Monday, June 30, 2014

1 out of 27

I was surprised that I didn't wake up with bloodshot eyes and dark eye bags this morning after a sleepless night. The only thing that kept me awake was the prospect of finally leaving for the East Coast. The Vanderbilt cohort was also leaving with us, which added up to twelve groggy teenagers. Who converged together in front of El Cerrito High School. At 3:50 in the morning. It was exciting, really.
Colorado Mountains and Clouds
Don worked efficiently to weight all our luggage and had us attach nifty luggage tags that he had for us. To prevent our luggage from becoming mixed up among the two cohorts, we were also instructed to tie a specific ribbon color onto our bags so they wouldn't end up in the wrong place. Once all the members of the cohorts arrived, Don began a general discussion. A new Penn itinerary was distributed and rules were reinforced with past ILC horror stories. And of course, there would be no departure day without a group photo. After the pictures, our airport shuttle arrived and it was time to leave. Saying goodbye to my family and the Bay Area was bittersweet, but I knew for a fact that I would have the time of my life during those wonderful 27 days of being in the East Coast.

The 8:00 AM plane we took to arrive at Washington D.C. was a 5 hour period of life contemplation, daydreaming, and .....Anagramarama. As Julia Shebek and I fangirled over the technology on the plane, such as the personal TV screens for in-flight entertainment, we stumbled upon a game called Anagramarama where you basically had to find words in scrambled letters. Oddly enough, that was how we started a conversation with the woman who was sitting next to Julia. She was a friendly and curious woman who learned that our cohort members were going to the East Coast to study at UPenn for an Ivy League Program scholarship—after thinking that we were part of some sort of high school competition. Sadly, she moved from her seat next to us to sit with her husband before Julia and I were able to catch her name.

The sight of Washington D.C. from high up in the plane was beautiful. It was literally like a whole new world for me. Once we landed, our shuttle drove us to our hotel in Georgetown. The ride was actually quite exciting since we were all able to finally view our surroundings at ground level. We even spotted a few landmarks from the shuttle, such as the Washington Monument and Georgetown University. As we cruised around the city towards the Holiday Inn, I couldn't help but stare in awe at the houses with such elaborate architecture. The town was very active and diverse as well: people were biking, jogging, shopping, and just enjoying the warm sunny day. In Bay Area terms, D.C. was almost like a super upgraded version of Berkeley and San Francisco mashed together.

We dined in at Leno's Pizza for a lunch and dinner meal (or “Linner” as what Mr. Hillyer called it) and ate until we were all stuffed. But fear not. For our three hours of walking and exploring D.C. surely posed as a good enough work out for each of us.We boarded a bus called the D.C. Circulator and arrived at our first destination: The White House. The building seemed so surreal and beautiful. Pathways were bordered by tall trees while pedestrians and tourists sat on the benches—all with a perfect view of sculptures and the White House. Fireflies were scattered all across the lawn and it was my first time seeing them! We continued our tour and visited the Jefferson Memorial, Washington Monument, World War I and the World War II Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, the Martin Luther King Memorial, the Capitol Building and more. As we walked around and captured pretty pictures, Mr. Hillyer explained the history of each site along the way. I even learned that the reason behind Washington Monument's flashing red light was to prevent plane collisions with the building.

World War II Monument
Each and everyone of the memorials and monuments were amazing, but I do have a few favorites. The World War II Memorial was huge and probably one of the most beautiful things that I have ever seen. Visiting the memorial at night was the best idea ever since the lights would brighten the water and give it such an ethereal glow. Another one that I particularly liked was the World War I Memorial. Although this memorial was extremely tiny compared to the one for World War II, I still enjoyed the peaceful ambiance of the memorial and the simple, yet beautiful, architecture. And how can I forget the famous Lincoln Memorial? Climbing up the many steps towards Lincoln's statue scored us a perfect photo shot of the Washington Monument. I have always seen pictures posted online of the Lincoln Memorial, but I had never truly grasped the whole historical feeling until I actually got the chance to see it tonight. Lincoln's giant statue was situated in the middle with two gorgeous murals on both the top left and right sides of the memorial. On the wall to our right was the famous Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural Address. Our adventure around D.C. was definitely worth it.

It is only the first day of our East Coast trip and it was already packed with so many wonderful experiences. I can not wait for what is in store for us tomorrow.

And so the Journey Begins!

So after months of preparation and anticipation, the day had finally arrived. We were about to embark on a journey that would forever alter lives. As I woke bright and early in the morning to arrive at El Ceritto High School before 3:50 AM, all that I could think was "wow, this is really happening... I am really leaving today." Once the remaining members of the Penn and Vanderbilt cohorts arrived and had their luggage checked for weight, Don proceeded to go through a thorough pre-flight check list he had prepared. Among the major topics that were discussed were behavioral expectations around TSA and the vitality of blogging every night for us. Also he discussed a few rudimentary travel tips in order to ensure we had an enjoyable flying experience. However, the most vital piece of his check list that he wanted us to remember throughout our trip was the reason for which we would be on the East Coast for. While one aspect of this trip revolves around having a memorable and incomparable experience that would follow us for the rest of our lives, the primary objective would be to excel in our classes and retain the knowledge from what we see and hear while here in order to share that with member from our communities. After he concluded, we were off to take the very important group photo of our cohort. When both cohorts had finished with this, the shuttle that would take us to the airport conveniently pulled up. We all said our goodbyes and as we each boarded the shuttle, it evident that we all knew that we would not come back the same as we had left.

Lovely view from my hotel room

The plane ride, as would be expected with any early morning flight, was very relaxed and calm for the greater portion of the flight. The primary reason for this was that many of those onboard took advantage of the time in order to sleep. Unfortunately, I was unlucky in that I did not get seated near anyone new whom I could spark a conversation with. However, as time went on, one thing seemed to awaken a portion of those whom had spent the majority of the flight sleeping, the first match of the FIFA World Cup for the day between France and Nigeria. It was first remarkable that the flight would offer full coverage of the game, but the most impressively was the amount of individuals who could heard watching the game. Every so often when a play did not turn out as expected, a sigh of exasperation could be heard or a cheer when a play was good.

Washington version of a junior high school

Upon descending on Washington D.C, many of the various landmarks came into to view from the plane window. It was so beautiful the way the city seemed to flow with each other and the way every appeared so tranquil. As we approached our final descent, we were given the wondrous image of the Pentagon. Personally I had seen various images online and through news broadcasts, but to actually see the building in person, with my own two eyes, was impressive. It stood proud and firm as though to symbolize the strength of the nation upon which it was tasked with protecting. When we finally landed and we made our way into the terminal, the first thing that I experienced was the heat. Unlike the heat with which I had grown accustomed to in the Bay Area, East Coast heat possessed one additional factor, humidity. The air seemed a lot thicker as opposed to that of the Bay Area and I was a large juxtaposition from the environment I had grown up in. After a few quick orientations of our location, we proceeded to retrieve our luggage from the baggage claims in order board a shuttle that would take us to our hotel.

The very first thing that came to my mind as I watched Washington D.C unfold in the distance was the beauty it possessed. It truly was incredible and made me feel as though I were staring a movie rather than real life. As our shuttle swayed in and around streets, our driver regaled us with stories of local attractions and prime hotspots we may decide to visit. However, one of the aspects that really caught my attention was the architecture. The streets and many of the buildings were all constructed out of brick. For me this was a new experience for me as very few things in the Bay Area are constructed using bricks because of the earthquake risk.

The White House
When we arrived at our hotel, we were met with another surprising aspect of Washington D.C. Normally I have grown to understand a hotel's idea of complimentary amenities that are intended to heighten its appeal towards guests. However, not once have I ever seen a hotel give out free ice cream, refreshments and baked goods to guests. I found that to be a very unique aspect of the hotel but also served as a great relief considering it had been a long time since many of us had eaten anything. Therefore it served to satisfy our appetites momentarily. After obtaining our keys, we were given a few moments to get settled in before having to head back down in order get lunch. As many of us were still becoming accustomed to our surroundings, we all decided on taking up a suggestion from one of the desk operators at the hotel that was just around the corner. The menu was pizza, but that is not was made this experience special to me. When we entered the building instantly the first two elements that caught my attention were the Italian theme that flowed through the restaurant and the large television that was running the World Cup game between Germany and Algeria, which was surrounded by a group of fanatics each cheering on their team. However, another element that surprised me was that apart from selling Italian cuisine, it also offered a wide array of Greek food to choose from. This was a combination that I had very few times seen infused, Greek and Italian food in one restaurant. However, being that we all were a bit still edgy with our appetites, we decided to play it safe and order a few pizzas which tasted phenomenally and I will definitely be adding it to my list of venues to eat at if I ever am in Washington.

The Washington Memorial
Later on in the evening, we set out on what would be one of the most productive walks I have ever had. Our goal was to head over to see as many of the monuments as we could with the few hours that we had before we had to head back in order to catch our bus. Never before have I had an evening filled with so much history that has greatly marked the foundations of this proud and prominent nation. One of the added benefits of this excursion was that the temperature outside was actually very nice to take a walk in and seemed to evoke a very calming mood in the ambience. This was a fair contradiction as our chaperone, Mr. Hillyer pointed out, from the Bay Area, where at this time one would normally have to be covered in various jackets and articles of clothing in order to stay warm. As we proceeded on our walk, the first monument we came upon was the White House. I basked in the architectural beauty and the proud symbolism this structure represented. I had seen the White House before, back when I had first visited Washington as part of a middle school field trip, but I never really appreciated its beauty and significance until today. Next up was the Washington Memorial, which stood and high and mighty, overlooking the other memorials. After was the World War II Memorial. This is a memorial that always seems to reach deep into my soul. One of the things that this memorial teaches me and that is also demonstrated by the various gold stars that line one of the walls, is that freedom will always come at a price. Following our time there, we stumbled upon one of the lesser known memorials, the World War I memorial. This was the very first time I had ever seen the memorial in person and I had heard very little about it. The design was architecturally simplistic but still impressive all the same. We then headed over to explore one of the newer memorials to be added, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. Upon first impression, I was taken aback with the impressive design that for many may not even seem so complex. However, the concept behind it was phenomenal and in my opinion truly manifests the ideals and beliefs of MLK. The next two memorials that we managed to see were the Korean and Vietnam Memorials which were impressive but also very impacting. It really caused me to question the price that is paid in every war that the U.S becomes involved in. Last on our list was probably among the most iconic symbols of Washington D.C, the Lincoln Memorial. Every time I witness the beauty of this monument I cannot help but stand in awe. It is truly one of the most rigorous, well-developed and elegant monuments in all of Washington. In addition it also offers on of the greatest views of the Washington Memorial as its appearance I displayed back on the surface of the reflecting pool.
The WWII Memorial

For a first day, I can officially say I have done a lot. It remarkable how much we have experienced in the span of just 24 hours. I cannot wait to see what tomorrow has in store for us.

Finally Here at Penn (Kind of Sort of...OK Fine Not Really)!

All the Bags the Penn Cohort Had to Bring
Today was the day that I had been anticipating since the time I was accepted into the Ivy League Connection program and it finally came! I woke up at 2:00 A.M. excited about going to Pennsylvania and I couldn't go back to sleep. Meeting up with my Penn cohort as well as the Vanderbilt cohort at El Cerrito High School, Don went over some matters such as blogging daily to bringing Ziploc bags to put gel pens in. Then I took a group photo with my Penn cohort, said my goodbyes, and off I left! On the way to the San Francisco airport, I started talking with Bryan and his past experiences with the ILC program at Columbia. He told me that he really enjoyed bonding with his roommates as they were from different parts of the world such as Norway, China, and Brazil. For example, Bryan was really impressed with how his roommate from Norway explained how his socialist government was one of the better governments with its health care benefits and tuition for college. It made me really excited to go and meet my new roommates at Penn pretty soon!

Some Penn Cohort Members Waiting At the Airport
Before we knew it, we were at the airport and boarding the plane to Washington D.C. As I got on the plane, I wanted to converse with the strangers that would sit next to me. Unfortunately however, the people that I sat next to were sleeping or listening to music and so I had no chance to really talk with them. I was also getting a bit motion sick and some major headaches which lasted until we got off the plane, so I became a bit immobilized in this state of pain. This soon went away as we traveled to our hotel in Georgetown and got some pizza to eat.

A Rustic Looking Middle School
A Stylish Looking Safeway!

One thing that I noticed about Georgetown as we drove by was that it was a mixture of colonial brick buildings and a hint of modernism. Our taxi driver said that in D.C., there's always construction. The modern buildings fused with old, rustic colonial buildings to create a new style of architecture.
Snazzy Looking Georgetown With Colonial and Modern Buildings!
 Not to get off track, but the lunch/dinner we had was very good. We were recommended a pizza place that was very close to our hotel by one of the hotel clerks. The pizza they served was a lot different than the pizza I have in California where the pizza slices are cut into squares instead of triangles.
A Close-Up View of the White House

After dinner, we decided to go visit the National Mall in Washington D.C. Now, this isn't an actual mall but a collection of American historical sites like the Jefferson Memorial. We got close to the National Mall by taking a bus that circles around the area. On the bus, one of the D.C. residents remarked that though monuments and memorials look really close together on the map, in reality, they take quite a long time to walk from one place to the next place. This was so true as we spent the evening walking around and visiting all these memorials even though the walk was quite enjoyable.

The Sculptor's Signature
One place that we went to was the newly created Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. It depicts a broken mountain and in the middle is a sculpture of Martin Luther King Jr. On the sides of the memorial are quotes by him at different times and places. One quote that really hit me was "We are determined here in Montgomery to work and fight until "justice rolls down like water" and "righteousness like a mighty stream." Mr. Hilyer said that this memorial is controversial because the sculptor who made this decided to put their name at the back of the sculpture which some people say is not right because it was the sculptor's privilege not duty.

The Simple WW1 Memorial

Another place that we saw and took pictures of were the World War 1 and 2 Memorials. The World War 1 Memorial was quite small and simple. But it was still a powerful testament to one of the world's first globally destructive wars. 

WW2 Memorial

 On the other hand, the World War 2 Memorial was quite extravagant and colossal with columns of each U.S. state and territory surrounding fountains in the middle. These columns represent all the American lives that were lost in an epic struggle against the Axis powers in 1942 to fight for our freedom. In the background of the World War 2 Memorial, there was a wall full of stars that represented all the countless but precious lives that were lost in the fight for freedom. These memorials were a sobering wake up call to be grateful for the people around me such as my family and military who care for my personal well being.
The Stars of the Past Shining for the Stars of the Future
In conclusion, today was just the first day in my grandiose trip to Penn. Though I wasn't technically in Pennsylvania but Washington D.C., today represents and foreshadows all the new sights and experiences I will be able to be to come into contact with. If today was already so full of new attractions and sights and it was only just the first day, I can't wait for what's in store for tomorrow!

Memorial Madness

Today I woke up early, at 3 in the morning, drove to the rendezvous point, my alma mater, El Cerrito High School, where I met up with the rest of the Penn cohort, the Vanderbilt cohort, and Don. After one last informational talk and group photo, the bus to take us to the airport arrived and off we went. 

Shortly afterwards, we were on a plane hurtling through the stratosphere towards the East Coast at an average of 550 miles an hour. Sadly, despite my best efforts to meet interesting new people on the plane, my attempts were thwarted by the tragic lack of passengers in my row of seats. (I pretty much had the entire back of the plane to myself.) Unfortunately I had already resolved to stay awake and talk to people, and in order support myself in this endeavor, I drank espresso in the airport. This meant no sleeping on the plane, so there was nothing to be done but stretch out, relax as much as I could with that much caffeine pumping through my veins, and catch up on my favorite podcasts. The view from my window was extra stunning. I loved watching the ground recede as the airplane took off. Watching cars and buildings shrink to the size of ants and seeing civilization spread out beneath me made me feel godlike. (I have such fun.)

The plane was quite nice, and as the flight progressed, we all began to discover the various features of the plane's seats and interactive TV screens. This cumulated in a group chat with all of the members of the UPenn cohort. Then we began our descent and I was surprised that the plane ride was over so quickly. Just as we landed, I finally managed to strike up a conversation with another traveler, who cordially welcomed us all to Washington D.C., along with warnings about the weather.

Statues like this one are ubiquitous in Washington D.C.
Soon enough, we arrived at our hotel, which is a very nice Holiday Inn. In case you are wondering what is just so nice about it, the answer is COMPLIMENTARY ICE CREAM. Which is great because it is very hot here. After we arrived and got situated in our rooms, we ventured back outside into the heat in order to find food. Fortunately this was easily accomplished, and we went to a lovely pizza place just down the street for a late lunch or early dinner, depending on which time zone you go by. Lunch/Dinner there was delicious and everyone ate so much we all had to go back to the hotel to rest for a while. When the cohort was sufficiently recovered, we took the Circulator, (a very nice bus), to the center of town, and did a walking tour of the city.  

This was by far the best part of my day. In my opinion, the only thing better than free ice cream is historical monuments. We began by walking past the White House. (No biggie, just the symbol of our government and where the president lives. Hardly worth mentioning, really.) We continued past the Treasury 
It's the White House!!!
Building to the WWII Memorial, the MLK Memorial, the WWI Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, and close to the Washington Monument. Then, as if it were possible for me to geek out anymore, we also visited the Vietnam War Memorial on our way back. This is the first time I have been to Washington D.C. and as someone who loves history, getting to walk around the monuments was incredibly rewarding. My favorite monuments were the Vietnam War Memorial, the Korean War Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial. I was pleasantly surprised by the Korean War memorial, which features statues of soldiers who seem to be wading through bushes. The overall effect was very eerie. I think I liked it so much because I felt that of all the memorials and statues I saw today, this memorial attempts to depict war accurately. Today was incredible and I look forward to tomorrow, because we will be going to the Smithsonian.

You Can Fly!

I went to bed before nine o'clock last night in the hopes of easing the process of waking up so early. Still, 3:10 AM is 3:10 AM, and my alarm woke me then with the message "IT'S HAPPENING!!!" and playing the song "Wake Up" by Arcade Fire (that's sort of clever, right?). We arrived at El Cerrito High, my school, got our bags weighed, received our luggage tags, and listened to further instructions for Don. He reminded us to format our blogs correctly, and pointed me out specifically for not choosing the correct font (though, in my defense, I used the font everyone in my cohort has been blogging with). Sorry, Don!

Airport art we couldn't
Don snapped some pictures of us (although we look much better in suits and dresses than in sweatshirts) and soon the sun was rising while we rode on the bus. We arrived at the airport, passed through security (some of us poked fun at the airport art while we waited for the rest of the group), ate a quick (and surprisingly satisfying) breakfast, and boarded the plane.

The super cool airplane game we played
The plane flight was...well, the plane flight was a plane flight. I was seated between a stranger and Donna, and while I did make an effort to talk to the person next to me, she changed seats to sit near her husband only minutes after takeoff, so we didn't get to cover much other than the word game I was messing around with on the screen in front of me. I slept through much of the flight over Nevada, then talked to Donna for a while about camping and climbing experiences. 

Donna and I freaked out about
how pretty the clouds were
This was our plane
We were pretty exhausted, so we both listened to music for a while until Julia took the seat next to us. The three of us joined forces to tackle the challenge of the word game (which didn't recognize some words like "orca"). The cool seat-back technology was re-used later in the flight with a group chat (which is apparently something you can do now) in which everyone in the cohort played a game of "truth or dare" which passed the time, and which ended up just being a game of "truth," since you can't do many "dares" on a plane. 

We had a lovely view from the shuttle
Our luggage was there right away, and our shuttle didn't take long, so soon we were loaded up and heading to the hotel. We ate lunch/dinner at a pizza place where we could watch the World Cup game, which was pretty exciting. 

After a rest in the room, Mr. Hillyer led us on a tour of Washington, D.C. that hit just about all the major monuments and memorials. 

I'm realizing too late that I have way too many pictures in this blog...oops.

The White House

It was fun to walk around D.C. with the group and see major government buildings and war memorials. I think my favorite was the World War II memorial, because it was just so beautiful (you'll see), but one of my favorite moments so far happened around the White House. I don't remember the last time I saw fireflies, but I wasn't expecting to see them here. With the wonder of an amazed child, I commented to Julia that they looked like sparks while Gwennie easily caught one. 

The World War II Memorial
The World War I Memorial

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, surrounded by famous quotes of his

The Korean War Memorial

The Lincoln Memorial
The "future/euture" error on the Lincoln Memorial wall
The Vietnam War Memorial
I can't wait for tomorrow's Georgetown tour, the Smithsonian, and the nice dinner. Well, I can wait; sleep is my top priority at the moment. We're all exhausted; for us it feels like it's about ten, and we since we got up early and spent the night seeing D.C., as Julia eloquently put it, "Tonight is sleepy sleep."

Departure Day (Arrival Day?)

Today began at 3:00 AM when I woke up to get ready to go meet Don and leave for the east coast with the rest of my cohort. When my parents drove me down to El Cerrito High School at 3:45, almost everyone was there already. After everyone put their luggage tags on their bags and made any last-minute adjustments as Don weighed everyone's bags, Don talked to us about the (revised) itinerary and reminded us to follow all the rules, do as our chaperone tells us, and to blog every night or else face the wrath of Guantanamo Don (up close and personal from 3,000 miles away).

Finally, after Don took pictures of each cohort (Penn and Vanderbilt), we loaded our bags on a shuttle and took off for the airport. There were still stars visible when we arrived at the airport. Once we got through security (and admired the airport art) we still had more than an hour before boarding. We ordered breakfast from the cafe The Plant, which sold delicious breakfast burritos among other things.

The Washington Monument
On the airplane, our cohort (unfortunately) had seats that were not next to any other passengers. At the end of the flight, though, when we were getting off, we talked to one woman named Elizabeth. She is a DC native and was visiting San Francisco. She welcomed us to Washington DC, warned us that we wouldn’t need any of our sweatshirts, and told us she hoped we would have a great time, as she had had a great time in San Francisco. She was right about the sweatshirts—as soon as we stepped outside, the hot, muggy air smothered us.

After settling into the hotel, we went out to a pizza place the hotel staff recommended for dinner, and then took a tour of the monuments and memorials. We took our picture in front of the White House and caught fireflies on the lawns. We also saw the Washington monument, the Lincoln memorial, the Vietnam War memorial, the World War I and World War II memorials, the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial, the Jefferson memorial, and the Capitol Building. It was a very busy three hours.

The Lincoln Memorial
The Washington monument was visible from most of the places we walked, and looked very eerie with its demonic red eyes (to prevent airplanes from flying into it). I really liked all of the fountains and wreaths at the World War II memorial. At the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial, we saw a group of protesters singing and chanting. While we were there, they sang “Over the Rainbow.” That was probably my favorite memorial. I really liked reading all of his quotes on the wall and seeing the protesters for equal rights.

Martin Luther King, Jr Memorial
Overall, though I know that nearly all of our days will be busier than this one, this was a very long and exhausting day. Getting up at three in the morning and going to bed after midnight is never fun, but I’m looking forward to the rest of our time here on the east coast.

Departure Day

It was dark outside and although the thermometer said it was 55ยบ it still felt warm—possibly a precursor of the temps we might find once the sun crept over the horizon.  In any case, it was good weather for Departure Day.

Today we saw our Penn and Vanderbilt cohorts meet at the same time as they picked up their itineraries, received some last minute instructions and advice from Wise Don and posed for the group photos that come part and parcel with these gatherings. 

For lack of anything better to do while waiting for the ILCers and their chaperones to arrive, the mental wagering began as I bet on which ILCer would be the first to arrive.  Today it was Shanti Shrestha from the Vanderbilt cohort who arrived a full hour early.  I wondered to myself whether she read the emails right or whether she might have misunderstood what time she was supposed to be there.  There’s early and there’s REAL early.

In any case, she was there and she was ready to go.

As long as she was there, I figured I could put her to work assembling the luggage tags I had prepared for the cohorts.  Even though she destroyed one of the tags for her chaperone, she did a wonderful job.  If she ever applies for such a job when she’s ready to enter the job market, I’ll write that letter of recommendation that will seal the deal. 

As we approached the specified time to be at El Cerrito HS, the individual members of both cohorts started drifting in.  Some looked wide awake and ready to go while others looked like they had gotten out of bed only moments before and mentally wanted to crawl back under the covers to enjoy the comfort of their own beds.  I don’t blame them and as soon as I post this blog I’ll be doing the same.

The airport shuttle—a big white tourist bus—arrived right before 5:00 AM, the luggage was loaded and the ILCers bade their parents farewell.  As the shuttle’s taillights faded in the distance, those that were left behind realized that if we hurried we could catch a few more zzz’s before having to wake and ready ourselves for the day in front of us.  Sounds like a heck of a plan to me.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Pre-Flight Preperations

Well, after months of preparation, hard work, and immense dedication, the day before our departure has finally arrived. Every step, every event and everything, regardless of how small the ILC has done to prepare us now culminates for this. As the quote made famous by the movie "Fast and Furious 7", "All Roads Lead to This." In other words, this is our time to shine, the moment we have so long looked forward to and coveted. This is our moment and we must make the absolute most of it. In less than a few hours, as a cohort, we shall embark on one of the most life-changing experiences we have ever been fortunate enough to be given the opportunity. I do not think I will ever be able to express how thankful I am to the ILC for providing me with such a chance, a chance that no other school district in the entire country parallels in providing its students.
Like all trips, the most challenging part is identifying what to leave behind rather than what to take. After hours of packing, unpacking, and then repacking I was finally able to come to a compromise between everything I needed and everything I did not. Personally, I love traveling, but packing is always an aspect that troubles me the most and can present itself to be a very miniscule but laborious task. 
I woke up this morning thinking one thought only, "Wow, time flew." I find it remarkable how fast this day has come. I remember telling myself the day after I was accepted into the ILC that the day to my departure would feel like an eternity. However, now it feels as if it was yesterday that I made that comment. At this moment the only thing I feel is excitement. I can already imagine all the adventures that await my cohort and I on the East Coast and the invaluable experiences we are about to have.

I cannot wait to tour all of the wonderful colleges and universities we are set on exploring and identifying if each would be somewhere I could see myself attending. For me, this will be a very important task. As I am now entering my last year of high school, the day where I will have to make my ultimate decision on which schools to apply to draws ever so closer. My aspiration is to solidify a few schools that I feel truly fit my academic style so that I will not be overwhelmed when the time comes.

Moreover, I cannot wait to be able to enrich my mind in the multitude of ways this trip will offer. I remember from my experiences last year at Columbia University, I not only learned inside the classroom, but also outside of it, through my roommates and the various individuals I was so privileged to have met and establish a connection with. I greatly look forward to having a repeat of that same experience this year. While at the same time I may find it hard to leave home for such a long time, I know that this is all for the betterment of future  and a preview of what is to come. In less than a year this form of excursion will not merely be for a month but rather the beginning of my life as an independent individual, responsible for his own future based on how well he has been prepared by his parents and the education he has received in school. Thanks to opportunities such as the one the ILC has presented me, I know that I will be immensely prepared as my time approaches. All I can say at this point is, "I am ready!"

Packing, Reflections, and Elusive Footwear

Today, June 29th, is the last day before our trip begins! In a mere ten hours I will be on my way to the University of Pennsylvania. In the interim, I have been and will continue to be racing around my house desperately looking for all of the things I've forgotten to pack. (Since I just got back from a three week trip to Nicaragua two days ago, I consider myself a seasoned veteran of the packing-things-for-long-trips-mania, but I still want to make sure everything is accounted for.) I have almost everything I need stowed away already, and fortunately my luggage is well under the 42 lb weight limit, though I have very little space left in my suitcases. (When packing for long trips I am a chronic under-packer rather than over-packer. This can lead to a very spartan lifestyle, but for the moment at least it saves time.)
My Luggage!

I can't believe that this moment has finally arrived. Since the moment I was accepted, I have been waiting to begin this journey and now that it is beginning, I can scarcely believe that it is happening. My excitement is uncontainable. (So is my frustration, because I can't find my flip-flops anywhere. They were here just a moment ago! They are the last thing I need to finish packing!)

I find that packing for a trip is a very meditative process since as I contemplate the objects I will need to bring, I also reflect on what I expect from the trip and how I came arrive at this point. In light of the poverty I have seen in Nicaragua I am more thankful than ever for the educational opportunities that I have been afforded. (Though I'm also  incredibly thankful for heated water, well-paved roads and food right now.) Now that I have been able to observe firsthand the kind of difference education can make in people's lives, I am more determined than ever to use what I learn this summer to help others.

Everything but the kitchen sink

Well, it's Sunday evening, and this time tomorrow I'll be sweltering in the heat and humidity of Washington, D.C. Knowing that I'll be leaving for nearly a month in less than 12 hours has me excited, but at the same time anxious and overwhelmed. I do think that once we land in Washington, D.C. and get settled in I'll be a lot calmer--it's really the anticipation that's making me nervous. I always get travel jitters before I get on a plane. Have I packed everything I need? Will I lose anything before I get there?

Even after having packed most of my things over the course of the past week, today was still a frenzy of last-minute packing and trying to cram things into my stuffed suitcase. Sandals? Check. Pillow? Check. Camera? Check. Several pairs of shorts? Check. Kitchen sink? Che--oh, wait, that's probably what's pushing my suitcase over the 50lb limit.
Packing "light"
Despite my worries, though, my suitcase is completely packed (though nearly overflowing) and weighs only thirty pounds. I'll go to bed early and wake up at 3:00 AM tomorrow (ugh... that will be hard) to leave for the east coast with the rest of my cohort. This is a wonderful opportunity for me, and an adventure I can't wait to begin.
Trying to close my suitcase
I do wish I could pack this guy, though. My cat, Skype, is one of the things I'll miss most about home. He likes to climb onto my lap and purr when I'm sitting at my computer (absolutely adorable).

Stay Tuned for the Adventures of the Penn Cohort

After the many ILC events and preparations, it has all finally come down to tomorrow.

Last night was an intense battle of checking, double checking, and triple checking everything that I needed to bring in my luggage and adding whatever more items I might need. The results were promising. I tried to fit as much as possible into as least as possible. In other words, I'm not very fond of carrying a bunch of luggage around. Even after I attempted several protests on my mom's strategy of packing a lot of things into one of the bags, she continued to cram and was able to successfully stuff them in and zip the zipper (although I suspect that the seams are about to explode).
Cramming at its finest
Among my cohort members, I am the only one who has never been to the East Coast before, which poses so many question for me. Questions that are soon to be answered with (no doubt) an incredible experience to go along with. As of now, I am filled with excitement and anticipation for what is in store for us tomorrow. There is the usual nervousness of setting foot in a new place filled with new people, but I am way more excited to get out of my comfort zone and meet different people.

Since the day of my acceptance into the Ivy League Connection, the wait towards our departure to Penn has been excruciating. And now, even though my moment of departure with my cohort is only in a few more hours, it still feels crazy-surreal.

The fact that I'll be in the East Coast to visit prestigious colleges, take an Experimental Physics course at UPenn, and experience the summer of a lifetime makes me feel the utmost gratefulness. I hope to make the most out of my journey and learn so much more about the world out there with my cohort. If the Penn dinner and the other ILC events were already a blast, I can only imagine what these upcoming 27 days of East Coast adventures will be for me.

Hopefully, I'll be able to get rested before arriving at 3:50 tomorrow morning at El Cerrito High School without the recurring dreams of assassins and trip setbacks. Summer has only just begun!