Saturday, July 28, 2012

The End of the Beginning

This feels more of an epilogue in comparison to the blog I wrote last night. Maybe it's because the finality sunk in a bit earlier than I thought it would. Maybe it's because last night ended so well. Or maybe I'm just being melodramatic.

Whatever the case, today marks the end of our first week on the East Coast and the end of our college touring. It has been a fascinating ride the past six days -- I have never felt more like a tourist, a native, and been reminded about college more in my life. Without question, this has been a wonderful start to our program.

Today, our last college tour was an impromptu one. We visited Wesleyan University, a liberal arts college in Middletown (which is actually in the middle of Connecticut). The Vassar students and alumni that dined with us on Thursday told us that Wesleyan was a lot like Vassar, and the night after, our companions at the Yale dinner also suggested that we would like the campus. Honestly, I did not have high expectations.

I was again, happily wrong. Wesleyan was beautiful. The campus was nice and wide open, with quintessential New England-style brick buildings scattered around a huge deep green lawn. It felt calm there, almost as if I was at peace.

We joined up with a large group for a tour of the campus, which was, for such a small school, quite expansive. Many of the departments and buildings were spread out between various quads in the area, many of them being half a mile apart from each other, and sometimes, even streets and blocks apart. The amenities of the school seemed nice enough -- a large well-equipped gym, an entertainment center, laundry rooms, kitchens, large bedrooms to name a few. It had a nice, homey feel to it, which was great.

After the tour was over, we spoke with the two tour guides to clarify a few things. Despite the fact that needs-blind-based admission was discontinued, aid would still be available to most people who applied and are accepted by Wesleyan. They also have a 3-2 and 4-2 engineering partnership at Wesleyan with Columbia University and Caltech -- a very rare and competitive program.

In Middletown, we had lunch at a local restaurant that the Women in Leadership cohort ate at previously. There, we discussed the state of the ILC at each school, focusing particularly on Hercules. I was candid with my responses to Mr. Ramsey's questions, highlighting that apathy was the integral cause to the lack of interest with the ILC. Despite the long discussion and the many arguments given, we failed to reach a final solution, besides, obviously, doing everything we can.

When I returned, I napped a bit before heading out with my cohort one last time. Ms. Kronenberg accompanied Mr. Litvin and the group to the Yale Cabaret, one of the many college-run venues around campus. The location was very secluded, it felt as if we found a college treasure.

We sat and watched the play "The K of D" while snacking on strawberry-rhubarb pie and drank tea from specially-made mugs from the cabaret. It was an excellent way of relaxing before the beginning of the program.

Reflecting on the past week, I am very glad to have live through it. My cohort and I have grown very close, as if we are all brothers and sisters in a very funny, if dysfunctional, family. But I wouldn't have it any other way, The last few days have been wonderful, and I can honestly say that I couldn't think of better people to have spent this week with.

But we must soon split apart, as the Grand Strategies program is about to dawn on us. True, we may not be able to spend as much time as we used to together, but at the very least, we have made memories to keep with us as we move on, and friends to fall back on when we need them.

I remember positing to Mr. Litvin, "This is the beginning of the end. Or the end of the beginning." Depending on the way you look at it, one may be more true than the other. For me, it's the latter. Just because it means that this was just Chapter One.

Reminisce the Past, Await the Future

Today started off with breakfast on the top floor of the Omni Hotel. The top (19th) floor had a surprisingly beautiful view of the architecture of New Haven. It started raining and I was quite ecstatic since it was my first time experiencing rain in the east coast. The car, during our ride to Wesleyan, was relentlessly barraged by raindrops.

Wesleyan’s campus was spacey, beautiful, and had a comfortable environment. It was similar to Vassar but the only difference I would say, is that it was slightly more urban in the sense that it wasn’t so isolated. We had a tour but no information session since they were not available during the weekends. We were able to speak with two tour guides and received extra information about the college. Quite frankly, the school doesn’t fit my criteria mainly because it isn’t urban enough.

We went to lunch right after and had a very interesting discussion about each of our high school. We talked about why students weren’t really buying into the ILC and how to assess the situation. We all certainly agreed that consistent and proactive communication was needed in order to improve the ILC applicant rates. The discussion was very deep and motivated me to better my school. I plan on advocating the ILC at my school by giving presentations to students and helping them through the process. This will be my senior year at high school so I feel as if I should try as hard as I can to make it better for my class and the younger generations.

We got back to the hotel and were able to rest up for about two hours before going to the Yale Summer Cabaret. I decided to take advantage of the fitness gym and burn off some calories from all of the previous dinners. It was great that I managed to get some exercise considering the week’s busy schedule. They say that exercising helps keep the mind and body focused, so this was much needed since the grand strategies course will begin tomorrow.

We congregated later and went go watch the Yale Summer Cabaret. It was very entertaining and the lady that performed was extremely talented. The act was called “The K of D.” It focused on an Ohio urban legend about a girl who had the kiss of death. The cabaret marked the last dinner with our chaperone. After today, we are to be on our own for the next two weeks.

The week has passed by so quickly. We traveled across three states and visited 6 colleges. I will certainly look back on the memories I made with my cohorts. Actually, we’re not only cohorts, but we’re friends. The time we spent together has certainly allowed for us to bond as a group. We’ve all been great to each other and in a way became a family. I hope that the program won’t sever this bond we have. Our jam packed schedule has finally halted and we have reached our destination. My next two weeks will be spent on Yale’s campus. This is a life changing experience. I will certainly reminisce on the past but I will also look forward to the future. 
Skull&Bones 8

Today was the last full day with the kids. Together with Ms. Kronenberg and Mr. Ramsey, we drove up to Wesleyan University, 45 minutes north of New Haven off  highway 91 in Connecticut. Wesleyan is the only school we've visited that has Saturday tours, thus the large turnout.

Part of the charming and aptly named Middletown, the university is beautiful, of course, stately and spacious, more groomed and compact than the slightly wilder, less tamed grounds of Vassar, which is outside of its satellite town and hence closer to nature and the country. 

Like Vassar, Wesleyan has about 2,000 undergrads, living on campus and creating its vibrant artistic and athletic culture. For those who are from the big city and want something more intimate but not too close to the woods (and for whom New Haven is a bit grungy in that big city way), Wesleyan may be the place to come.

The architecture is an interesting mixture of colonial, Gothic (Hogwarts, again), and modern--a mixture that works aesthetically. If one judged by the layout of the campus, one might also get the impression that the mixture of arts and athletics works aesthetically as well. The tour guides, with whom we had a chance to chat after everyone else had gone, supported that impression, by providing many personal and second-hand anecdotes of both the diversity and the togetherness of the student body.

Although Wesleyan is, as of this new term, no longer a need-blind school, in which admissions and finances are completely separate so the latter does not influence the former, the guides explained that Wesleyan is "99%" need-blind, and that there is a strong student push to put that 1% back. 

After Wesleyan, it's back to New Haven and a bit of rest before our cabaret night. The Yale Summer Cabaret offering of the production of "K of D" is a one-woman storytelling tour-de-force. For an hour and a half, we are hypnotized. Ahh, the college life: quality culture, in quantity and on the cheap.

Yale Summer Cabaret, through the red door

Tomorrow morning the cohort says goodbye to Ms. Kronenberg and Mr. Ramsey, our spiritual and physical guides who must get back home. The cohort also says a temporary, two-week goodbye to me. I know I'll be a lot sadder about it than they.

Yale University from my hotel's top floor


This week has been one of the most hectic weeks of my life, as we have had college tours and dinners every day for five days. However, regardless, we were all a bit nostalgic because today was our last tour; we ended our college touring with Wesleyan College, another small liberal arts school much like Vassar. My cohorts and I unanimously agreed that Wesleyan, with its beautiful and vast scenery and tall and majestic buildings, was a good way to end our journey through college touring.

As mentioned, Wesleyan is beautiful. When I walked into the campus, I was appalled at how nice the campus looked. Unlike all of the other colleges we've toured, Wesleyan seemed to focus a lot on its landscape and greenery, which definitely stood out the most.

During the tour, we learned how unique of a school Wesleyan is. Firstly, Wesleyan has an open-course curriculum, which is polar opposite from Columbia's strict core. This open curriculum never really stood out to me before, as I always thought that I would need a core to keep me focused and attentive. The Wesleyan tour guide, however, convinced me otherwise when he told us that he, as a neuroscience major on a pre-med track, completed his pre-med requirements his junior year and is now working on his senior thesis before beginning senior year. This example definitely showed me that a strict core is not necessary to do well in college. Another thing I learned is that Wesleyan, similar to Vassar, has the "3-2 program" for engineering majors. Something different about Wesleyan is that it is partnered with Caltech and Columbia, which was brand new information for me.

In the span of this past week, I have imbibed so much information about so many different colleges that I can now confidently say that I have a much more thorough knowledge of colleges. There is only so much that pamphlets and websites can convey; meeting in person, however, makes things so much more personal and gives people so much more individual perspective. I've taken a lot out of these college visits and now I can comfortably say that I know what I want in college.

After Wesleyan and lunch, we went to a Cabaret, which was a new and fun experience. We watched a one person show and were completely enthralled with her performance and with the plot of the play. At the end, we came to the consensus that Yale drama students are among the most talented people. I can't wait to see what else Yale has in store for us!

Last Stop

Wesleyan was our destination for the morning after we had breakfast in our hotel.

After a half-hour drive through the suburbs, we arrived at the campus. The ground was still wet with the heavy rain that poured throughout the morning, and we walked around the campus in search of the admissions office. During this period, we were able to freely explore the area and enjoy its wide spans of vibrant, green grass.

Most of the buildings are quite modern; although not quite aesthetically appealing, the buildings - dull as they were - were designed to reflect the weather.

Some of the more animated buildings on campus.

Because we visited Wesleyan on a Saturday, unfortunately, information sessions were not available. Our tour guides, however, were plenty informative in their extensive campus tour and a short chat we held afterwards.

Wesleyan has been need-blind until the recent year due to financial issues; despite this, the admissions process does its best not to base decisions solely on whether a student can or cannot afford to attend the institution. One hundred percent of a student's need is met, however, once admitted.

I am very glad to have visited Wesleyan; in all honesty I have not been aware of the school before we scheduled our tour.

This hectic week of a plethora of college visits have exposed me to so many different types of colleges in a myriad of environments; I've learned that keeping an open mind is crucial.

Later this evening my cohort and I, along with Mr. Litvin and Ms. Kronenberg, attended a cabaret ran by the Yale Summer Cabaret. We watched a performance of the K of D (Kiss of Death), and the entire script was delivered by a sole character. She did a fantastic job, and it was great to experience just one of the many activities that students at Yale engage in.

Tonight, we are packing our bags and preparing to check in tomorrow morning at Yale, where we will begin two weeks of an intense educational experience. We are all very excited and ought to rest up for another two weeks of packed activities and work - this time, however, it will be at Yale.

And at Last, New Haven

After a week of college touring and sightseeing, my cohort and I finally made it to New Haven, Connecticut this afternoon.

The first thing we did was go to Yale for another information session and tour. The info session was held by a charismatic and enthusiastic Yale alumni who gave us more insight into Yale than we expected. We learned about the endless opportunities Yale has to offer for its students, but more specifically, we learned about how Yale tries so hard to main individualism. As we were told, no two people -even those with similar majors and interests - have the same schedules. This desire to maintain individualism really shed a new light about Yale, as before, I was under the assumption that most institution preferred assimilation. We were also given information about how integrated the Yale undergraduates are. For example, in Yale, one does not apply into any specific school (school of sciences and engineering). Rather, she applies only for Yale college, which is the only undergraduate sub-school there is. This is really interesting to me because I like the concept of studying sciences and engineering in a liberal arts school, because while Yale can still provide me with everything I need to do well in engineering, I can still devote some of my time to studying other fields in liberal arts.

Next, we went to an engineering tour (which, I thought, was perfect!). Our tour guide was an ABAT accredited Chemical Engineer who just graduated a few months ago. She showed us all around campus and told us so much information about engineering. I learned that although the Yale School of Engineering is relatively newer, it is still on par with other engineering schools in terms of the opportunities that it offers. This is one thing that I definitely did not know much about, which is why I was all the more excited. Although it is undeniable that Yale is one of the best institutions in the country, not many people are aware of its engineering department specifically, which is one thing that counselors and teachers can work on. Because of this tour, Yale has definitely moved to the top of my list of schools that I want to apply to.

The dinner solidified my liking for Yale because all of the guests told me their different perspectives of Yale and why they like it. They talked to me about abroad studies and research opportunities, singing groups and clubs, and so many other things that just exponentially increased my interest in Yale. No two people talked to me about the same thing, which I really enjoyed. Also, who really helped enthrall me was the admissions officer, Aaron. The advice he gave and the things he said made me inspired and excited to apply to all colleges, not just Yale.

Overall, I found that hearing about first-hand experiences helps a lot more than just hearing about the information about the school. I found that learning about all of the amazing things that our dinner guests are doing in their time at Yale makes me that much more interested in Yale.

After one last college tour of Wesleyan, I start my course in the beautiful school that has already captured my heart. I can't wait!

Noveau Havre

Time is fluid -- people always misconstrue it as a linear machination, a device that has a beginning and an end, and a straight, consistent line between the two. While there are beginnings and endings, while there are straight lines, these are never consistent. Never.

What I mean is that time doesn't make any sense. And I feel this far too much right now.

Today is Friday. I departed from El Cerrito High School 100 hours ago. In those 100 hours, I have made friends, found revelations, reveled in unfamiliarity and leveled in exhaustion. This first week is close to coming to a close. And I am very grateful that I this is how my trip started out. 

Today, we reached the final destination for our trip, New Haven, Connecticut, after a train ride that seemed to take eternity. On the way to our hotel, the Omni New Haven, I observed the surrounding city. The area actually reminded me a lot of home, particularly San Pablo, Richmond, and Berkeley. It was surprisingly familiar but brand new, too.

Dropping off our bags, we set off for Yale. The university was not far away from our hotel, and was a short walk away. We found a large mass of people waiting outside the admissions office. Latching onto a random group, we attended an information session (which was, incidentally, one given by the departing Northern California admissions officer, Alexander Richardson). He covered some of the basics on Yale -- including financial aid (which is partially paid for by the work a student does), the credits system at Yale (one class per credit) and the general character of the student body (friendly and curious).
One of the few buildings on Science Hill.

The streets of New Haven, inside the campus.

This pizza is delicious.
As soon as the information session was over, we made our way back to the admissions office for the engineering tour. A graduate named Taneja showed us around the sciences and engineering buildings, educating us about the many programs engineering students can take at Yale. These was in a system of tiers -- a degree, a dual degree, and a dual degree with accreditation. After the tour, Taneja was nice enough to show us personally to the bookstore and suggest a local pizza parlor. We had mashed potato, bacon, and onion pizza -- an absolutely amazing experience.

My last college-tour meal.
I napped a bit when we returned to the hotel, before a nice, casual dinner (who would've thought?) at the Union League Cafe, where we met up with Yohanna and a few other students and alumni. One of them in particular, Aaron Shipp, was a wonderful speaker with a strong personality and also very funny. As someone who had worked in undergraduate admissions at Yale before, he advised us on the most important part of applying. In regards to the personal statement, he made one major suggestion: be totally honest and be moving. Admissions officers want to be moved and impressed in a short space -- a personal statement written to embody the person who wrote it would not be beaten.

Perhaps it was his delivery of it, but his advice really rung true. I began to devise what I needed to work on soon. 

Aaron left us with one last piece of advice -- "Do not waste this opportunity."

We couldn't have ended this week on a more important note.

New Haven, New Heaven?

We arrived in New Haven after a 1 1/2 hour train ride from New York. The weather here is hot and somewhat humid but not nearly as bad as the weather in Washington D.C. We soon arrived at the Omni Hotel after renting a car from Avis rental cars. We dropped off our baggage and then left to Yale. It's strange that we're touring Yale even though my cohorts and I will be studying here for the next two weeks. The rationale behind this is that we won't be able to tour much due to the rigor of the course, which makes perfect sense.

So when we arrived at Yale's campus, I noticed that the community surrounding it actually resembled my home city. I heard that the neighborhood wasn't the greatest, but for me, I felt right at home. We met Alex Richardson, the former admissions officer of northern California, and were fortunate enough to have him give our information session. We weren't able to have a general campus tour but instead had an engineering tour. After the tour we went to the bookstore with the help of our engineering tour guide, Taneja. We bought our Yale sweatshirts then headed to a pizza store for a quick meal.

We got back to the hotel and had about two hours to rest before the dinner. We walked three blocks down the street and soon enough, arrived at Union League Cafe, a French restaurant. Dinner began accordingly and everyone arrived on a timely matter. The students and alumni from Yale were extremely insightful. To make it even better, two grand strategies instructors, Yohanna Pepa and Grier Barnes were there to join us for the evening. As dinner progressed so did our conversations. Aaron Shipp, a Yale alumni and former freshman counselor shared with us valuable information on the application process.

Aaron emphasized the importance of exposing the depth of one’s true character during the personal statement. He told us that as long as it can reflect the type of person we are, we have a much better chance of getting accepted. We are an individual and our life alone makes us special. This made me realize that although grades and test scores matter, the application doesn’t entirely revolve around that. He also mentioned that if we have a dream college, we should not only dream, but achieve it. His words of wisdom opened my perspective on the college application process and not only that, invigorated my desire to achieve where ever I go.

Most students can agree that Yale has a very friendly and intellectual environment. The campus is beautiful and isn’t overly populated. It is within an urban environment yet still retains a peaceful atmosphere. I will definitely look into Yale as a college option. Will New Haven be my new heaven? I won’t make any decisions while I’m on the east coast in fear that my decisions will be biased. I’ll have to think things through at home where my mind is at peace. For now, I’ll soak in as much information as I can about the college opportunities offered in the east coast.