Tuesday, July 31, 2012

If Nothing Ever Changed, There Would Be No Butterflies

As I stand outside, enjoying that refreshing Bay Area breeze, I begin to think about how this journey has changed my outlook on college, the east coast, and people in general. Throughout my life, I have been taught to always be close to home, because family will be all you will really need. I have believed that until now; however this journey has changed my perspective on this completely. I now know that one must branch out to different places, meet new people, and experience new things to get out of this contained box and finally discover who one is. I never would have found this out so soon without being in the Ivy League Connection.
My life-changing journey with this program began last winter when I received a note to come to an informational meeting. There, a couple past ILCers came to speak about their journey, how it impacted them, and how we can be a part of it as well. All of it sounded really interesting and all, but I really didn’t think I was ready for the responsibility it would impose. After all, I had absolutely no confidence in myself. I mean, there were people trying to get in that were way better that I was. How could I possibly compete with them?
My mind was nearly made up about not trying until I had a talk with one of my friends. After I told her about my worries, she looked at me straight in the eye and said, “You can’t let this fear of failing stop you from trying to do what you want. It would be way better to at least learn something from your failure than learn nothing from being hesitant to try.” I have heard something like this before, but the way she said it really convinced me to write my required essays and send them in.
Although my friend did motivate me to try, I still had major doubts that kept tugging at the back of my mind. These doubts just got bigger when I got accepted for my interview. I tried to diminish these doubts, so I did a mock interview with a couple teachers at our school. In all honesty, I didn’t think the mock interview would help much, but it really did. It gave me a sneak preview of what was to come, so I could come in with no surprises.
When the day of the interview came, I nearly went into panic mode. For the most part I could hide it really well, but once I was in the waiting room I couldn’t help but tap my foot vigorously and pace the room nonstop. However, once I came into that interview table, something just clicked. I don’t really know how, but I immediately relaxed and greeted some of the people that had to interview me. The interview went by in a flash, and once we were called back for the results, I braced myself for the possible rejection. However that rejection never came; I made it through! I immediately thanked God and head back to my Spanish class where many of my peers congratulated me on my success. Most of them went on to say that they would not have been able to do such a thing. I related to them; many are also afraid of failing and don’t even try. I told them that they can do anything they set their minds to do because honestly, I see such potential in my peers, and I hope they see it too.
After a couple months, it was time for the busy month of May. There was so much going on; from the Board Meeting to the fancy dinner, I was really occupied. Even so, all these events gave me an opportunity to do things I never would have dreamed of doing. Through this chapter of the ILC, I actually got to give a little speech in front of the Pinole City Council. This is seriously something I probably never would have done if it wasn’t for the ILC. I also got to go to a beautiful restaurant in SF where I got to meet Vanderbilt alumni. These people were incredibly intelligent and I really enjoyed talking to them about college life and their personal experiences with Vanderbilt. All of these things really prepared me for my journey ahead and made me extremely excited to learn about the universities we would be visiting during the first week.
During the first week on our trip, we visited several prestigious universities such as, Duke, Georgetown, and UPenn. I have seen pictures of these grand universities with their beautiful gothic architecture and green plants. However, I was never able to picture myself there; it just always seemed out of reach, as if it were on a different planet. This is why I always felt safer looking up colleges in California; they seemed safe. As I walked around these colleges for the first time, I realized that these places are not as foreign as I thought they would be. In fact, I could actually see myself in one in particular – Duke.

Besides its outstanding academics, Duke really impressed me with how close its community was; everyone was very friendly. I also loved how much academic freedom Duke gave students; freedom is definitely something I value when thinking about college. Besides all that, Duke felt right. I tend to make decisions based on my intuition, and something about being at Duke made me feel at home. Although being so far away initially made me afraid to ever leave California, in the end, going to all these universities really showed me that I have so many options for college. I now know that I am not limited to the colleges in CA and with this many choices, there is bound to be a university for me somewhere.
Talking to the admissions officers and students of these universities also helped me learn about each university in two different perspectives. There was the admissions officer’s view, which had almost any general info about the school and what it can offer you, and the student’s view, which showed me how life at the college really is for that particular person. I also learned that the universities here really want you to succeed and are absolutely willing to give you any tools necessary to complete your goals. I especially love this about the schools here; it’s just really nice to see that the number one goal for each school is success for each student.
One thing that has worried me over the years however, is money. I was one hundred percent positive I would not be able to afford college, even if they paid for 75 percent of the expenses. Going to a UC was not going to help my money situation since these schools were going through money problems as well. However, the colleges over there can pay for so much more, and it takes a huge load off my chest knowing that money will not be an issue for me if I got into one of these amazing universities. In the end, I learned so much through these talks; so much more than the internet could have shown me and ultimately, these talks have shown me that whatever reputation a university has, it really doesn’t matter because college life is how YOU make it.

After this huge learning experience, I thought that I have learned nearly all there is to know about college. Fortunately, I was wrong. My final three weeks at Vanderbilt were definitely one of the most life-changing weeks of my life. Here, I actually got to experience college life for myself complete with a college professor, challenging coursework, diverse people, roommate, and most important of all – dorm food. In all seriousness though, these weeks have exposed me to so many things and changed me because of them.

First off, the people there were absolutely amazing. Even though we all come from different backgrounds, we shared such a close bond and I really felt comfortable with them. I felt so comfortable, that I actually did something I’ve never dared to do at my own school: I wore shorts. Yes, shorts. Wearing shorts is something I’ve avoided doing nearly my whole life; it wasn’t because I wasn’t allowed to, it was because I did not want to. See, I have this huge birthmark on my right leg and I have been afraid of being ridiculed because of it for the longest time. When I first showed it I did receive a few stares and questions, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. In all honesty, the welcoming environment at Vanderbilt really let me be myself; I could let my true colors show and I never regretted any of it.

Besides the people here, my time in the Pharmacology class was a great experience as well. I initially decided to take this class because all my life, I have been interested in medicine and anything medical-related. As a child, I preferred to watch something on the Discovery Health Channel to something on Disney Channel; it was something that piqued my places of interest because it included medical science and the well-being of others. I learned so much about the drugs we use on a daily basis, and this has made me want to start some sort of drug awareness thing at our school. I’ve talked about it with Hannah and she also thinks it is a great idea. I want to show other people that drugs not only affect your own body, but also the whole world.

Learning in this new academic environment was also a great and interesting challenge for me. At my own school, I almost always knew what I was doing and never really had to rely on anyone but myself. In the pharmacology class however, that changed. We went through about a million things every day and I admit, I struggled a little to keep up with many of the AP Chemistry students in there. Even so, I am glad I struggled because it allowed me to ask questions and become more motivated to work with everyone else. I enjoyed having heated debates about interesting topics with everyone even though it was a little difficult for me to speak out first. In the end, all my hard work paid off because I was a part of the winning group for our final project. This project was a great way to work together on something modern chemists and researchers do all the time; there really was no way to actually be able to do something like this if it wasn’t for this program. My time in this class showed me to have more confidence in myself because anything is possible; even if you don’t live in wealthy area or go to a prestigious high school.
With that being said, VSA has really changed me as a student and person. I am now motivated to become much more involved in the classroom and express my opinion more often. I actually have confidence – something I’ve always wanted but never knew how to get. I now know what it takes to succeed; you not only need to work hard, but you need to work well with others too – it’s not just a one-man show. Being in VSA has also let me have the ultimate college experience before college could actually begin. I was not only exposed to being taught a college-level course taught by a college professor, but also exposed to everything college life has to offer. Now that I’ve had this experience, I can’t wait to really go off to college in a couple years. I used to dread the day I left for college but now, I am looking forward to it. If it wasn’t for this experience, I don’t think I would have applied to any colleges on that side of the country but now, I am positive I will.

All in all, I would really like to thank all of the people that have made this life-changing journey possible. Thank you my Vandy cohort, for being the best group of people to travel with. I will truly miss our late night blogging and Girl Talk with Chris. Thank you Don, for always keeping us in check and making sure we had what we needed for our trip. Thank you Ms. Kronenberg, for putting all of that work you do for the ILC. Thank you Mr. Ramsey, for being the head of the ILC because we all know that this program would not have existed without you. I really can’t thank you all enough for letting me go through this fantastic change within myself. I can’t believe that a couple months ago I was afraid to go through this huge change, but now that I have realized that change is absolutely necessary to become a better person, I welcome change with open arms. Now that this adventure at VSA is over, all I can say to you all is: thank you for reading!
The best cohort ever. Seriously.

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