Friday, July 18, 2014

The Program, The Experience, The Effect...

Now you all know that I had an outstanding experience on the east coast coast these past three weeks but there hasn't actually been that much light shed on the program that made this all possible. The Ivy League Connection is a scholarship program offered to students in the West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) so that they have the opportunity to see schools outside of California and experience what it's like to go to an Ivy League. Tons of outstanding students applied and thankfully I was chosen as one of the lucky 42 students who were able to go abroad these summer. There's no perfect way to express my gratitude towards the program, benefactors, and everyone else who made this possible, so I'll just have to try in this blog.

In order to give you all the best overview of my experience with the ILC program I need to start at the very beginning. Freshman year. I have to say that there isn't really much that I remember about Freshman year except for all the adjustments that I had to make AND the presentation about the ILC. I can still remember seeing Don, in his Hawaiian shirt and sandals of course, explaining to all of us about what this exclusive program actually was and what it had to offer. Thinking back on it now I can regrettably say that, at the time, I didn't really think much of the program. It was only until I started talking to some of my upperclassmen that I really started to take the program seriously. The way they spoke about it and the stories they told about there times at all these different schools just made me so excited that soon I would be able to have some of these stories as well. 

Up next was Sophomore year. I was so excited that I wouldn't have to wait any longer to be a part of this program. I applied, got an interview, but wasn't selected. I was devastated. I had planned on applying to different courses but after being denied I lost most of my will to do so. I had so many questions about why I wasn't selected and what I kept coming around to was that I just wasn't good enough. The year passed slowly as I saw some of my friends getting accepted to the program and telling me the stories about all the meetings, dinners, and events that they enjoyed so much. It hit me hard but it was the kind of reality check that I needed. I realized that the students I was going up against were the best of the best and that if I wanted to take part in this experience I would really need to improve myself. So I did.

By the time Junior year rolled around I felt completely prepared. Not just prepared for ILC but for life in general. School, sports, work, it all became so much easier. I hadn't even been accepted yet and this is the type of effect this program had on me. I got my essays done early, sent in all my forms as soon as possible, and spoke to as many ex-ILCers as possible, and when the time finally came, I was accepted. As soon as he had called my name I knew that my life was about to change, but I could have never foreseen how much it actually did.

After being accepted I thought that the hardest part was over; I couldn't have been more wrong. All the tutorials, meetings, presentations, and dinners started to occupy much of my thoughts. It seemed like every other day we were getting an email from Don telling us to do this or write that. It may have seemed hectic but Don always kept things organized, making it as easy as he possibly could on all of us. It was definitely stressful at times but it was always amazing. I never would have imagined speaking directly to our school board, meeting admissions officers, alums, or spending 3 weeks at an Ivy League School, but the ILC made it all possible. 

This is supposed to be a reflective blog but this blog would never end if I did a full recap of everything this program has done for me. Instead I'll just give you the best advice that Don ever gave me. Apply. It's only one word but if you do it can change your life. All my experiences with the Ivy League Connection have been unbelievable. The opportunities that this program gives you aren't available anywhere else. I've made tons of connections and met countless friends that I will never forget. This program IS life-changing and I will do everything in my power to let people know what it has done for me, and what it can do for you. As this is the last blog post I don't really know what a good sign off is but I just wanted to thank you all for staying with me through this amazing journey. Although... maybe we'll meet again so... jusqu'a a la prochaine fois....

Thursday, July 17, 2014

In Retrospect

As I am here in the Bay Area adjusting to debate as well as an internship that I am going to do while catching up on various elements that my community is doing to make many proud- from The ECHS Jazz Ensemble making its debut in Europe to an upcoming 24-hour drive for cancer as well as many global events which are going on, I am starting to understand to large gap that I took and overcame not only literally but on a larger level. Our world is so interconnected that what I have done may not seem to make as a lasting mark as it would have many decades ago but to continue to make that route and to improve and to work hard to make the bridge between this gap even sturdier and more beneficial is what I strive to accomplish and I then can hope that it would leave others to set better precedents than I and many others have done. What is this gap that I talk about? It can actually be interpreted in a plethora of ways and seen in a plethora of perspectives, which ultimately make this experience so special and so crucial to many in which this opportunity casts an impact on. Even if people don't seem to care about the ILC, or if people feel that because they didn't obtain a scholarship to go back East, or believe that the ILC is infested with 'elitists'; I am certain that what people pose an impact towards affect the world as a whole in a variety of ways which can be interpreted differently by different people. I acknowledge that what the marks of what people leave should be cherished in terms of how unique and special they are as what one person leaves has its own inherent qualities which can't be mimicked or reproduced by anyone else. This scholarship has taught me to see these elements as fragile and to cherish and embellish them to the best of my ability. Although this will be one of many accomplishments and life-changing activities that are experienced by human beings around the world and hopefully within my own life, I see this as substantial enough to see me change as a person in the long-run. 

I have yet to see the full package which will unwind out of this month-long opportunity as I am still in the short-term stage. I was surprised to find that I adjusted pretty quickly to PST, although I almost missed the World Cup final match because of extra sleep that I took. It is however very, very hard to finally be at the place which I seem to call as the 'stomping grounds' as I essentially didn't take a tour or visit Brown and the rest of New England with the colleges that come with it. It seems like home away from home, even if I don't seem to fully encapsulate what this is doing for me at that particular moment. Perhaps it is because to deliberate think about a particular impact at a random point in time doesn't seem to formulate right at that second but it will come in terms of going about something or at a random point without effort. Sometimes I regret not being able to jot down these "a-ha!" moments in the latter circumstance. But when I occasionally do jot down substantial themes and epiphanies which strike me, I wonder if I the full essence is being captured by what I write. 

Fortunately, I have experienced some of the symptoms which are caused by changing as a person. I remember the orientation when Don that my parents won't really recognize the old Kevin at SFO when I return to what Ms. Kronenburg murmured before I left (I hope New Zealand changed hers, might go there next year in the summer post-graduation). I can successfully say that going on a musical tour to doing a camp in the outdoors has its own set of ways to change my life but it has been refreshing and explicitly fascinating to witness the changes that have come forth for this experience. To be free and to be fully independent (except for alcohol and drugs as well as a late curfew) had shown insight to what will occur after I obtain or clench something that I have yearned for so long. The tenets of the ILC at times do not seem apparent when I am in the moment back East but at times of reflection and of thinking matters through which is compulsory to doing this successfully, they are. To experience New England and to think that my life has problems when I feel that I can't tie the loose ends in terms of going to this X place in Providence or doing a certain activity or learning a particular topic may be substantial and even center-stage due to my perseverance, but to see others back in West County as to places in the far corners of the planet not have running water to working in jobs in order to make a living shows how I had to take a step back so that I will have less regrets than if I didn't realize this- and I am glad that I did before heading back to the opposite coast. I realized and reflected on how fortunate I was to study economics among students from all over the globe- an international and innovative community that I was dreaming to collaborate and to be a part of. I realized that I was able to develop and to put my social skills and abilities on the line where I have progressed to a person who seems to find no boundaries as well as simultaneously meeting other people and developing deep and ever-lasting friendships with random people that I meet. I didn't fully realize this while I was there but at last, I finally realize the whole scope of why I was there (even though I regret not being able to absorb and to delineate the whole and real deal) and what this ultimately means in terms of giving back.

It entails that I use this for the benefit of others where I can finally speak and to apply these experiences into the world that I am going into. It should never be seen in regressing where I return home or where I talk about this as some ivory-tower, distant experience that I boast about. It is about interrelating this to how I view matters and how I take leadership as well as to transfer this for the utilitarian criterion for society. When talking about this, I see what seems like an infinite amount of flashbacks to my perseverance to being accepted, the countless amount of e-mails which I often found humorous, yet necessary, the dinners and all the people that I couldn't have imagined possible to meet to have rendezvoused with, to the times where I tried to coordinate the sending in of forms and of applications, to where I answered and told people about what I was doing this summer and what I home to take out of this, but oddly and definitely to the pre-essay. If that isn't more specific, the specific answer I gave to that prompt is understanding what is expected of me and how this will change who I am and lead to positive change for others by giving back. Reading this again finally made all the pieces to seem to reconnect into one picture that seems that it can't be mass produced using division of labour- rather it be that of the work of a craftsman. 

After the final drafts which have been developed off of the drafts which I have sent for previous ILC programs to which I can boldly say that I have not been accepted to, this draft seems primitive and close-minded to what I see I can do after returning. It is mind-boggling and daunting to see but it is for sure based on what I have experienced. If it wasn't for this scholarship with the numerous sponsors and the support that it has from the community, as well as Don, Mr. Ramsey, and Ms. Kronenburg's assistance and collaboration in making sure that the ILC is upheld in a sturdy manner, this all wouldn't have happened. I do acknowledge that there are many incredible opportunities out there and the people who didn't do the ILC shouldn't regret not doing it as many other amazing things are being done by them, but this was just so special. So special that it is really hard to explain why it was so special or if it is because by pouring out all these intricacies which come from the numerous reasons which take time and paused interlude to develop and to formulate (sounds too mechanical of a word for some reason...) . 

Seeing what I thought of what my experience would be when attending the alumni dinner and the Board meeting, the tutorial that I attended, to even when I was half-asleep at the Biltmore in Providence and when I was touring schools in four different states showed that expectations can really throw you off. I encountered a Brown Class of '14 graduate who was serving as an RA for the Brown Sports Camp that having expectations can alter what you can savor and enjoy out of doing something and that worrying versus being concerned can actually alter how well you can do the matter to which you are worrying about. Sounds very familiar to what my chemistry and physics teacher said. To hear almost 100% agreement on the same views on life 3,000 miles away put me at awe but also was believable at the same time. This prompted me to take a course of action, a course of change from my stubborn, old, and conservative self that I was accustomed to being. I fully learned to embrace and to venture into a new person and to find that risk as important to my self exploration and development as to the relations of the world around me and the feedback of the world back to me. Whether it be accidentally lapsing into a Rhody accent while shouting to someone across the street about finding a particular place to finding that certain nooks, crannies, and instances in time seem like second-nature and I place that seems so familiar to me shows that change that I have encountered. I am truly at a loss of words and I find it hard to state even more until I become so stunned and shocked that I stop writing this blog before going through a complex state of hallucinations and emotions.

Thank you for this opportunity, Ivy League Connection, and I promise I will fulfill the part about giving back and applying this into the world. From now on, the results may come in different sizes and shapes but I know they will come and the great majority will be for the better. Please check back on this blog site as it will never, ever be dead but ever transforming and alive forever with edits and updates to fully give you all a better sense of what this has done for us to what we have experienced in the time to come.

Who Is This In the Mirror?

Ivy League Connection.  That sounds cool.  That's what my primitive freshman mind thought the first time I heard about the program.  Going to a prestigious ivy league school for the summer sounded really appealing, but what were the chances of me getting in? Throughout my high school career I was working hard for a goal, but I didn't know what that goal was. Although I did not have a concrete goal, I am glad that I worked as hard as I did prior to the ILC.  When I think back now, I'm sure that if I slacked off at all during my first two years of high school, I would not have gotten into this marvelous program.

It was the fall semester of my sophomore year in 2012.  This was it.  It was my chance to apply and try to make it in to the ILC as a sophomore.  However, something unfortunate happened.  During the period in which the annual ILC presentation was held, my teacher told the juniors of that year to go, but kept the sophomores behind.  It was truly a shame because the sophomores who everyone thought were the most likely candidates for the ILC were in that class.  It just so happened that that same year, only juniors from our school got into the ILC.  I'm not saying that any of us in that class would have made it in for sure, but that's just a little anecdote and explanation for why many of my classmates and I did not apply that year.

Soon came the first half of junior year, 2013.  Everyone at the presentation this year was just as qualified as I was in that theater for the ILC and that meant everyone in that room was competition for getting accepted. Out of that bright crowd, there was no way that I was going to be the one to be chosen to represent the WCCUSD, there was nothing special about me.  Regardless, I still applied to the ILC on the slim chance I would get in.  I first applied to the Vanderbilt program, extremely self-conscious about my essay and thought that I had a good chance.  Unfortunately, I did not get in.  Was it my rushed pre-essay? Was my essay not detailed enough?  Questions like these constantly pressured me into not applying to another program. Or so I thought.

The story of my next application is one that I'm reluctant to share and not something anybody should ever do, but I'll share the anecdote to show that anything can be done if you really try and put your mind to the task.  It was the night of January 28th, shortly after my birthday.  I was bed-ridden with a sudden sickness, and the deadline for the DNA-based biotechnology course essay at Brown was due at 9 PM.  I looked at the clock in my bed.  It was 8 PM.  I had two choices: take a chance with this application and also apply to the physics program at the University of Pennsylvania later if I didn't get in, or skip this one and only apply to the physics program.  I took the former choice.  I had nothing to lose anyways and I was always good at biology, so why not just apply. I sat at my computer and zoned everything out. I was typing an essay that would determine whether or not I would get the chance of the lifetime and I wanted to make sure it was the best possible.  I wrote the best that I could in my ill health and constantly checked the essay over and over again before submitting it.  It was 8:52 PM, eight minutes before the deadline.  What was done was done, and I left it the rest up to fate.

About a week and a half later, the email came in.  The interview list had seven students listed on it and only three or less of us would get into the program.  I remember the days leading up to the interview.  We supposedly had one of the least amount of times to prepare out of all the programs: less than a week. Almost every day Jing and I would have mock interviews and discussions with previous ILCers Damian Wong, Johnny Ko, and Jay Fan.  To this day I am truly grateful to them and anyone else who I didn't mention who helped us prepare and respect all of them greatly.  They bombarded us with interview questions, instructions, and etiquette guides. Thanks to that, Jing and I were well prepared for the interview among all of our competition.

February 11th, interview day.  El Cerrito High School.  "Ready to go to work no later than 5:00 PM."  I rushed up the stairs of building C as the clock ticked.  I barely made it on time to the room.  I was greeted by Don and the other interviewees and was immediately called to take a commemorative photo.  The rest of the night was truly a blur when I look back at it now.  I only remember talking about each of our different schools, nervously making my way through the interview, Don jokingly suggesting art lessons for all of us, and being on the list of accepted applicants.  Jing was also accepted, which made my happy that I wouldn't be going without anyone I didn't know, and another student named Arnold was accepted.  I didn't know how to feel at that moment.  I don't exactly remember feeling jubilant or joyous at the moment, but instead a numb state of shock.  "I actually made it," was all that was running through my mind for the rest of the night. I shamelessly took a selfie that night and sent it to all of my friends and everyone who got the selfie that night tell me that I looked the happiest they've ever seen me.

After the interview, I felt like anything was possible.  I remembered how I thought that I wasn't going to make it into the ILC and how unconfident I was after not getting into the Vanderbilt interview.  ILC activites didn't even begin and I had already learned a valuable lesson from the ILC: when there's nothing to lose, there's truly nothing to lose.  Even in a pool of outstanding applicants, hard work can make you stand next to them or even stand out from them.  Also, past mistakes are meant to be learned from and should not bring you down.  Despite the disappointment from the Vanderbilt application, I changed up my essay style and as a result got into the Brown program.  The next few months were filled with a multitude of emails and meeting important people relating to our trip.  We made a blog site, met with the cohort over dinner, had a fancy dinner, met with a school board, and for me personally, had the chance to bond with my French teacher.

When I first found out that my French teacher, Alana Scott, was chaperoning for my cohort, I didn't know how to feel.  I was excited that a teacher that I knew and trusted from Hercules would be watching over us, but at the same time felt awkward.  That always-follow-the-rules teacher that sent me to the ILC presentation that cloudy day in the fall ended up chaperoning for the Brown-I cohort.  Now that the trip is over, I feel a stronger bond to Ms. Scott that some of her other students would never be able to have.  Our cohort shared life and personal stories with her, shared meals with her, and saw her as a close friend.  I'm glad we got Ms. Scott as a chaperone and couldn't imagine a smoother trip without having her looking out for us.

The days were quickly passing by and departure day was swiftly approaching.  Prom passed by, badminton tournaments were played, seniors graduated, and finals were taken.  I tried to spend as much time as possible with everyone during my last weeks in the West before leaving for a month, but unfortunately much of that time was taken up by preparation and packing for the East coast.  During the nights leading up to June 17th, I couldn't sleep.  I was worried.  Would I be able to survive after being shaken up by the plane ride?  Would I be homesick immediately or later?  Would I be able to get enough sleep later?  I slept restlessly for three nights in a row until the last morning before I would say goodbye to my parents and the West coast.  It was chilly that morning in front of ECHS, parents gathered and students not quite ready to say goodbye.  We didn't know what was ahead of us or what kind of people we would meet.  Time quickly passed and our shuttle finally took us away from our families to SFO.  The plane ride is certainly something I don't want to remember as being motion-sick isn't exactly the most pleasant thing in the world, so I'll skip that part of this narrative.

Arriving in Rhode Island was quite a shock in itself.  Everything was green unlike California where every shrub and grass was dry and yellow, the air was humid, the buildings were made of older material such as brick, and the city was no where close to as crowded as places like San Francisco or Berkeley.  Staying in the Biltmore Hotel was a pleasant experience as well.  The cohort would have blogging parties every night and bond together during our site visits.  Constantly waking up early and being fatigued every day of the first week sure did take it's toll, though.  My stomach had an extremely poor appetite, it was hard to keep my eyes open, I would have terrible sleeps, and worst of all, I was homesick.  I would miss being at home in my bed, being able to get a proper amount of sleep, and being able to rest well at home.  I cried about being so far from my comfort zone and wanted to see the people I knew again.  Thankfully, before I knew it, our site visits were over and I was presented with a dorm life where I had a lot of time to rest and do what I wanted.

Dorm life was just as Jay and Johnny had described at the ILC presentation: with lots of free time to do whatever we wanted.  Whether it was studying for the class, talking with new friends, going to scheduled programs, or doing laundry, the freedom was great.  I felt like I truly got the chance to experience what it was like living on a colelge campus.  I had to manage my time myself and had to make decisions for things like when do eat meals, when it was OK to have recreational time, and when to do homework.  The people I met there were amazing as well.  From my RA Charlie to my friend Alex, everyone was extremely willing to talk and be nice to each other.  They were the kind of people that one would like to keep contact with constantly and want to meet up with if ever in their area.

Class was excellent, too.  Everything anyone would ever need for their labs was there and more.  Our instructors Jody and Heidi were extremely down to earth and were a pleasure to talk to.  Their instructions were clear and kind and the lectures were detailed.  Although the first half of the course was review for me, it really helped refine my lab skills which I will surely carry into my future professions and studies.  The second half introduced new things to me such as vectors and genetic diseases.  I had the honor of seeing my own physical DNA, working with amazing lab partners, and researching the disease NCL.

Eventually the end of the four weeks came, and I was so reluctant to leave Brown.  Brown is an amazing place.  The campus is beautiful, the city life is nice and quiet, and despite the lack of food places to go to, the dining choices were excellent.  I definitely want to see the campus again sometime in my life, whether I decide to go to Brown for college or not.  Even as I sit here now, I can remember walking through the campus to the northern half, getting food at the V Dub and sitting down at the sticky tables with Arnold and Jing.

Coming back now and looking at the mirror, I see no physical differences besides my tan and apparently getting taller according to my badminton team.  However, I feel like I've truly grown as a person.  With all of the advice given to me from admissions officers all over New England, I feel prepared to write my personal statement.  I initially did not have a topic to fit to their advice, but after listening to different seminars and workshops throughout my three weeks, I found a new part of me that I never realized before.  I can now easily look at situations from outside perspectives and deal with them that way and I can now talk with others easier in public. I do have to admit, however, that my public speaking skills could still use some improvement as I'm still extremely self-conscious.  Nonetheless, I feel like I can now survive better on my own and in public.

As for the future and what is to come in my senior year, I'm definitely applying to Brown.  The summer program has left a great impression on me and I would be thrilled if I were to be accepted and given a choice to return.  For now,  I'm going to continue to try my hardest at school and attempt to spread the word of ILC and how West coast schools aren't the only ones out there to the upcoming freshmen, sophomores, and juniors in California.  I don't see any real changes to myself, but I can certainly feel them.  If I were to put myself back into school at this very moment amongst my regular peers, I would feel slightly awkward and out of place, in need of readjustment.  Despite that, I'm sure that my new self from the East coast will bring a lot to the table in terms of giving back to the ILC, treating others well, and work ethic.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A Life-Changing Journey

Looking into my email inbox, there are many ILC-related emails. The first one was from last October when Don emailed us about the ILC website where we could find out more about this program. That seemed so long ago; now I am already back from the trip and writing this reflecting blog. During these ten months, besides dealing with school work and endless testings, I have changed. Not only I learned from the four-week trip to the East Coast, but also from the whole process lasted from the orientation until now.

I had always be a part of this program since I was a freshman, when my biology teacher introduced this program to me. Looking at the pictures and accomplishments shown in the ILC website and blogs, I understood that this would be an opportunity I would never want to miss. In my sophomore year, I applied, but I was eliminated at the essay application stage. I did not feel discouraged, and still applied in my junior year. When Don came to Hercules High School and did the orientation to all the qualified students in the school, I felt that the whole process seemed intimidating: two essays to write and an interview to go through. Don also talked about the responsibilities as an ILC member: the endless emails, the dinners, and many other things to be aware of, which made me realize that being a part of the program would need my whole-hearted efforts. I still decided to apply for it because I know the experiences that I would have would outweigh my hard work, and my prediction was true.

I planned on applying for three programs: DNA-based Biotechnology course at Brown University, Intro to Business course at Columbia University, and Physics course at University of Pennsylvania. All the applicants had to write a pre-essay, which was applied to all programs, and a course-specific essay. I first spent a whole afternoon drafting my pre-essay because I needed to present my eagerness as an applicant and also the contribution I would give after returning from the program with my own distinctive voice. After that, I still asked for friends and teachers' help to see if there were any grammatical errors or illogical concepts. I revised my essays again and again, but there was always something that seemed to be missing in the essay. The same process was repeated for the course-specific essay except I changed my direction to how biotechnology would impact my life later on. Because the deadline was nine in the evening, I had no choice but made my last revision and turned both essays in without any confidence.

A few days later, I was totally excited by the email sent to inform the selected people for the interview. I still remember I was in calculus class when I knew that I was selected. I screamed. I really did. My happiness was fully shown on my face; I smiled for the whole period, even rest of the day because I knew that I was one step closer.

"I had another worry now," I thought, after the excitement was faded. The interview. The nerve-wrecking interview. As a non-native English and shy speaker, to speak and answer questions in front of three panelists who I did not even know made me feel nervous just to think about it. Because this is science course, applicants were required to understand some basic knowledge regarding genetic information and genetic-related biotechnology. Fortunately, former ILC members were willing to help us practice the interview by asking us some previous-asked questions and telling us what to be aware at an interview. On the Friday before the interview, I spent almost two-and-a half hours just to prepare for a fifteen-minute long interview. I was asked many different questions, including the DNA-specific ones. At first, I was even nervous in front of the former members, who I already knew, but after numerous practices, I felt more and more confident, and realized that there was nothing to fear but to speak out my own opinions on certain topics and to persuade them why I would be the best candidate. On the day of the interview, the confident feeling was totally gone again. Although people kept telling me that there was nothing to scare about and that people in the interview room were there to help us, not to harm us, but I was still shaking when I was waiting to my turn, which was number five, and walking into the interview room.

I shook their hands, and presented my smile, but at the same time, my heart was pounding so fast. The panelists started asking questions, but I kept staring at the question cards in front of me due to my nervousness. I tried to do eye contacts with every panelist, and I tried to sound natural. The fifteen minutes felt so long but so short. When I finished answering all nine questions, I could not believe that the interview was already over, and now it was time to wait for the result. Don told me that I did a good job. At that time, I did not know if it were just a consolation or if I really did a good job. The three interviewers walked into the waiting room while holding three name cards in their hand. My heart started pounding again. After they announced my name, I felt that there was a firework celebration in my heart and that I just could not stop smiling. I was too excited! All my hard work from the essays to the interview paid off.

There were five months in between the official acceptance to the trip itself. During the time, we went to an account-making session so we could start on our application for Brown, we went to a tutorial session so we knew what was expected on blog posts and our responsibilities on the following months, we went to our first cohort meeting so we could get to know each other, we went the school board meeting so we could be presented to the school board, we went to a dinner so we could talk to Brown alumni and interact with the whole Brown group, and lastly, we went to the orientation so we could know more about the upcoming trip. All these events were held just to ensure our success during the trip. Although they seemed to be a lot of work, they created a direction for me to follow during the trip. I did not felt like a lost child in a forest anymore because I had a map to follow. The experience I gained in these events also enforced the idea of being a representative of the community again in my head. I would never forget it.

In between the time, like usually, endless emails were sent regarding places we wanted to visit, questions we wanted to ask, and the loaner items. With year-end tests, projects, and standardized tests, I was exhausted already before the trip had started. Stepping on the shuttle toward SFO further made me feel worried about whether I could handle all the things that would happen in the following four weeks without any problems.

During the first week, the compact schedule reduced my sleeping time from average of seven hours of sleep to five hours, but that did not reduce my enthusiasm to explore and visit schools. Every school we visited, including Yale, Brandeis, Dartmouth, Harvard, MIT, and finally Brown, had its own characteristics that attracted me. I looked into every details I could possibly see in each school, and listen carefully to what people said about the schools. I could always hear people's passion and love toward their schools, and I could always feel the friendliness from them. From conversations with them, I gradually learn how to speak out my own questions and interact with strangers. I could speak freely with them during the last few meals, and this was a great improvement for me.

The meals we ate with these important people also made me experience something new. I ate seafood before, but I had not eaten so much high-class seafood in one week. When I looked into the menu, lobster, crab, oyster, and others just popped into my eyes. The meat was so tender and sweet that I could still remember the sweetness and freshness until now.

The Summer @ Brown program also created memories that I would never want to forget. The course itself was interesting because of the friendly and diligent instructors. The after-class activities were helpful because I was able to talk to Brown students and ask them questions regarding college life. I also experienced historical and natural beauties of the New England area by exploring it around by myself or with my friends. The dorm life allowed me to meet new people, build long-lasting connections, and have more freedom.

Now, I am back in the Bay Area for already three days, but these memories still present in my head as if they are still happening. Sometimes, I even had some sudden feelings of unfamiliarity in my house. It might sound weird, but it was true. This made me realize how greatly this trip had impacted me. When I looked back at this journey now, it might seem long and difficult because there were so much adapting and self-ruling, but I never regretted doing it. Actually, I am glad that I did it because every single second was a memory to cherish.

I admit that this is a life-changing journey. In the past ten months, I really did check my email every day. Now, it seemed to be a habit for me already. The endless blogs did improve my writing skills although they were very annoying when I was writing them. It feels more natural to talk with strangers and speak out my opinions now although I started out as a shy and quiet person. My connections had expanded from the small Bay Area to the globe. My eyes are opened to more opportunities in the East Coast, and I have become a more independent and responsible individual. I am really happy to see myself improve and grow up; I think this journey had definitely prepare me for the next stage of life - college, and even later on.

Now, it is already the college application season for me. Thanks to the program, there is already a map that leads my way to college success. Thank you for everyone who supports and allows me to have this such fantastic journey that I will never forget. I will definitely share this wonderful experience with my peers, so they can also open their eyes to more opportunities. The journey is still continuing, and it will never end.

Answering Opportunity's Call

The opportunity of a lifetime. Being given the chance to fly across the country to explore everything that seems to be faintly an untouchable reality in my school- the Ivy League Schools. Prestige. Renown. Brilliance. Superiority. The schools are far out of Richmond High' School's sight, but here, were selected students who were given the chance to have the opportunity no one would imagine they would have. My 4.2 GPA allowed me to be fortunate in being one among them.

My story with the Ivy League Connection began my freshmen with an intimidating presentation from someone we all know now, Don. Utter intimidation and a slight sense of fear lingered all throughout the room. I wasn't too interested after that, but my curiosity was what made me attend the next presentation the next year. Still, I wasn't convinced about the ILC, yet I always found it to be wandering amongst all my thoughts. I'd begun to look at the courses offered by each of the schools. Columbia, Cornell, UPennn, Brown, and Vanderbilt. I had no geographic background as to where the schools were, other than that they were on the opposite coast of me, let alone did I know the true meaning of their prestige behind their names. Their names meant nothing more than names alone. The picture painted before me was a mess. It wasn't black and white as hearing a familiar UC Berkeley, Yale, or Harvard was (hence my inexpertise). Ultimately, though, I stepped out of my comfort zone and decided to apply to Vanderbilt, which among the several classes it offered, had Med School 101 and Health, Medicine, and Society that I was completely interested in. My work and effort led me past the application stage and into the interview round, but was adversely not accepted as one of the 4 chosen ones of the 9 interviewees. Some devastation took a toll on me, but I had another chance at Techniques in DNA-Based Biotechnology offered by Brown (I was and am interested in health/medically related studies). When it came down to it, about a month and a half later, I applied newly. The process was the same as applying to Vanderbilt, only this time had a happier ending. I was accepted. I had no idea what would be in store for me, but all I knew is that I was being given a rare opportunity that I could not neglect.

The first milestone events leading up to acceptance of the ILC were over with and a new side of the ILC was introduced to all the new ILCers. There was a tutorial where my cohort got together for the first time and worked on creating our blogsite and our meet and greet dinner with the entire cohort. For the first time, the entire cohort came together once more as we enjoyed what is only now such a wonderful memory. Especially looking back at it from now, it was so great. I can still remember being there. I remember all of us sitting down, introducing ourselves to each other, getting to know each other better, and enjoying great food. Things were looking promising and I was just waiting 'til the day that we'd all head off. The only milestone left that stood in between then and the time we'd set off was the final orientation with our parents. Though it was nothing new to us ILCers, we went over what needed to be said and done, had our parent(s) meet our chaperone, Ms. Scott, and get a roughly planned itinerary for the upcoming summer trip of a lifetime.

Okay, so with all of the milestone events done, let me lead up to what this program is all about. The day for the Brown-I cohort came so soon and before we knew it, we were at El Cerrito High School at 3 AM ready to take off. It was such an exciting and surreal moment, but it was what we were all waiting for. We left everyone and made it to SFO, where we departed to Chicago and then Providence with our head in the clouds and our minds on the endless possibilities of Summer@Brown.

I can remember feeling the intense humidity the second I stepped foot outside PVD and making our way to Biltmore Providence. From the first dinner, to the first night there, everything was amazing. We made sure we made the best of it, particularly in enjoying the luxury of the hotel, as we'd only be there for less than a week. Blogging was always a trouble, especially from coming back to the hotel after an entire day of exploring colleges and still having to write a 3-hour-to-write blog. (It was only difficult and took that long because it was new, so I'd recommend new ILCers to practice, practice, practice, and ASAP.) The late night blogging get-togethers were fun on their own, though, so I really can't complain about anything regarding the hotel days.

If I can continue this story chronologically, that'd be great, but I'll sum up my entire experience in a few more paragraphs or so.

Everything about the ILC was great. There were only the exceptions of blogging (which is both good and bad), many events to go to, the difficult application process itself (a pre-essay, course-specific essay, then the interview), and tightly packed schedules from beginning to end. The moment I became involved with the ILC was when I actually began checking my emails so constantly, so in an indirect way, you could say, it helped me become more responsible in a sense. As all you may figure though, every struggle was worth the experience we had.

As I've mentioned, I would have never imagined that I'd have this opportunity, let alone that I'd apply, and fly out to do everything we did, but I did. There were so many aspects that helped me get the hang of what true college life is, and as a result, had a college experience.

In my school's environment, being pushed isn't as much of a priority as making students actually attend class and pass is. However, the extra effort I put into earning my grades wasn't much compared to the effort I found myself putting towards my course. I'd taken a class at a community college last summer, but this class still drove me a bit crazier, yet I didn't fail. I definitely have to say that that was one of the most valuable skills I was able to get from the course. To never give up. Never quit just because something is difficult and seems impossible, because most likely it won't be. I may have not gotten as much as other students did, as they already knew more than I did prior to beginning the course, but the skill of perseverance is something that cannot be taught by anyone else. It wasn't the easiest path going to all, but one, office hours and staying half and hour to over two hours to catch up on what I didn't understand, but now I see why it was the better one. I don't know how I couldn't see it in the past blogs I wrote, but as I write this one, I'm finally realizing what was in front of me all along. If this is supposed to be anything like that glorious epiphany I mentioned in one of my blogs, then this is probably it. As I write this, I can understand that this may possibly seem like any other "never give up" story, but it's that work, frustration, and effort that made this experience that much better.

Not only is reflecting something to do on your own, but it's worthwhile to take time and share your experiences with other. That just happened to be the case for one of my sisters and I reflected on our struggles. By looking at it, it was a challenge that I didn't expect taking, but was a giant leap in doing, specially because I had taken Bio a year ago, while, again, many students had just recently taken AP Bio or have taken it at the least. Through the struggles of the class I was able to make the best of it in being able to come out triumphant and doing my best to not only get through what I needed to get through with, but actually learning and developing on a skill in doing so. As my sister said, it was something unfamiliar to dive into, but in the end, the clouds cleared up and the path looks a lot clearer (at least for now, and I say that personally).

In terms of college exploration, I was also given the opportunity to explore colleges, as one, if not the most important, aspect of this trip. As I've mentioned, I had no idea how to differentiate each of the schools we could apply to, until we made it to Providence and explored colleges/universities one day at a time. At first thought then, I'd only affiliated arrogantly intelligent people and a cold, cloudy, dark, unattractive climate with them, which was terribly closed-minded on my part. I'm only trying to speak my personal truth, here, so I do apologize for (very false) assumptions. However, I am more than glad and thankful for the opportunity of exploring because first of all, visiting each of the schools we did proved my assumptions wrong, and I was able to meet great people along the way and make lifelong memories. As you may recall, I sort of had this rave over Dartmouth (and still do!). My 8th grade teacher actually graduated from there, but I had absolutely NO idea as to what it was, let alone that it was an Ivy League, or any other details regarding it for that matter. Now I am actually looking forward to the opportunities that it offers. It was really unexpected, but it was just a school I have become to have interest and ambition for. Alongside Dartmouth is also Brandeis. As the school that I blogged about, I thought I knew everything, but was quite wrong. Though I knew they liked to create a cohesiveness between liberal arts and academics, I didn't know how serious they took their majoring ambitions (they really encourage triple-majoring if you're guessing). In any case, I come to think of how great of a school it is, and how the history and foundations of it really shape it and its community today. Great schools that are in definite consideration.

Raving over how great the schools are is kind of fun, but I do have to think about being away for 4 years. I can decide to be close to home, but that wouldn't serve the purpose of this trip too well. This trip has actually given me a first-hand experience on being away from home and taking on a new challenge. Not only being several hundreds of miles away from home, but literally being on the opposite side of the coast. It's given me the chance to step out of my comfort zone, quickly adapt, take on new experiences, challenge myself, make amazing memories, meet fantastic people, and ultimately, grow as an individual. I don't really know how to phrase it, but I probably won't be able to understand the importance of this experience to its full extent until I do get to my college years and find myself benefiting from it. That said, I will benefit from this in terms of college exploration and finding a school for me. Emotionally, this has helped me in its own way too. I might have not felt homesick throughout my time there, probably because there is just so much going on, but after just one time video chatting back home with all of my family, I can see more clearly how home is where the heart is. My heart was still back home, and I could tell from the couple of completely unexpected tears during the call. In any case, though, the experience was just an opportunity priceless to have (though I and all other fellow ILCers owe all our dearest thanks and appreciation to the benefactors who did make this opportunity financially possible for us).

It's been a very bumpy and brutal road for me ever since the application and interview days. The tutorials, sessions, loaner items, endless emails, responsibilities, expectations, effort, occasional restlessness, perseverance, and filling out all the documents was worth everything we've all been able to do from this experience. I find myself very enthusiastic in sharing my experience to the other students of my grade and incoming sophomores. In fact, I strongly see myself applying for this program again (particularly to get into one of Vanderbilt's courses) and further narrowing which colleges I'll be applying to. It's been an incredibly amazing 3 and  half weeks and I couldn't be any more grateful and satisfied that I've had the great privilege and honor of having this opportunity and unique experience. Like the Ivy League Connection's motto says (which I used to see as intimidating, but now see as a good thing), "When opportunity knocks, some people answer the door while others just complain about the noise" Thankfully, I happened to answer its call and make the best of it.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Confessions of a Chaperone VI

Marble-clad State House. Free-form pizza.  Platinum-plated walls. Lobster avocado tempura. House of Lanvin.  RISD art farewell.  Adieus amongst returns.

On Tuesday, I was able to hold a check-in with four out of the five cohort students.  I quickly learned that their finals’ week at Brown was going to be extremely busy: later that night we would be meeting for dinner at Al Forno, Wednesday night they had a scholar’s workshop meeting that they were invited to by Kisa Takesue (Director of Leadership and Brown alumna), on Friday they had both final exams and presentations in their courses, and on top of all that, they had two or three cluster or dorm parties to attend.  I was relieved that they all appeared rather calm and confident in completing all of these commitments.  Following the check-ins, Jing invited me to tour the Rhode Island State House to learn about Senate proceedings and check out the interior.  I had nothing to do until the Germany-Brasil World Cup game (and we all know how quickly that was over), so I decided to tag along.  In the first few days after our arrival to Rhode Island, our cohort passed the State House nearly every day to catch our site visit trains from the Amtrak Station.  Now we were actually going to see the interior.  I took a picture on the bottom step of what felt like a million steps leading up to the entrance.  Jing and I finally located the tour after walking around the entire building on one of Providence’s most humid days.   Thankfully, the complete marble interior of the State House had a cooling effect.  We learned that Rhode Island’s current President of the Senate is the first woman to ever hold that position.  We also learned that Rhode Island’s Senate is overwhelmingly liberal when considering party lines.  Considering that Rhode Island was founded on ideas of religious freedom that were perceived as very liberal in that era, the democratic majority of the Rhode Island senate makes sense to me.

Can you spot me in this pic?

This is a rare portrait of a standing Washington, worth thousands.

Later that evening was the long-awaited Al Forno dinner, also our last official dinner as a cohort before returning to San Francisco.  Al Forno was Jack’s recommendation, and what an excellent recommendation it was.  The restaurant is known for its hand-made ravioli and pasta noodles, meatballs, hand-churned ice-cream, wood-grilled meat and vegetables, and use of fresh seasonal products. For appetizers, we started off with free-form calamari and margherita pizzas – thin, delicate, savory, and absolutely delicious.  The idea of a free-form pizza is that no perfect circle with slices is presented, but a strangely-shaped whole pie is delivered, giving the guests the freedom to carve it out as they will.  I enjoyed this detail.  For my entrée, I chose the ‘Cheater’s Lasagna,’ and the meatballs and sauce were fresh and met my expectations.  The side of roasted vegetables I ordered may have been most impressive to me, as the flavor and variety of produce on the plate was surprising.  My palate enjoyed the pickled cabbage, whole beet, crunchy broccoli florette, and fresh black beans.  Healthy, but extraordinarily flavorful.  The milk-chocolate filled crepe anglaise was a perfect ending to the meal. As for conversation, I remember best our multi-lingual cohort immersion.  Arnold’s suggestion was that we have a continuous conversation, each of us in our different language comfort zones, to see if we could communicate without having studied the language being spoken.  As a foreign language teacher, of course I loved this.  Kevin spoke Japanese, Jack and I spoke French, Brandon spoke some Mandarin and some Cantonese, Jing spoke some Mandarin and some Taiwanese, and Arnold spoke Spanish.  It was fun to hear about their favorite television shows in their language, and even hear the translations for ‘fork’ and ‘spoon’ in each language.  Good suggestion, Arnold.  I wonder what the booth adjacent to us thought when they heard all of these foreign tongues?  
Italian soda - grapefruit.
The oddly-shaped free-form pizza.

On Thursday, I decided to return to Newport.  I knew that the students were busy with cluster parties and working on their final projects and presentations, and thus they wouldn’t miss me.  I longed to see Newport one last time before returning to the West Coast.  When I arrived at the Visitor’s Gateway Center, I took the 67 bus to Bellevue Avenue, and checked out the grounds and exterior of the Elms.  Gorgeous.  Here are some pictures:

Next, I walked on to see The Breakers, as I regretted not making it far enough in my previous trek to see it.  The interior of this house was just mind-blowing.  I learned that the Vanderbilt family, whose riches came to be from the famed railroad monopoly, lived in this extravagant castle.  The Gilded Age, in the lens of home interior, was the combining of French and Italian chateaux-style luxury with advancements in technology, and The Breakers is the epitome of this.  Thus, the textiles and furniture of this castle felt very old, yet the castle enjoyed modern technological luxuries such as built-in electricity.  What I remember most about the castle are the high platinum-plated walls, enormous baccarat-crystal chandeliers, and the luxurious prints that were unique to each room.  Many of these prints I would consider using or wearing (sparingly) even today.  Because of the ‘no pictures’ rule of The Breakers, I only have images from the balcony view of the Atlantic Ocean.  Fret not – this view is as stunning as the inside of the chateau:

Before leaving Newport, I wanted to spend some more time by the water, so I decided to enjoy a lunch-dinner at The Grill at 41 North, a seductive, high-end outdoor lounge tucked behind a hotel, port-side.  I chose a place next to the glass balcony, the late afternoon sun flooding in on my little cabana.  While waiting for my beverage, I had a gorgeous view of the port, white shiny yachts, sailboats, and houseboats looking silver in the reflection from the sun on the water.  I had saved up my food stipends for the day, so I indulged myself.  First came a half Maine lobster with pink peppercorns and green tendrils of a vegetable found on sushi rolls.  Next, was a lobster avocado tempura salad (can you tell I like lobster?) with a little frissé, and the freshest avocado imaginable, covered in a thin layer of tempura.  For dessert, I went with a citrus mousse, as tangy and light as its name. 

The lobster tempura avocado salad, decorated to look like an artistic tree.

And then came Friday – the very last day I would have in Providence.  I used this day to tie loose ends.  I paid downstairs for my laundry bill, a hotel luxury I decided to take advantage of, as no laundry cleaner was within walking distance.  (I wish you could have seen what care was taken by the Hotel Providence staff in laundering my clothing – each article tagged and pinned to a clothes’ hanger, a plastic dry-cleaning cover separating each piece from the next.)  I went to say good-bye to my new friend, Desiree, who works at Rosalina.  And finally, I spent some time catching up at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) Art Museum.  I had only spent an hour there last time, and I wanted to be sure I saw everything that there was to see, including the Egyptian and Asian prints’ exhibition.  I will really miss RISD – it is so tastefully a mix of old and new art, and I appreciate how the exhibits and themes acknowledge artistry of every kind (fashion, film shorts, posters, pottery, furniture, tableaux…).  

A real mummy

A Van Gogh piece I missed from last time.
Bergdorf Design
Emanuel Ungaro design from the 60s.
House of Lanvin - worn in the 20s.

Friday evening, I packed.  I carefully took out all the garments I had hung in my closet, folding them and pressing them down into the four corners of my suitcase.  I collated all of the brochures from my tourist site visits and placed them in the front zipper of my roller.  I closed the caps on all my toiletries and zipped them closed in Ziplock gallon bags.   I was pleased with how many products I had used up, because I knew this would leave extra space and room for weight in my luggage. (Turns out, I was wrong.)  Into my packing, I heard the live jazz starting outside at Aspire restaurant.  I finished packing, and decided to try to make it to the end of the music.  I asked the bartender, Ashley, and she assured me the jazz would be playing for another hour.  I was relieved.  I didn’t want the answer to questions about what I did my last night in Providence to be, “I packed my suitcase.” There was a jazz singer with the ensemble this time, and she had a strong, rich voice that really enhanced the jovial evening mood.  I decided to order the same plate that I ordered my first night at Hotel Providence – the delicious hummus plate.  How funny it is that our lives complete circles – this was my first dinner while staying at Hotel Providence, and now my last.  I couldn’t get enough of the tastes in this appetizer – the sweet jam of roasted red peppers, combined with the creamy hummus and buttery pita is just superb. 

I slept soundly when I returned to the hotel and before I knew it, I was awake and heading up to Wayland Arch via taxi to meet the cohort with luggage.  And before I knew it, we were on a connecting flight to San Francisco.  What a voyage it has been!  It is hard to put into words how free and independent and happy this trip has made me feel.  My gratitude for this immense opportunity of chaperoning these brilliant cohort members, visiting Ivy League campuses for the first time in my life, and getting to live in a vibrant city has hopefully come through in my conversations with you all and in the pride displayed throughout my continuous blog posts and pictures.  I guess I will end with this: 

Thank you, Providence. Thank you, cherished Brown-I cohort (my dear Arnold, my circumspect Brandon, my sage Jack, my good-natured Jing, and my free-spirited Kevin).  And thank you, Ivy League Connection, for the memories.

Alana (the chaperone)