many ways, and as I reflect on the trip, it’s impossible not to be reminded how lucky I am to have been given this opportunity, and how thankful I am for everyone who made it possible.

In the beginning of our trip, I was in a constant state of excitement with the prospect of being away from home and exploring all these new places. As our cohort trekked from college to college, I felt like a traveler going on an educational vacation. Each new school we visited was a new destination to discover. Visiting a university everyday caused me to think about college almost constantly. The process of college applications and decisions are both interesting and relevant to me, and being surrounded each day by different college cultures and learning new information made me think about these issues on a deeper level. I learned a tremendous amount about college that I hadn’t known before, and each tour and information session opened my eyes to new factors I want to take into account when considering colleges. There was also something special about the dinners we had with alumni and admissions officers for each college. Talking to these people about their schools and being allowed to ask endless questions enhanced my understanding of the schools in a way unattainable through just site visiting. It was also beneficial for me to talk the alumni and admission officers because it made me establish a professional persona. I feel like I matured greatly through the campus tours, information sessions, and dinners, and this sense of self growth makes me more confident and prepared for tackling issues later in life, both college related and otherwise.

Beyond the emphasis on college that I experienced through the first part of our trip, I also started to develop as an individual. Despite being a cohort and having Alana to chaperone us, there was something about having no parental presence that affected me and encouraged me to become more responsible. Each day I had to focus to make sure I was maintaining my own health: going to the gym, eating properly, getting enough sleep. I also had to constantly remind myself to stay in the moment and get the most out of the experience, and I think because I was self aware about these concerns, I was able to receive the full benefits of each experience.

This sense of independence was increasingly reinforced with our arrival at University of Chicago and the start of our stay there. Now I was really on my own, completely responsible for keeping my room tidy, getting to the dining hall on time, and being a proper student. I like to think I rose to this challenge well, and I’m proud to say I managed to get ample sleep and exercise, which contributed to being a healthy, productive person for the duration of my stay at UChicago. There were times when I felt the distance from home, and it was sometimes difficult to be in an environment where I was the primary person worried about myself. At home, I am surrounded by friends and family who care about me a lot, and we are always doing little things to make each other happy. I would occasionally find myself saddened to not have that atmosphere in the college life. I loved all the people I met at UChicago and made a lot of great friends, but because the college experience focuses so much on independence and individuality, there wasn’t the sense of closeness that I’ve established with my friends and family back home. I think that part of this is due to how short the program was, and I believe that in an actual college setting there would be more time for me to develop closer friendships and create a new sense of family. Still, there were many aspects of this focus on independence that I really enjoyed. I liked looking after myself, and in a way the college life let me be more selfish than I would be at home. I was in control of my own schedule and activities, and this was more freedom than I’ve had before and very satisfying. For the most part, I didn’t have to accommodate other people, which allowed me to do as I pleased almost all the time. Gaining this concept of being totally in charge of my life was new and sometimes scary, but for the most part an amazing experience that was both valuable and fun.

It’s impossible for me to talk about our trip to University of Chicago without talking about my class. I am completely satisfied with the academic experience I received, and extremely grateful for how it has helped me grow as a student. I was expecting my Developmental Psychology course to be rigorous, and it was indeed a challenge. Having this high expectation helped me be prepared to confront the workload and critical thinking required by our course, and although the first week was a little overwhelming at times, I quickly adjusted and was pleasantly surprised to find myself smoothly finishing homework and having free time in the second week. I also tried to be a good participant in our class. Coming from a high school where our class size is usually between 30 and 40 students, it was a treasure to have a class of 14. The discussions we had were insightful, and I loved hearing the different perspectives people had to share. Developmental Psychology was also a fun class to have discussions about, because it deals so much with humans and how we think, learn, and feel. Through psychology centered discussions, I learned a lot about my classmate’s personal experiences, and this further enriched the knowledge we were learning. I also have to give extensive credit to our instructor for making the academic experience valuable, she was great at guiding our discussions and also contributing ample information about her own life experiences to supplement the material we were learning. Additionally, I loved how she treated it like a college course by giving us challenging work, but acknowledged the fact that we were high school students and gave us helpful advice and suggestions on how best to succeed at the work without killing ourselves. The system of support helped me navigate through the course work and has made me feel reassured about facing academic challenges in my next two years of high school, and especially later in college.

Learning the actual material of our course was another special experience for me. Developmental Psychology isn’t a class that I could take at El Cerrito High, and in general the psychology options are limited. I find the subject fascinating, and I would be excited to go to class each day and learn something new about the human brain. I genuinely enjoyed reading the textbook, and am thankful that the ILC purchased it for me because I believe I’ll continued to enjoy its contents. What was amazing about our class was that we didn’t just read about children’s brains and behaviors, we actually got to study them. I had never set up a research question and experiment like this before, and learning how to read empirical articles for a literature review, develop straightforward methods that really tested our question, and conduct research on participants in a professional manner were new skills for me. I had a lot of fun going through these processes, and I just loved the feeling that I was constantly learning something new and improving myself as a student. The opportunity to conduct research on children was probably my favorite part, because I love kids and could connect to their amusing antics and responses. A large part of why I chose to take the Developmental Psychology course was because I wanted to understand children’s minds better, since I interact with children a lot in my life. I definitely feel that I gained sufficient knowledge in this area, and it will be hard for me now to play with children without viewing them as little brains, working to improve their executive functioning and gain the necessary experiences they need to enhance their development. The other thing that was terrific about our Developmental Psychology class was that every other student shared my enthusiasm for the subject as well. Some students had already taken psychology classes, some were interested in pursuing it in college, and some, like me, just found the subject of child psychology utterly intriguing and wanted to learn more about it. Having this classroom environment full of people who genuinely want to learn and care about the material being covered is an experience that I unfortunately don’t encounter much in high school, and I cherished it.

Beyond the college life and academic experience that I gained at University of Chicago, this trip also offered me an amazing opportunity to be a traveler. I’m so happy to have attended a program at a university right next to a big city, because it meant there was never a boring moment of free time. I gradually learned to navigate the public transportation systems and was able to go on adventure into the city of Chicago. I love exploring new places, and every time we would walk around the giant skyscrapers or the beautiful, sprawling parks, I’d find myself with a smile on my face. There’s something exciting about the feeling of a big city bustling with people and things to do, and I adored this energy. There were also so many museums to discover, and I’m thankful to Alana for organizing excursions to ensure we got to enjoy these features of Chicago. Seeing a famous painting or staring up at the remains of a giant dinosaur is a sort of magical thing, and the moments I got to observe these things were truly unforgettable. The city of Chicago has so many attractions, and though I couldn’t do everything, I’m very satisfied with the many sights I did manage to see. These experiences were some of the best moments of the trip for me.

I was expecting this trip to be a life changing experience for me, and as I reflect over the past few weeks to write this blog, I can honestly say that it has been, in bigger ways than I imagined. My knowledge and perspective on all things college has greatly deepened and increased, and I know this is going to help me as I navigate through college matters. I also have a greater appreciation for what I gained through our college visits, and I want to share this with my friends and peers. So many of my classmates view college purely based on reputation, but my newly acquired firsthand experiences have made me realize how much more there is to consider, and how important these other factors are. College is a big decision for high schoolers, and I think trying to give my classmates the most advice I can is necessary for all of us to get the most out of our potential future college experiences. I also improved myself as a student through the course I took on this trip, and I intend to carry this work ethic and classroom skills back to school with me and try to encourage them in my peers. I now know what it’s like to be in a school setting where everyone’s excited to be there, and I think trying to foster this environment at ECHS will make high school more fun for all of us. In terms of personal gain, I have gotten so much out of this trip. I developed a better sense of independence and college life, learned multitudes about a subject that interests me, and got to experience a new city in a part of the country I’d never traveled to. I enjoyed practically every minute of it and realize how fortunate I am to have been granted this opportunity. I don’t think there’s any way to end this blog about my trip as a whole without thank yous. Thank you to Alana for making the trip run smoothly and being a great chaperone, thank you to my cohort for being excellent traveling companions, thank you to WashU, Northwestern, and Notre Dame for sharing so much about college with us, thank you to University of Chicago for offering this incredible program to us, and a giant thank you to Don and the Ivy League Connection for caring enough to make this program possible. My trip to University of Chicago was one of the highlights of my life so far, and certainly the experience in which I learned the most. I think it’s hugely important for students to be able to gain all the benefits I was able to through this adventure, and it is fantastic that the Ivy League Connection exists to make these adventures realities for us.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Excellent Ending

I woke up at 6:30 this morning knowing I had to give myself some time to pack, before we met with Ms. Scott at 7:30. I was way too tired to tired to pack, so I just tried throwing everything into my suitcase without folding it our arranging it. It did not work. I had to dig everything back out and actually fold my clothes and place them nicely in  my suitcase. I made sure to empty out all my drawers and search the whole room for anything leftover. I feel like I forgot something, but I will never know until I unpack later. I didn't have time to eat breakfast in the dining hall, so hopefully I'll have time to eat at the airport. I saw Ms.Scott standing outside a taxi waiting for everyone and then we were off.

I never liked all the hassle that comes with an airport. We have to check in our bags, get our tags, go through security, find our gate, wait for boarding, where we then have to sit in a giant metal tube going 600 mph, 12,000 feet above ground. Before we boarded I knew I wanted to bring some kind of food home to my family. Deep dish pizza was the ideal choice but, all the pizza places at the airport didn't look very appealing. I hear Chicago has their own special popcorn mix with caramel and cheese popcorn, so that would have to do. After getting my jumbo bag of popcorn, we boarded the plane.

The flight wasn't too bad. I got the window seat and there was a complimentary movie and TV show during the flight. I was able to sleep during the majority of the flight, so that was nice. We landed in SFO at around 12:30 and was able to sail right through traffic on our way to El Cerrito High School. We arrived surprisingly quickly, even before Don. Don came and we took a few post-trip photos and that was that. My mom and dad came to pick me up and I was on my way home. Right now I am pretty jet lagged and still adapting to the time zone. Now to start my summer assignments before school starts. My long summer of work is not over yet.
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