Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Final Blog

Once in a while, you have an experience that surprises you and changes your life. The ILC is predictable in giving students that experience, year after year. Over the past few days, I've had time to reflect on my time as a part of the Ivy League Connection, and it's mind-blowing that everything I've learned and everything I've done has all come from a few wonderful people in one school district in California. For the amazing gift they've given me and scores of other WCCUSD students, I'd like to thank Charles Ramsey, Madeleine Kronenberg, and Don Gosney.

This summer started with a few emails from Don about applications and essay prompts and ended with a hug from my parents at the airport.

My Social Justice essay took too long to perfect (I could nitpick punctuation for an eternity) and the interview blew by, then the applicants were stuck in a room with our hearts in our throats while we prayed for our names to be called. You'd think that after letting me in to Women and Leadership last year, the ILC would know better, but I was extremely lucky; the ILC handed me another scholarship, this time to Penn. We sped through the dinner, the tutorial, the school board meeting, and the orientation, and after about a billion and a half emails from Don (written, proofread, and set in ALL CAPS and bright red with care), we were on a plane together, ready for it all to begin. We had a preview of what makes each college unique from all of the college visits before the class started, and once it did, we were as ready as we could be to learn. 

Each day of Social Justice was a different collection of stories told by a few new people (I often found myself wondering, "Where the heck does Andy find these people? Where can I find them?") who shared pieces of their lives with us. I can't remember a single bad day, and I can't choose one best lesson, because it was the combination of all of them together that really made Andy's class so special. It's hard to say how Social Justice has changed me. I'm looking at the world through a different lens and trying to stay aware of my privilege. I hope to be a voice for the voiceless, now, on a small scale, and in the future, on a larger scale. 

The ILC has given me an unforgettable experience and a set of lessons that will last a lifetime. To everyone who made this possible, thank you. 

Friday, August 1, 2014

And So It Ends...

The first time I became cognizant of the ILC and the opportunities the organization offered was early last fall when I was herded into the ECHS theatre along with many of my peers, and Don told us about what the ILC was and what it offered us. I had been aware of the ILC's existence in my sophomore year because many of my friends were participants and upon their return, they had been doing great things for our school. I was inspired by the actions of ILC alumni and their vehement endorsements of the program, and I wanted to become involved in the program myself. 

From the moment I learned about the various courses offered by the ILC, the Social Justice Research Academy was always my first choice. I agonized over my application essays and checked my email constantly to see if I'd gotten an interview or not. Then, one day at school Other Julia accosted me on the way to class with the news that I'd got an interview! (Spoiler: we both got in.) I prepared for my interview as much as I could, pestering my friends for advice and practicing my delivery with my patient, long-suffering parents. At last interview day arrived. I barely ate at all I was so nervous. When the panel announced that I was among the people they accepted, I stayed cool and composed, until the second I made it to the parking lot, where I was struck by the need to do an interpretive dance of joy. 

The various pre-trip events, tutorials and School Board meetings flew by. I tried to absorb as much information as I could for fear of inciting the wrath of evil Don. Up until then, the dinner with UPenn alumni in San Francisco was the fanciest venue I had ever been to. 

All at once, it came time for our journey to begin. I was so excited (and groggy) at two in the morning on June 30th, when my father woke me up and drove me to El Cerrito High School, where I met up with the rest of the cohort. The next week passed in a blur. I loved everything about the East Coast. College tours and sightseeing blended together. I had so much fun on our night time monument tour in Washington DC, geeking out in the Smithsonian, and touring Georgetown's campus. Our cohort had so much fun along the way. (I will always feel a pang of sentimentality when I think of our youthful exploits, like "Spoonhenge" and Other Julia's brilliant interpretation of the squirrels at Penn.)

The three weeks I spent at Penn were some of the most intellectually challenging and exciting times of my life. I felt so privileged to be a part of the SJRA. My teachers were amazing, the activities thought provoking, and my peers equally passionate about social justice. The experience as a whole was incomparable. The class challenged me in more ways than I expected. I didn't think I could become more of a radical, but thanks to the SJRA, I did.

I loved everything about the SJRA, from Professor Andy's golden retriever, (whose name is Emma Goldman, yes, that Emma Goldman,) to weekend discussions of Hegel and Zizek.


My time at Penn changed me more than I could have imagined. I knew that this would be a formative experience but I had no idea how much I would be affected by my time at Penn. When I think back on my experiences I am filled with gratitude to all the people who made this trip possible. Over the course of the last four weeks I learned many valuable new skills, but none of it would have been possible without help from people every step of the way. Now that I am home, I am determined to put the things I learned to use in my own community.

Carpe Diem

Somehow, at the end of everything, there is a way to love every moment, and there is a way to be sad about it. There's a time for tears and a time for hugs, but this time is for neither. This time is for thought. 

I still remember the night of my interview. The nerve-wracking walk towards El Cerrito High School and the long wait for our turns to impress the panelists. I had previously applied to the DNA Biotechnology program at Brown University, but I was not even chosen for an interview. So I still remember the pulses of anxiety running through me and the voice in my head, telling me that it was my one last shot for this opportunity. But better yet, I remember this feeling of a burden being lifted from inside of me once I sat down at the end of the interview table and faced the panelists. Every bit of worry and anxiousness escaped, as I realized how privileged I was to be in the presence of these amazing individuals who were dedicating their time to listen in on all that I had to say. I dropped all my "preparations" and doubts, and just spoke. However as the interview prolonged, the nervousness began to build back up again, and my confidence was slipping away. It wasn't only because of my fear of not getting accepted into the ILC, but also the fear that all my efforts put in towards this program was in vain. After everyone was finished with their interviews, the moment of truth was coming near. I gathered with the others as we all waited for the panelists to finish making their decisions, and began to converse with each other without all the pressure and tension. We struck up some of the most interesting conversations about school, physics, and math, while supporting each other when a few of us brought up their own interview experience. And it was in at that moment where my respect for these individuals grew even more. We each shared a common goal, and no matter who actually reached it, I was glad that they were among our group. 

The wait, which seemed like an eternity, finally came to an end. And when Don announced my name, it felt as if time froze. I was still waiting for Don to say that he made a mistake, when I realized that this was real. It was not a dream, but rather more of a dream come true. Not only did I feel like the luckiest person in the world, but I also felt privileged to be a part of this remarkable program. 

Following the never-ending excitement over the prospect of leaving for the East Coast for the summer, was the actual application to the Penn summer program, Don's countless e-mails, and the ILC events such as dinners, orientation, and tutorials. Each event, big or small, was a stepping stone in our journey, and held great value towards our preparation for the trip. When summer had finally arrived, my excitement for UPenn could not get any larger. I busied myself by taking a Film Analysis summer class at my school, and attempted a physics "crash course" by studying off a few physics books  to prepare for Penn. But sooner than expected, our departure day for the East Coast arrived, and I found myself sitting on a plane, headed for Washington D.C., with a big fat smile on my face.
First week of being in the East Coast
Arriving in the East Coast was like landing in a whole new world--a recurring pattern of foreign buildings, unfamiliar people, and different surroundings everywhere I looked. Although having to adapt in such a new environment may sound incredibly frightening, it actually felt more exciting. Because there I was. In a place where no one knew me and I knew no one. A place where I was truly independent and can be absolutely anyone that I wanted to be. 

From the moment that we stepped foot off of the plane, we were busy--day and night--with exploring the East Coast, fancy dinners with university alumni and representatives, and college tours. One of the most valuable experiences that I brought back from this summer trip was our first week of college tours, where we visited Georgetown, UPenn, NYU, Columbia, and Princeton. Being able to physically be on the college campus provided a much better experience than simply fantasizing about "schools that might be right for me". Questions such as "Where should I go to college?" became "Where do I see myself in two years?"


"What kind of environment do I see myself thriving, growing, and learning in?" 

"Would I want my college to be strictly academics?"

"Or would extracurriculars and student life be a huge factor as well?"

After only a few days of informational sessions and college tours, my view on college choices completely changed. UC Berkeley and UCLA were the only colleges that I was interested in before the ILC. But now, I realize that I know nothing about UC Berkeley or UCLA. I know nothing about the student life. I'm not even sure whether they're good colleges for whatever I plan on majoring in. Instead of considering schools solely based off of their reputation, I've noticed that there are far more qualities in a school that I have only just begun to look at.
Group picture on Moving Day into the dorms!
My three weeks at UPenn held the best days of my life. There was never a day when I would wake up feeling unmotivated or tired. How could I be? When I knew that there would be amazing physics lectures to look forward to each day? Being a part of the Experimental Physics Academy (also known as EPRA) granted me the experience of a lifetime. Bill, Craig, and Mary, my wonderful instructors, emphasized the objective to learn in class, rather than just remembering material to pass tests and get decent grades. Perhaps the greatest feeling that I have experienced out of my 3-week exposure to college life was walking into class each morning to a group of students who were passionate about what they were learning. There were no complaints nor boredom, only attentive and interested faces, as Bill, Mary, and Craig delivered their lectures. Learning physics at Penn was so much more different than my physics class at my high school. My classmates were different and the instructors in EPRA were much more well-rounded and enthusiastic. The lab material and physics curriculum was also very advanced compared to my high school's, but that only pushed me to work harder and learn more. It was no surprise when I found myself with such an expanded knowledge of physics by the end of the program, since it felt as if I learned more in a week in UPenn, than I did in a whole semester at my school! Our instructors not only taught us physics, but how to think like a physicist and a scientist, as well. "Never accept the answer; formulate more questions." This new method of viewing things impacted me in a larger span than just in a physics class. It also provided me a better outlook on life by encouraging me to become more open-minded and radical.
Physics Academy > Your Academy
Amazing friends at Penn
One of the most influential milestones before our departure was the fancy Penn dinner in San Francisco. It was the first time that I was able to speak with alums from UPenn, and I found myself learning so much more about the college experience, major differences between UCs and Ivy League Universities, and most importantly, about UPenn. Tom, one of the alums that I talked to at the dinner, shared quite a lot of information and provided plenty of insight about the school. However, one particular part of our conversation stuck with me the most while I was at Penn. I had asked him what he liked most about the university, and without a second thought, he said: the people. My three weeks at UPenn made me understand exactly what he meant. The students in the program were so diverse and unique in every way. I found the most fascinating and intriguing people that I have ever met, who I quickly bonded and created a tight friendship with. 

Being at Penn was never "all work and no play", since the program always had numerous activities available for us. I was able to get a full "taste" of the East Coast, on our trip to New York! Believe it or not, this trip was very meaningful to me, since it actually helped me narrow down where I would like to go for college. Although being in New York and Times Square was fun, the environment was too hectic for me. My preferences for my college setting are urban areas, and Penn and New York both displayed urban atmospheres. However, I began to notice more of the differences between the two. Realizing that I may never fully grow accustomed to the busy surroundings of a place like New York, I was able to confirm that a setting like Penn is what I am most suited for.


My Physics Lab Group!
I did not know whether it was a good thing or a bad thing to not feel any homesickness whatsoever during my stay in the East Coast. I was able to enjoy my time at UPenn without the constant longing for family, a larger shower, or a comfortable bed. On the other hand, I knew that I was bracing myself for the backlash of leaving this wonderful place I called home. I would be readjusting my lifestyle, from guaranteed exciting days of mind-blowing Physics lectures and endless amounts of fun school activities to……….a normal life. Ordinary. Boring, even. But now, after these few days of reflection and thought, I realize that I did not come back from the East Coast to the once bland life I was accustomed to. Instead, my eyes are now open to so many more possibilities. There is so much more that I have yet to learn in this world. So much more to achieve and discover. And so much to share with my classmates and peers in my community. 

I knew from the very beginning that this opportunity was going to change my life, but in no way was I prepared for its full effect. I fell in love with Penn. I fell in love with the environment, the class, and the people. I fell in love with the East Coast. During the course of 3-weeks, I was able to have the experience of a lifetime. This would not have been possible without Don Gosney, Mr. Ramsey, Ms. Kronenberg, the sponsors, panelists, and everyone who helped make the Ivy League Connection possible. I thank you all from the bottom of my heart, but words can not even begin to express my full gratitude. The results of your hard work has impacted the students in our community in such a great way--past, present, and future. The ILC has completely turned my life around, and even that, is an understatement. I would also like to extend my thanks to the EPRA instructors: Bill, Mary, and Craig, for being such supportive, passionate, and inspirational people. And last but not least, I would like to thank Mr. Hillyer for being the best chaperone in the world, and for your upholding optimism and encouragement throughout the trip.

I felt myself arrive back to the Bay Area as a different person. The reserved piece of me is gone, and is replaced by an extroverted and much more confident side. However, I soon realized that I did not change the person that I was--only discovered who I really am. I remember how I had worked hard for my acceptance into the ILC program in hopes of proving to others that I am someone. Only now do I realize that the only person that I had to prove to, was myself. 
Last group photo: marking the end of this summer journey
This summer at Penn is an experience that I will never forget. I feel like I've been split into two. One part of me will always lie in the East Coast, while the other is here, waiting to be reunited with its other half. 


Carpe Diem
Seize the day
Seize the moment

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

From Past to Present and Beyond

I look back and find it hard to believe how large of an impact the Ivy League Connection has had on my life. For two years now I have been a part of it, and I still find it very difficult to articulate into mere words how much my life has changed because of this program. Compared to two years ago, I now classify myself as a changed person. I feel as though I am much more outgoing and confident. Making new friendships or even something as simple as talking to a stranger is something I am more comfortable doing. I have learned that collective thinking, in addition to independent learning, is the best way to achieve a common goal or overcome any obstacle. The Ivy League Connection has opened my eyes to a world greater than that of my community and has expanded my academic horizons beyond anything I could have ever imagined possible. Two years ago, I would have never been able to imagine the change I have undergone and how much I have grown as a person to create who I am today.  

Even now, I find it remarkable how fast time can pass without one truly taking note of it. It seems as though it were only yesterday when I anxiously sat in a classroom at El Cerrito High School, awaiting the final decision from the panelists on who had been accepted for the Social Justice program at the University of Pennsylvania. I remember how nervous I was as the names were slowly read out loud and the sense of relief I felt throughout my entire body as my name was read. It was a dream come true and I could not even begin to put into words the excitement that coursed through me in that moment. This was all thanks to the panelists, who had just handed me the opportunity of a life time and whom I could not even begin to express to, how grateful I was. Upon leaving the building and heading home I instantly began to imagine the adventures that were in store for me on the East Coast.

The work, however, in no way halted there. Being selected by the panelists was only the beginning of a long line of other required events that came with being a part of the ILC. The months that led up to our departure date tested my dedication and my determination in being a part of the program. Among the first of the events was the School Board meeting, which introduced me to the numerous people I would be representing while I would be on the East Coast. Being a part of the ILC meant that I was now an official ambassador for everyone in my school district; a big responsibility which I was determined to accomplish to the best off my abilities. Next on that list was the dinner in San Francisco, which gave me a deeper taste of what I could expect while at UPenn by allowing me to meet alumni and current students. Everyone there was eager to pass on their experiences going from high school to college, and how they had been greatly impacted by the UPenn lifestyle. Last on that list was the orientation session, the final event separating me from the departure date. It was where all ILCers for the 2014 season gathered together and were given final briefings over what we were about to see on the East Coast and what was going to be expected of us while over there.

Every event that I partook in only elevated my excitement for the summer and made me long for the months separating us to turn into days. However, as the saying goes, "be careful what you wish for", as quickly those months became into weeks, then into days, then into hours. Before I was fully able to be aware, I was standing in front of El Cerrito High School, bright and early at around 3:30 AM, waiting for the shuttle that would take us to the airport. I remember that day distinctly as it was the day when I realized all the work I had put in over the months prior, had paid off, and now I was about to collect my reward in the form of an unbelievable opportunity to spend the summer on the East Coast.

College Tours

During our first week while on the East Coast, our time was primarily dedicated to college tours. Among the schools we visited were Georgetown University, Columbia University, NYU, Princeton and of course UPenn. Being a rising senior, these tours were an invaluable opportunity to do a bit of research on the schools I would most likely desire to apply to. Before departing, I told myself that I wanted to establish a list of schools that I wanted to apply to when my time came in the coming months. Being able to visit these schools, rather than reading about the through a computer screen gave me that exact opportunity. I was able to fully immerse myself in the environment of each school, and I often found myself attempting to pretend to be an undergraduate student merely heading from class to class. This was another plus of visiting these schools first hand. It gave me the opportunity to see if each school fit who I was and whether or not I could imagine myself attending. In addition to just the tours, we sat through informational sessions for each of these schools (except Princeton because it was closed due to the holiday weekend). This provided me with a lot more information about the logistics of each of the schools, and gave me a sense as to what kind of student each one was looking for. It allowed me to reflect upon myself and see whether or not I was a match for their criteria. In truth, after the first week, I had felt stumped, because each school appeared amazing to me.
Various pictures from our various college tours!
More pictures from our college tours!
 
 Social Justice Research Academy
 
A few inspirational figures from SJRA
The official name of the program I attended was the Social Justice Research Academy. However many of the students began calling it SJRA for short. I can not even place into words what this course did for me. Out of every class I have taken in my academic career, this one by far was the most impacting and revolutionary for me. Never before have I taken a class that has caused me to not only change my perspective on the world I live in, but also change my outlook on who I am. The primary reason for this was my professor, Andrew Lamas, although he urged all the students to call him Andy from day 1. On our first day of class, he began by explaining that everyone in the class was a teacher and that over the course of the three weeks, we would teach and learn from each other. His goal was always to transcend the traditional framework for teaching, which usually customarily involved a teacher spewing vast amounts of information at students hoping they retain bits and pieces of it. In order to accomplish this goal, he made the class more interactive. Among his methods for this goal were bringing in numerous guest speakers, field trips that would allow us to assess in more depth what we were learning about, and a host of group discussions where we could all express our ideas and opinions freely. I felt very comfortable in this style of teaching as it allowed me a lot more liberty to express what I believed without fear of being laughed at or shut down by the teacher. Moreover, it allowed me a new way of learning material, as opposed to the traditional method of a teacher giving instructions. I learned from my peers, I learned from the books we read and the movies we watched, and I also learned from the environments where we would take field trips. One of the most important aspects of the class that truly enhanced my experience there were the other individuals who through the course of the three weeks I went from calling my classmates to my SJRA family. As everyone came from different backgrounds, each offered a wide array of ideas and perspectives that greatly made me question my own perspectives. However, the characteristic I most greatly enjoyed was that everyone was very accepting of contradictory ideas. New ideas were always welcomed and ideas that were different from our own were respected at all times. Another key point about SJRA were the optional events that occurred in the evenings. While I tried to attend as many as I possibly could, I was unable to attend all of them. However, focusing on the ones I did attend, they were all life changing. Each one made me think of the world in a different way, and I learned that everything must be viewed through multiple perspectives. For example, one evening the issue of American aid to underdeveloped countries was brought up, which sparked the debate concerning the definition of "underdeveloped" and whose perspective it belonged to. Throughout the class we covered a variety of topics similar to that, which instigated a wide array of debates concerning the issue. What astounded me the most is that in the end, there was never a right or wrong answer as we are sometimes led to believe. Among the most prominent of these debates was capitalism, mass media, and politics. Each debate was consistently led by students which inspired others to join in until the whole class was involved in the discussions. Overall, I contribute the change I have undergone this past summer to my experiences in SJRA. Not only has it taught me a lot about myself but it has inspired me to "be the change I wish to see in the world".
SJRA Family!!!
 Residential Coordinator/ RC Group
 
Among the parts of my experience at UPenn that truly influenced me was my RC and my RC group. My RC's name was Jordan Gaither and from day one he was set on differentiating our group from every other. From day one, he was able to make 12 complete strangers into close friends and from there we only became closer. My RC was probably one of the most inspirational figures I met while on this trip. He was very philosophical and passionate about literature. He had even published his own poetry book called, "Poets Elixr" which really surprised me considering he was only 23 years old. Throughout the course of the three weeks, he became our older brother and our role model. On one occasion, as an RC group, we had decided to all go on one of the excursions for laser tag. Being that at that point we had all grown very close together, we all formed one team with our RC as the team captain. In both matches we emerged victorious because of our coordination and communication as a group. Our RC later told us that the unity we had displayed had been truly inspirational to him and that he was proud of how far we had come. In addition, my RC group had a profound influence on me. From our first day we became friends very quickly and soon we had developed a system for around our schedules so we could always spend time hanging out. Out of the twelve of us in our group, five were a part of SJRA, five were in the Biomedical Research Academy, and two were in the Physics program. At the end of each day or over dinner, we would usually spent a bit of time discussing what we each had learned in class. I felt that compared to the RC group I had last year, the one from this year was much more united in the sense that we stuck by each other for almost everything. If someone was sick we each volunteered to bring them food or anything they needed; if someone was stressed we all did something fun in order to take their mind off of whatever was troubling them. This strong unity is what kept me, in a sense, from feeling to nostalgic because it allowed me to have that sense of support I would get at home. Through the course of the three weeks, we went from strangers to friends and ultimately to brothers. Although many of us are now thousands of miles apart, we still constantly check up on one another and continue to act as brothers, which is a quality I hope will continue long into the future.
My amazing RC group
Columbia to UPenn

Being that this was my second year as part of the ILC, I have had the wondrous opportunity of attending two highly prestigious schools, Columbia University and the University of Pennsylvania. Often when I told someone about my experiences at Columbia, they would ask me a common question: "which one do you like better". For some this question might be very easy, however for me it is a very difficult question to answer. I chose to attend Columbia last summer because I was greatly interested in the course, Constitutional Law. For a long time I had had my mind set on desiring to become a lawyer, and even now this dream lives on strongly within me. However, my decision for desiring to attend the Social Justice program at UPenn came from a more personal perspective as I wanted to learn more about the social issues that exist not only in my community or country, but those on an international scope as well. When attempting to decided which school I liked best, I could easily argue in terms of logistics (amenities, friends, campus) but the way I view the question is, which one impacted you the most. The answer to that question is much more difficult for me as each school has left a lasting influence on me in different ways. Each has allowed me to grow as a person and has developed a new form of intellectuality in my mind. I see the world in ways I could have never imagined possible for a teenager growing up in a small community in the Bay Area. In addition, I am also asked how Constitutional Law could be related to a course based on Social Justice. For me, the answer to that is quite simple. At Columbia I learned lot of the legalities associated with common social issues that made their way up to the Supreme Court and why the justices ruled in a certain way, however at UPenn I was able to delve a lot deeper into the social issues and understand a lot more about the different points of view that surround them. In my opinion, both courses constitute two of my personal characteristics. I still have strong dreams of seeking a profession associated with Law, but I also want to be an activist for social change. I want to  be a catalyst for social change and reform the society we live in through Law.

Conclusion

For two years now the ILC has been my gateway to a distant world. It has allowed me to expand my horizons far beyond anything I could have imagined. It has taught me more about myself than even I was aware of.  Before my first participation with the ILC, I was a shy and very introverted person. My greatest displeasure was public speaking and having to talk to new people. However, through my time with the ILC I have become much more extroverted and social. I am no longer afraid to walk in front of a crowd and speak my mind. I no longer fear having to meet new people or make conversation with complete strangers. The ILC has changed my life dramatically, especially in my outlook towards colleges. For a long time, I had my eyes set on attending school within the university system of California because that was the mainstream ideology of college. Anyone who believed otherwise was normally struck down by being told of the miniscule possibilities of ever being admitted. For that reason I never once could have pictured the reality of what existed beyond. The ILC has allowed me to realize one crucial detail about Ivy League and East Coast schools in general, they do not seek perfection. Nobody is perfect, and schools look for students that they feel will best fit their campus, which is not necessarily manifested in whoever possess the highest grades or has attended the most prestigious high schools. Before the ILC, I could never envision myself ever standing a chance of being admitted into a prestigious school outside of California, however I have come to learn that your background does not matter. Your ethnicity, socio-economic status or even beliefs do not hinder your ability to be able to attend a good university. What matters most of all is the dedication and the determination you place in everything you do. Everything I have learned through the ILC has truly revolutionized my life. I cannot even begin to express how thankful I am to everyone who allows this program to function. Don, Ms. Kronenberg and Mr. Ramsey surpass the abilities of any individual I have ever met and put in so much work and time to allow this program to prosper. I am truly amazed at the success it has in impacting the lives of students because I am honestly one of the students it has greatly changed. I must extend my gratitude to my chaperone, Mr. Hillyer, who not only spent the majority of his summer guiding us through our experiences at UPenn but served as an inspirational figure. Everything I have learned from my time with the ILC will stay with me forever and I am proud to say that my life will never be the same because of it. Although this is my last year participating in the ILC as a high school student, I stay true to saying that was consistently mentioned on our last day of SJRA, "this is not the end, but rather it is only the beginning!"
The end of our UPenn journey


 

From There and Back Again

Man, what an adventure I have had this past year! It seems so long ago when I first embarked on this journey to do the ILC physics program. I'm so glad that I applied for this program. When I heard Don this year at my school, something just clicked and I realized that I wanted to take advantage of such a golden opportunity as this. Writing the essays weren't as nervewracking as the actual interview, but in both the essays and the interview, I was able to express myself in an adequate way. And to my elation, I got in! But the journey didn't stop there, it just started. During the mandatory meetings and tutorial sessions with Don, I learned what was expected of me and of how I should behave back in the East Coast. The dinners and meetings with the other ILCers like my UPenn cohort were refreshing as I met and gathered insights from other people who were driven, intelligent individuals like myself.

 Then the day of departure finally arrived! Though packing up all of my linens, clothes, suits, and toiletries was a bit of a pain, I survived and I had a lot of fun visiting Washington D.C. with all its memorials and monuments as well as touring some colleges. What were especially helpful were the Georgetown and UPenn tours. From these tours, I learned that colleges shouldn't be chosen just for their academics but for their ability to help people grow as a whole. I also learned that you should just be yourself in your college applications, expressing your unique, personal life values and experiences. 

After tours, I moved into the UPenn dorms. Living in the Penn campus was a new experience for me as I was by myself in a dorm with no one to tell me what to do and so I had to learn how to keep myself accountable with my time. Now for the main part of the program, the physics class. I really enjoyed my physics teachers as they were funny and yet able to teach hard concepts well. What I also liked was that they wanted us to not be just scientists but communicative thinkers who were able to express their ideas clearly. The friendship that I developed in the class made physics even more enjoyable in learning science together. The thing is that these relationships weren't superficial, but were much stronger than some of the relationships I had with my friends before. The friends that I made here were so close that I felt that I had known them since I was young. 

In conclusion, I really learned a lot about not only college or life, but also about myself during this trip to Penn. College is where people go to not only learn, but to develop close relationships with others whether it be professors or students. It's also a place where people are tested in their time management skills and will to succeed for themselves when no one's there to help encourage them. These things are essential to success not only in college, but in life as well. In addition, college shouldn't be a decision done by anyone else but yourself. Only you know what values you want in a college, environment you can thrive in, and what kind of community you can thrive in. I'm thankful for the ILC program for providing access to information like this and for my parents for helping me prepare for such a unique opportunity as this! But I won't be selfish with this knowledge I learned and I plan to share it to my friends and my schoolmates through informal conversation or formal speeches. College life should be an option for everyone and I want everyone to know that. Thanks ILC for starting this desire!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

All good things must come to end

It seems like it's been so long since last fall, when I first started my application for the ILC. My first choice had actually been a program at Vanderbilt, but it was very popular (forty people applied!) and I didn't even get an interview. That program had one of the earliest deadlines, while Penn was one of the last, so it was several months before I sent in another application. I remember spending time over Christmas break trying to finish my essays for the Penn ILC application early--and yet, just a few weeks before they were due, I was still frantically finishing up.

I was very excited when Don told me I had an interview. As the date got closer, my excitement was replaced with nervousness. I was afraid that once I got into the room with the interviewers I would freeze and panic, and my mind would blank, ruining any chances I had to get into the ILC... I was over dramatizing things, of course. Most of the questions were just physics problems, and I loved my physics class so I had no trouble answering. Then my nervousness built up again as I waited for a few hours as the rest of the applicants were interviewed. Finally, they decided who had been accepted, and I heard my name with relief. After all, I hadn't even gotten to the interview stage applying to Vanderbilt. It was only the start of a long process, though. After countless emails, forms, and more applications sent in, I was finally ready to go off to the East coast with the rest of my cohort.

Meeting all the different admissions officers and going to the different college campuses was an interesting experience for me. It also gave me insight into what kinds of things I'll be looking for when I apply to colleges in a year.

Living in Philadelphia was a completely new experience for me. I was on my own, independent, and I found that it wasn't terrifying, that I liked independence. I was on my own in a place where no one knew me, where I had no reputation to live up to, where I could make first impressions acting however I wanted. It was also a completely new experience to have decisions like when to get up in the morning and where to go in the afternoons be entirely up to me. New, but exhilarating. 

Talking to Bill and others was also a wonderful experience. In this program I got to talk to people who not only truly understood what I was talking about when I went into long explanations about scientific theories I had, but had questions that made me think even more. I've never really had that experience before--usually people just say "yeah, that's cool" and hope I don't expect them to repeat what I said.

This summer has truly been a life-changing experience for me. There are so many good memories from my time on the East coast--some have been immortalized below in the form of quotes.

Julia M.: You're like a math onion. Every layer you take off is just more math!

John: Darwin would be proud. (On people jumping over and through miniature fireworks.)

Bryan: Does hand sanitizer kill 100% of germs?!? No! (In an argument with Andrew about absolutes being necessary for things to work. Bryan won.)

Gwennie: I know I've laughed before...

Julia M.: SPOONHENGE!!

Andrew: I want a margarita. (Don't worry, it was a non-alcoholic one.)

Donna: The air conditioner is burning.

Julia S.: Twenty minus six. Give me 10, I mean 6. No wait, 15, no 13! Don't look at me like that Gwennie, it's 6:30 in the morning! (Trying to get change from a taxi driver. The taxi driver was not as amused as I was.)

Gwennie: Why are all the pillows on the floor?
Julia S.: Don't judge me. I had arguments with those pillows. Dem b****es sleepin' on the floor!

Julia S.: I just burped. Now my life is complete.

Gwennie: Aren't I awesome? Yes, yes I am.

Julia M.: I am the special-est.

Mary: We broke physics again.

Bill: Quite simply, we don't exist. (In reference to electromagnetic principles that are broken by atoms all the time.)

Sophie: I hate men.
Sarah: I know, but they're so darn cute.
Sophie: Exactly, that's the problem.

Julia M.: They have free water here? WIN!!

Julia S.: Ewwwww, spider-butt strings! No, don't quote that!

Student A: I heard antimatter costs like a billion dollars an ounce.
Mary: They're selling antimatter?!
Student B: Where?
Student C: Home Depot!

Julia S.: Wow, that's a tiny dream catcher. You're just not allowed to have big dreams.

Bill: A photon doesn't bother a ping-pong ball, but it knocks the daylights out of an electron! It's like looking for light bulbs by firing bullets at them.

Gwennie: Well, when you have such huge numbers, an extra order of magnitude or two doesn't make as much difference. (Trying to justify getting a speed of light with an error of 2500%)

Eric: That's great! Now we know why we were wrong. The only problem is that we're not right...

Alison Sweeney's lab assistant: When you're scuba-diving in deep ocean, you have to stay tethered at all times, because if you don't and you drift away, there are no landmarks or anything in the ocean. So you probably won't be able to make it back to the boat, and that's not super great.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Journey Ends

My last morning at the University of Pennsylvania began with gray skies and rain. My mood matched the weather. I considered the symbolic importance of the rain, then finished packing and saying goodbye to Maayan. Maayan wrote goodbye letters for Julia and I, which was almost my undoing. (I will miss Maayan so much.)  As we left the dorm for the last time I felt an unexpected pang of sentimentality and nostalgia. 

After checking out of the Summer Discovery program and returning my keys, it was time to leave for the airport. Luckily, or unluckily, we had six hours to wait in the airport. We passed the time with one giant meal at Chickie and Pete's, and an intense game of Munchkin Cthulhu, which I would have won, had it not been for a sudden and unexpected betrayal by a close friend. (Et tu Julia?) At last it was time to board the plane and leave Philadelphia once and for all. 

The plane ride was uneventful. I divided my time between talking with the people next to me and sleeping. It was with another pang of nostalgia that I realized our plane landed at the same gate we had departed from lo those many weeks ago.  In honor of this continuity, we opted to take our group picture in front of the gate which marked the beginning and ending of our journey. 

Sunset over the bay
After that is was but a short walk to the baggage claim where we all reunited with our families, and the trip was officially over. I can't believe how much the trip changed me. Before going to UPenn, the prospect of going to college, especially on the East Coast was daunting. Now I am certain that I can and will do just that. I will always carry the memories of my time at Penn with me. 

Back to the Bay

Goodbye, Philadelphia
This morning I woke up at nine (and this is after having finally gotten to bed at FIVE A.M.) I said goodbye to my roommates, who promised to keep in touch, and packed most of my things that I hadn't gotten around to (I mean... did a little bit of last minute packing). My suitcase was so full (and how is it possible that it was so much emptier coming here?) that my roommate and I both had to sit on it in order to zip it closed.

My cheesesteak
I turned in my keys outside the quad and met Mr. Hillyer and the rest of the cohort there. After many teary goodbyes to the friends we'd made, we took a shuttle to the airport. Since we had to leave the quad by eleven, but our plane wasn't until 5:30, we got to the airport six hours early and had a lot of time to kill. We found a restaurant near our gate and had brunch (brunner?) there. I had a Philly cheesesteak. We also played a round of Mr. Hillyer's game, Munchkins of Cthulhu,which killed a few hours and was really fun.

Airplane food--not as bad as it could be
Finally, we boarded the plane. After almost six hours of staring at clouds, we were finally home. We landed and came out the exact same gate we went in a month ago, and took a group photo there in our Penn sweatshirts. Then we met our parents at the baggage claim. After we'd said goodbye to each other and John (sniff sniff) we went home.

This last month was a unique experience for me, and I really enjoyed it. I'm glad to be back, but the last month in Philadelphia has changed me and the way I look at things.
Hard to say goodbye

Nostalgia

The Franklin dormitory meant only a foreign building to me. A castle-like structure with the frequent cockroaches. An area where students tend to reside in after class to finish up school work or take a break from a hectic day. 

But that was only how I felt when the program had just started. 

Sooner than expected, that foreign building became home. UPenn was home. And just like anytime when you're away from home, you get homesick. Heartbreak and nostalgia is already following me after recently arriving back in the Bay. 

I've never realized how beautiful Philly is at 6:00 in the morning until today. Probably because nothing looks beautiful at 6:00 AM. But today was special: it hosted the moment when our wonderful journey finally ended. Two of my friends, Annie and Prateek, were scheduled to leave on the 7:00 AM shuttle to the airport, so our small group of friends decided to get together at Starbucks and have one last meal with them. After many exchanges of hugs, we went to see them off, and that's when the chain reaction of depression began. 

It first started when the sky seem to transition into a dull gray and even began to rain at one point. Jordy joked about how rain was a good way to hide your tears, and it wasn't really helping the situation to be honest. Soon after everyone else boarded their buses for their trains, it was the time for my departure. Being one of the last few to leave Penn from my group of friends did give me an advantage to see them all off and wish them a safe flight, and I was more or less ready to leave. As I rushed into my dorm to grab my luggage and check out at the front of the Quad, I couldn't help but feel attached to my triple-room-dorm. It isn't the best place to live, but I had quite a lot of memories in there: from late night blogging to finishing up projects with friends. I had to stare around my room for a bit before leaving, and ended up meeting with the cohort outside. 
#Waka Flocka Group
We were all pretty exhausted from a long morning of good-byes on our ride to the airport, but Mr. Hillyer soon broke the desolate vibe when we went to Chickie's and Pete's for lunch. He also pulled out a game for us, and it was my first time playing Munchkins, but Mr. Hillyer decided to teach us all how to play. The intense game took up a lot of time that we had before our flight.

Being back in the Bay lets me realize how much that I have done and how far that I've went in terms of academics and personal growth. The program opened me up and allowed me to express my true colors, be all that I can be, and strive towards improving the person that I am.

I will never come across another experience such as this one, because nothing else can amount to my amazing summer well-spent in UPenn! 

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The End?

Some of My Penn Friends!


Today was sadly the last day in Philly! I woke up early today to catch some of my friends before they  left to go to home. It was so hard saying goodbye to all my new friends at Penn. Even though we had been together for only 3 weeks, it felt like we knew each other for much longer than that. I hope to see them in the future and I wish them the best of luck in college
 
The Last Tastes of Philly
After saying my goodbyes, I packed up all my stuff which just means that I threw random stuff in my luggage and zipped it up in my bag. Putting our stuff in the shuttle, we drove to the Philly airport and ate at Chickie's and Pete's, our last Philadelphian meal. There we had their signature crabfries and a strange dish, a lobster cheese steak. To be honest, the cheese steak didn't really look like much. But when I tasted it, it was heavenly! To kill some time after brunch, we played the card game Munchkins at the restaurant which supposedly finishes in 1 hour, but we actually finished in 2 and a half hours. 


Welcome Home!
The plane ride was nice and I caught up with some sleep on the way to the SFO airport. Unfortunately, I didn't sit next to anyone new on the ride back, but I still talked with the Penn cohort on how the program was so amazing for them. After getting back home and unpacking my luggage, I relaxed and reflected on my experience at Penn. I'm so thankful for Don and John for helping make this trip possible and for my friends and teachers that I met at Penn for making this experience so worthwhile! This trip really opened my eyes to what college life was like, specifically in the East Coast. Though I left Penn and all my friends today, I won't forget them and I know that this isn't the end in my journey to discovering what college is like and best for me. It's only just the beginning and I hope that other people can share in this journey as I did or at least hear it from ILCers like myself. College life, get ready to be explored because we're going to have to tango pretty soon!


Day 20: A Chapter Concludes

Well, as I have dreaded since the beginning of this week, it is over. After three weeks of pure enlightenment and profound self-reflection, the end has finally arrived. No matter how much I may beg and wish that I were living in an illusion and that somehow time had not passed as rapid as it did , I know that I strongly lack the ability to do so. That regardless of how much I may want to stay, I know that I must go. However, the greatest emotional pain comes not from abandoning the life style with which I have grown so enamoured over the course of the last 3 weeks, but rather because of the individuals I have had the greatest pleasure of meeting and befriending. Without them, my experience at Penn would have been very different and each one has educated me in a multitude of different ways, which not only have provided me with different outlooks on the reality in which I live in, but also have caused me to mature as a person. 

Saying goodbye to two of my favorite RCs, Kelly and Jessica
Reflecting upon the influence others had on me while at the program; perhaps the greatest example is epitomized in the unity established between my RC group. To express how united we were, we escorted and assisted each one of of us out of the dormitories and to their pre-determined method of transportation. This process began bright and early at 4:00 AM and continued up until only one was left, at which point none of us could assist him. It is remarkable to think how much we have grouped together and how we have supported one another through every step of the way. My RC group in large part contributed to my overall happiness of the program, because I knew that even on my most stressful days, I had each of their support to lift me up. I will miss all of them dearly, but thankfully social media will allow all of us to stay connected so we can continue that sensation of unity and support. 

After taking my last few glimpses of the Quad as the cohort drove away I could not feel profoundly sad inside. For three weeks it had been my home away from home. It had been a hub for socialization as well as safe haven. To see it disappear into the background was greatly impacting, but I knew that soon I would be back in my true home.

For lunch/dinner, we grabbed a bite at Chickie's and Pete's. Being that it was my last day in Philadelphia, I decided to pay homage to the Philadelphian cuisine by ordering one final cheesesteak sandwich. It was great to eat as a cohort once more. It brought back many memories of when we first began our adventure almost a month ago. After eating, and being that we had plenty of time before our departure flight, we decided to play a game known as Munchkin Cthulhu, one of the items we had bought John for his birthday. It was fun playing as a cohort and having a time to just relax after three weeks of intensity. After someone had taken victory we headed over to our gate where we patiently awaited the boarding time. 

The plane ride, like many, was long, however, it did provide me a long time for reflection not just on the program, but also how I have changed as a person of the past three weeks. I began seeing a new person within me. An individual who no longer wanted to conform to being shy, but wanted to be extroverted. An individual who saw the world for how it truly was and wanted to speak out against it. An individual who not only had been given the tools to make changed, but also was confident in his ability to do so. 

Upon arriving back in San Francisco, I was bombarded with countless emotions. On one hand, I was happy to be home and to be in my natural climate (cold and not humid). However, the other part of me missed everything about Philadelphia, even the small nuisances such as the humidity. As I adjust back to being at home, I know that my experiences at Penn will always be with me. 


Final group photo of the trip! Back where it all began!

There's No Place Like Home

In the morning, I finished packing and said goodbye to Maayan. There were some roommate-y hugs and Maayan gave Julia and I letters about how nice it was to share a room with us. Soon, Maayan was gone, and Julia and I were left to make sad faces at each other while we finished throwing stuff into our bags. Somehow, Julia's suitcases shrank and her library—sorry, the few books that she brought—grew, so I ended up taking four of them in my backpack. We left our dorm just the way it was when we first came. It felt different now. When we came, the empty room was emotionlessly waiting for us to fill it, but now that we were leaving, it was forlornly longing for the mess we had once left in it, wanting us to come back. Maybe I'm misinterpreting it. I don't speak room. 

We got into a cab for the airport, checked our bags, and walked to find something to eat. We ended up going to a place called Chickie's and Pete's, which was definitely not a breakfast place, but by then it was late enough that we should be eating lunch. (I secretly wanted pancakes.) I got soup, and once we had all eaten, Mr. Hillyer took out a version of Munchkin, the game we had bought him for his birthday. He taught us how to play, and we ended up having the longest (it killed hours) and most intense (I think Julia will never forgive me for sabotaging her victory) game of Munchkin ever played. I'm definitely going to make my family play it sometime, it was really fun!

We made our way over to the gate, where we killed more time reading, listening to music, or in my case, filling out ILC forms so I wouldn't have to worry about them once I was home. 

We boarded the plane (all of us were in Row 18 except Julia, who was banished to Row 19) and took off. It was a long flight, and I was tired, so I slept for a few hours and filled out the Post-Mortem Questionnaire, a 160-question quiz about the ILC experience. It's not multiple-choice, so it took a long time. After about five hours, we were about to land.


The first thing I realized was that I missed the fog. The second was that our slow march back into the real world was speeding up. When we landed, we left the plane in the exact same gate we took off from a month ago. We took pictures, got our bags, and said our goodbyes in one big blur, and then I was in the car with my parents, heading home (my brother is in Santa Barbara, so he won't see me until tomorrow). Despite my exhaustion from travel, I found my energy warming up when my parents asked me about the experience. When we got home, I only spent a little while playing piano and eating pasta before I started my blog (even though I didn't spend long before I ended my night, my mom probably still has around fifty pictures of me stabbing pasta and putting it in my face...but I'm sure in her eyes, I was stabbing pasta and putting it in my face here for the first time in a month).

A month. A month can change everything. Leaving the class, leaving all of the people I might never see again, leaving Penn...it was heartbreaking. It's over. I know there are new experiences out there for me, but...nothing quite like this. I've been trying to think of anything that could have made Social Justice different for me, better maybe, but I don't think I would want it to change. I don't want different memories. I want mine.

A month can change everything. It did.

Goodbyes

Playing with Oobleck
This morning in physics the first thing we did was play with Oobleck... a whole swimming pool of it, thanks to the group studying non-Newtonian fluids. People ran, danced and jumped across it, and one person did a belly-flop on it (ouch... oobleck feels like any other solid when you apply pressure, and I don't see anyone trying to belly-flop on the ground). I wisely stayed out of the way so as not to get cornstarch all over my clothes for the rest of the day.

"It wasn't actually that intense."
Then we went back inside and started presentations. First were the four groups who still hadn't presented their exponential and Hershey Park experiments (my group included). Most had taken data on roller coasters... with varying levels of intensity. Then the interest group on High Energy Physics presented. They were a huge group, consisting of a third of the class. Their project had been on detecting cosmic rays.

Cosmic ray detectors
After lunch, we continued with presentations from the rest of the interest groups. First the group that had been making radio telescopes went. They had been working with James Aguirre--the man who came in the other day to talk about looking deeper into the cosmos by using larger wavelengths. The second group was the one working with a cloud chamber to detect muons. They had some interesting videos (and wow, well-timed) showing muons entering the cloud chamber and leaving glowing trails behind them. After that, my group went up and presented on quantum mechanics.
Our project had been taking data with single- and double-slits to show the wave-particle duality of light. Right after us the Franck-Hertz group presented on the quantum nature of atoms, which is related to the wavelength of the electrons (and the fact that they have a wavelength). Finally, the Oobleck group presented the theoretical aspect of their project, talking about the quantitative behaviors of non-Newtonian fluids.


Bill's not actually as surprised as he looks
After the presenters finished, Bill showed us a few really cool demos, and for the grand finale blew up a house (don't worry, just a house the size of a breadbox) with "lightning." It is really sad to think that the program is already over and I won't see Bill and Mary again. I will be staying in touch will Bill though, which is awesome. Unfortunately, the class had run so long that we didn't get out until almost 5:30, so we missed our meeting with John in the bookstore to get Penn sweatshirts. Andrew and I came back at 9:00 to get them, and Donna will meet John in the morning.

I can't believe we're leaving tomorrow already, and I'm sad to go, but I'll also be really glad to be home.

Bittersweet

The realization that today was the last day didn't hit me until the end of the day. It was just another routine morning at Penn:

Get ready for breakfast. 

Walk to breakfast in 1920's with friends.

Head towards class.

I am not that much of a sentimental person, but the fact that we we never going to be eating there together for breakfast and dinner ever again does make me feel sad, to say the least. Aside from missing friends, my grown attachment for my Physics class and teachers has never stopped growing, and seeing us walk away from each other was quite disappointing. 

Bill and his bubble-making machine
After several demonstrations on mindblowing physics, and our presentations on interest groups, I realized how much that I would be missing from this experience. Never again will we be able to see Bill Berner explode wooden house sculptures or ride on a cart powered by a fire extinguisher. Although our last day of class today was filled with laughs and amusement, it was also very sad for all of us as well. Mary showed us a PowerPoint that she put together about Bill and all that we've accomplished in class. Just to make sure that we won't forget what is already an unforgettable experience, each student received a flash drive with class memories saved inside them. 

After a few more of Bill's demonstrations, class was finally coming to an end. It was not easy to say goodbye to the people who've given me such an amazing summer experience here at UPenn. Bill, Craig, Mary, and everyone else who helped make this possible did not only teach me a bunch of amazing physics. They also taught me how to be passionate about what you love, that intelligence is not based off of a letter grade, and that perseverance and determination will always help you reach your goals. 
Group Picture with Bill Berner
After class ended, my friends and I decided to head to an Indian buffet for dinner and celebrate our last day together. We all gathered in the lounge after and played games throughout the night. Despite the fact that I will miss everything and everyone from this program, knowing that I will be leaving Penn in a couple of hours does not make me feel sad. These fantastic three weeks has impacted me in such a way that I am ready to return to California with a new and improved mindset!