Thursday, July 18, 2013

A Moment to Reflect

As I am sure everyone who is affiliated with the Ivy League Connection will agree, time definitely flies too fast. It has only been a few days since I have returned home from my three weeks in the East Coast. Before I elaborate on how incredible the experience has been, I would not be completely sharing the story if I did not talk about my journey from the very beginning.

Since I was a freshman, I heard about the Ivy League Connection from my mother, who was researching the organization and urging me to join, and from a family friend, whose daughter, Belul Naizghi, participated in the program a few years ago. The idea of being apart of this group was very interesting, so I decided I would participate. When I was a sophomore, and officially eligible to apply for the ILC, Mr. Don Gosney came to Hercules High and gave an information session about the entire organization and all the benefits of being apart of it. I was so excited to apply, but one important thing I learned that year was to only apply for a program if you are truly interested in it; which was not the case for sophomore year.

Junior year, however, was a different story. Last October, Don returned to Hercules for this year’s new applicants. I was determined to join, and fortunately, I found the right program to apply for: Freedom and Justice. I am interested in law and after researching the subjects the course covered regarding the history of Western political theory, I was even more determined to earn my seat in the program. First, we needed to write two essays: a pre-essay explaining why we want to join the ILC and what we will give back to our community afterwards, and an essay regarding our views on the “ban the box” movement. I checked, double-checked, and triple-checked my essays because this was the only program I wanted to get into and did not want to ruin my chances. After succeeding in the essays, it was time to survive the dreaded interviews. I was so intimidated by the other applicants because they were all exceptionally talented and worthy of being selected. My nerves reached all new heights as I waited for my turn to be interviewed. Fortunately, all that pressure faded once I told the interviewers my name and began answering their questions. But of course, all the nerves returned just as quickly while myself and the other applicants waited outside the room where they deliberated. We were all called in, and my heart was beating a million times a minute, while my brain was already preparing myself for rejection. Suddenly, a miracle occurred: my name was the first called, along with Tamilyn’s and Jenna’s; the Freedom and Justice group was selected and I could not have been happier.

The time between then and our trip felt was perhaps the slowest and longest period of the journey. While many of the ILCers scrambled to submit the final forms of the official applications, we needed to attend several milestone events as preparation for our excursion. From the blog tutorials to the elegant dinner with Cornell alumni at One Market, to the city council meeting, each event was very helpful in teaching me how to comport myself during the dinners with college alumni and that my actions on the East Coast are reflective of my school district, and I did not want to squander my role as an ambassador.

Inevitably, the day of departure arrived and our descent to Chicago was nine hours away. By 3:30 AM, the Cornell cohort stood in the cool air surrounding El Cerrito High School, waiting for our shuttle to whisk us away to the SFO Airport.  I would be lying if I said I was completely eager to leave home for three weeks, but I knew I needed to do this so I could grow as a student and as an independent person.
We're in Chicago!
When we first arrived to Chicago, we were all shocked and amazed by the elegance that was The Drake Hotel. Mr. Chan-Law did not want the Freedom group and the Hotelies to just room with each other, so he mixed us up; my roommates were Jenna and Michelle. Despite the issues we had with the Drake’s internet connection, I am glad we are able to get along so seamlessly as we stayed up late blogging and waiting for each other until our photos successfully uploaded on Media Fire.

Our three days in Chicago were action-packed with sight-seeing, college tours, and fancy dinners. On the fun side, we visited Millennium Park and Navy Pier, a couple of the city’s tourist attractions. Both were so amazing. But our main purpose was touring the University of Chicago and Northwestern. While visiting both such prestigious universities, I realized that I prefer a college where there is a good sense of community and the campus is not too vast.  

Throughout the entire stay in the windy city, I never felt my stomach growl with hunger. It seemed that the restaurant’s food portions and presentation increased each day; but my favorite out of them was Les Nomades. During the dinners, we met with admissions officers and alumni, who were so eager to answer our questions about their experiences at the colleges. For the first time, I did not feel like a child who was merely sitting there silently eating my food. Instead, I was viewed as an adult, whose questions were respected and welcomed.

While Chicago was very enjoyable, it was now time to head to Cornell to begin our courses. Ever since I was accepted by the ILC, I envisioned what the campus would look like and what my experience would be like; what I thought was just a fraction of the real thing. Regarding the course, it was simply intriguing all throughout. When Don first gave us our reading materials before the trip, I was a little intimidated by the many philosophers we needed to comprehend before we even stepped foot into the classroom. But once the course began, my perspective completely changed.

The very moment class began, I was captivated. Professor Kramnick’s lectures, even though they were an hour and a half long, were always so engaging that falling asleep was never an issue. On the first day of class, I had the honor of having lunch with him and several other students. During that time, I got a sense of just how intelligent and interesting Professor Kramnick was as a professor and as a human being. 

Professor Kramnick, a man I am truly honored to have learned from
From the teachings of the New Testament to the policies of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcom X, I learned such a wide array of theories from so many philosophers; my perspective on the political theory definitely widened as a result. The class was even more enjoyable when we met with our TAs and fellow classmates in discussion section, where thorough talks about the philosophers’ theories and our interpretations of them were openly shared.
My TA Nolan, the first and best TA I will have
My TA Nolan was such an intelligent man who was always so willing to help all of his students by thoroughly grading our final essays and being so helpful in answering all of our questions, no matter how tedious, during his office hours. What I learned from day one during section was that every single person in that room had insight and was not afraid to show it. Realizing this, I became more confident in myself to actively participate and share my thoughts without fear of being wrong.

Through this course, I was able to meet and make friends with so many diverse people. Not only did I meet people who live just thirty minutes away from me in California, but I met a couple of girls all the way from Turkey! They were all so pleasant to be around and I am honestly going to miss being around them. We exchanged contact information, but it will not be the same as sitting across from them in discussion section or them sitting behind me during lecture.

My dorm room on Day 1
Initially, I was frightened by the thought of spending three weeks in a residence hall with people that I did not know. But I am glad that I had this experience too. Even though I was assigned a single on the fourth floor of North Balch, I never felt alone. Everyone on my floor, including my RCA, was so welcoming and their doors were always open, making it easy for us to talk whenever we passed each other. Moreover, Jenna lived on the same floor as me and Tamilyn and Michelle were just a floor down, so I did not need to worry about being all by myself.

I am very happy that I achieved my goal of overcoming my shyness and meeting so many new people. But even more importantly, I am glad that I was able to grow so close with my cohort. Before the trip, we all briefly got to know each other from when we first met to set up our blog site to when we were waiting outside of El Cerrito High. But once we reached Chicago, our bonds began to deepen as we explored the Drake and the windy city together. Despite our hectic schedules once our classes started, we were still able to hang out with one another either for dinner at RPCC or on the weekends at the Ithaca Commons and Niagara Falls.  
Tamilyn, Tomi, and Michelle (sorry that I did not have separate pictures of each of you)
Keep laughing Rochelle!
Even though I had a familial relationship with them at school, I believe my friendships with Tamilyn, Jenna, and Rochelle grew immensely. I did not know Michelle or Tomi before the ILC, but now I am so thankful to have met them because they are both very funny and intelligent. In addition, I am thankful that Mr. Chan-Law was our chaperone. Not only was he was always organized during our time in Chicago and our weekend excursions, his humor and caring nature added to my enjoyment throughout the entire experience.
Last time I will be in class

It has been about four days since I returned from Cornell, and not much has happened. My time on the East Coast feels like a memory now, but it will definitely be one that I will never forget. I will miss waking up in my dorm room at 7 AM, walking to class with Jenna, learning a bounty of knowledge from Professor Kramnick, having engaging conversations with my TA Nolan and my classmates during section, checking in with Mr. Chan-Law and the whole cohort, and checking in for bed at 11 PM. Through this experience, I have been able to grow as a student and as an adult. I took care of myself while setting my priorities and managing my time to the best of my ability so I could succeed academically and socially. I cannot wait to share this story with others so they learn as I have. To my RCA, floormates, Professor Kramnick, Nolan, and classmates, thank you for making the trip all the more memorable. To Don Gosney, Mr. Charles Ramsey, Ms. Madeline Kronenberg, the donors, and everyone affiliated with the ILC, thank you for all the hard work you guys put into giving me and all of the ILCers the privilege of having such an incredible experience. 

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