Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Finding Something New

Alright, let's be honest here, if you're reading this blog right now you're giving me 3 more lines to judge whether or not you should just skim through my blog, or read it through for its entirety. And unless you're my grandma, my aunt from Singapore, or that one random viewer from Scandinavia, you probably won't do the latter. They say only the most valiant make it to the end, so let's see which one of you brave souls that turns out to be.

I left my simple Bay Area home as a wide-eyed, confident, and spoon-fed student from WCCUSD. I honestly couldn't wait unitl the day I could leave home for this trip and finally become my own independent person. ILC veterans had warned me about the abundance of intelligence on the east coast, but since I had no doubt of my own academic ability, I was left unfazed. In my mind, I was a big whale in the open sea, surrounded by an abundance of krill to eat. "Intense" workload? Psh, no prob, we do that in school. Blog every day? Simple enough. Make friends and socialize? Oh, come on. I had no doubt in my mind that my whole experience would be a breeze; if anything, I'd come back only feeling slightly challenged, and more independent.
The first few days of the trip were a blast. Our time was mainly spent sight-seeing, eating, and bonding. We were all overwhelmed by the freedom that we had with food choices, time, and sleep. It was amazing, and this was the time period where my cohort and I really got to bond with one another. We were all just bouncing on jellyfish, enjoying each other's company and having a good time, with no stress attached whatsoever.
Reality began when we finally reached Columbia. I was immediately overwhelmed with the amount of intelligence emanating out of my classmates during group discussions. Everyone that spoke up had such a smooth, and well-thought out opinion of whatever point they were trying to present. They all walked in with so much pre-acquired knowledge on politics; it was as if they had been studying this topic since birth. I had some classmates who had all twenty-seven amendments memorized, while I could barely recall five of them. I was surrounded by national debate champions, junior-politicians, and students from the most elite private schools in the country. Not to mention, the workload was intense: about 1-3 hours worth of reading every night; it was definitely not the standard I was accustomed to. The fun and games were over; I touched the nematocyst of the jelly-fish and was stung. I was left pained by the realization that I was no longer the big whale; I was just another measily krill in fear of becoming engulfed.
As time went on however, I eventually grew out of my intimidation stage and tried to take advantage of this opportunity to learn from my classmates. Occasionally, I'd muster up enough courage to actually speak up and contribute to the conversation, and honestly whenever I did, it felt amazing. It took me a while to realize that these people weren't necessarily "better" than me, they were just more privileged when it came to educational opportunities. Sure I don't go to a magnet school or some boarding school in Korea, but that doesn't mean I can't learn as well as they do, or achieve lesser than they do. Rather than fall into the trap of becoming swallowed, I pushed out of it, and as a result, came out stronger.
Even with my new-found attitude toward the class, this is not to say that everything suddenly got easier. I had to learn the hard way that there is a fine balance between your leisurely desires and your academic duties. It is so tempting to disregard your homework for a while to go hang out with friends. Time management is an absolute must--otherwise, it'll be at the expense of your precious sleep (and quite possibly your sanity).
My social life basically revolved around my cohort. I had a bit of a difficult time making new friends, most particularly the type that you'd hang out with, but I was completely content with what I had. I never feared that I'd be eating alone because I always knew Mark, Izabel, or Deborah would be just a single text message away. My cohort and I developed into a literal family, with Izabel as the dad, Deborah as the mom, and Mark and I as the mischievous twin children. We went from the most proper and awkward individuals to the most insulting and closest bunch that you could ever find. All of our personalities were so different, yet by the end of the trip we were four peas in a pod. I cannot even begin to describe the mad love I have for my cohort. They are all the real MVPs, and I know that our relationship will last long past our time together in the east coast.
I fell in love in the east coast. And don't worry Don, I did it on my own time. On the train ride to Conneticut, I expected just another college tour; I really didn't think I'd become so attached. But the moment I stepped foot onto the Yale campus, that's when I knew it was for me. Something about it just felt so right. Was it the community that turned me on to it? The location? The majors? The architecture? Maybe it was all of the reasons aforementioned combined, but I just know that I haven't been the same ever since. I've become so motivated to do greater than great, to excel and go higher than I had ever gone before. I'm going to work as hard as I can to get into that school, and do whatever it takes to become the best possible version of me.
The Ivy League Connection program is a meteor that left a crater on the landscape of my life. I have returned from this experience feeling incredibly humbled with greater expectations and ambitions for myself. I have learned to push myself to my limits and become independent. And I've connected with people I normally would not have connected with had it not been for the ILC; I now have 3 new best friends whose friendships will last a lifetime. Thank you to Don Gosney, Madeline Kronenberg, Mr. Ramsey, and all the sponsors who have provided me with this tremendous opportunity. I used to think that I was working hard for SOME college out there, with no true destination in mind. Now that I've found exactly where I want to go, I am going full-speed ahead towards that goal. I also have never been more eager to have the school year start; I truly cannot wait to be a catalyst in my school to raise the academic standard for our students, and open their minds to exploring universities outside of California. WCCUSD, I will make you proud.
On a side note:
Shout out to my grandma who is the only one, to my knowledge, who actually read through every single one of my blogs. Whenever she'd call the first thing she would always say is "I saw your blahg! You hab bery nice pikchor! Don't get fat ha!!" Means a lot to me grandma, means a lot.

Thanks for following my journey and experience through the east coast. It's been a blast writing all of these blogs, and I hope you've enjoyed reading them.

"Why follow in someone else's footsteps when you can make your own?" 
- Ghandi

It is now August 3, 2015, a little under 2 weeks since the trip, and I am truly feeling the impacts of my Con-Law class.

On recent news, there has been protest against government funding for Planned Parenthood, because of their fetal tissue research. This honestly really frustrates me, as it seems that the opposing side is just trying to knit pick and find another reason to unjustify abortion. Personally, I am pro-choice, and I will openly debate and stand for my point of view.

Now, this is weird. I'm not one to become involved in the craziness of controversiality, but I really feel serious about this. I believe in abortion. I feel that other people shouldn't try to take it away just because of their moral or religious beliefs. I believe that it is a woman's choice to have a child.

Before, I would simply dismiss any controversial topic presented to me, and let those who have to deal with it, deal with it. But now, I actually feel compelled to become educated on these topics, and prepare myself for any possible debate that comes up in casual conversation. I get EXCITED to argue with someone about something I believe in. I now have a passion for my own personal political views--heck before, I didn't even have political views. Again, thanks ILC for changing me into a more informed, interested, and educated member of today's society.


I heard about the Ivy League Connections Program long before I had the opportunity to apply.

I was a freshman in high school, new to the area, on my way to an away match for tennis. We were waiting on our Singles 2 player to get out of "some presentation for some program." As soon as she came out, we bombarded her with the normal,  curious questions and she patiently explained that the presentation was for the reputable "Ivy League Connections program". I didn't think much of it then, but it sounded like a cool idea, and I stashed it away in the recesses of my mind. 

Flash forward one year. I was a sophomore and both my brother and I had been invited to the Ivy League Connections presentation, after which we were both enamored by the prospect of free travel, food, experience, and education offered to us by Don Gosney, the program's equally enamoring salesman. But from there we took very different paths. He, the more responsible and diligent of us two, finished his application early and proceeded to nag me about mine. I, on the other hand, waited until the last minute to get all my forms in and write my essays. 

Needless to say, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out who got in and who didn't.

My brother came back from his program enlightened and excited about life, eager to take college by the hand and guide her to the future - his future. Meanwhile, I could only watch from afar and admire. The Ivy League Connection had offered far more than it had advertised and in my ignorance, I had missed out. Despite feeling like I had shot myself in the foot, I sat patiently and waited for a second chance to apply. This time, it would be different; and nothing could stop me. 

When the first emails from Don about the program hit the masses, I eagerly ate up every word. There was no way the program could escape my grasp now. And so, I wrote my essays and paid my dues. Somehow, it got me an interview. I remember thinking about answers to every possible question that I thought that they'd ask me and practicing them in the shower.

The actual interview was nerve-wracking - your average sweaty-palm hysteria complete with friendly overtones and cutthroat undertones. All that was left for me now was utter triumph or devastation - a wasteland of woe and disappointment. I attempted to convince myself that there was some middle ground but the paths were clear. 

My heart soared the second my name was called as one of the chosen few and my eyes may or may not have bugged out. Elation is not extreme enough on the scale of emotion to describe that secret recipe. 

Thus began my love-love relationship with the Ivy League Connection program.

I won't pretend that it miraculously fell in my lap, because I would have got in the first time if that were the case. But I still find it hard to believe that such an amazing opportunity like the one that the ILC provides even exists. I regret nothing and cannot go on enough about how grateful I am. I'm thankful for each one of the sponsors who helped pay for each and every student's trip and for the people who helped coordinate it. I'm thankful for the tireless workers in the program's figurative backstage and for those in the stressful spotlight. I'm thankful for Ms. Madeline Kronenberg, Mr. Don Gosney, and Mr. Charles Ramsey. I'm thankful for the people I was able to meet whether it was school alumni or the people in my cohort. I'm thankful for the food - oh, the delicious food! *swoons* I'm thankful for the knowledge that the trip equipped me with for the upcoming years in both the traditional sense and the non-traditional. I'm thankful for everyone that supported me and my fellow ILCers along the way and for those who read my blogs, goodness knows y'all are soldiers.

My cohort was so wonderful. Mark, Alyanna, Izabel, and Ms. Thrift: you made the trip more amazing than I could have ever asked for and I love you all so dearly. Initially it was terribly awkward; let's be real, it was. But then, all of a sudden, it wasn't. And now, I consider us to be one big, happy, (slightly dysfunctional) family - cream of the crop.

Being a part of the ILC program made me realize things about myself, the world around me, and the people around me that were always there but that I'd never taken the time to think about. It taught me the virtues of friendship, second chances, and a good cup of coffee. I have been so incredibly blessed to experience some of the wonders of this world in such a short amount of time and to even be given that chance in the first place.

At the end of the day though, I'm sure to plenty of you reading this, you've already read the same thing a thousand times before, just in different words. I'm sorry to say that I can't offer anything new or refreshingly insightful on what the ILC gave me. I can, however, say this: That's really what the point is. As long as the ILC program is going, it will continue to spread smiles across the country and give kids like me once-in-a-lifetime experiences. It will continue to change lives and it will continue to influence even more. The torch is passed down from year to year but the flame is no less bright. And with each new inquisitive soul that is somehow touched by the ILC's magic wand, it gets even brighter. I just hope to be useful as a tool in this process, sharing my story with others as many of those have done before me and stoking the fires of the future with the passion of the present.

Long live the Ivy League Connection!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

I am Truly Blessed

Writing this blog has been quite difficult since I am finding it hard to put into words how thankful I am to have been a part of the Ivy League Connection for two summers. Before the ILC, it’s sad to say that I didn’t think a 4 year college was realistic for me, my views have since dramatically changed. I no longer have that mindset, now I think about the college I want to go to

I have seen a transformation in myself since returning home just a couple of days ago, I feel like my goals have been put in prospective. I was blessed by this program in many ways. During my trip I began think to myself how I can help someone else experience the same growth I went through during my time in the east coast.

Now that I am back I am planning on spreading my knowledge with as many students that are willing to listen about all the colleges I visited. The students in my school could surely benefit from knowing that when it comes to college there’s more out there in the world then just colleges in California. I will be happy once every student in my school knows they have options.

Perfect first day 
During my time in Columbia I felt like I was not at the same level academically as the rest of the students. The way I chose to view this disadvantage was as a learning experience. I was open to listening to my classmates and kept an open mind to their interpretations of the law. By the end of the class I felt like I had learned so much from just listening to my class discussion I felt like my views prior to that class were limited but that has now changed.

Joyce was a marvelous chaperone from whom I learned the value of art in all of it glorious forms. While we walked around museums she would stop and talk about a painting or a piece and tell me something new that would just put a new perspective on the piece. I was glad I had Joyce -- she added so much to every conversation about art, theater, even current events.

I felt like I became really close with all of my cohort members. The ILC did it again -- they connected me with five amazing people from whom I have learned. I learned from each in their own way. I think it’s a little funny that we have already planned our reunion. Indisputably the friendships I made added to the college experience. I am just happy I get to bring my friendships back.

I want to thank Don Gosney for being crazy enough to take on the challenge of managing the ILC and for making this program possible. I also wanted to give big thanks to the sponsors who believed in the students. The ILC is all about giving back and that’s just what I plan on doing!

Experiences With the ILC

Before I actually start, I want to use this paragraph to thank Don Gosney, Madeline Kronenberg, and Charles Ramsey. These three individuals play instrumental roles in progressing the city of Richmond and I hope they continue to do so. Not only do these three work in the political aspect of things, they also do phenomenal jobs in educating and inspiring our youth in doing amazing things.  

The ILC has, to put it simply, helped me grow as a young man. I've learned the basics in acting in a professional environment, the importance of responsibility, and useful time management skills. Along with developing these attributes, the ILC has also helped instill in me a stronger sense of confidence and independence from the homely hills of El Sobrante.

Now I could go on and on about what the ILC has done to me on the personal level, but that's not what it's all about. The founders of the Ivy League Connection constructed this great program with one singular purpose: giving back.

Being able to study constitutional law at one of the most prestigious institutions in the country really opened my eyes to a huge issue that surrounds the students in our school district. After being able to work with many students on the east coast, I started to realize how much more ahead they were in terms of academics, maturity, and attitude towards current events, I was stunned by how easily and how thoroughly each student could browse through each case, while at the same time formulating intricate opinions on them. Thoughts started to flood my brain asking why were these kids somewhat "better". I found the answer in the difference in the academic standards that we WCCUSD students are set to and the standards that the more privileged districts set their students to. I find that the standards that we at home set our kids to are too low compared to students of more privileged backgrounds. 

What I plan to do with my new experiences is to share my experiences of the college life to my peers back at home and possibly with the help of a few, voice out the main issue that surrounds our educational system: the bar is too low. With some of my new experiences, I plan on working with my school administrators in De Anza in raising the academic standard inch by inch in order to give all students an equal opportunity to compete at the state or national level. Sound difficult? Yep, but it's not impossible.

For the past two years, it seems that De Anza has sent the smallest number of students to participate in the ILC. That needs to change. A few of my friends who have participated in the ILC this year have also decided to re-establish the Ivy League Connection Club at De Anza as an effort to increase student interest in the ILC and even help promising ILCers with the application process. Not only will we be doing ILC related things, but we hope to help contribute to the college going culture in De Anza as well.

One of the key lessons while being a part of the ILC is the importance of getting your opinion heard. It all started at our ILC dinner in a restaurant called Prospect, located in San Francisco. I had the privilege of sitting next to former school board president, Charles Ramsey. Mr. Ramsey told me about the importance of opening your mouth and letting your voice be heard by stating that,"Closed mouths don't get fed". Those words were forever embedded in my mind. As a student leader on campus, I really took this to heart. I first showed reluctance in voicing out my opinions on subjects  involving school activities and ROTC but Mr. Ramsey's advice changed all of that.

Being involved with the Ivy League Connection truly was a life changing experience. Only a few people get to experience this once and a lifetime opportunity and the ILC continues to make these opportunities available for the hardworking students of our school district. Once again, I'd like to thank the ILC for making such huge differences in the lives of young men and women. It's because of programs like the ILC where students find the urge and the dedication to be successful and strive for nothing but success.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Traveling with Friends

While driving back to El Cerrito I posed a question to the group, what was the best memory you had of the trip? Well I had to think really hard to answer that question. I began to think about my trip as a whole, I stated with the beginning. The first couple of days where in my opinion the best because I made friendships that I could bring back home with me. On the first night of our trip the best memory I have is going into Safeway and everyone in my cohort being so excited to buy an entire cheesecake. I sill can’t believe that all it took to make us happy was a cheesecake.
I still find it hard to believe that we visited so many places like the monuments in Washington D.C., the monuments where just astonishing to look at. Walking around the city felt so romantic in the sense that the air was warm, the fireflies were out, and the city felt awake at night. One of my favorite places I visited had to The Met museum in New York because I was just put in awe by the creativity placed in one building. There was one picture that is still stuck in my mind; I hope to go back one day to see it again.

The food in New York does not compare to anything I have ever experienced. I can still remember my cohort reactions after eating at our favorite restaurant for the first time and just falling in love with the food. Personally I think that the conversations after the food made the experience even better. Joyce always asked why we were so quit during our meals, to answer her questions we were enjoying our meals to much to talk. The food just as amazing as the people I shared it with.
I learn valuable lessons from the people I met on my trip. The couple I met on my plane ride to Washington D.C. contacted me about a week ago to inform me that they read my blog and where put in tears by the kind words I had to say. It was nice that they contacted me to tell me how their trip went and to tell me the end of their story, by the end of their journey they chooses to move to Texas just like I had hoped they would.

The first day of class, I felt so intimidated by my classmates since they seemed to already know so much about constitutional law. The intimidation did not last long and by the end of the course I felt like I had learned as much as everyone else. In class we learned about the power of freedom of speech the lesson carried out of the class when I would meet people from different countries who did not have that same right.

I had a real sense on independence in the city. Columbia is a great school and I can’t wait to talk about college when school starts and some on my senior classmates might want to know more about a college in a busy city. While I was in Columbia I felt like I always had something to do in the city whether it was going to a Broadway Show, Time Square, or a concert. My summer was full of new experiences that I felt like I learned so much from. My summer was fully diverse with experiences and people.

The trip as a whole was just wonderful. I tried my best to just try new thing whether it was music, food, or activities.  I felt like I like succeed in my mission, I never had a doll moment. During the trip I felt like I keep getting closer with my cohort members and I am glad that I had other people to share my experiences.

Looking Back

Back where it all began.
Just weeks ago I boarded a plane bound for the east coast of the United States. I left home as a young man with no real foundation in my future and in what I actually wanted to make a career out of. Originally, my main goal was to just enlist in a branch of military service instead of an attempt to apply to college. I left home pretty absent minded in what kinds of colleges were out there, as I was strictly secluded into thinking that the only colleges that were going to take me were the UCs. Little did I know, that in the course of only 3 weeks, that that would all change.

My desk wasn't always so dirty
For many years, I've been so acclimated to classrooms with lower academic standards. Needless to say, I was one of the "top dogs" in a small kennel. Upon arriving in Columbia, I realized that I was rather a small chihuahua in a caged filled with Labradors with a lot of bite. Bearing witness to the higher standards that these kids are set to made me upset. I asked myself questions pertaining to why were these kids somewhat "smarter", was it the higher academic standards, or was it the inner thirst to learn? I wanted an answer, but now wasn't the time to find it.

There were nights where I only had a few hours sleep. There were nights of pure frustration due to the heavy load of homework and the juggling between ILC related criteria and school. Needless to say, I prevailed. The frustration and sleeplessness did take a toll on me, but I'd say it was a positive one. As a result of all this, I found myself managing time more wisely than before and I saw an significant increase in my work ethic. I've developed my fundamentals in public speaking and debate. And thanks to the help of Michelle Chun, found a great love for constitutional law.
Back home!

Floor Buddies!
Although it sounds like all work and no play, I had an awesome time with many new friends. I'll never forget staying up until sunrise with my floor, playing card games and loading up on pizza and Insomnia Cookies. Or getting lost in the streets of Harlem while on a Monday night jog with my floor buddy, Kevin! I'll never forget how we always got high......on laughter!

The most memorable moments I've had from this trip were always with my cohort. Whether it be sticking a tampon up my nose (don't ask), getting my eyebrows plucked, my fingernails painted, or getting lost in Times Square, it was a grand time regardless. We created our own little family; Izabel being our dad, Deborah being our mom, and Alyanna and I being the two obnoxious kids. The fact that we all came from different schools only made our bond stronger. Everyone had something new to contribute to our group discussions and it was really interesting to get a glimpse into the different realms of each other's high schools.

I came home a completely different person. I had changed physically as I had surprisingly dropped a few pounds and mentally. This trip taught me the huge importance of time management, responsibility, and double espresso energy drinks on a late night cram session. The taste of the college life helped me build my sense of independence from home and my sense of responsibility. My confidence has soared beyond the skies along with a knowledge in my constitutional rights!

Most importantly, I returned home with a mentality to change some of the issues back at home. I may sound blunt, but after working with many of the students on the east coast, it became obvious that the standard set for us students in the WCCUSD is too low. I'm not trying to start an anarchist revolution, but rather to make sure that our voice is heard to ensure that the bar is raised so every West County student can compete academically on the national and international scale. I firmly believe that just because a student comes from a less privileged background, it doesn't mean that they have to think like an idiot. Anyone can be the next Aristotle or the next Thomas Jefferson, they just need to be able to be held to that standard so they can aspire to be like one.

The Final Curtain Call

At the end of the ballet Cinderella, each cast member took an individual bow, and they all gregariously united for a "final" cast bow. The curtains closed, and everyone thought it was over, when four of the main characters mischievously erupted out of the main curtain for one final bow. The lights dimmed, and that's when the audience knew for sure that the show had come to a close.

The gang in front of Columbia!
My morning began at an extremely early 6 AM. I gave my room one final tidy, bid my roommate a rather melancholy goodbye, and headed down the speedy elevator for one final time. I walked through my dorm's basement lobby and tried to recall all the fun times I had hanging out with my frien--HA, kidding, these moments of recollection are inexistent. I never actually hung out in my own lobby. I typically tried to walk past it as quickly as possible and observed those who actually did have friends in the building to "hang out with".  Attempting to avoid this awkwardness is the reason why I started taking the stairs mid-way through. Nonetheless, I will never forget the torture I endured by forcing myself to go up twelve flights of stairs every day, or the friends I made who put themselves through the exact same thing (Alex from the programming program on the tenth floor I will never forget you!). I walked out of Carman Hall's sketchy concrete-garage entrance for the last time feeling grateful to have had such a memory-filled building. I feel that each of my fellow cohort members had a similar individual "goodbye dorm building" experience, signifying our very first bow.

At exactly 6:50 AM, my cohort assembled at the Alma Mater, and later met up with Ms. Thrift and Rosie for the shuttle. During our wait, we had a quick conversation with the coolest security guard out there, Pericles! He prayed that we would have a safe flight back to California, and that we'd finally escape the drought. We even took a selfie with him!

Pericles the security guard!

Happy to say that I slept for about 80% of the flight!
After our shuttle, we headed towards JFK International Airport and endured our 6-hour flight. Taking off from the runway in New York signified our second bow as a group, as we were leaving the same way that we arrived: together.

Despite  our flight being delayed for over an hour, we eventually made it back home. Once our shuttle back to El Cerrito pulled up, we entered and braced ourselves for the heavy traffic taking place on I-80. This ride back was our last moment together on the trip, and I'm happy to say that it was spent reminiscing about all the wonderful times we spent.
When we arrived at EC, I immediately spotted my father's car in the driveway, as well as the notorious Don Gosney's mini van, and was immediately delighted. After taking a few snaps and talking about the trip, we all parted ways. Well temporarily, that is.

The final goodbye hug <3

We have the best poses, I've gotta say
When I got into the car, my dad surprised me with my favorite beverage: Taro flavored bubble tea! It was really great to be back. I've never felt more grateful to be driving on I-80 in traffic heading towards home. The first thing on my agenda when I got home was to jump into my bed and just breathe and smell the scent of my own sheets and room. Well, apparently I couldn't do that. On the car ride home, my dad told me that "oh, by the way, I moved a few things into your room while you were away." I was expecting a few boxes or books or any other type of small items, but what it turned out to be was a pile of all the things that had been previously harbored in a small closet downstairs--I couldn't even walk through my room! I joked with my dad "so is this what's going to happen when I go to college? You're going to turn my room into a storage closet!?!?" He just chuckled at me.

Since agenda item #1 wasn't a possibility, I moved onto the next best thing: a shower. Man, that was probably the best shower of my life. Not having to wear slippers or not having to worry about anyone else using the shower after me was AMAZING, not to mention the water pressure was great! I seriously just missed home so much. (The only thing I have left to worry about now is water conservation for that little drought we have. I would say that this statement is kinda raining on my parade, but I realized I can't since we haven't had any.)

My dad eventually relocated all of his things, so as soon as the opportunity became available I just passed out on my bed, uncertain if I would ever get up. I missed my bed so much, as well as my blankets and all my little stuffed animals (don't judge). Being away seriously made me appreciate my home so much more, it's really a great feeling.

Missed my little Panda Prod1gy!
As we take our final bow, we look back to all the wonderful memories, priceless bonds, and precious moments that we all shared together. It's been a good show, Columbia Cohort 2015. 
*lights fade into darkness*  

Long Story Short

Throwback to Ivan!
Prior to my trip to Columbia, I had no idea what getting the "college experience" meant. For some strange reason, I had automatically assumed that it was generally the same for everyone - a beautiful, perfect coming of age story where people discovered their friends and their identity.

Was I wrong? Not necessarily, no, although I wasn't completely right either. Unbeknownst to me, this "experience" came with its pitfalls and mistakes. It wasn't always pretty and it wasn't always easy. 

From the very beginning I had tricked myself into believing that I knew what to expect from "it's not going to be easy" and had pushed it aside. PSH. I could handle difficult. I could handle blogging. I could handle homework. Little did I know, I wasn't nearly as durable as I thought I was. Many a night I spent in my dorm room, trying to snatch at any last morsels of creativity in my brain to use for my blog posts or for my short papers, occasionally, to no avail. I struggled to understand and apply mathematical concepts my teacher taught us in class, something that I wasn't used to. 

But it was those kinds of challenges that helped me appreciate the program and the people around me even more, and it was an experience like no other, one that I wouldn't trade for the world. 

The first day of the program felt like the first day at school. I was nervous and awkward (not to say that I'm not now) but I was determined to meet new people. Sticking my hand out and introducing myself was one thing, but sticking with the conversation when it dialed back down into uncomfortable silence was another. There were so many people there, so many cultures, so many different worlds. I was merely blessed with the opportunity to be exposed to a few. At first, it felt strange and unpleasant. I wasn't able to integrate into the world of high school kids the way I had done so seamlessly beforehand. I remember calling my family and being asked by my older brother, an ILC alumni, "So did you find your group of friends yet?" I could only reply "You mean my cohort?" Gradually, though, I was able to find them - maybe a little later than I wanted - and I learned how to put myself out there in the process. 

A real gem.
It is imperative to mention though, besides my friends, my main community was my cohort. Whenever I wasn't hanging out with someone new or by myself, I hung out with my cohort. It got to the point where we poked fun at each other and banter was a must. I kind of liked how we all came from different schools. No one came with pre-formed relationships or baggage of some sort within the cohort and the friendships that were formed were all-new. I think we all still remember the first day in D.C. where we got back to the hotel to write our first official blog on the fly with our Safeway haul like it was just yesterday. 
Brian, Jason, Me, and Tiara (from left to right)
The class I took was not only about the logistics of business but also the beauty. I realized that Professor Mesznik's methods of teaching, although seemingly random, were purposeful; economics and finance can be found in so many forms in the world. There is no limit to its applications. And so, while, I'm not completely positive business is what I want to go into in the future, I'm so glad I took the class. It was an eye-opening experience and I felt that there was so much variety in the teaching. I learned important terms and formulas, but I also learned about real-life situations through history, about extreme cases and their cause and effects.

Responsibility and initiative really were some of the biggest things that the program taught me to prioritize for myself on a personal level. While I'm still working on it, I am so glad that I was able to hit with the beautiful whiff of reality that Columbia was. And overall, my trip at Columbia taught me that the taste of independence is not sweet, nor is it bittersweet. You just can't quite put your finger on it.

It is simply acquired.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Back To the Bay

I stayed awake all of Friday night going into Saturday morning. You might be asking yourself why? Well I spent my last night talking with the girls in my suite about what they were looking forward to going back home. I also did some of the girl’s makeup for the last time. I will miss the long nights we would all stay up talking about our day. In my suite there was a girl named Zoey who had the biggest personality that I had met on my trip. On the last night I stayed up trying to help her pack up her room. Once the time hit 3 AM I decided it was time for me to start packing. I don’t know how I managed not fall asleep. While I was packing I had a hard time understating how I managed to fit so much into one suitcase.

 After I finished packing I decided to lie down, 20 minutes later I was awaken by Deborah calling me asking if we were still going to meet up early.  With panic I got out of bed very fast a hurried to place my suit cases outside.

My roommate suffers from fatigue so she found it hard to stay awake and say good bye. I managed to wake her up long enough to hug her and kiss her goodbye. I told her I would miss her. I hope that my roommate in college is just like her because she was perfect. First she could fall asleep with the lights on, second she did not keep her side of the room clean which meant that there was no expectation to keep my side clean, and finally she would talk in her sleep which was quite entertaining.
Joyce was waiting for us in the front gate by 7 AM. I asked one of the gate keepers to take a picture of the group in front on the main gate. When we finished taking the picture he stated to talk to us about faith. He gave us a good final speech as our good bye.
When we arrived to JFK international the only thing in my mind was hopping that my suitcases did not go over the 50 pound limit. I got lucky and passed by 2 pounds. I was glad I was TSA approved and did not have to take my shoes off.  We had to wait an hour before our plane boarded we took advantage and ate breakfast. When we finally entered the plain I fell asleep right away. I woke up an hour later only to find out we were still on the tarmac. I slept for most of the flight. I was happy to arrive at SFO until I found out we had to wait even longer on the tarmac. All the waiting just made a long flight even longer.

On our car ride to El Cerrito we talked about are favorite memories of the trip. I found it hard to choose just one. I told my cohort my favorite memory was us sitting in the restaurant in Philadelphia. I was my favorite because we were all together just talking to each other laughing with no worries in the world.  

Don was waiting for us when we arrived to El Cerrito, It was nice seeing a familiar face. Some on the parents were waiting while others were on their way. My cohort said there good bye to each other we even had a group hug. The good bye was not sad because it did not feel like it was going to be the last time we saw each other.

My parents were happy to have me home and I was happy to see my parents. I was feeling sick so I took NyQuil which put me to sleep until the following morning.  My long days travel ended with a good night’s rest.

Crossing the Finish Line

The night melded into the morning the day that we left. I had planned on only staying up to talk to one of my best friends on the phone and explain how wonderful my trip at Columbia had been, but by the time we had finished our conversation I knew that I wouldn't get much sleep. When I had finished packing and getting ready, Tiara dropped by my room to say goodbye. Instead of something shorter, we ended up having an hour and a half long and only partially conscious conversation about life, relationships, and the future. It's a little cloudy in my memory but we were both determined to milk time and space for all its worth.
"Left a good job in the city..."

Mark, Alyanna, Izabel, and I congregated in front of the huge steps of the Low Library for the final time at 6:45 in the morning, although we were all a little too dazed to feel nostalgic. Not to worry, nostalgia would have its time. We were greeted by Ms. Thrift and Rosie - her daughter - who were impressively perky given how early it was. Pericles, a sweet and good-natured security guard, conversed with us and bade us a genuine farewell (only 15 minutes after we met him) before getting back to his own duties. 

The second I got into the airport shuttle, I knocked out, and when we actually arrived at the airport I felt that I would again at any given moment. My heart sped up a little when my bag was checked, for fear that I would go over the dreaded 50 lb. weight limit, and I let out a little sigh of relief when the scale magically read 46. 

The plane ride itself was long and dreary; the rain delayed our trip for an hour but I had already fallen asleep by the time we took off. Throughout the whole ride, I drifted in and out of sleep. Mark was a good sport about letting me use his shoulder as a headrest because the seat's built-in headrest wasn't suitable for my height.
Although I didn't get to share my experience with anyone new on the ride there, it was great to talk with Mark (when I wasn't sleeping). I had sat next to him on the plane ride to Washington D.C. on the first day, and I couldn't help but laugh as I recalled how awkward it had been. We didn't know each other and the formalities had yet to disappear. But now, after braving the journey together, it was so much more comfortable and familial. All of us had grown closer to each other and an irreplaceable bond had formed. 

Getting off the plane and stepping back into the world I once knew was surreal. I was almost thankful that the drive back to El Cerrito High school had traffic because I couldn't come to terms with the fact that the trip was almost over. El Cerrito High School - oh my beautiful beautiful school - was a sight for sore eyes, as was Don, sporting his usual attire. 

The goodbyes and pictures at the school were brief but heartfelt, and we all agreed to hang out and keep in touch. This, for sure, was not goodbye, not even on a physical level. We'd see each other again. 

Oh yes, we would. *rubs hands together ominously* 
Bringing it in. 


I'd say that my Saturday started off at 12 AM on the dot.

I first started my packing routine by laying out everything needed to bring on one side of my bed and irrelevant items on the other. I neatly packed everything together and weighed my luggage on the basis of whether I was able to lift it up with one hand. An hour of depressing luggage packing went by until a knock on my door interrupted the cold silence. My friend Max was at the door, asking me if I wanted to hang out in the lounge with the other guys on our floor for a few rounds of "Cards Against Humanity". We all had an amazing time laughing at the cruel and heartless answers we all shared in response to the not-so-innocent questions. After nearly choking on a few Insomnia Cookies, getting locked out of my dorm for one final time, and deafening laughter, we all decided it was time to start packing up and say our final goodbyes since there would be no guarantee seeing each other the next morning. 

Oh Alma Mater!
6:50 AM hit the clock and I was down by my good friend, Alma Mater, one last time with my cohort. We waited for barely a few minutes before we received a message from Ms. Thrift saying that she and her daughter, Rosie, was at the meeting place awaiting our arrival. While we awaited our shuttle, a security guard by the name of Pericles came up to us. We chatted with him about our experience for a bit and he told us a bit about himself. Pericles gave us insight into his life, having been raised in an impoverished society and coming to New York to find success. Our shuttle arrived a tad bit late, around 7:05 AM, but before we left Pericles said a prayer for our safety and rain in California. As we all loaded ourselves onto the shuttle, I shook Pericles hand and told him that I'd keep his story in mind when I run for president one day. We both shared a friendly laugh and parted  our separate ways.

Even before we boarded the plane, I already could tell by the thick clouds and heavy downpour that it was gonna be a bad flight. But the pilot's short and humorous introduction reassured me that everything would be fine. The pilot had a thick southern accent to his speech and the fact that he said,"We have some heavy downpour, but don't worry folks I'm from Tennessee...which means I fly really good" comforted me. I thought, "Well, if we do crash, we'll burn at the hands of a pilot with a great sense of humor!" 

Now came the confusing part of the departure. I fell sound asleep before our departure for a good thirty minutes only to wake up not in the sky-- but still on the tarmac. I looked around for a clue as to what the heck was going on but instead fell asleep again. Once I woke up from my second attempted nap, I was puzzled to feel the plane just starting to gain momentum for take off. Never have I been so confused in my life.

After a long six hour flight, we took our first steps out of the airport and back into the refreshing San Francisco breeze. It didn't take long to acclimate to the sudden drop in temperature, it felt welcoming to be back in the weather that raised us. On the shuttle ride back to where it all began, we all took the time to reflect on our favorite memories and our funniest ones. Majority agreed that our most memorable days were our early days in Washington D.C. We went from being awkward and scared of each other's shadow's to becoming the best of friends in a night's time span. 

Saying Goodbye
Once we saw the green Hawaiian shirt, the sandals, sunglasses, and brown farmer's hat, we knew for a fact that we were home. Don welcomed us back to the Bay Area with our parents soon pulling up in front of the school. Before I knew it, I was back in the loving embrace of my parents. A few minutes later, Don pulled out his camera and shot a few homecoming pictures before we all went our separate ways

I arrived home to the surprise of a few friends who were working on the homecoming float in my garage. The two of my closest childhood friends, Brandon and Allan, leaped up to their feet and jumped on me with Allan on my back and Brandon in front. Our joy can not be explained in words, but only in this awesome homecoming photo:
Friends since first grade y'all
There's no other way to end a day like this but with a family dinner. It really was rewarding to be back with my family. There were many things that I kept to myself throughout the whole three weeks, and letting them all out removed the huge cinder block that burdened my back. If there's another thing for sure, being with my biological family filled many of the missing gaps that opened during the trip, but except for one gap. A gap so intricate that only my "ILC Family" can properly fill. 
'15 Columbia Cohort, I'll catch y'all on the flip side!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Coming Home

Sitting on the tarmac 2,911 miles away from home with the airplane stuck to the ground—what’s wrong with this picture?  EVERYTHING!  Don’t these people know that the Columbia cohort has a date that evening with their families?  Don’t they know the importance and value of sleeping in your own bed and eating your mother’s cooking?  So what’s the hold up?

The plane finally took off and with every waking second the cohort was closer to home.

Finally, they touch down at San Francisco International Airport but then the same problem they faced in New York trying to depart was faced while still in the airport.  Why was it taking so long for the luggage to appear?

Finally, they board the shuttle to take them home and they find yet another obstacle to slow their progress.  Who on earth are all of these people on I-80 and why can’t they go any faster?

Finally, the shuttle pulls into El Cerrito HS where family members await to take them to that heaven they know as HOME.

For more, stay tuned and read the blogs as only the Columbia cohort can write them.

Sentimental, Frentimental

As a victim of the ever-so contagious disease of procrastination, my morning began more stressful than I had anticipated the night before. I finished my essay an hour before it was due, and received a message from my group mate asking to meet downstairs in 10 minutes to work on our debate. Not going to lie--when he asked I may still have been in my pajamas with teeth unbrushed and hair looking like a bird's nest after being scouted for eggs. Yes, I was a mess. But I made it down in 15 minutes and we were able to successfully finish our opening statement.

Today's class was full of entertainment, since a majority of the class was just spent debating. My team consisted of 4 intelligent individuals, and we were representing New York University in a case regarding Affirmative Action. I honestly felt so much more connected and involved in my new team compared to my previous one. Maybe it was a boost in confidence or the dynamic of my group that made me feel comfortable with speaking up; the world may never know. In any case, I definitely didn't feel like a deadweight to my group this time.

During midday break, Columbia had a jazz-and-popsicle event in front of Izabel's residential hall. It was rumored that these popsicles are "life-changing", so obviously we all had to check it out to verify. I chose the Red Velvet popsicle, as I found it to be rather peculiar. Intially, I had my doubts about such a concoction, but those soon went down into the fire after taking my first bite. Now, there's your basic  push pops, orange pops, fruit pops, etc. And then there's this gourmet popsicle that has convinced me to believe that heaven might actually be cold. This popsicle was AMAZING, it was like eating little red velvet mini dancing fairies and having them dance around in your tongue for a while. I hope that everyone gets the chance to taste this heavenly popsicle someday in their lives, otherwise they're truly missin' out.

Our afternoon session consisted of an abundance of cookies, chips, orange juice, and bittersweet goodbyes. My professor had arranged for today to be our "goodbye party", and we just sat on the grass and had some pleasant conversations with our classmates. I do wish that we had this type of bonding at the beginning of the course, as I felt that some of us really connected, which is pretty unfortunate since it was probably the first and the last conversation between some of us. There was an extensive amount of exchange of social media, so at least we'll always have that of each others! (Today was the first day I've ever gained more than two followers in a day! :D))
After taking an abundance of pictures, among which was a Constitutional Law "squad" photo, we all said our goodbyes and parted ways. The commuting students were the first to go, which was unfortunate since one of my friends was among that group. I met a lot of people during these last three weeks, typically consisting of awkward laughs and remarks about Con-Law. But when I met Rachel, it was different. The first time we ever talked to each other was so effortless and easy; our conversation flowed like the water on Maya Lin's women's table at Yale. Rachel was bluntly funny, honest, and sarcastic at times, and had one of the best personalities you could ever be exposed to. Unlike a majority of the students in the program, she went to public school like us, and really understood our struggles. I feel truly lucky to have made a friend like her, and I hope that we get to keep in touch.

Full Circle

The morning was a bit hectic. To start off, I woke up insanely late. So late, in fact, that I had been marked absent for my class and had to clear it up with my R.A.. When I arrived, I was greeted by a flurry of messages and looks from my friends that said "Where have you been? We were worried." I was touched by their concern and realized that I had developed strong friendships with these people over the three weeks I had gotten to know them, even ones I had met a few days ago.

Professor Mesznik closed out the class with advice for the future relating to business and important terms to know about finance, economics, and life in general. Like many others, I shook his hand after class to thank him for teaching us and putting his time and effort into trying to help us learn and be interested.

Originally, my friends and I were all going to get lunch together, but there was a change of plans and we decided to get an early lunch-dinner hybrid instead. Tiara, my regular lunch buddy, ate lunch with me in the cafeteria – my last meal in the cafeteria. This, however, was not before we experienced the crazy deliciousness of a gourmet Red Velvet cake flavored popsicle that, surprisingly, didn’t taste artificial at all.

At the beginning of the afternoon class, we discussed the last articles we had chosen and reviewed some of the mathematical material we had covered in the past few days that Ms. Santos hadn’t had a chance to go over in quite as much depth as she had wanted to. We ended the class with a hilariously off-kilter game of “Financial Jeopardy!” It was an interesting end to an interesting class, definitely not an emotional one, but an interesting one all the same.

Immediately after, I went to go eat a “dunch” or “linner” at Shake Shack with Tiara, Jason, and Brian. Although I felt bad that our laughter and conversation was incredibly loud, I didn’t regret one second. Our hangout felt way past overdue and I couldn’t help but think I had missed out on so many opportunities to hang out with all these amazing people. Why, oh why, did I have to get so much closer to these people during the last week? Tiara decided to head back to Columbia and Jason had somewhere to be, so Brian and I walked to the Met to go meet up with the rest of the cohort. I also got to see the stunning “Through the Looking Glass” exhibit I had missed the first time I had visited the Met and went up to the equally stunning rooftop garden that overlooked the rest of the city. It only took a short while before Brian got comfortable with the group and was chumming around with everyone else. The evening was beautiful, the night air was cool, and the fireflies were out. And so we did the only the sensible thing we could do; we went on the swings. 

With all of us feeling a little thirsty and a little hungry, we got some boba from a small local shop called TeaMagic and shared a few more laughs. Before he left, we awarded Brian honorary Columbia cohort member status and saluted him off before heading back to the campus. It seemed as though the night couldn't get any more perfect; I mean, swings and the Met and Shake Shack and friends and boba? How could we possibly end such an incredible night properly? Well, we ended it on the ledge from the very first night, and just sat there for a while, feeling nostalgic and talking about nothing in particular. Sometimes, the simple things are the best. 

It hasn’t yet hit me that I won’t see some of these people ever again. And yet I’m so incredibly grateful for the people I did get to meet and the experiences I was able to have with them, and I am excited to see where some of these newfound friendships will lead. My goodbyes to my friends were not sentimental and mushy. Rather, they were the mere and bittersweet acknowledgment of the fact that I wouldn’t see them physically for a very long time or perhaps ever. I wouldn’t wholeheartedly say that it’s not goodbye, because I feel as though on a certain level it was. There’s something about the physical presence of a human being that can’t be substituted for technology in a friendship. But, it’s also not a question of whether or not I’ll be able to talk to them, because I will. So, with a hopeful heart, I continue on, treasuring the moments I was given, sharing them with others, and looking forward to making new ones.

Wrapping It Up With New Friendships

I started my glorious day off with confidence, joy, and slight sadness. My three week adventure has almost come to a close and it felt glorifying to end it with a positive attitude. I had my last Columbia breakfast with a floor mate and we chatted over some eggs and pancakes about how much we'd miss our experiences. We both discussed what we planned on doing in the upcoming future and what colleges we dreamed of attending. After an awesome chat, I said my goodbye and headed back to my dorm to do some final revisions on my essay.

The morning session of class was exhilarating. We concluded our class with a final debate. My group went up second, with our case concerning the search and seizure clause in the Fourth Amendment. Brief background of the case: John Rogers was convicted of hiding and assisting a fugitive drug lord and child hood friend, Al Chapo. The FBI collected evidence of images depicting Rogers and Chapo smoking cigars, watching TV, and relaxing together in Roger's home through the use of "GoogleTelescopePlus". Roger's home was see through as it was made entirely out of windows, but he lived in a private beach front. We based our arguments on the fact that Roger's gave up his privacy by aiding an internationally wanted criminal and by living into an easily visible house. Our debate wasn't heated but was extremely intense especially between me and my arch nemesis, Carson.

The afternoon session was extremely relaxed as we all pitched in food as a class and sat outside and got fat. Varieties of cupcakes, chips, cookies, and sodas all lined up the grassy area just waiting to be taken. Our class all started to indulge ourselves in the diabetic treats and bonded simultaneously. I got a chance to talk with most of my classmates and started to get to know them on a much broader level than I did before. As we wrapped up our class picnic, I realized how much I'd actually miss them. During the three weeks the class didn't really get a chance to bond as much as we did today, and having started creating that bond and then saying goodbye, was really saddening, especially considering the fact that we would most likely never see each other again.

After some emotional goodbyes, Izabel and Alyanna and I met up with Ms. Thrift once again at the MET. We checked out the MET's "China: Through the Looking Glass" exhibit which was filled with the elegance of historical beauty. It really was fascinating to look at the different historical details behind each dress and the significance behind it. Shortly after, we met up with Deborah and her friend, Brian. We spent some time enjoying the view of the sunset from the MET's rooftop, again pictures speak louder than words:
After some self reflection, we decided to conclude our final day in NYC with a short stroll through Central Park. Brian quickly assimilated with our infectious attitudes and within seconds, we were all getting along. We came across a swing set along the way and as a result, we just had to get on it. The inner child in all of us sprung out immediately as we all smiled and screamed. A little boy that goes by the name of "Princeton" sat next to me on the swing set and asked me in the most innocent voice if I could push him. Adored, I immediately said, "Of course, son." 

Once we parted ways with Ms. Thrift, we all spent more time together with Brian in our final ours in the Big Apple. We got some boba at TeaMagic, an amazing boba shop right down the university's way. We all sat there, telling stories, choking on tapioca balls, and laughing our butts off. Before curfew hit, we crowned Brian an unofficial member of our cohort and said our last meaningful goodbyes. 

With the remainder of time at hand, we decided to end our Columbia adventure right where we started it and sat on the ledge of Columbia's former library.

As it all draws to a close, it makes me realize how much I've grown as an individual. These past three weeks has truly been a humbling adventure and has motivated me to work harder in the coming years. 
Well here it goes, a few more hours more...