Sunday, August 2, 2015

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.

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