Sunday, April 29, 2012

When I first arrived at Harvard for Visitas on April 21, I felt like something was tightening in my chest. It wasn't really a good feeling-- I was terrified. I was scared that I had to make a decision soon, that the city I was in was not San Francisco, that I was actually going to leave Hercules High School for good. These things had bothered me when I was at Brown three days before, but at Brown, I was able to tell myself,  "Don't worry. You still have Harvard to visit before you decide."

The minute I stepped onto Harvard, though, I realized that I didn't have the luxury of another college visit before I had to decide. I didn't have something that I could use to continue keeping myself in denial about the fact that I would be going off to college soon. It was scary to have to tell myself, "Yes, you're going to college." (All the while, I felt incredibly, incredibly guilty for how bratty I was being-- after all, I was choosing between two of the best universities in the country, and I was getting the chance to visit both and really make an informed decision.)

Right off the bat, then, my Harvard visit was tainted with some bad feelings. Plus, the fact that I had attended another university's visiting program first also contributed to this.

I tried to keep this in mind while I went about attending the different Visitas activities. I did so much during my three days at Harvard and felt so many different emotions that it wouldn't be possible to chronicle everything without writing several pages. So, here is just a sampling of what I did/felt each day I was there:

Saturday, April 21
President's Welcome- Very traditional, grand, "official" feel. This was off-putting at first.
Regional Receptions- Met other admitted students from California and the Pacific Islands
What I Wish I'd Known- Harvard seniors talked about what they wished they had known going into Harvard. (Very reassuring)
Exploring- I visited many of the residential houses with a new friend and stumbled upon countless mixers and get-togethers.

Sunday, April 22
Visitas Thinks Big- One of my favorite events of the weekend. I listened to some professors who I hope to take classes from in the future.
Pre-Frosh Palooza- Inspiring, but also a bit off-putting like the President's Welcome.
Activities Fair- Super informative, learned about Mock Trial at Harvard and the Radcliffe Union of Students (feminist student group), met fun people.

Monday, April 23
I sat in on three courses: Indian Religions, Human Sexuality, and Environmental Policy.
(I especially loved the Environmental Policy class that I sat in on. Professor John Briscoe made a point of asking the pre-frosh to introduce themselves both to him and to the class, to which the actual students of the class responded with a "Hi" or "Hello" for every pre-frosh. Briscoe was super funny and engaging, and had actually worked on the Madeira bridge projects that he was lecturing about. All the students were participating in the discussion, and many were happy to talk to me about the class, about Harvard, and about how they made their decision. I really don't know what to say about this class other than that it was amazingly inspiring and that I desperately wanted to be a part of it.)

Even though I felt like I enjoyed ADOCH more than Visitas, I had a difficult time deciding because I felt that a lot of the negative feelings I associated with Harvard were due to things that didn't actually have anything to do with the school. One thing, for example, was the bad weather, which I know Providence is also infamous for. The two days I visited Brown just happened to be super sunny and gorgeous. It was rainy and cold, however, for most of my Harvard visit. Plus, I had some bad luck at Harvard and lost a contact lens one day, and also had multiple nose bleeds during my visit. And then there were my initial feelings going into Visitas.

So, to be fair, I never considered my immediate impressions of Brown and Harvard very helpful. 

Today, I decided to attend Harvard and submitted my SIR. I made my decision based on many different things, but here is some of the reasoning I used: 

Brown was generally more laid-back and I liked that,  but I decided that even though I probably would be immediately more comfortable at Brown, I would definitely be able to find people with that type of attitude at Harvard too, plus a lot of other "types" of people. In other words, I felt that the diversity would be greater at Harvard, and I liked that that would force me to branch out more. (This is, of course, not to say that I think the student body at Brown is homogeneous, which it most certainly is not.)

I don't think I got "the feeling" at either school, though I came close to it at Harvard. This is how I explained it to my Harvard application interviewer in a recent email: "It happened when I was on top of the Science Center, looking at this gorgeous view of Cambridge and Boston, with the STAHR club, whose members were so passionate and inspiring. For a moment, I could imagine myself hanging out or doing homework there [on top of the Science Center]. (I also got to look at Saturn through the telescope there, which was very cool.)"

I believe I made the right decision, but I realize that I probably also would have felt great had I chosen Brown. I really did enjoy both, and I really would like to thank ILC again for all the support. I am so grateful and I feel so fortunate. I am so excited! THANK YOU!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Visitas 2012

Howdy Everybody!

You may have read my posts about Brown University's visiting program A Day On College Hill (ADOCH) last week. Now, I will be sharing some of my thoughts on Harvard University's visiting program Visitas, which I attended April 21-23.

Again, here is a photo teaser:


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Good Bye and Good Night

And on the third day, he went back home… That’s right everyone. Sadly enough, today was my last day in Chicago. But as I am sure you all could assume since you know me so well, I was not about to go out without a bang.

I finally caught up on some sleep this morning as I woke up at about 10:00am.  Being a teenager, I still groveled and unhappily stumbled my way to the shower, but I did feel very well rested later in the day. My family and I checked out of our hotel at about 11:00am and we were ready to start our day.

The first item on our agenda was lunch, and as promised, we went somewhere a little swankier than Chili’s. We took the train out to Chicago’s famous Loop and then walked to the always fancy, Tavern at the Park. It may not sound that high-end, but we had escargot as an appetizer, so that has to count for something (Don’t worry ILC, it wasn’t too expensive). 

I had some chicken and mac & cheese, which I am actually still snacking on as I write this blog, but we all got full fairly quickly so it was time to move on and act like the tourists that we were.

Our next stop was Chicago’s Millennium Park: Home of The Bean and many other interesting works of art. Millennium was literally across the street from Tavern at the Park, so that made transportation pretty simple. We found the bean fairly quickly and marveled at the sheer size of the shining object.

We couldn’t even fit the whole thing in our picture

Seeing it was great, but the best part was walking under it. Since you can see your reflection so clearly, you can kind of follow yourself in the bean if you look up as you walk… It may not sound that cool, but I thought it was awesome.

Anyways, after the bean we stopped at the Millennium Fountain for a minute as we recuperated from all of the walking that we had been doing. We figured it could double as a time for a quick photo-op.

Once we were done joking about how it looked like our heads were spewing water, we moved on to Willis Tower (formerly known as Sears Tower). They have a feature of the building called the “Sky Deck” where you take an elevator to the 103rd floor to peak around Chicago and see if you can see another state.

Chicago and Me

Yes, the view from the windows was great, but it could not compare to the experience of the Ledge. The Ledge is a glass box that sticks out 4.3 feet from the tower, so when you walk into it you feel like you’re walking on air 1,352 feet up.

After that rush of adrenaline however, it became time to start heading back to the airport. We walked a few blocks to the train station and rode that all the way in to O'Hare where I am now writing this blog.

As I get ready to board this plane I can’t help but think of all of the great experiences that I have had on this trip. I have had some amazing food, met some amazing people, and seen some amazing sights. Northwestern’s Wildcat Day turned out to be extremely helpful for me and I am so exceedingly glad that I got to come out and take a second look at this phenomenal university. I learned things about the school and the programs that I am interested in that I was completely unaware of before and I would never have learned any of it had I not been able to make it out to Wildcat Day. I explored Evanston and found that the people and the scenery were both to my liking and I simply found that Northwestern as a whole was a great place to be.

The only problem that I still have with the school are the blistering cold winters. I spoke to a few students about how they deal with it and some of the best responses I heard were, “Well, you just try to avoid going outside”, “It’s not too bad. I just wear like a t-shirt, a sweater, a northface, and then a down jacket with long-john’s, jeans, wool socks, and boots that go up to my knees”, “You get used to it”, and of course “It sucks, but it sucks for everybody.” The student who told me that last one also said that his friend from Alaska still complains about the cold, so really it just means that we’re all in this together. If Alaskans are cold, Californians might be a little chilly. And I can’t stress enough how much I dislike being chilly. And to be chilly for about half of the year does not sound so appealing.

Once again though, Northwestern is an amazing school. I love absolutely everything about it, besides the weather, and I could honestly see myself as a student there in the fall. I still have a few days to make my decision, but this trip definitely pushed NU that much higher on my radar. Thank you again to all of the people who made my trip possible and thank you to the people who took time out to meet with me and tell me more about my potential school. Thank you to all of you who have been reading my blogs, and I hope that you have enjoyed following me on my journey through Chicago. As I said at the end of my last blog at Cornell, I am sure you all will be hearing from me when I am rich and famous so don’t be worried that this is the last blog. You will all be reading about me again soon. Thank you so much to everyone who was involved with this, and with that I would like to say good bye and good night to you all....and here are some more fun pictures of the trip.

The backpacks and Pop

Our beautiful family photo at the Sky Deck... in front of a green-screen.

And I think this one speaks for itself

Monday, April 23, 2012

Wildcat Day

Today was the day that we'd all been waiting for... "we" being my family and I. Today was Wildcat Day at Northwestern and it was absolutely amazing.

Our day started at about 9:00am when we started out towards the campus. We discovered that there was a shuttle that would take us from our hotel straight to the student center at Northwestern for free, so that made transportation much more convenient than expected. We arrived at Northwestern at about 9:30am and sat down in Norris Hall for a nice continental breakfast with other accepted NU students who registered for Wildcat day. Of course, we were only in there for about ten minutes before they decided to start moving people into their info sessions for their specific college.

For all of you who don't know, which should be just about everybody reading this, I was accepted to the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. I did not know exactly what I wanted to study when I applied, so I figured the arts and sciences college would be a good place to start. Our Weinberg info session began with a speaker who's only job seemed to be to introduce other more important speakers.

   The Intro Guy

After him, however, came the President of Northwestern, Morton O. Schapiro, and he had some truly inspiring words. He spoke to us as regular human beings and didn't try to use fancy words to make himself and the school sound more sophisticated. He was open and honest with us and told us exactly what he thought put NU above other universities. He openly acknowledged that college is college and that we will all have amazing experiences anywhere we go. He even went so far as to say, "You'll have the same experiences anywhere you go, you'll just have them with different people." However, that was what he used to put NU over the top. He said that because our experiences would be similar anywhere, then it was the people we had to focus on, and he said the students at Northwestern are among the best in the world, not just academically, but socially as well. NU students have more drive in life and are genuinely motivated to do as much as they can within their environments. The president was amazingly straight forward and truly made me want to become a part of this community.

After the info session we walked out into the lobby of the building and spoke with a representative from humanities. I know that I am interested in screenwriting, so I asked her a few questions about the creative writing programs around campus. This woman turned out to teach a creative writing class and soon proved to be the absolute perfect person for me to talk to. She told me all about the options that I had at Northwestern and even made a suggestion to think about changing to the communications college. That is apparently where the screenwriting major is, but it is a very selective program. Because of her I know what my choices are and will be much more prepared to choose my classes if I come to NU. 

Then, after speaking to the woman we headed back over to the student center for an organized lunch with the other registered Wildcat Day students (I know, lunch came pretty soon after breakfast, but they organized it, not me). We sat with another prospective student named Eleanor and a NU senior named Elyse. We sat for about an hour chatting away and bouncing any kinds of questions we had off of the bubbly, outgoing senior.

Eleanor (right), Elyse (middle), and me (that handsome fella on the left)

As fabulous as lunch was however, it didn't quite top the next portion of my day. At about 1:00pm, I met with Stephanie Ny who is an ILC alumni who attended the Yale program with my brother, Matt, back when they were juniors in high school. Stephanie is now a sophomore at Northwestern and agreed to show me around campus with her commentary on everything around. We saw everything from the the gym to the dorms and I even got to sit in on her sociology class with her. The class was fifty minutes long which was much more enjoyable than my ninety minute classes at El Cerrito High School. The class was extremely interesting since we happened to be studying differences in private, public, and boarding high schools. When we looked at the top sixteen high schools in the nation, I couldn't believe that ECHS wasn't on the list. 

Unfortunately, my parents had a financial aid meeting while Stephanie and I were together and my mom was in possession of the camera at that time. I would've loved to post a picture of Stephanie and myself, but if you are reading this Stephanie, I would just like to thank you again for all of your time and help. Your info and company was very very very much appreciated.

After my time with Stephanie, my family and I participated in a Housing Tour where we got a look at all of the different housing options around campus. We walked into Allison Hall, which is mostly made up of freshmen and sophomores. In fact, all of the students who live on campus are mostly freshmen and sophomores. Most of the juniors and seniors either find their own apartments to live in (which are never more than a block or two away from campus) or go to study abroad. This tour gave me a lot of insight on where I might like to live and provided me with information about every dorm on campus.

A fellow student and I following our tour guide

After that, my Wildcat Day was at an end. My family and I called the shuttle again to bring us back to the hotel and went out for dinner at the Chili's restaurant located across the street. Not a very swanky dinner, but we were all extremely tired and the closer the restaurant the better for us. Tomorrow we are planning to tour Chicago a little more and we will definitely go somewhere a little nicer then. As for Wildcat Day, I have to say it was a HUGE success. I loved Northwestern even more than before simply because of all the resources that I know will be available for me and the wonderful people that I know will surround me. If I choose to come to Northwestern I know I will be well taken care of and I am sure that I could be perfectly happy as a Wildcat. 

I will talk to you all tomorrow, but before I go, I would like to leave you with a few more pictures from one of the best campuses in the country. Good night everyone! Enjoy

This is "The Rock". The rule around campus is that if you sleep outside of it for a night then you are allowed to paint it however you'd like (hence the tent). It's current inscription, "I agree with markwell" is in reference to a religious phenom that's going on around campus as of now. I've heard that people have proposed to each other by painting the rock and also that someone painted The Rock like a rock. I think that's the most ironically clever one that I've heard.

This is the Northwestern Arch which greets you as you walk onto campus. This beautiful piece of work is the perfect way for Northwestern to say hello to you and is also surprisingly young. The arch was made in 1993, meaning that it is only a year older than I am. It's a great place for clubs to advertise their events and so you will constantly see posters and chalk on the floor like you do here.

This isn't anything special, but I thought it was a cool picture of me. It was taken in an attempt to snap a shot of our elusive tour guide but this picture only got his leg. It seemed that every time my mom tried to take his picture he would make a turn or walk behind someone. I think he did it on purpose, but who knows. Also, since this is the end of my entry for tonight, I need a creative way to end it, so think of this picture as me walking away from the blog. Fading...fading...fading...gone.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Return of the King

GUESS WHO'S BACK!!! That's right everybody, for three days only, yours truly will be blogging about his return to Illinois where he will get a second look at Northwestern University and explore the wonders that the historical cities of Chicago and Evanston have to offer.

But let's start small. My journey began at 4:45 this morning. It was supposed to start at 4:00 technically, but I guess I slept through the first alarm. No big deal though. I was ready to roll. My family and I knew that we would be going straight from the O'Hare airport to Wrigley Field, so we packed the night before in only backpacks as opposed to suitcases. That way we could go straight to the field without having to drop our luggage anywhere. I would like it to be known, that my backpack weighed only about ten pounds. I couldn't help but feel that Don Gosney would be proud of me.

But anyways, we got to the airport at about 5:45am. I was about ready to fall asleep while standing but I managed to stay awake long enough to board the plane.

Sleepy me and always peppy Pops at SFO

The plane ride itself was smooth and fairly uneventful. I watched both of the Fantastic Four movies and caught about an hour of sleep. My mom, who had fallen asleep between the two movies, woke up and exclaimed, "Oh my gosh, this movie has been on for almost 3 1/2 hours!" That was good for a quick laugh, but that was about as crazy as things got on the plane.

However, when we landed things started to kick off. We touched down at about 12:30pm and immediately raced towards the train station to catch our 2:00pm Cubs game. We had to ask for directions and instructions a few times on how to get to the field and how to take the train, but after all the running, walking, train riding, and bus riding we ended up outside the stadium at about 2:45.

Pop and fully awake me at Wrigley Field

Much to my surprise, when we walked in towards our seats it was already the top of the 5th inning. I thought it might be in the 3rd at the most, but that was ok. The field was amazing and the game was great. Our bleacher seats in right-center field were good...

The Fam inside Wrigley

...but we found it was the seagulls who had the best seats in the house.

You can't see them so well here, but the white dots on the grass are birds who decided they wanted to play for a while. There were about five of them participating at any given time.

Soon, however, the game was over and the Cubs lost: 4-3. It was a real heart-breaker but we knew it was time to move on. The next item on our list: Giordano's Pizza.

I had been raving about this place ever since I got back from Cornell last summer. I told my parents that we had to go and that it would be the best pizza they had ever had. So good, that they wouldn't even be able to take their face away from their food to take a picture.

Sort of like this

Our original Chicago style pizza was so good, I was near tears. They ran out of french fries at the Cubs game so I had been starving since the 8th inning. If I do end up coming to Northwestern, I can honestly say that Giordano's pizza will have been a big part of my decision. You can't get it anywhere except Chicago so if I go somewhere else I might just have to build one in my new city. Plain and simple.

After Giordano's however, our day was pretty much at an end. We found our way back to the train and took it over to the Hilton Garden Inn in Evanston. I had to do a bunch of homework when I got back to the room (since it is technically still a school night) and then began to write this... for lack of a better word, fabulous blog. We are planning to take a shuttle to Wildcat Day tomorrow and find fun activities to do at Northwestern and in Evanston. More on that tomorrow though. For tonight, may I just say that Chicago is amazing and I am so happy to be here. Thank you again for this opportunity ILC. I am forever grateful to you all. Good night! I will talk to you all tomorrow!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


On Tuesday I woke up after a long, fun-filled night and had breakfast with Irene before heading to the academic fair, where I talked to Professor Kenny Breuer again and also explored the booths for engineering, environmental science, gender studies, physics, religious studies, and cognitive neuroscience.

I especially enjoyed the environmental science booth, the only one that didn’t have paper fliers. A couple of other pre-frosh and I were given basically a mini-lecture about how it’s important to understand economics when you’re studying environmental science, since sustainable products can’t be put on the market (and can’t make a difference) unless they are financially sustainable, too.

After the fair, I decided to attend The American Presidency, since I missed the biology course I had planned on attending. The course was interesting at first, but I admit that I started to nod off a bit about half way through, which was probably partly due to the fact that I hadn’t slept much the night before.   

I met up with some other pre-frosh then and mingled a bit before being led to Brown’s indoor track by the Brown Band, which was super fun! I absolutely love the Brown Band. (They also performed at the talent show the night before, and were one of the groups that I considered absolutely inspiring.) All the pre-frosh were given lunch and while we were eating, we were treated to a flash mob!

The activities and club fair was also located in the indoor track, so I walked around the track, stopping at booths for clubs ranging from a political club about Burma to a swing dance club to a debate club.

I adored how open all the Brown students I met were, and how friendly and interesting they were. I stayed at the Swing Club booth for quite a while, just talking to the two Brown students who were there, who were happy to tell us how they narrowed their impressive college lists down and decided to come to Brown for its atmosphere and Open Curriculum.

I realized then that my desire to be a part of this friendly, happy, open, intelligent, inspiring and fun community had definitely grown a lot since the day before.

After exploring the “SciLi,” the science library, and the Computer Science building with a girl I had met at the barbeque, I went to the Environmental Law and Policy class I had been eager to sit in on ever since I got the invitation to attend ADOCH.

It was amazing. It was a small class, (much smaller than the American Presidency class), and the professor was interesting and great at engaging her students. She was covering a lot of interesting topics, and I learned a lot about the statistical “worth” of a person and how this relates to the way corporations make decisions about compensating their workers, or executing product recalls, when there are factory accidents. I also learned about the social inequity that really needs to be understood when one is dealing with environmental legislation, and about how scientific data about environmental phenomena needs to be framed in order for it to become acceptable enough to pass as a law. I really liked the way Professor Caroline Karp constantly said “You Econ people will like this” or “You Bio concentrators would love this,” because it showed that the interdisciplinary element that Brown advertises so much is actually there. That was great, and I told her so after class, when I also asked her about research opportunities and if I could contact her if I had more questions.

Some of Professor Karp’s students had stayed after class to ask questions, and they immediately offered to answer questions for the two other pre-frosh in the room with me. We went outside and sat on the grass for a good 25 minutes, talking about our extracurricular interests, ADOCH, and what we planned to study. They gave honest opinions about their college life, and about internships and research opportunities, as well as club experiences and environmental initiatives going on at Brown. Again, I was really grateful for how willing and eager they were to talk to us.

I went to the ADOCH closing remarks event wishing I had more time at Brown, and actually teared up about four times during the event. Biology professor Kenneth Miller made a touching speech and Brown’s oldest acapella group the Jabberwocks performed.

I left Brown utterly inspired and touched, and though I know this decision will be a tough one, I feel very lucky for having the chance to make this choice and for having the chance to make an informed choice.

I want to thank the ILC for its Fly-In Program. Thank you.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


*Note: This post is about yesterday's events.

I felt like a child staring into Narnia when I first peered through Soldier’s Arch into Lincoln Field. What I saw was a statue of a man sitting majestically on top of a horse in the middle of a green sloping lawn surrounded by brick buildings and pink blooming trees.

This wasn’t one of those stunning, powerful, hits-you-in-the-face moments. It was much subtler, softer. The combination of long, flowing bloom-filled branches and the little carvings in the stone arch was magical.

Such were my first thoughts upon stepping onto campus.

After venturing in, I met with my host Irene Rajos-Carroll and then went to go grab lunch on Thayer Street with my dad before heading back onto campus for the ADOCH STEM events. (Thayer Street reminded me of a cleaner version of Berkeley, and that kind of ruined the magical vibe for me, just because it seemed too normal and familiar.)

I first went to an informational breakout session for the Engineering Department, where my dad and I toured the general engineering workshop area. I was disappointed by how outdated most of the equipment was and generally found this tour to be rather lackluster, except for the parts where Professor Kenny Breuer, who was super friendly and accessible, talked about the projects he and his students were working on. The project he spent the most time talking about was also the most interesting, and it was one on bat flight. I got to see the containment area where they test the bats’ flight in different environments (underwater, in a wind tunnel, etc.). Unfortunately, the bats weren’t there at the time, so I didn’t get to see them. I also attended a student panel about research as part of the STEM program.

At this point, I was starting to get excited about Brown, but I wasn't nearly as excited as I had expected or had hoped to be. I certainly couldn't see myself at Brown yet.

After walking around campus with my dad for a bit, I said goodbye and went to attend the barbeque ADOCH had planned for the pre-frosh. I sat on the grass with some girls I met in the food line, and we ate and talked and laughed and took pictures with Brown’s mascot Bruno.

We then walked to the opening ceremony, where we were greeted with an enthusiastic “Welcome, Brown Class of 2016!” followed by an enthusiastic roar of applause. I really took a good look around and thought Wow, we all went through the same process. We all made it! This sounds a lot cornier than it felt, and this event ended with a hilarious student-made video about pop culture references to Brown and various reasons why we should attend Brown.

The two questions constantly asked and answered among the pre-frosh during ADOCH were “Are you committed to Brown?” and “Where else are you considering?” I came to ADOCH knowing that I would basically choose between Brown and Harvard. Ever since I decided that these two would be the universities I would choose between, I’ve been having “Brown days” and “Harvard days.” When I arrived at Brown, I had been having “Harvard days,” but after the ADOCH welcoming, I was more or less a jumbled mess again.

The rest of the night was spent bonding with new people I seemed to be meeting every 10 minutes. We went to a talent show, followed by an ice cream social, a comedy/improv show, a Queer Alliance social, and The Block Party. The performances at the talent and comedy/improv shows were funny, entertaining, and inspiring. They really were inspiring. The dancers were so into their dancing, and the emcees of the night were funny and made me want to be like them. The improv group that performed was brilliant, and I started finding myself really wanting to become a part of this environment where everyone seemed to genuinely love doing what they were doing.

I still wasn't sure about where to go, I hadn't gotten "the feeling" that supposedly helps people decide where to go to college, but I was definitely enjoying myself. I went to bed in my comfy sleeping bag both exhausted and excited.