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.

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