Thursday, July 17, 2014

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.

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