Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Our Journey Begins

Chicago Cohort, Ready to Go
I love airports, and I love flying. There’s just something thrilling about the crowded spaces, the diverse group of people, and the knowledge that being on an airplane means I’m likely on an adventure. Lucky for me, today the Chicago cohort was in 3 different airports and 2 different flights.

Our first flight, out of San Francisco, had a 6:00 AM departure, which meant the Chicago cohort met up at 2:50 at the high school. Don went over some last minute details with us, we took a farewell Bay Area cohort picture, and then it was time to say good-bye to our parents and head to the airport. This trip will be the longest I’ve ever been away from home or without my parents, and though I’m sure I’ll miss them, I’m ready to experience being more independent.

Fortunately, we didn’t encounter any issues with our travel. All of our baggage easily passed the weight limit, and we passed security with no problems as well. Our flight from San Francisco to Phoenix went by quickly, and despite a short turn around time, we managed to board our flight to St. Louis without having to run crazily around the airport as well. I enjoy flying, and I used the time to recharge, mainly reading and sleeping. Jae-An and I both had our textbooks in our carry-on backpacks, so we decided to exchange. I didn’t get very in depth as I was reading his book, but it gave me a window into the course he’s taking, which is about astronomy and the physics of the stars. The textbook had lots of convenient diagrams and pictures, but what was most interesting to me was how vast the concepts are. While I’ll be studying the brains of individual people, Jae-An will be learning about the depths of our entire universe. Thinking about how big and mysterious outer space is always makes me feel small.

Since all our flights were on time, we had most of the afternoon before the dinner for ourselves. I’m not sure how I feel about St. Louis. The weather is strikingly different, very overcast with thick, hot air. As a Californian, the gray skies with warm temperatures confuse me. Our hotel, the Charles F. Knight Conference Center, is very nice. It’s located on the Washington University campus and has a lot of useful services. I got to try out the gym this afternoon, and the workout was a welcome relief from sitting on planes for hours. I was even able to utilize one of the small meeting rooms to briefly practice my flute.

The Chicago Cohort outside Atlas Restaurant
After our relaxing afternoon, the Chicago cohort met up to go meet Washington University admission officers and students. There was a pleasant drizzle as we drove to Atlas, the restaurant where we were dining. This dinner was phenomenal, and completely exceeded my expectations. Besides Chicago, I hadn't really been considering applying to schools in the Midwest, but after tonight's dinner my perceptions of the schools and the culture are completely changed. All of our guests were extremely friendly and enthusiastic, and affirmed that this positive, supportive atmosphere is one of the trademarks of Washington University.

I sat next to Chrystal Okanta and across from Jenny Alessi, both admission officers and WashU alums. Our other guests are all students at Washington University: Reid Petty, Dana Robertson, and Michelle Zhang. They were all wonderful people eager to share their experiences regarding Washington University in St. Louis, but they were also super easy to talk to and our conversation included not just college, but also food, culture, and television shows. Talking to Chrystal and Jenny was interesting because they provided both their perspectives from when they were students, as well as their current positions as admissions officers. What was most important to me was learning about the opportunities offered at Washington University, and I was pleased to hear about the variety of classes and extra activities students can participate in. Flexibility and exploring different interests are two things I'm looking for in colleges, and it sounds like Washington University has both; Chrystal and Jenny both assured me that students can take all sorts of classes regardless of their major, and that many other activities are accessible to all students as well. I was particularly pleased to hear that there are chances to play music in a casual setting, as music is something I want to continue as a side interest in college. Even better, Jenny was actually part of a string chamber group during her time at WashU, which was exciting to me because chamber music is something I really enjoy and have been looking for opportunities for. One thing that Chrystal mentioned that really stuck with me was the atmosphere of student competition in classes. She said that although the classes are challenging and everyone is there to learn, there isn't really a cutthroat, competitive vibe at all. This stood out to me because I know that the transition to college level work and classes is going to be big for me, and I think not having the added stress of intensely aggressive peers would be a more comfortable learning environment.

I was also really interested in hearing about Michelle Zhang's WashU experience, seeing as she grew up in California and just finished her freshman year. I asked her about the transition and her decision to attend Washington University, and she gave me a very thorough answer that addressed a lot of the factors I consider important about choosing a school. She said the transition was really easy and that Washington University cares a lot about making freshmen comfortable, she mentioned a program in which students participate in a homestay with a St. Louis family a couple time during the semester. Overall Michelle just seemed really happy with WashU, and it seems like her first year there has been a very positive college experience.

City Museum, a bizarre entertainment of St. Louis
Beyond college, it was also fun to hear what our guests had to say about St. Louis in general. I previously knew nothing of the city but thought that it would be important to know the surrounding environment if I were to attend Washing University in St. Louis, and it sounds really neat! Chrystal and Jenny mentioned the City Museum, basically a giant playground made from a strange assortment of items. They also told us all the St. Louis food highlights, which include gooey butter cake, frozen custard, toasted ravioli and some strange cheese combination I can't recall the name of. While we're on the topic of food, I must take a brief moment to appreciate my meal for the evening: I had a delicious lobster ravioli and a decadent chocolate pave for dessert (apparently "pave" basically means brick, and the richness of this dessert was certainly that dense and substantial, in a good way). Alana also organized a lovely array of appetizers for us to try, including some different things like tuna tartare and duck pate.
A fabulous dinner with oustanding WashU guests
Overall, I had a wonderful evening that was both enjoyable and informative. I learned a lot about Washington University in St. Louis and gained new insights on college culture in the Midwest, and as an added bonus I even got a book suggestion from Chrystal (Throne of Glass, I'll check it out when I get back home). It's been a long day, but a great start to our trip. Now it's time to get some sleep in preparation for tomorrow, because I know we'll be just as busy.

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