Thursday, July 21, 2011

Expand Your Borders

It is hard for me to believe that the ILC experience has followed me for nearly eight months. And throughout those eight months, I have realized a tiny bit about life each time I have done something related to the ILC. When I look back into the mirror that is “December 2010“ and the one shimmering in my bathroom today, I absolutely do not think that the reflections are two different people. While I don’t think that I have actually changed as a person, I can certainly say that I have grown as an even wiser one.

In the few hours before we departed for Chicago, I was downright nervous. While I was absolutely excited for what new experiences I would come across, this was obviously something new and I was not exactly sure of what to truly expect. But once we were in the shuttle towards the airport and on the plane, each minute felt like one less sliver of nervousness and one more sliver of excitement.

While the experience at Cornell was nothing I could have possibly imagined, the visit to Northwestern University in Evanston is something that has perhaps changed my views completely. Before stepping onto campus, I had my college career set already. In fact, some people may even argue that my college career is hardly anything.

Even with all the opportunities like the dinner with Cornell alumni, I have always been skeptical of the university system. I have always been under the impression that it is entirely and unnecessarily pretentious. I have constantly questioned “Why on Earth do people spend thousands & thousands of dollars for what is essentially a piece of paper?” Not only do the costs shock me, but so is the highly competitive nature of the application process. I believe that everyone should have access to the best education tools out there, and if they want to reach out and receive them, by all means should they be able to. When I always hear these stories and statistics about how SAT scores can make or break a student’s chance at a good college or that the acceptance rate is well less than 10%, it saddens me that people who obviously want a good education are basically being shut out by these schools. In a way, it is as if the high creams of the crop are getting more cream while the low stocks are just left out to hang and dry. It also bothers me when people believe that it’s either the “university way or no way” and that community colleges are for “losers” and “high school squeezers.” I have originally considered going into a community college and I absolutely believe that it is a perfectly viable option. I have many good family friends who have gone into community college and have left as very successful people.

However, discovering and learning about Northwestern University just opened new windows in my mind. Exploring the campus and hearing these anecdotes by the students made me realize that there is a completely different life I would be missing if I didn’t attend a university. While education is absolutely important to any school, you have to keep in mind that this will be a student’s home for the next four years. In retrospect, while those years seem like a simply small portion of a life, they are a huge chunk and a turning point in the time of a young adult. Being able to see, breathe, and hear Northwestern firsthand made me realize that this culture is something that is too good to pass up. I consider myself a very exuberant person, and the activities, friends, social life, and adventures that are to be had in college are the things I want to experience in life. I want my home to be a place I love and I certainly want it to be larger than just a simple bedroom and kitchen. The campus and its people don’t make up a four-year college, but a four-year home. And all of that is simply too good to pass up. While I may not actually go to Northwestern in the future, it will always have a special place in my heart for making me realize that perhaps the best things in life are to be had in a university.

The trip to Chicago simply prepared me even more for what a pseudo-college experience would be like in Cornell. Not only was I skeptical of the university system before I left the west coast, but I was skeptical of Cornell’s Summer College program when I set foot in Ithaca. In the first few days, it felt more like a summer camp in which our residential advisors were our counselors and that nightly check-in was our bedtime. These were bad tastes in my mouth that I was hoping to wash out. But once we actually set foot in the classroom for the first time, I felt this odd sense of comfort. I knew that this was something I was going to enjoy for the next three weeks.

I absolutely loved the class. I honestly think that if I was in any other Summer College program, I would be bored out of my mind! That is because the course was nothing I have ever experienced. I knew going in that this wasn’t going to be some typical history course or math session, and I was certainly not disappointed. Learning the small and minute details of running a hotel was so different that every second of the class kept me entertained.

The class was definitely rigorous. However, the course was designed in a way in which someone who has never heard of a Holiday Inn or Hyatt would certainly learn at the same pace as someone who has actually worked at one. I will admit that when I first started the program, I never knew what Ritz-Carlton even was! So would I say that the course was actually hard? Not in particular.

To do well in the class, you didn't necessarily have to be smart at all! All of the skills and knowledge you learned to master throughout your years of elementary and high school? Forget about them! If you wanted to ace the course, you needed to show work effort and an eagerness to learn. It was never about trying to outsmart the student next to you or to get that perfect grade. In my eyes, the grade in that class didn't even matter! The whole program was meant to be a learning experience, and if you felt proud in what you worked on and excited in what you learned, the grade you get should only be an afterthought.

The whole three weeks was an adventure in relationship building. I made very good friends in the class and we have certainly shared tons of laughs. What is perhaps the most charming (albeit vulgar) thing was the inside joke that the entire class shared. One day, Mark McCarthy, one of our professors, asked us to show our "right-click finger" to him. Now, unless you're a "Southpaw," the finger commonly used to right-click on a mouse is the same finger used in a very rude gesture. This was an ongoing gag that occurred throughout the class that basically symbolizes the down-to-earth attitude of the students and professors. The phrase was so impacting that our course packet even had references to a fictional "Right-Click Hotel!" We have even made a few class photos in which we made the gesture to the camera! What is perhaps the most ironically heartfelt part about the gesture is that we all bought t-shirts as a class that said "Show me your right-click finger!" on it.

While we would constantly joke around (Mark McCarthy included!), we certainly settled a learning environment. I will never forget the day we had to do our group presentations in front of 70+ people. At that point, I was very comfortable with the class and so standing in front of the crowd didn't startle me as much. But the high pressure and high steaks of going up there and knowing that your professors were grading every single word, second, and inch of the presentation was quite intimidating. Because I felt our group put in the best effort it could, my emotions changed as soon as I got up in front of my peers and professors. Because I was proud of what we made and what we were about to deliver, I didn't even care about how the professors were going to grade us. We put in our all and quite honestly, I have never felt so proud of an assignment as I was of that presentation. The dedication we placed into that was unmeasurable and when I look back at that moment, I wonder if it would ever be impossible to recapture that same effort again.

In the end, the experience was something absolutely grand. I certainly believe that it has made me an even stronger person than before in both spirit and mind. Without this opportunity, I would have never been able to visit the amazing campuses of Northwestern, Chicago, and Cornell, and I would have never been able to meet new, exciting, and incredibly amazing people. It has allowed me to change my views on college and these three-weeks has potentially shifted what I will be planning for four years. The relationships I have gathered throughout the program are ties I hope will never break and will cherish for a very long time. The skills I have learned both in class and outside of class are ones to never be forgotten as well.

I believe that it is always important to expand your borders one way or another.
And I believe that I have expanded each and every one.

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