Saturday, August 18, 2012

From the Parents of Narges Sahibzada

I had originally heard about this program from my daughter, Narges. When she first told me about the Ivy League Connection, I must admit that I was rather skeptical of it; it was hard for me to believe that such a program to help our kids and their future endeavors existed. However, by attending the various meetings and dinners I found out about the greatness of this program. I was happy to discover that the group of students that were selected to participate in this program were all very diverse and all from different religions and ethnicities. This entire program is a reflection of how much this district cares for our kids.

Upon talking to Narges after her return, I noticed how much she grew from visiting all the different universities and talking to different students from all parts of the country. She seemed much more certain of her decisions for her future after she came back. My wife and I are very thankful to all those who made this opportunity possible for our daughter.

Mohammad and Nasima Sahibzada

From the Mother of Yessenia Reyna

Hacer Cosas Yo No Pude Hacer; To Do Things I Was Never Able To Do

I remember that cold winter day when my daughter came to me with this incredulous idea. She told me about this program called the Ivy League Connection where they send students to study over at the east coast for the summer. It sounded really nice and all, but I wasn’t too trusting of the whole thing. How could I possibly trust them with my eldest daughter for a whole month? I was about to not let her do this when I realized how great this opportunity could be for my daughter. In the end, I didn’t want to take this amazing opportunity away and stop her from moving forward. Although I was still worried, I agreed to allow my daughter to try and do these things I was never able to do as a teenager. Once she told me she got accepted, my heart filled with so much joy. All the hard work she put in those essays and interview finally paid off and now she would be leaving for an entire month to go to Nashville.

Before she actually left however, the ILC had this plan to let me get more familiar with the people involved, which would help me trust them more. They had several meetings I attended which showed me exactly what would be happening during those 4 weeks. Everyone kindly explained this to me in detail and in a way a worried mother would understand. I also got to meet and talk to my daughter’s chaperone during one of these meetings. At first I was a little surprised to see how many tattoos he had on his arms, but after meeting with him and talking with him several times, I could see that he was the best chaperone possible, and I really wouldn’t have asked for a better one.

Finally, the time came for her departure. Seeing her leave, it really felt as if she was leaving for a year of college. You could say that it prepared me for what is to come in a few years. Overall, this program has made me become more open to letting my daughter leave home. Even though the idea of your first child leaving home scares most mothers like me, I know that this is what life is about. Your child needs to experience life for themselves when they go off to college.

I would like to take the time to thank the Ivy League Connection for all that they have done for my daughter. Thanks to the ILC, I have finally opened my eyes to see the wonderful opportunities that are out there for her and a bunch of other students as well. Even now, it is still hard to imagine a program like this exists for the students of this district. It is absolutely amazing to think of how much work is put into this program and I hope it grows from here.

Thank you,
Dora Reyna

From the Mother of Chris Han

“A Divine Connection”

I thank all of the adults involved for their gifts and generosity.
I thank them all for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity

How has the Ivy League Connection affected me?
The experience has been excellent and extraordinary.
To witness and to see how it has transformed Christopher and me,
I will be forever grateful, for eternity.

He has grown more in maturity,
I have no doubt he can handle the freedom, with the responsibility.
I do not need to fear,
If he decides to attend college far from here.
Because, I know I am in his heart, no matter where.

I thank all the caring adults in this program,
Because of God and His angels
You were able to be a part of something very special.

The opportunities and choices, there is no limit,
You may not know it, or even realize it yet,
But, I expect, God to show us all,
‘How Much Better Can This Get?’

I am proud of what Christopher has accomplished,
And whatever he decides to do, or whoever he becomes,
I will always cherish.
For all I desire is for him to be happy and at peace,
May this always be my heart-felt and sacred wish

I will always be a part of him, and he will always be a part of me,
And I hope when people see us together, they will ask us,
“Why are you so happy?”

Then, I can answer with all sincerity and honesty,
“Because of the Ivy League Connection,
We both have bonded with the most divine connection,
And it has helped both of us be....
Who we were born to be!”

By: Jade Jeong
(Christopher’s Mom)

Thursday, August 9, 2012

From the Parents of Hannah Lee Pablo

The moment our daughter, Hannah Lee, mentioned to us that she would apply for the Ivy League Connection, without hesitation and doubt my wife and I gave to her our blessings. We knew that it would not be an easy undertaking she would undergo also considering the experience of our son, Henry III who applied a few years back and did not make it. However, we saw in our daughter her desire and determination to experience the program. We believe she heard a lot of the memorable experiences from those who already underwent the program and how those experiences impacted their lives. They believed in her talent and ability and encouraged her to apply. She received a lot of support from them and on several occasions they gave her tips and the preparation she needed in her application.

Preparing for this undertaking, Hannah Lee, showed a lot of patience researching for the program she would apply to. She connected the program given to her to her long time dream of what she wants to be in the future. She had a lot of questions in mind and sought several people for some answers.  Of those she asked for help and assistance, we believed they gave it to her joyfully and supportively. Patiently and consistently she prepared herself for the battle ahead of her. She admitted it was not an easy one, but along the process of preparations we noticed she had grown maturely.

As her parents and taking some cue from her brother, Henry, we all gave our utmost support and prayers. I could vividly remember on the day of her interview, I saw in my daughter both nervousness and confidence and when I dropped her that morning in school, she just uttered to me, “Dad, pray for me”. The rest I would say, a moment as a father will always remember about her daughter.

She arrived at the library at the start of the interview at 8 AM, and she was the last applicant to be interviewed. I could just imagine the anxiousness of waiting she had for almost four hours. But it paid off; she was accepted. It was a joy of celebration for all of us in the family, and it was the beginning of a new journey in the life of our daughter and the experience that awaited her at Vanderbilt University.

When she received all the necessary papers from the ILC: forms to fill in, medical requirements, rules, guidelines to follow, and parents participation we made it a priority to submit all requirements before the deadline. She gave us also a copy of the calendar of activities and the important dates where we, as parents, needed to attend. She asked me to attend the Dinner at One Market and asked my wife to attend the rest of the orientation activities. The moment she received the email about the dinner, I asked for a copy of it for me to apply for a day off at work. My wife and I were so excited and looking forward for those days where we were asked to attend to meet those people who made this program possible.

The dinner at One Market was one occasion I will never forget. I felt humbled meeting the coordinators, chaperones, and the sponsors of this program as well as the other students and their parents.  I may not have had the chance to meet all the sponsors and alumni but I felt grateful to all of them for their support and dedication to a cause like the Ivy League Connection.

Another excitement I had that night was to hear Hannah speak as their designated speaker of the group—which she accepted confidently. She spoke confidently, full of expectations on her mind. We believed she spoke from her heart and conveyed to all, the feelings of what it feels to be a part of the ILC program. And of course, we all cannot forget the sumptuous dinner we had.

On my wife’s part, she attended the meetings on orientation. She even told me that she too learned a lot from the orientation and felt excited to get all the requirements and things needed in this program.

There were several occasions where both parents had to attend.  We were able to attend the Pinole City Council meeting where the ILC participants were recognized  and met the city officials of Pinole. Another big event was at the West Contra Costa Board meeting where again, the ILC participants were recognized before the officers and the community as well. Then we had this BIG picture taken with all of the ILC participants with their parents and chaperones.

As the days came close to their trip to Vanderbilt University, so did our relationship as a family. It drew us closer to one another. It would be the first time, Hannah will be away from us for almost a month. My wife and I could not express well how it felt to be away from Hannah for several days. She had been away for us a week at most, when she and her brother Henry attended the Pipe Organ Encounter, a yearly summer activity to other states for both of them as church pipe organ scholars.

A few days before their trip we, the parents of the group, had a meeting with their chaperone, Mr. Mannix. He was so caring to the group and he assured us parents that our children will be in good hands throughout their trip to the East Coast.

The send off day on that early Monday morning was full of well wishes, hugs, kisses and prayers.

Their trips to Duke University, Georgetown University, and the University of Pennsylvania were all amazing experiences they had. They celebrated the Fourth of July watching the beautiful fireworks in Washington D.C. They also visited several important landmarks. These tours and visits will always be remembered by them.

The Vanderbilt summer activities of Hannah Lee were so full of learning, insights, meeting new friends, teachers, proctors, gaining new experiences, and a fulfillment  of memories she will always treasure. We saw her grow maturely as she gained a better understanding of what courses she wants to take when she will graduate from high school. She shared with us her experiences meeting different officials of the universities they visited, how they were welcoming and engaging, and the different tips they learned on how to apply for admission to a university. She, too, had a great glimpse of what a university is like and a life in a university. Every day we read her blog and her cohorts’. We read their blogs with joy and for Hannah Lee her friends in the church who already missed her, had also enjoyed reading her blogs.

The pictures she sent us were all manifestations of how she enjoyed her stay in the university. Her pictures will be a treasure she will one day proudly share with others. Her experiences were priceless.

When we met her again after 27 days, we knew our Hannah Lee had changed: more mature, more responsible, and most of all she had a deeper appreciation of the value and importance of learning, experiences, friendship, and fun. She is still searching within herself to see if a college outside of California is right for her, but she will keep her mind open to the wonderful possibilities out there.

My wife and I will always be ever thankful to the coordinators of the Ivy League Connection: Mr. Charles Ramsey, Don Gosney, Ms. Kronenberg, and, Mr. Mannix, just to name a few. Our prayers to your vision and mission in this program is that it will be realized and be achieved. To the sponsors, without them I believe this won’t materialize; may you continue to support this program. To Hannah Lee’s fellow cohorts whom I believe had created an “inner” family within them; to the parents, my wife and I will always treasure your friendship.

Henry E. Pablo Jr. and Josephine P. Pablo

Saturday, August 4, 2012

What It Truly Means to Be an Adult: A Reflection of It All

Hearing About the Ivy League Connection

Sophomore Year is what I like to call, if I could give it a title, “Trying Things Out Just to See What Will Happen Because It’s Better to Do Than to Not Do at All”. I know it’s a long title, but this is what sums up my 10th grade experience. I tried out for the basketball team, just to try it out. I joined Forensics Speech and Debate, just because it seemed like it would look good on college resumes and would improve my speaking abilities (which it did). I joined a whole lot of new clubs—(to name a few) WE Science Body, Chinese American Student Association, Junior Statesman of America--without any real dedication to any of them. Before this, I was only in two main clubs, Marching Band and Interact, which believe me, was enough workload on my plate already. However, because I was used to the high school academics by my second year in high school, I figured I might as well take that extra time to join sports, more clubs, and even tutor. I told myself from then on out that I was going to go “all out” in high school. And so when I was asked to check out the Information Session for the Ivy League Connection by a good friend of mine and ILC alumni, Dyana So, on a thought-to-be “typical” school day, I of course said “yes”.

I learned, after finally coming back from this trip, that whatever you do in life, you better put your heart into it. Joining all these clubs my Sophomore Year just to join them is fine, but if I’m not going to be dedicated to a club, because of all the other extracurricular activities I already have on my plate, what’s the point? Essentially, joining a club without dedication is like dead weight. Yes, it may look good on a college application, but somehow in the long-run, there are consequences and not any real success for doing something just to make you “look good”. I recently realized this.  

This is why during my Sophomore Year I’ve always felt that I was good but never “good enough”. This may seem selfish, but I was sick of never being the best at anything, only just being average in everything that I do. I never won a trophy in Forensics Speech and Debate last year, I didn’t make the basketball team, I didn’t get first part sheet music as an upperclassmen the following year, I didn’t hold any officer position the following year (except for treasurer of an ethnic alliance club called IndoPak), and I just didn’t feel like I was “good enough”. Don’t get me wrong, I sure did feel like an all-round person, which is still what I would like to be. I worked, and still do, harder than ever and did put commitment in everything that I did. However, throughout 10th grade, I couldn’t help but keep asking myself, “Do I have any real talent?” and “Do I just try things out and not be the best at it because I don’t spend enough time for it?”. I didn’t understand the full concept of what commitment really is.  

But the biggest blow to me for not “being good enough” was when I wasn’t accepted into the Ivy League Connection my Sophomore Year. I applied to the Yale Ivy Scholars Program and the Columbia Presidential Powers Program, but my essays weren’t even accepted in order for me to go on to the interview process. The first program that I applied for and had the opportunity to be interviewed by default, because there weren’t many applicants, was the Brown Macroeconomics Program. Math and economics are definitely not my favorite subjects in school, but I figured getting in to any program would be beneficial, and I would love it either way. Although I probably would have enjoyed that program, I didn’t put enough work into it still—especially since it wasn’t a favorable program for me. It also seemed that I was still trying to learn how to balance all my new extracurricular activities. I missed a crucial mock interview session before my interview, and I really wasn’t ready for this panel interview. I was nervous and the only sophomore in the interview. With more experience under the other interviewees’ belts and just more preparedness, I wasn’t able to get in. For a time, I felt that I wasn’t good enough, but of course, getting used to all my new extracurricular activities kept me busy enough. I thought to myself, “Well, I have another year; maybe the time just isn’t right.” And I don’t know why I didn’t apply to Vanderbilt, because looking back, this program and school were exactly right for me. No matter, it seems that I wasn’t ready for the Ivy League Connection either way.


Becoming a Part of the Program

But suddenly, I found what I was doing wrong, and fireworks shot up in my brain (July 4th in DC)
It was not until my Junior Year that I realized if I want to be the best at something, I have to not just do it; I have to put my all-out heart into it. I have to want it and know I can succeed but also not be afraid to fail. I have to be committed. What I just said is considered real commitment, not just spending time and following the expectations of others but exceeding their expectations—but not for them. And beginning my Junior Year until now, I learned to know the full extent of what commitment really means.

Junior Year had a lot more competition than my Sophomore Year when applying to the ILC.  However, I had the edge, because only one other person, Julia Chang (who is now in the Yale Ivy Scholars Program right now) had the chance to experience an interview like me. I knew what the interview was somewhat going to be like, and I knew that my public speaking abilities improved a lot after being in Forensics Speech and Debate for an entire year. I knew the preparation it took to get in, and so every chance I had to mock interview with ILC alums and teachers, I made sure I reserved time for those mocks. Other than that, I was simply just more mature than I was the previous year.

But no matter how much more preparation and confidence I had this Junior Year, there was something that I taught myself. Any time I’m competing—in anything--I tell myself that it doesn’t matter how well others do. It doesn’t matter who will succeed and who will not. All that matters is that I do my best and I focus on doing my best—not to match anyone’s successfulness but to know by the end of the day, I put my best foot forward and tried my hardest. If I set my mind to this goal, then I can accomplish it. No matter how much I wanted to be in this program and no matter how much I told myself I would be, I made sure that my thoughts were overall not too much about my successfulness in getting in to the ILC but just knowing it was a great experience anyway. I learned that if you want something too much, you lose track of being yourself and start to question whether you did your best or not. This time, no matter how much I wanted to get into the ILC, I made sure to keep the mentality that no matter what--at the end of the day--I knew that I did my best.

And so in a daunting way to accept the four students into the Vandy cohort, all eight of the students were put in a line; the four accepted students’ names were said right up and front. When the third name that was called wasn’t my name, I, for a split second, thought I didn’t get in. But when the fourth and final name called was “Chris Han”, my soul jumped with so much excitement that I almost couldn’t control it physically. I kept “my cool” as Don gave us paperwork to fill out, but once I, Hannah, Yessenia, and Narges walked out of the library, we immediately jumped up and down and screamed with excitement. I’m not sure if I’ve ever felt more accomplished and happier with a task in my entire life than I was that day. It’s not just that I was successful in getting in to this program; it’s what it took for me to finally get in.

The ILC is a privilege and is a much more daunting process than many of the students, like me my Sophomore Year, think. The ILC was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, and if you can’t see how much it took me to get here, then I don’t know what to say.

I carried this mentality throughout my Junior Year, and I still will—as long as I live. I went from being a total novice in debate to a Varsity debater at the end of the year, and next year I’m going to be a debate captain. I obtained three speaker gavels at a Junior Statesmen of America Convention, and next year I’m going to be an officer in that club. I found my hidden passion (and I guess talent), poetry, and so I’m going to become president of my school’s SLAM club (poetry/self-expression club) next year. I guess you can say getting into the ILC made my head clearer. I can go on and on about how I kept this mentality, but let’s just say that getting into the ILC got me to find new passions and soar with them. And I couldn’t have been happier or more thankful. 
And after a great storm of difficulties, comes a great rewarding rainbow in its place (after a huge pouring of rain)


Pre-Departure Months

My commitment to this program was constantly being tested starting February all the way until my departure. Tasks after tasks were given to us, but through thick and thin, I made sure to keep reminding myself what Don Gosney constantly told us--that all these tasks were for a purpose: to prepare me for my trip and to initiate me into adulthood. It’s safe to say Don was right. From the tutorial session, to the San Francisco dinner with the alumni and donors, and to the board meetings, I learned that being on time is being at least 15 minutes early. I learned how to be professional but not forget that I could be myself. If I somehow got into the ILC last year, I don’t think I would’ve been my usual laughing and talkative self—of course in an appropriate and mature manner. I guess to sum up what I’ve learned from all of these experiences, being an adult doesn’t mean not being you, being an adult means being committed and staying positive. And if you’re catching the trend, you’ll see what the one big thing that I’ve taken away from this trip was.


College Discoveries and New Thoughts About College

Awed by Duke
After meeting a couple of admissions officers and experiencing Duke, Georgetown, UPenn, and Vanderbilt, I now know what I essentially want in a college.

Unlike perhaps some of the other ILCers, I’ve been planning to apply out of state, or at least far enough away from home that I experience something new in my life, ever since middle school. I was even inclined to apply out of country, but now that I know about all of the wonderful Study Abroad Programs offered at schools, I don’t need to.

After all that college searching, it's nice to stop and just breathe
I want a place where I can feel right at home but in a new home essentially. I want a school that can offer a few big lecture halls to classes fewer than 15. I don’t want too small of a school, but I don’t want too big of a school that I feel just invisible in the school community--although I don’t think I’d ever make myself invisible. I want to make sure that the school I’m attending has spirit and that I learn as much socially as I do academically.

I want liberal academics. I don’t know, and probably won’t in a few months for my college applications, what I want to major in. I want and need the opportunity to explore the widest range of academics my first and probably my second year of college. All four of these schools encourage cross-subject learning. Now I can perhaps narrow down my choices on what colleges I’m going to apply for.

I just wish we had the chance to explore even more colleges because I learned and discovered so much in just a week. I feel like just checking out only four new colleges on the other side of the country isn’t enough for me to know what’s fully out there. Perhaps somehow I’ll be able to visit more colleges during Winter Break or President’s Week.
It really was an amazing first week

The Admissions Process

Most of the new things that I didn’t realize or didn’t know about the admissions process came from two admissions officers that the Vandy cohort met on different days. Northern California Admissions Officer Mr. Samuel Carpenter from our trip to Duke University and Alabama Admissions Officer Ms. Julianna Staples from our College Apps Seminar at VSA taught me a lot about this process that I thought I had more knowledge about. 

One crucial aspect of the admission process that I know students don’t realize enough is that the personal essays and letters of recommendations matter a lot. They’re so caught up in SAT and ACT scores, getting the highest GPA, and participating in all these extracurricular activities, that they failed to realize what truly sets a student apart from any other student. They forget that admissions officers don’t get to experience teaching us several hours a day and don’t get the opportunity to “hang out” with students—that the closest way to experience this is by reading students’ essays and letters. A student can be judged as a totally different person from whom they really are if the essays and letters aren’t thought of and looked over enough by students.

I also learned, and this was mostly from the seminar we had at VSA, that admitting a student in is much more difficult than it seems. Accepting one, wait listing two, and denying one is such a difficult and agitating decision process. It’s not as hard to accept someone as it is to deny or wait-list them. I also realized that officers will look for the littlest details in your application, even your email to see if it’s professional enough. It also surprised me to see how much there really is in an application; you really have to put yourself out there and get straight to the point that you’re worthy of that college. Although there seems to be enough time to look at a student’s application, officers will usually generate a general trait to describe a student, such as “The Come Back Kid”. For my sake, let’s hope my general trait is worthy of a prestigious college like Vanderbilt and the other colleges we visited.

I knew that I had to be an all-round person to get in to a prestigious school, but I was wrong to think that I knew everything about the college admissions process.

A New Social Experience

In college, the social experience is just as important as the academic experience. This is what Vanderbilt Summer Academy seemed to really stress and want its students to recognize. In college, you’ll have a lot more time on your hands, and you’ll have to make sure that that time is well spent for four years (at the least). They wanted to show us that part of growing up isn’t just in-taking academic knowledge; it is in-taking social knowledge too. And I think VSA did a fine job showing us this—giving us a good balance of a social life in college and an academic life in college.
Roaming Downtown on Broadway

I didn’t think that having a roommate and staying in a dorm would be very fun in college, but after having a roommate for three weeks, a roommate really enhances your experience socially. I never felt alone, and it really helps to teach students independence and cooperation with another person. After experiencing living with a roommate, I never wanted for that experience to end. Having so many floor mates and a proctor group--which seemed to almost resemble a fraternity--in general just made my experience at VSA that much more fun. Sharing bathrooms may not be likable for me still, but they actually get cleaned almost every day, so in a way, having public bathrooms for the halls can be better than having a private one.
Proctor Group Night Out
 I was never judged at VSA. I could’ve chosen to be any one of the stereotypes teenagers have of each other: a jerk, a geek, a slacker, etc. However, instead I decided to be what I felt the most comfortable being, myself—never having to think what others thought of me because they never met me and knew my past experiences. I think this is one thing, out of the many, that upcoming freshman in college need to remember. The beginning of college is a new chapter of a person’s life, and it could be for the best or for the worst. What students have to realize, however, is that they shouldn’t define themselves as a stereotype because they want to “fit in”. What they have to realize is that they should be totally and absolutely 100% themselves when beginning their first year in college. If a student tries to impress others, they start to become lost and distracted in what they’re not than who they really are. They’ll become confused about what they really want in their future. Just be yourself. And again, being you and only you is the first step to becoming an adult. Don’t worry if you’ll “fit in”, because one way or another, you will, especially if you just don’t think about it. That’s what I learned in the social aspects of VSA, and it seemed that I actually “fitted in” very well somehow without even thinking about it. 
Not caring if you performed a rendition of the song "I Want it That Way" by a  90s boy band with your proctor group
An amazing diverse group of students--and also some of the many friends I made at VSA
I always thought that a student going to these prestigious schools would be more of a (please don’t get offended) “book worm” and an “anti-social” person. Now, I only thought this before because I figured that the academics at these prestigious schools were so tough that there would be no real sense of a spirited and social community. I was absolutely wrong. I forgot why students were accepted to these prestigious schools. They weren’t just academically smart; they all had a huge involvement in their school and local communities. They have their name known, and they were—must I say this—“popular”. Students accepted to these prestigious colleges are the most gifted people in some way or more besides the common “Straight A’s”. They could be an athlete, a musician, a politician, a writer, a debater, a community service worker, and etc. Meeting most of the 150 students in this program, I couldn’t help but notice at least one of these extra talents that I named above that these students had. This hasn’t only made me realize that I have great competition in the admission process, but also that it’s safe to say that the world is in good hands.

Two of the best people you'll ever meet, Eric and Alexa--for me at least
It is absolute torture what Vanderbilt Summer Academy does to its students. How can they help to encourage and create such close bonds and friendships with one another and know that we’re all going to have to go our separate ways in the next three weeks? I met some amazing people that I could’ve only dreamed of. I never became someone’s “Best Bud” in less than two weeks, and I never made such close friendships with so many people so rapidly before. I’m very curious to see if friendships grow this fast and this strong in college like it has at VSA. I hope and pray that the friends I made here will last a lifetime, because I can’t just forget them that easily. At least I know who I can meet up with if I ever stop by some of the states on the other side of the country (or even different countries, France or Brazil)!






A New Learning Environment

Lived Religion: Abrahamic Faiths class (before heading to the mosque site visit)
I was so caught up before coming to Vanderbilt about the amazing new things that I would learn in my class that I practically forgot about the new learning environment I would experience in class.

Being in a class with just twelve students (including myself), a professor, and a TA really was a brand-new learning experience for me. Some classes can get really big at Pinole Valley High School; I remember I had a class with 38 students my Junior Year. There was no place to hide in a class of this size—especially when we had a lot of discussion circles. We not only had the opportunity to have our voices heard and ask questions, but we all had the chance to get to know each other much deeper on a personal level. The last few days of class we had these written descriptions for everybody in the class called “affirmations”. They were pretty much to show what we see in our peers and what really makes them stand out as a talented person. Let’s just say we all (for the most part) knew each of our classmates very well, and this goes to show how a smaller class can raise the personal level bar much higher. 

I also felt different in an environment where everyone wanted to learn for the sake of learning. You see, because VSA didn’t give us actual college credit or grades in our classes, we all knew that everyone was in Lived Religion because they wanted to be. A lot of times, I feel students at my school just want the bare minimum in order to succeed in high school—that they could care less about the subject that they’re learning as long as they get the grade they want. It was just nice to finally be in a learning environment where everyone tried their hardest not for a grade but for their own understanding.

Learning New Ways to Learn  

Learning new information about religious practice in the three monotheistic faiths (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) through reading, lecturing, and discussions weren’t the only ways to learn about religious practice anthropologically and sociologically. Fully immersing oneself into the religious community is much more significant than reading about or trying to visualize the practices. It’s also much easier to in-take knowledge much faster. As they say, a picture really is worth a thousand words, and when you immerse yourself into a religious community, you’re creating thousands of words by the millisecond.
Fully immersing ourselves and loving it (at the mosque with charismatic Imam Mohamed in the middle)
I also learned that in learning, you should always ask before you assume. Don’t be afraid to take academic risks. I heard the term “academic risk” before, but VSA has just reminded me of it, because my teachers in high school never seemed to have encouraged that because they probably assumed we were already doing that.

I learned that there are other forms of learning that are essential to a well-rounded adult but also just to have fun; you need extracurricular classes. These would be the two Arete classes that I had the first two weeks of the program: Improvisation and Stage Combat.

 Exploring My Faith and Other Faiths

I came into this class as a Christian with an open mind to the other faiths out there. I’m glad to say that I came out the same as I came in, but strangely in a different way. I’m now ever more curious about my own faith and want to research more and more about it. I have also become very fond of the other two monotheistic faiths—Judaism and Islam--and wish to find out more about them too. I can tell you how much I’ve learned in those three weeks, but I think you already know from my daily blog posts.

As the days of learning progressed, I couldn’t help but find myself increasingly doubtful of some of my Christian beliefs. I couldn’t understand why the Trinity was so important if it was so vaguely mentioned in the Bible—especially if Scripture is important to Christians. I thought to myself, “Was the Trinity just a way to get more followers so that people can be fearful about going to Hell when they die and remain controlled by political/religious leaders?” I couldn’t understand why Christians wish to evangelize others, while Muslims and Jews don’t. For a time, I was slowly losing respect for the people of my own faith.

But then, as I began to research more and more about the Trinity for my mini research project, something suddenly just clicked with me. I realized that everything didn’t have to make sense—that sometimes you just have to believe before seeing because Faith is an ongoing mystery. As I dug further and further into researching my faith, I found more faults and contradictions in the writings and beliefs of Christians. However, as I found more contradictions, I found more facts and ways to reassure my faith. I learned that there’s always going to be doubts and faults that I will find in any religion, but sometimes, you just need to not listen to your brain but your heart—not matter what.

I knew that this course reassured my Christian faith and actually made it stronger, when I went to church the following morning after my arrival back home. Two days in a row I was in a church, and I can’t explain how powerful and transcendent it felt. I never have been so passionate about my faith. Seeing the ways the other monotheistic faiths expressed their passion for their faith has influenced me to try the same thing as them. For example, when Muslims pray, they do different movements and bow with their head all the way down. When it was worship time at my church, I tried this, and I felt something that I never felt before.

I also came to know about inter-faith and how many religious communities are trying to form bonds with other religious communities. It’s to decrease the stereotypes and to increase a sense of equality between each other. I would like to see more of that in my community and in the world in general, and I am happy people of different faiths are deciding to try inter-faith activities.

I knew there was a reason why I decided to take this class, and I’m so glad I did.

Life isn't About Finding Yourself; It's About Creating Yourself

One mistake I made in high school was not thinking enough about college. Yes I had some idea of what college I wanted to go to, but after going on this trip, I realized I had no idea before. I highly encourage students to look into colleges now and make actual visits. Trust me, a student’s mind will change or open up instantly to the college once they make an actual visit to the campus. Again, going back to learning in ways I never thought possible, experiencing a place first hand is much more significant than reading about or trying to visualize the place.
An award for being just myself from my favorite and only proctor at VSA, Trevor
In these entire four weeks, anyone who saw or was with me found out who, for the most part, the “real” Chris is. I was rapidly changing and creating myself as these four weeks zoomed by. I really just let myself go and hoped to find myself. However, what I didn’t realize is that I wasn’t finding myself during these four weeks, I was creating myself. It’s because if you’re so caught up in the future, you’ll forget about the present, and you’ll forget what you’re doing and why you are doing it. People have to realize that the future is decided by the present, and if we want to live a better life, it’s better to just stay “in the now”.  Yes, I thought about my future plenty of times on the trip, but I came to the realization that my future is already here—that the next chapter of my life starts right now. I’m going to college, whether I like it or not. It’s time to stop dreaming and start doing. Still, many times at VSA I almost forgot that this was all for the “future”. I forgot that in just a few weeks this great experience would end, that VSA wasn’t my life. It would only feel like a very long dream until I had to jump back into reality.
I'll never forget, and I'm glad the VSA staff won't either


Yes, and it took after all three years of high school and this amazing trip for me to finally realize the key to success and happiness, that I have to be something so simple yet more difficult than it seems—genuinely and wholeheartedly committed. I have to live in the now, and stop dreaming, but most importantly I just have to be myself. And this is what it truly means to be an adult. I believe that this is what students, or maybe just everybody in this entire world, really need to know.

I take everything that this program has given me as a gift from God and as an absolute privilege, and I am so thankful. The surprises and the good things never seemed to stop, and I don’t think they’ll ever stop. I’d just like to thank Mr. Ramsey, Ms. Kronenberg, Don, and of course the sponsors, for keeping this program going and still growing for years to come. Without all of you, not only would I not have had the opportunity to be in this wonderful program, but the students in the future wouldn’t either. And thank you, Mr. Mannix, for being such a wonderful chaperone and a “single father” for his “four diverse orphans”. Thanks Narges, Yessenia, and Hannah for being the sisters I never had. We truly became a little family on this trip. Thank you, Mother and Grandma, for never losing doubt that I would try my hardest and always being happy for me no matter what. And thank you readers. I know you didn’t get to experience with me first-hand how much experience I’ve gained on this trip, but I hope that these blog posts sufficed.
A visit from Ms. Kronenberg and Mr. Mannix; we were still growing at the time
I guess you don’t realize how much you’ve grown and how much you’ve learned until it’s all over. Still, this isn’t the end of my adventure. I have a lot to share with the community. My future is starting now, and the time is ticking.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Forever Indebted


And the journey begins... 
“ Welcome back!” my uncle greeted me as I walked up to the door. He was glowing and had  a smile plastered on his face. I hugged him and moved over the threshold into the house, removing my shoes as I did so. I placed my bag by the foot of the stairs and went upstairs to say hello to my grandma, who I found sitting on her bed watching her favorite programs.
“ Salaam Modar Jan,” I said as I walked over to her. I sat on the bed next to her and kissed her on the cheek as she wrapped her arms around me.
“ Salaam bachem,” she said in a weak voice. We sat together for a while, feasting on almonds and drinking black tea as she bombarded me with questions she had asked five seconds before.
Soon, my mother entered the room dressed in old clothes. She had an old rag in one hand and a bucket of cleaning supplies in the other. She grabbed some stuff from the drawers next to my grandma’s bedand headed towards the bathroom that was outside in the hall. “ Make sure she takes her medicine,” she whispered to me as she left the room, pointing at the small, rectangular plastic container sitting in front of my grandma. I nodded and watched her walk into the bathroom and begin cleaning before turning my attention back to my grandma.
“ Grandma, you should take these,” I said, pouring the contents of one of the small compartments of the box into her small, wrinkled hand. She stared at the colorful, small spheres and cylinders in her hand with melancholy eyes before lifting it shakily to her mouth. The look on her face as she stared at those pills made something churn in my stomach and feel horribly uncomfortable. When she caught me staring with my sympathetic gaze, she merely smiled, gently grabbing my face in her hands to kiss my cheeks. Her eyes, however, betrayed her smile; they conveyed a deep sadness, far beyond anything I could ever comprehend.

I was feeling uncomfortable so I decided to go downstairs in the kitchen to get something to drink. As I walked into the kitchen, I saw my uncle standing behind the sink washing dishes. I smiled at him as I reached over to get a glass from the cupboard.
  “ How was you’re trip?” he asked as I poured some water into the glass. I grabbed my drink and walked over to the table, where I sat and took a drink before answering.
“ It was awesome,” I responded excitedly “I learned a lot and I met some great people.”
“ That’s great!” he said, working on a particularly stubborn stain on one plate. “Did you like any of the colleges you saw there?”
“ Well, I fell in love with Duke University and Vanderbilt was nice as well, but UPenn and Georgetown didn’t make much of an impression on me.”
 Oh really, why not?” he asked, his eyes glued to the plate with the stubborn stain.
“ Well, when I stepped foot on Duke, I instantly felt this connection. I was totally impressed with the campus because it looked like a castle! I love gothic architecture, so I really liked it. I felt like I was in Hogwarts or something, so it was pretty cool.”
“ That sounds more scary than it does cool,” he said, finally tearing his eyes away from that wretched plate to give me a skeptical look.
“ Exactly.” I took another sip of my drink.
“ Is that all you liked about Duke?” he asked, returning to his complicated task of cleaning the plate.
“ No, I also liked the community there and the sense of school spirit.”
“ What do you mean?”
“ Well, during our time there we had a tour of the campus with four students who attended Duke. They were all so nice and intelligent. I just enjoyed being in their presence.”
“ That’s great but that’s only four students. I’m sure there are unpleasant people there as well.”
“ Well, obviously there are annoying people all over the world, but I don’t know, I just got this feeling from the people I saw and talked to over there. They were all so friendly and they interacted well with us. Unlike the people at Georgetown.”
“ What happened at Georgetown?” ”
 “ Everything there just seemed so impersonal: from the presentation by the admin officer to the tour, it was all just so dull. I didn’t get that feeling like they were genuinely interested in me.”
“ Hmmm, I see. What about Penn?” he asked, finally surrendering to the plate.
“ Penn was great. I liked the campus and everything; I found it rather unique, and the tour and presentation was pretty cool too, but I just wasn’t feeling it.”
“ Really? I’ve heard of Penn and it sounds like an awesome university”
“ It is, but it isn’t for me. I really liked touring the colleges for the first week though. I learned so much about my own preferences. I realized what type of college suits me best.”
“ Oh really, and what’s that?” he inquired turning off the sink and walking over to sit next to me.
“ Well, for example, I really liked how Duke was surrounded by trees, but at the same time the city was only a few miles away. Vanderbilt was the same as well. I liked the balance of civilization and vegetation.”  
“ That’s good. Most students don’t realize how important the university campus is to their life at college. The university you choose to study at is going to be your home for the next four years, so if you don’t like the campus then you are not going to be happy there.”
“ Yeah, I’m really glad I got the chance to see those colleges. I know I never could have convinced my parents to take me to see them.”
“ Yeah, you lucked out kid!” he said, his brown eyes playful. He looked behind me at the clock mounted on the wall and got up from his seat. “ I better head to work or I’ll be late.” He kissed me on the cheek and went upstairs to say goodbye to my mother and grandma before leaving.

After he left, I found myself rather drowsy so I went to lie down on the soft, crimson loveseat situated in the far north corner of the room. My mother was busy bathing my grandmother upstairs, my other uncle was sleeping, and the uncle I was just talking to had just left for work, so I had the downstairs room to myself. I closed my eyes and basked in the peaceful silence.
My thoughts soon began to drift, and I began reflecting on the events that had transpired in the past month. It was amazing how much I had changed in a mere month after my trip to the southeast. I chuckled to myself after I realized how much my perception of college had changed. Everything I was once certain of was completed eradicated and replaced with newer, more definite certainty. Now, I know for sure which schools I will be applying to this fall, and I also now know where I want to spend my four years of college studying.  I know now what to expect when I am in college, and it’s all because of the Ivy League Connection.

I must say, when I first heard about the ILC I was skeptical. It seemed incredulous to me that I would be given the chance to tour some of the most prestigious colleges, attend fancy dinners, and actually live and study on the campus of one of the most prominent universities in the country for free. I thought I would have to sign a contract that said I would have to sell a vital organ or give up my first born some day as a catch. However, fortunately, I was just being my paranoid self and nothing of the sort was required. I had qualified for the program and signed up to get the essay prompts from a Mr. Don Gosney to fulfill the first stage of the application process.

Sometime during my winter break I was inundated with emails from Don. After reading some of his emails I had come to the conclusion that he was quite an interesting character, and I was suddenly overwhelmed with this feeling of foreboding that told me these were just the first of many emails. I scanned the prompts and grew excited with the challenge the posed. However, there were many prompts, and I did not want to drain myself of all my energy by applying to every single school. Therefore, I decided to wait until I learned which classes were being offered at which schools. Eventually I learned that only three schools were offering classes I was interested in: Vanderbilt, Yale, and Pennsylvania. As a result, I only applied to those three schools.

A few weeks after I had submitted all my applications, I received an email telling me I had made it to the interview stage for Vanderbilt University. I was very excited and very proud of myself. My parents, however, were not. They were carrying around the same doubt I once held about this program, and they didn’t think I could get in even if it was a legitimate program. I was slightly disappointed that my parents were not being very supportive, but luckily I had my sisters to cheer me on.

The ILC brought me to Washington DC for Independence Day, and I was able
see the most beautiful fireworks I have ever seen in my entire life. 
The interview was nerve-racking, but I got through it pretty well. I kept replaying the questions I was asked and my answers to them during my classes for the rest of the day. At lunch I finally learned that I had made it into the ILC and I would be going to Vanderbilt University to study. I was ecstatic. I called my parents to tell them and they were very surprised.

After that I had a plethora of paper work to complete, dinners to attend, and emails to respond to. It was rather stressful at first, but without realizing it I had developed all these new skills; I was able to write and respond to emails more formally, I learned to be diligent and regularly check my emails, but most importantly, I learned how to follow directions from my superiors. I was already being molded into a better student and individual without even realizing it.

The trip itself was a life-changing event. Before the ILC, I never even knew about Duke or Vanderbilt or any of those other great schools. All I knew about were UCs and private universities here in California, and I was intent on going to one. However, once I saw the beauty of those other schools, my mind was completely opened. I saw that there are schools outside of California that have so much more to offer their students. I came to the conclusion that I would not be happy if I stayed in school in California because I would not be allowing myself to grow to my full potential; all the schools in California I had originally planned to apply to were close to home, so I would still be dependent on my parents instead of on myself. I did not want that. After being away from my parents for three weeks at Vandy, I realized that I thrive when I am on my own. I realized that I could flourish so much more.

The ILC gave me the chance to fly for the first time,
and see the world in a way I had never done so before.

Washington DC
Washington DC
I met some amazing, intelligent people while at VSA, and I am thankful I met
these wonderful people. 
The ILC showed me beautiful things. 

The ILC showed me Duke University. 

I just added this one because I love the masks :) 

The ILC brought me to Nashville, Tennessee. 

The ILC allowed me to teach new things. 

And finally, the ILC allowed me to have fun. 

My trip to Vanderbilt University has opened my eyes, mind, and heart. I have met so many great people and learned so many great things. Most importantly, however, I have learned so many things about myself and about the world. The ILC has made me realize that there is a life for me outside of California, and that the sky is the limit. My parents are now completely supportive of my decision to apply to out-of-state-schools, a feat I know never would have happened without aid from the ILC. I want to thank every one from the ILC who made my trip possible; Mr. Ramsey, Mrs. Kronenberg, Don, the sponsors, Mr. Mannix, and my parents. Because of you all, I am now ready to face college and any challenges it make cause me. I am forever indebted to the ILC.