Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Start of Something New

Check-in bag (check). Carry-on suitcase (check). Backpack (check). Alright then. My mother, father, and aunt were helping me make sure that I have everything ready for my trip to the East Coast. But before that, the Cornell and Columbia cohorts arrived to El Cerrito High School by 3 AM this morning. We all rallied together around Don as he explained to us the importance of following directions, being on time, and keeping communication open among all of us. Afterward, each cohort took their group photographs to commemorate our bravery for waking up so early and as a final photograph of us in California. After saying my final goodbyes to my parents and aunt, our shuttle arrived at approximately 4:30 AM  to whisk away to the San Francisco Airport. 

We are flying high now
I never realized that so many people would come to the airport so early. Fortunately, the line was moving at a fair pace. Once I figured out how to check in my luggage, my cohort and I raced over to the TSA check in line. I was feeling slightly frazzled by the quick pace of this line, but I made it through. However, my government issued ID somehow left my person as I tried to catch up with my cohort. Thankfully, one of the employees found it for me and my worries were eased. After acquiring sandwiches and beverages for the imminent flight, we crossed the terminal and boarded our plane with enough time to spare. While sitting in the runway for the quite some time, I realized that there is no turning back now. All the essays, interviews, dinners, and meetings have prepared me for this journey. Suddenly, my moment of inner thought was interrupted by the roaring of the plane engines as it quickly raced across the runway. Before I knew it, we were in the air. The cities, homes, deserts, and grasslands below did not look real to me. Rather, they appeared to be holographic projections. As we soared higher and higher into the clear blue sky, these images shrunk in size and the only thing I could see were the white, bulbous clouds. After a slightly bumpy ride, I found myself immersed in the city of Chicago.

Rushing over to the baggage claim
Four hours did not seem as long as I thought it would be. I am glad that I arrived safe and sound in this exciting city. After reclaiming our luggage from the carousel, we exited the Midway Airport and entered a local travel shuttle, which transported us to the Drake Hotel. Hearing how elegant and luxurious this establishment was only made me excited to see it for myself. In the meantime, I was able to get a glimpse of the vast metropolis that is Chicago. For one second, however, I felt like I was in San Francisco, especially since all buildings and roadways appeared the same to me. Soon enough, the shuttle dropped us off at the Drake Hotel. I entered the lobby with a dropped jaw. The lobby, hallways, and ceiling fixtures were far more spellbinding and elegant than I anticipated. Even more so were our rooms, which were so spacious and well decorated. 
The Drake Hotel entrance

The Drake Hotel lobby

Jenna, Michelle, and I sharing the same hotel room
After we got a chance to relax for a couple of hours in our rooms, Mr. Chan-Law took us out to lunch in downtown Chicago. I could not believe how many establishments are just a few blocks from out hotel. Everywhere I turned I saw skyscrapers one after another. Luckily, we found the Water Tower Place, a multi-storied mall, and decided to enjoy our afternoon meal at the Foodnice Restaurant. Its classy interior, unique form of payment with temporary credit cards, and varying selections of food ranging from sushi to barbeque was so pleasantly different from the restaurants I dined in back home. Despite the numerous choices offered, I decided to take the rare opportunity to enjoy a Chicago-style pizza as my entree. Once we cleared our plates, the seven of us roamed further downtown. There were some many sights to see that I just had to take a photograph about every five minutes. Here a couple of examples:

Making our way downtown
Out of all the places we visited during our stroll, Millennium Park was definitely my favorite. Not only was the park so clean and vast, it was composed of so many facilities including a concert hall and a gigantic mirror known as 'The Bean'. I could not help but compare this glorious park to the quaint Refugio Valley Park.
'The Bean' of Millennium Park

Around 6 PM, we began our return back to the hotel. Frankly, I was relieved when Mr. Chan-Law gave us three-day bus passes to use for the duration of our stay; it certainly saved us about another two mile walk. This first day in the windy city has truly been a long and memorable one. I am now very excited for tomorrow when we visit the University of Chicago and have the first of three elegant dinners. 

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