Thursday, July 21, 2011

Thank You Forever

Cornell was magical, and anything I write here will never do it justice, but I shall try.

My experience with the ILC started in sophomore year, when I decided to apply since I had a couple of older friends who recommended it. It also just seemed like a “thing to do” for someone with good grades at my school. I applied and wrote essays for several schools before I was accepted by the ILC for the University of Pennsylvania program. I was not accepted by the actual school and ended up exploring other interests that summer. I applied for ILC again my junior year. Still, I was applying because I was being told it would be a great experience and because it seemed like the “thing to do.” But this time around, I was also applying because the whole thing scared me. I liked the feeling I got after going through the tough ILC interview sophomore year and I hoped I would succeed and feel that sense of accomplishment again.

I had never learned anything about hotels and business before, and I was pleased to realize that I get excited about subjects as different as environmental science, art, and hotel operations. This program gave me a taste of how much more is out there, how much more there is to get excited about. Besides all of the actual hotel and business concepts and the Microsoft Word and Excel concepts that I learned, besides the gorgeous universities I learned about and visited, besides the opportunity given to me to make friends from all over the world, yes, besides all of that, I learned to trust myself.

I didn’t think I was capable of living far away from my family. I had always seen myself as dependent, dependent in every way. But I thrived and I loved living away from home. I loved waking up in the morning and going to class because I wanted to. I loved doing little things like remembering to always check if I had my keys and if I had locked my door, because there was no one else to pick up the slack. I loved being able to walk out of my dorm room and walk to the library or to the art museum without having to tell anyone. I loved planning when I would study and when I would slip in fun time. This was all very exciting, and I am proud that I did it. I now know that I can do it. I realize Summer College is different from real college, and I know that real college will be much, much, much more difficult, but I now trust myself enough to know I will be okay.

To all future ILCers: This is what this program gives the students who participate in it. This is what you get from being in the ILC. You will like yourself more at the end of the program because you will be more confident. Again, remember that this is besides all of the other amazing things you are given, like dinners with admissions officers and college visits, tuition for class and support during every single aspect of this process. You will cry on the airplane ride back because you will not be able to wrap your head around how much people are willing to help and give you. The ILC likes to say that in return for all this, students have to blog and go to various ILC events. They like to say that that is “the catch.” It will not make sense to you how this is a balanced tradeoff because it isn’t. It really isn’t.

The actual course, Hotel Operations and Management, is beautiful in itself. You will adore your teachers Mark and Reneta and I am sure they will pick wonderful TAs like they did this year. Mark and Reneta are both incredibly dedicated to teaching you the basics of the hotel industry, and will do whatever it takes to answer your questions and make sure you understand. And you will want to understand! They love their craft, and it shows during lecture. They are also incredibly dedicated to you. They will have lunch with you, they will give you advice on applying for college, they will give you advice on life. They care. The TAs will have lunch with you. We even went bowling with our head TA. I'm sure any of the courses offered through the ILC will be taught by brilliant and beautiful people, as ours was, and that you will feel brilliant and beautiful for being a part of it. I'm sure that at all of them, you will meet people who are genuinely and completely in love with what they do. I don't know about you, but meeting people like that makes me so hopeful.

If you are scared to apply for ILC, that’s good. Do it anyways. Or better yet, do it because you’re scared. It’s beyond worth it. You will never regret it. These words won’t mean anything unless you go for it. (So go for it!) I will be talking to many of you prospective ILCers at the beginning of the coming school year- don’t hesitate to ask me any questions at the presentations that will be set up or anywhere when I see you!

Yueming Wang called her ILC experience “life-changing.” Mine certainly was. Seriously. These 3 and a half weeks have been so significant to my life, I can’t even comprehend.

I have probably blogged about this before, but the most significant and invaluable lesson I learned from this entire experience is that people are so much better at adapting and finding ways to be happy then they give themselves credit for. Granted, it didn’t take much to be happy at Cornell. But on a personal level, the sheer freshness of this experience and the happiness that came with it made me realize that I can do anything, anything I want. And I can be happy doing it.

Attending Cornell Summer College as part of the ILC made my experience all the better. It introduced the new dynamic of having to make friends while keeping “old” friends from ILC, many of whom I had actually only met a short time before. I was also lucky to be there with our chaperone Ms. Tiffany Neal. Even though I loved the independence, it was nice to know that she was there for us. She also took us places during the weekend and was amazing to talk to. She is a very warm and accepting and beautiful person who gave loads of great advice during this trip.

I will definitely be applying to Cornell for college this coming fall. I also got to experience “that feeling” for the first time when we were at Northwestern. This feeling I am referring to is the one you get when you can definitely see yourself going to a particular school. I got that at Northwestern, and now I know what to look out for when I visit other schools.

Thank you, thank you, thank you. Thank you times a million, ILC. Thank you Mr. Ramsey, and Ms. Kronenberg, and Don. Thank you to our sponsors. Thank you, thank you. Thank you Ms. Neal. Thank you, WCCUSD. Thank you WCCUSD School Board, for caring enough to make sure students are part of a college-going culture and for allowing students to help make that college-going culture. Thank you, Ms. Ishmael of Hercules High School. Thank you to all the teachers at Hercules High School.

Thank you Mark and Reneta. Thank you to our TAs Gorka, Shuang, Sam, Patrick, Chelsea, Brandon, MacKenzie and Karli. Thank you to the friends I made at Cornell and the people who just said hi to me in the dorms. Thank you to Joe, Vivi, Nick, Taylor, Kevin, Jobel and Kelly.

Thank you to every single person who has touched this program or who has touched me during this program. Thank you.

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.

A Midsummer's Adventure (You Haven't Seen the Last of Us)

If you are not a fan of cliches or cheesy writing, I suggest you stay strong for the next five minutes and keep on reading.  And if you are a fan of those, prepare to get sick of them pretty soon.

So, I have been putting off writing this for quite some time now, and by putting off, I mean, I have been thinking about it.  About everything that has happened over the past four weeks and what any of this means.  This journey of thinking has taken me across the town to my childhood neighborhood to a special hill of my own to lie on the grass and figure out what is different between the sunsets here and the sunsets there.

To be honest, I am hard pressed to find much of a difference.  Except the fact that it feels different -- that things have changed.  And they really have.

So why don't we start at the beginning?  Let's wind back the clock, oh say, eight months.

Before Anything?
It is now around November and having come from the Ivy League Connection seminar hosted by last year's delegation (Chris, Jacky, and Beilul) I decide, "Hey, why not take a shot.  Not that I will get anywhere, but what the hell?"

Two weeks later:  "Congrats son, you got in!"  Yeah I did not see that one coming.

Skip ahead a few days and through the scary interview process -- I was third to last since we were all going in alphabetical order.  Once I was seated in the chair and I spoke to the interview board, I began to feel comfortable answering and actually started enjoying these questions, despite the lack of my knowledge of the hotel industry (and to be quite honest, of the course), I managed to get away alive and actually, smiling.  Who knew I would be doing that a lot the next eight months?

Move a season ahead, it is now April and May, and everything seems to be ILC-related this month.  Don's training session, the University of Chicago visit, followed by a dinner at Town Hall.  Yes, the events were piling up and the trip was getting closer and closer.  Still, it seemed like an eternity away -- I had so much that I was still dealing with, so much to think about in regards to school and friends, Ithaca was still so far away.

June came by like a howling wind and effectively ended the school year, flying us to El Cerrito one last time for a visit with Northwestern University before finally departing for Chicago.

Chicago and the Universities
Staying up the entire night in order to be prepared for my trip did not seem such a difficult task.  However, as the plane took off, so did our energy, and I personally fell asleep for a good portion of both flights.  Not that I have any complaints about that -- it turned out alright at the end.

I believe the main thing that Chicago taught me was that it was vitally important that I started to look at where I was going to go after high school.  I had never been on a college tour or planned out any of my future education plans beforehand, nor did I feel the need to, but after seeing how great Northwestern was and how different the University of Chicago was, I felt like I began to develop a basis for what I was looking for in a college, what kind of environment I wanted to be in when I left high school.

Another positive of being in Chicago -- being there during some of the best events, such as the Taste of Chicago.  I finally got to see Millennium Park after much convincing was done with our chaperone.  And it was certainly worth it.  We had a good time while learning a lot more about ourselves in the process -- it was a key part of the trip, but we're not at the good part yet.

Cornell, Ithaca, and Lots and Lots of Red
Red bricks, red sweatshirts, red hallways and banners.  No, I am exaggerating how red Cornell was, but it is a pretty accurate description of what one would see around campus any given day.  And I don't think I would have had it any other way.  Cornell turned out to be such a beautiful campus, and to anyone reading this that has not been there yet -- visit and explore, I implore you.  From Libe Slope to the Plantations to the crypts and the many great facilities, you will not be disappointed, that is, if a large campus is your kind of thing.

The dorms were, well, just as I expected them to be, actually.  My room was a bit small, but it never really seemed cramped.  The dorm lounges were air-conditioned and often filled with kindred spirits, which made every late night an enjoyable one.  Of course, it was a little hard to get used to the large bathrooms shared by 150+ guys on one floor, though it was not a hard transition at all.  Friends often kept the halls filled with piano music, and there could always be a party found on the first floor lounge.  All in all, the dorms, in my experience, were great places to be.  I enjoyed my room and I enjoyed the many facilities around the area.

That being said, I had to work around my schedule to where I managed to get enough sleep, eat, and get work done in a day.  I never actually wrote down my schedule, but in my mind, I kept the times as precise as I could from day to day.  In effect, I learned how to organize time for myself in a meaningful fashion, and it kept my daily routine as efficient as I could make it.

Class turned out to be just as rigorous as the past students made it out to be.  From the get-go, Mark and Reneta McCarthy made it clear that there was little time to cover the amount of content they would be covering, thus we would have to work hard to get through all of it.  And they were right, we did have to work hard, the content moved quickly and the lessons were unyielding.  And they also turned out to be right about getting enough sleep, which I did not get enough of to be honest, and I suffered for it.  But it is all part of the lessons I learned.

Along with that lesson was the lesson of working with a group.  While the other groups seemed to have a working structure going, we were rather scattered in a way.  In fact, there was a lot of tension running around in my group, and it caused a few arguments here and there and while cool heads prevailed, I can't say that we weren't happy that we were done working with each other when the three weeks were over.  It taught me a valuable lesson in dealing with other people and how to get such a diverse group to work as a unit and put together projects we could be proud of.

Of course, there is off time, much of which I spent wandering around the area simply exploring.  I watched Shakespeare's "As You Like It" at the Plantations, I slept on the grass in the Arts Quad with a friend, and I went with a small group to the Ithaca Farmers Market and heavily enjoyed sampling the local foods.  And, just as importantly, we found a group pastime - Bananagrams.  I bought the game off a recommendation of a friend back home in Chicago, and I managed to get several of my friends hooked on it.  All in all, I would think it was a good way to spend my relaxation time.

I think the most important thing I gained from living in Cornell for those three weeks was that I learned how to live.  Learned how to act on my own, be on my own, make decisions and meet people on my own.  That, I feel, is a certain sign of independence and growing up, something that has changed my life for the better.

Look at All the People
Obviously, I have to cover the great people I have to give a few sentences to the people I have met since I left for Ithaca.  First off, my roommate Harley -- one of the most interesting people I have ever met.  He was full of some great stories and I have to thank him for being such a great and understanding roommate, as well as a great friend.  Then well, there are all my friends -- Tarina, Kaan, Missy, Sam, Kevin, Andrew, Leo, Dylan (and I apologize if I did not mention you here) -- I do not think I could have met better people there to be with , and I thank all of you so much for being so wonderful.  We will meet again, someday, I promise that.

There is the school staff of course, my RCA Aaron and HR Jude, as well as the rest of the Donlon Hall staff.  My group, Deedee, Pearl and Andrew, I thank you for working with me.  Of course, Gorka, Shuang, Patrick, Sam and the rest of the TAs, I will am very grateful for everything they have done for us.  And of course, Mark and Reneta, hands down, two of the best teachers I have ever had, thank you so much.

Then of course, my cohorts.  Genevieve, I will always remember the violin playing in the closet, secret languages, and the understanding nature you always had.  Taylor, of course, with your love of soccer and how every college must have it, as well as your love of random YouTube songs during long blogging sessions and all the funny comments you had.  Nick, for being a baseball fanatic who, while quiet, was a very great roommate in Chicago and strangely, had a lot more in common with me (from what I observed) than many would think.  And Joe, I will always remember our first real conversation on that train ride to the centre of Chicago and the great jokes since then, and of course, getting back into your room at the Drake.

Now, my Hercules cohorts, the ones I will see on a regular basis after all of this.  Kelly, with her crazy, wild-eyed obsession with frozen yogurt and subtle childlike qualities that made her so much fun.  Kevin, probably the bravest guy I have ever met.  He is willing to go in front of the entire class and flaunt it and show that he was the one who had style.  And then, there's Teri.  What can I say?  She is wonderfully weird, unceasingly happy, incredibly irritating and annoyingly good-natured all at the same time.  And I am beyond glad that I joined this program, if part of the main reason was meeting her.  Ever since we first spoke so many months ago, I have made a very good friend, and even before the trip, I wouldn't trade this experience for anything, just because I have made a good friend.  Just because I have made so many good friends amongst my cohort.

My Thanks

Well I would think that I have given a lot of my thanks already, but in case I have not made it clear yet, thank you so much to my friends, my cohort, my teaching staff.  I would like to thank Ms. Kronenberg, Mr. Ramsey, Don Gosney, and of course Ms. Neal, without whom we would have been blind and helpless wherever we went.

I would also like to thank the doners and assure them that they have given to a great cause.  And I would like to thank all of those that continue to read through the blogs, despite my incessant droning.

Cornell has been a fantastic experience - brilliant, in fact.  I have met more people, made more friends, been to more places, than I would have thought possible a week before I went to that fateful seminar.  I don't think I could ever forget any of what has happened here, but if I do, I swear I will come back and read this over again to remind myself.  It has been an experience of a lifetime, one that has changed me completely.

So for one more time, thank you to everyone!  And one last time, I bid all of you adieu, and I advise you to keep on watching -- this is not the last you have heard from me, or from any of us.  I promise you that.
Signing out, in style.