Sunday, June 26, 2011

And Now the Main Event...

Today we finally arrived. I unpacked my suitcase eight hours ago and am typing this while siting in my dorm room at Columbia University.

Our day started off well. We got to sleep in, thankfully, before meeting Yale admissions officer Alex Richardson for brunch. As he is the Northern California admissions director, it was refreshing not having to explain exactly where we were from, and Alex, having worked with ILC students before, was very supportive of the Ivy League Connection and what the program is trying to achieve. Though it was the last of our ILC alum and admissions officer meetings, brunch was rather subdued; all of us felt a little burnt-out by the grueling pace, and last night's incredibly engaging dinner with Yale and UPenn alums had seemed like a triumphant note to end on at the time, so the brunch seemed almost a bit like an after-thought. However, as far as after-thoughts go, it was a very helpful one. In addition to reaffirming a lot of the good advice we had heard about the general application process from almost every school, Alex described the step-by-step process each application goes through at Yale, involving two reads and a group discussion before the student is accepted or rejected.

All of us had packed up our suitcases before we left for brunch, so when we returned to the hotel, all that remained was to change into less fancy clothes and hail two taxis to Morningside. Check in was very brief; I was given two keys, one to the suite I would live in and one to my specific room, and dropped off my suitcase before heading back down to the campus bookstore, where Mrs. L was kind enough to buy for each of us a Columbia sweatshirt or jacket as well as a few notebooks and pens so we can be prepared for class tomorrow. After that I went back up to my dorm, where I met the other girls in the 8C suite, all of whom are very kind as well as intelligent and individual. We've got neighbors from all over the country (even someone from as close as San Francisco!) and international students as well, such as one Canadian student and one girl who came all the way from Switzerland to take an art design class here. Our RAs are very interesting too, treating us as equals instead of children and managing the rather difficult feat of being friendly and available while not being too pushy. I gotta say though, compared to the rest of the campus especially, the dorms are downright ugly. Not the outsides at all; but the insides are filled with narrow hallways with no discernable markings or direction, and although my actual room is nothing more than I expected, the common area of our suite is very sparse, nothing compared to the gorgeous parlors they have at Vassar College.

Tonight we ate dinner in an auditorium instead of the dining hall where we will be eating the rest of the nights. Dinner was yummy with hot dogs and pasta salad, and gave everyone a chance to get to know each other a little more. After dinner the RAs took us out for dessert at a gelatoria/bakery/coffee-shope nearby that I'm sure will become a quick standard in my off-campus dining around Columbia. We wandered about on Broadway, shopping a little at Duane Reade's for some smaller missing supplies, and our RA, Julia, showed us her favorite market as a suggestion for quick and cheap dining options during the weekend when we are responsible for our own food.

All in all, a great first day at the Summer Program for High School Students at Columbia University; I'm very impressed with the beautiful campus, and I really look forward to starting class and spending a few relaxing hours in the library in the next few days.

Hello, Columbia

Today was a very busy day – not that our others have not been.

We began with a wonderful buffet brunch with Yale Northern California Admissions Officer Alex Richardson. He was incredibly personable and open about the admissions process, Yale and his college experience. He gave us a lot of information about what an application reader looks for in an applicant and some of the red flags they keep an eye on.

Following our brunch, we completed an important milestone on our trip: moving into the dormitories. I have to say I am a fan of Columbia’s dorm system – though not necessarily the dorms themselves. I am in a suite with about 12 other girls (including Milani) and two Residential Advisors. All of us have our own rooms and there are 3 bathrooms and showers, a kitchen and television for general usage. I find suite style living to be much more intimate and close than regular dorms because the number of people is considerably smaller. The girls are from Italy, Spain, Indonesia, India, Singapore and Rochester, Los Angeles and New Jersey.

After getting settled Mrs. Lilhanand took us to the campus bookstore to buy any necessary school supplies and our very own Columbia sweatshirt. Then, we each had our own suite/dorm meeting with our RAs clarifying the rules of the program. After this, everyone went to the barbacue for dinner.

After giving us a few hours on our own, my RAs decided that the entire suite should go to Pinkberry, a fantastic frozen yogurt shop. We are finally here and I am definitely looking forward to orientation and class tomorrow.

As Awesome As I Expected

It's been a long time comin', but have reached the beginning of the road ahead. I am now an official Columbia student, even if it's just for the High School Program (H.S.P.).

But, we began the day with brunch. The Northern California admissions officer attended it with us, which was fantastic. The opportunity is unmatched in terms of value during the college admissions process. Typically, in my opinion, the real challenge of college admissions is painting an accurate portrayal of yourself. If I were an admissions officer, I would have a much easier time rejecting a statistic than a face, and that's what I hope to accomplish when I do apply. I want to create, if not an exact image, a reminiscent silhouette of who I am as a person and why I would be a great addition to the school in regards. And, when a prospective student is meeting and talking to the admissions officer responsible for their application, I can only imagine the genuine pricelessness associated with it. It kind of paints the picture for you. It lets that officer know you to a further extent than the narrow description of the application itself.

So, in my opinion, the opportunity was incredible. Alexander Richardson, the admissions officer, was incredibly down-to-earth and refreshingly humorous. Above all, he was able to provide us with advice that didn't exactly cater to what we have been hearing for the last 3 days--and the last 3 years. He described unique essays and how they tend to be not-so-unique. You see, it is not too difficult to stand out in one's writing, but when everyone is attempting to do the same thing, it's very simple to get lost in the details. And, suddenly, what would be considered thrilling and specific to that student is now considered banal and frequent.

Further, while I was very appreciative and really tuned into the conversation with the officer, it seemed slightly surreal. I say that because, to be frank, no--I don't see Yale admitting me.

Of course I will still try, and when I apply, I will do my absolute best. But, reality is not a term loosely defined, the concrete branches tend to stick in their rightful directions. The SAT average is 650-750, C's are immediate red flags, and E.D.'s hardly get a leg up on the already minute admittance rate. But, I will try. I do love the school, though. It's an incredible university, and it deserves its position in the nation.

So, after brunch ended, I was ecstatic! I couldn't wait to get back to the hotel, grab our luggage, and take off for Columbia University. When we arrived after an incredibly calm, yet potentially fatal taxi service, we immediately picked up our cards and keys alike and settled into our dorms.

I have a single in John Jay. I'm not thrilled by that in any way. I don't even have a suite style floor! But, I can deal. I was granted with a pretty personable hallway, so I'll focus on that for now as a deterrent from my roommate disappointment.

After dropping our bags off, we headed to the bookstore, grabbed a few things (chiefly, my highly-fashionable Columbia zip-up "hoodie"), walked back to our dorms, said goodbye to Mrs. L., and began to explore university life on our own.

I was thrilled.

There was about two hours to pass before dinner, so I mingled with a few of my floor mates: Chris, Alex, Kirby, Peter, Neil, Eric, Ed(ward), William (an imposter), Harry, Daniel, Andrew, Duresh, and my residential adviser (R.A.), Adam. I was surprised, yet excited that I was the only one from California in my hallway. The students flocked from much cooler areas: Dubai, Great Britain, Maryland, Michigan, North Carolina, France, and China, to name a few. The cultural clash was much more friendly than what usually would occur, and I was grateful for that. I feel like I will learn more outside of the classroom than inside of the classroom in the coming weeks, and I look forward to each grain of knowledge I can muster.

The night met its end socially: dinner, poker, volleyball, Frisbee, and talking, mixed with a brief intermission with our R.A. to bolt through some general guidelines--the works.

It's been a hectic, and fulfilling day. And, it leaves me even more excited for what it so come tomorrow. It really gave me a certain re-invigoration in terms of my Columbia dedication, and I know it will only get better. My early decision is safe with Columbia, and I am exhausted.

Today was as awesome as I expected. Tomorrow has some steep competition.

Finally Here

Today, the Columbia cohort finally arrived at Columbia University! However, before we could rush towards the beautiful campus, we enjoyed brunch with Yale admissions officer Alexander Richardson. Mr. Richardson was unique in that he is the Northern California admissions officer and will read our applications should we apply. One of the most important pieces of advice he gave us was that the essay is the only part of the application where prospective students can come off as a human. With this in mind, Mr. Richardson said that we can write about anything in our essay from a strategy game to sailing as long as we portray ourselves as something more than statistics on a computer screen. He said that the only way to make an application pop to him is to not write about I did this and I did that but write about something we’re really passionate about make sure that if anyone read it, it would seem as if we were having a conversation with him.

After brunch we had an interesting cab driver to transport us and our luggage from the Empire Hotel to Columbia. While we had made plans regarding who was going to go in each cab and have the two cabs follow each other, as soon as we hailed a cab our plan went straight out of the window. First off, Mrs. L. wanted to ride in the first cab so that she could direct the driver to the right gat at Columbia, and secondly she wanted the first cab to wait until we could hail a second one. Well, as the events played out, Mrs. L. wasn’t able to ride in the first cab and as soon as Will, Masao, and I situated ourselves in the taxi our driver sped away. The ride there was interesting because our driver swerved in and out of lanes, honking cars, and yelling at other drivers as we made our way to Columbia. About 10 nerve-wracking minutes later I was relieved to set my feet on firm ground and walk to my dorm, John Jay.

Columbia Library
John Jay Hall

Upon arriving at my dorm, I dropped off my luggage, made sure not to forget my room key, and went back downstairs to meet Mrs. L. and the rest of the cohort to go to the bookstore for supplies, textbooks, and a Columbia sweatshirt. Upon checking out, it finally hit me that I will be going to class for the first time at Columbia tomorrow and I’m ecstatic!

Prior to dinner we had an orientation with our R.A.s. My R.A. seems to be very relaxed and determined that we have fun. After going through rule of the program, he told us about several trips he had planned out for us. He also said that we don’t have to go on his trips if we don’t want to because there is 90 other R.A.s who has planned trips for the 1300 students for this program. As the day winds down, I am more excited than ever for the first day of school!

Moving Day

Our final meeting was today with the admissions officer from Yale, Alexander Richardson. We had brunch together and he told us about the whole application process and what Yale is looking for. Yale wants students who will one day become world leaders. They need to be intelligent and also be dedicated and passionate about what they do. He was very friendly and made jokes that we didn't think were funny, mostly because they were about getting 2400 on the SAT in order to get in. After talking with him, I felt like Yale could be a good match for me. However after meeting with him I know that it will be a very competitive process. I'll try not to get my hopes up.

We finally checked into our dorms! Surprisingly, Beilul and I are in the same suite. To be honest, I'm glad she is because its hard to go from a family of 5 who you're always around to a single room, alone, no noise, no distractions. Whenever I get lonely we can hang out. As I unpacked my things, I got the first feelings of homesickness. I'm slowly adjusting to my surroundings.

Our RAs are so much fun! They have tons of things planned for us and are like our sisters/mothers away from home. We met everyone in our suite. So far, there is one girl from Spain, one from Italy, one from India, one from Singapore. The other girls are from the states. It is intriguing to hear their stories about what life is like in their home country and what their school is like. So far, they all seem like great people. We just need to get used to each other.

There are 15 girls including out two RAs in the suit. There are also on 3 bathrooms. We decided we would not set up a schedule, but instead survival of the fittest on getting the shower. I'm very nervous to see how this goes.

They had a BBQ for dinner tonight. There must have been more that 500 kids in the auditorium I think. There were too many of us to hold in one session so there was another group of people going to eat after we left.

It's only the first day and I already know that this will be an experience I will always remember. Not only will it put me into the reality that is soon to come, it is prepping me for the real world, meeting new people, experiencing new things. Tonight we will go as a group to Pinkberry, a local yogurt and ice cream shop. Tomorrow we find out what this whole course is really about.

What We Have Been Waiting For

Most of the festivities are over. Hitherto, we have been quite busy but have still maintained a somewhat relaxed demeanor. We have eaten at elegant restaurants and toured esteemed universities.

Today is the day we have all been warily awaiting. Today we moved into our dorms at Columbia where we will reside for the next 3 weeks. The campus is awe-inspiring. So far, I love it.

After we just nearly survived a trip with our most aggressive, reckless taxi driver yet, we made our way into the heart of the Columbia buildings. The sheer height of the buildings that surrounded us was enough to give Columbia its own unique atmosphere never mind their striking architectural style which I felt was a slightly more modern version of the best of the Harvard, Yale, and Penn campuses.
Whereas all of the campuses we have toured have serene, peaceful courtyards, the courtyard at Columbia feels like it is a whole new universe because it is tucked right in between the busy, bustling New York City streets. But before I was completely absorbed by the ambience of the campus, we made our way to John Jay hall to check in.

Columbia clearly takes their high school summer programs seriously because there were Columbia students marked by their Summer High School Program Shirts almost everywhere you looked. After I received my room key, many of them were more than happy, even anxious to answer my surfeit of questions : where to buy stamps, where to send out letters, how to use the gym, how to receive letters, what neighborhoods to avoid at night, how to receive my Columbia ID etc.

My dorm room was an unadorned but warm single room. So, while I will be unable to develop a close relationship with a roommate, I will have plenty of space to think and study with by myself. Although I was unable to catch my RA’s name for now, he seemed laid back and truly happy to be helping. He told me to be back in my room by 5:30 for orientation and the Columbia Cohort used the downtime to purchase essential supplies for our classes and Columbia sweatshirts.

I have only been here for a few hours but I am already bursting with excitement and anticipation for the coming weeks.