Thursday, July 3, 2014

A Flashback to the Past

After having the opportunity to explore two of the largest cities in the nation, our trip could absolutely not be complete without getting to know the vibrant, bustling city of New York. However, being such a busy and fast-paced city, we had to wake the earliest we had so far on this trip in order to arrive early to Penn Station and take the Amtrack. On our way there we took a taxi cab which we ended up sharing with another man who was attempting to head to the airport. This was because we were forced to switch taxis after our initial one had technical difficulties. Regardless, however, the very interesting thing was that on route to Penn Station, he began asking us questions about why we in Philadelphia and if we had visited UPenn. As it turns out, this gentleman used to be on the board of directors at UPenn, which I found to be very incredible. When we finally arrived at the station, he surprised me even more, when he refused to let us pay for our ride and instead showed immense hospitality and said that he would cover the cost. While maybe not an immense act, but I still found it very amazing, that in less than the span of a few blocks, we could establish a relation to the point were a stranger so willingly pays for our portion of the fare.

The train ride over was very interesting. It was very incredible to see the rapid transitions between urban to suburban and then to almost country-like lifestyles. Normally, coming from the Bay Area, transitions such as this would take a while before happening and do not happen as frequently as I experienced while heading to New York. Another aspect of the trip that truly drew my attention was the vast quantity of colonial era homes that had been refurbished to accommodate the current era. In California, homes such as these are rare. Primarily because brick buildings in earthquake prone areas do not blend well. Moreover though, it is because it does not posses such a lush and vivid history as the East Coast does. The East Coast was were the nation began as merely colonies of Great Britain. This is something that allows it to have such a deeply embedded history as well as influence. Even today it is evident that the colonial era has greatly influenced the development of much of the East Coast.

Breakfast served on a skillet
When we arrived in New York, I was hit with excitement to be once again in the "Big Apple". When we reached the streets, conveniently, there was a small diner style restaurant to our side called, Waverly Restaurant. As we had not eaten since the previous night, our appetites were large and we were ready to start off our busiest day with a hearty breakfast. Once again, I was treated to something new. Normally, with any restaurant, you would expect food to be served on a plate, however here, it was served on a skillet, which I found very cool. 
Once we were done with our meal, we set out to officially begin our day in New York. First up on the list was New York University. As we made our way to the informational session in the early morning heat, we took time to take a stroll through Washington Square Park, the center of NYU. In all honesty, ur was beautiful and I was surprised by the vast amount of luscious vegetation that brought the park to life. As we passed along, Mr. Hillyer informed us that in most major urban areas, such as NYC, parks were a necessity for the inhabitants. It not only allowed for nice scenery, but also offered a way to escape the hectic city life momentarily and to slow down it's fast-paced lifestyle. After a few last minute photos we made our way into the informational session. 
Washington Square Park

The session began with a video that offered a bit of backstory and student testimonials of their experience at NYU. To me, the school seemed to pride itself in the immersion it had with the city. Unlike most conventional urban schools, NYU had not perimeter gates or walls but rather opted for a fluid and seamless integration into the city life. After the video, we heard a little bit more about the school from one of the admissions officers. She reiterated the uniqueness of NYU's campus and the connection it had developed with the city. Moreover though, she explained a lot about NYU's abroad programs. According to her, NYU has one of the largest study abroad programs out of any university in the nation. Allowing students to choose from locations from all over the world was truly appealing as abroad study is something that greatly interests me. When she moved on to details about the actual application, I was taken a bit by surprise. Unlike conventional schools, NYU was unique in that it offered a wide array of methods in order to satisfy the Standardized Test requirement. In addition, I began to realize that NYU focused a lot more on getting to know the actual student and seeing why they feel NYU would fit them.

The information session was followed by a campus tour. I was truly amazed at the backstory of NYU's backstory. Many  of the buildings were bought by the school and therefore represent very different styles that give an element of uniqueness to the campus. Apart from the park, NYU truly represents a very city-integrated school as it's facilities are all building that would normally be seen in downtown NYC which really appealed to me. The tour led us inside various buildings on campus and I was surprised by the many resources that were available. At the end of our tour, our guide left us with one last bit of advice in considering if NYU was right for us, "NYU require a lot of self-independence and self-perseverance". The opinions are always there for you and the resources are plentiful, but you must be the one to make the most of them. 

Following our NYU tour, it was off to the second major half of our day and the location I had long awaited for, Columbia University. Due to a time mix up, we actually showed up a lot early than we actually had to be. This presented us with the perfect opportunity to rest up a bit and rehydrate. It was great to be able to see my old dormitory and class building from my time there last year. It brought back so many memories of friends that left a lasting impression on me. When the information session began, we headed over to the auditorium where I was met with a giant surprise. 
Columbia University
The session was led by one of Columbia's admissions officers who from his first words left me very stunned. His name was James and he came from California, but more importantly he was an alumni of Columbia... who had just graduated in 2013. I was left completely shocked as I had never thought that an admissions officer could be so young. For me they always seemed older than him. However, regardless, he showed immense passion for his alma matter with every word he said. He spoke with such pride and conviction that it really captured me into what he was saying. From his speech I learned a lot about Columbia's history and how it had shifted its location on three different occasions. More interestingly was that after its third move, the city had developed around the school and had been encompassed as NYC developed. Secondly I learned a lot about one of Columbia's most unique attributes, its Common Core system. Ever since I first learned about this system last year I became entranced by it. As most classes are capped at around 20 students or so, I found it really amazing that classes that were required could still offer a wide array of discussions. Additionally I also was attracted to the idea that the mandatory courses required a Columbia student to be more well-rounded. Instead of just having absolute liberty with your class choice from the very beginning, the core curriculum allows for a greater sense of direction while still allowing for indulgence in various fields instead of focus on a single one. Although I do like being able to choose my classes, I am appealed to by core curriculum because of the way Columbia has set up the system. It forces students outside of their comfort zone and to delve into areas they may normally would have never if they had had liberty with courses. The final part that I learned concerned the application at Columbia. First was that, like many other schools, the process of reviewing an application is holistic. In other words, admittance officers review an entire application before finally making a decision. In addition, for the essay that asks why you chose Columbia, it is important to not be generic in your response as it does not specify why you chose the school. It is vital to find something that connects you to the school on a deeper level. 
Cohort Photo at Columbia!
After the information session, we set out on a campus tour. Personally I have fallen in love with the architecture Columbia possess. I find it to incredibly unique and beautiful. Although being surround by a modern city, it still retains aspects of the classical era that has left a lasting influence on it. As we moved through the campus we passed areas that I remember clearly from my time there and others that I had never seen before. Even after having been at the school for a month last year, I had yet to experience the entire campus until today. 

One of the grandest things about that afternoon was, however, that as our tour was ending, the summer high school program was also getting out. Coincidentally we managed to run into to two members of the Columbia cohort, Lisa Romero and Michelle Phung, both of whom are very close friends of mine. After having talked to them for a large part of the summer, it was great to finally see them and talk to them about their experiences at Columbia. In order to do this we headed over to one of the most popular pizza places near Columbia, Koronets, which was infamous for its immensely large pizza slices. When we arrived, we all quickly realized that the size had not been understated. As we are I talked to Michelle and Lisa as to which colleges from their tours they had liked the best and which ones they could see themselves applying to. The answers were very interesting as they varied deeply between the two of them. Eventually, however, it was time for all of us to part ways and with a few last minute photos, we said our goodbyes. 
Final Goodbyes, thanks Lisa and Michelle!
For us, however, there was still many things to explore before our train left back to Philadelphia at 8:00 PM. It was therefore chosen upon to head down to the most southern tip of Manhattan in order to get a few distant views of the Statue of Liberty. To me the experience seemed beautiful. The breeze from the river seemed very refreshing and the scenery of Battery Park was absolutely extravagant. After a while it was time to head back to the station to catch our train back to Philadelphia. Unfortunately, a massive storm that swept through the greater portion of the East Coast resulted in a moderately large delay with our train, but eventually we were able to get on board and head back to the hotel for some well earned rest. 

Overall, I remember very distinctly, from the moment when the itineraries, which detailed our game plan for the entire trip, were passed out, I had greatly looked forward to going to New York and touring both NYU and Columbia. The reason for this is the connection I established with NYC last year after participating in a summer program as part of the ILC at Columbia. Being in, "the city where it all began for me" brought back so many vivid memories of my time there. I was constantly reminded of excursions I took with friends, places we would go to just merely hang out, and the many areas of the city we set out to explore. Even on the train ride, I was continuously attempting to remember all of the experiences I had there. For me Columbia and NYC, both completely changed my life. They heavily impacted my life and left a lasting influence that has helped develop the person I am today. Staying and learning in a school within one of the largest, most fast-paced cities in the entire nation meant that from the very beginning I was forced to learn how to be responsible for myself. This is an attribute that has greater prepared me for not only my future experiences at Penn, but also in life in general. This is a quality that many new incoming undergraduates lack, the ability to fend for themselves and at times end up learning the hard way. However, having knowledge of how to do so gives me a large advantage over others in my position when I go to college. In addition, many of individuals I had the pleasure of meeting made me view the world I live in through different perspectives. Often times we tend to follow a common belief without looking at the points of view of others or consider other ways of approaching an issue. That's what Columbia did. It forced me to find new ways of thinking, new ways of seeing the world and new ideas of how to shape for the betterment of everyone. For so long I once called Columbia my home, and the students I met my family. This was an aspect of the program that truly inspired me. To be able to take students from all over the world who represent different backgrounds, beliefs and ways of thinking, and successfully bring them together to point where the last day seems as one of the saddest moments of your life is just amazing. However in reality, I feel that this aspect of not just the Columbia summer program, but also summer programs in general at universities, is a true manifestation of college life. Many of the most prestigious school across the nation favor this form of connection between students; to establish friendship with others whom you normally never would have thought possible. Therefore, I greatly look forward to my experiences at UPenn, and I hope that it will not only allow me a top-notch education in Social Justice, but also allow me to grow as a person and to bring as much as I can from my experiences back to my community. 

1 comment:

  1. It's great to see how this program has impacted you, not just this summer but previous ones too. Writing this blog is a good way to organize and release your thoughts so you can reflect in a logical manner. Hope UPenn can be just as good as Columbia in respect to what you're looking for.