Monday, July 2, 2012

Magical Castle and Green Everywhere: The First Day

Today is the first day of our 26 days away from home, and I can honestly say everything went very smooth.  There were no troubles, not even the slightest. All of our suitcases were weighed perfectly under the 50 lb. limit, perhaps even under 45. Our shuttle arrived on time. We got to the airport before 5 AM. Security check was the fastest I’ve ever been through. Our transfer flight was no rush and no wait as well. The hotel check-in was very fast. Everything just seemed to go with us, not against us. All of the things we had to do fell right into place, from our departure from El Cerrito High School to the Hilton in Durham where I’m now writing this blog post.
Waiting for our plane at Oakland Airport!
We got the van!
The very first thing that I noticed about North Carolina is how green it is! It really is a beautiful place to be in. Endless tall trees surround you at every turn, and it’s as if you are hidden in the forest (especially when you're at Duke University). I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many trees and green of that volume until today. I told Mr. Mannix, “It must be really nice outside, probably a lot of oxygen.” Well, I stepped outside, and it wasn’t as hot as I expected, although not as fresh as I expected. However, once I started lugging my luggage up a little staircase, I started to already sweat. On top of that, it really wasn’t as refreshing as I thought, and it kind of smelled funny. I guess I forgot what humid weather is like. Nonetheless, it actually was refreshing once the sun went down and when things started to cool off. That was very satisfying.  I can go on and on about how adventurous and how amazing this trip has been so far, but I’d much better like to talk about the school we visited today: Duke University.
So much green...and haze.
My hotel room--all to myself!
Today, our cohort had the opportunity to have a tour by the Students of Internal Affairs—before we have a tour guide with just the history and facts of the school tomorrow morning. This was perfect, because it is always valuable to have the actual students give their input about their experience at the school. And we could tell when the students were arguing about their experiences at Duke, that there is just so much to experience here. However, all of them reminded us that any college you go to—not just Dukeyou put in how much you want out of it. At Duke, the academics are tough, but do-ableas long as you are focused.

One of the things I loved about this school is just how liberal it is. The only required course is a writing course, which there are many to choose from. If your major doesn't relate to the class, then you are not required to take the class. This is one of the key things I like about the academics here so far. Duke is considered a liberal arts college, and at the moment, liberal arts colleges are what I'm looking into in prepration for my college applications.

As I mentioned in my pre-departure post, Duke was the one of the four schools that I’ve been most wanting to visit, and I think I know why now. The school is magical, and it resembles a castle in my opinion—almost like Hogwarts! As you can see, I’m a pretty big Harry Potter fan. Anyway, I really wasn’t prepared for how enormous the campus was. Before this trip, I looked up images of Duke on Google, and it showed me very few buildings, and it gave me the impression that Duke was a pretty small college. However, immediately stepping on to the campus with the tour from the students, I was utterly amazed. We kept seeing more and more, and it’s just amazing how spread out everything is. Yet, one student mentioned that your dorm can be right next to your class in the neighboring building.
The Chapel at Duke
The only thing that is not of my utter most interest of Duke is how secluded it is from the city life. Although perhaps my opinion about what type of surroundings I’d like my future college to have will change, because I’m not sure if the such spirited culture of Duke will be the same if the city surrounded it. The campus really is a unique area, and it is nice to just be in a student-friendly environment. In fact, the four students told us that 97% of the time, you’ll know someone you see at Duke, and they were very right. Almost every person who crossed their paths, they gave a nice greeting to. With that said, I think the number of students here is perfect (about 6,000 undergraduates and 6,000 graduates). With such little enrollment at the school, it’s amazing how involved students are. For example, if you see their school newspaper, you’ll be intrigued of how much effort the students put into it (although the students told us it was much bigger than normal). Well, enough about Duke. There will be more talk about this amazing school tomorrow, when we have a “normal” tour in the morning.
Well this day has been very long but very worthwhilemore to come tomorrow!

From CA to NC

Flying in airplanes is definitely not for me. After today, I’m really not looking forward to the next couple of flights on our agenda.

Going through the airport was a quick and easy process. We had no major problems and made it to our boarding site with time to spare. However, the easy-going mood of the morning would quickly go downhill.
Before the long flight
Don’t get me wrong, being with my cohort is tons of fun; it’s just that it would’ve been a whole lot better if I didn’t have motion sickness – or whatever it’s called when you feel nauseas in an airplane. Going up was not that bad; it was being in the air for so long, combined with the scary landings that made flying a bad experience for me.

However, once we landed in Raleigh, North Carolina I was relieved that we wouldn’t have to fly for the rest of the day. Nonetheless, I am ready to take on our next flight tomorrow, no matter how terrible it will be for me.
Anyway, once we arrived in Raleigh, I saw how green it was compared to the Bay Area. I mean, the whole place was covered in trees; it was quite beautiful. However, the heat was intense. The air was so moist and warm; it made it uncomfortable to breathe. I mean I got sweaty from just climbing the stairs – that’s how bad it was.

When we finally made it to our hotel room, I lied down on the cold and comfortable bed and hugged the icy sheets to cool down from the weather outside. However, we only stayed there for a few minutes before it was time to meet the students at Duke University. And, by a few minutes, I mean we had about 10-15 minutes to turn from sweaty pigs to presentable high school students, which I actually think we succeeded in doing.
Once we met up with the four students, Michelle, Nandini, Sebastian, and Matt, we all then began a west-side tour of the Duke campus. I must say, the gothic architecture is stunning, and together with all the trees and swinging tables, it paints a beautiful picture.
An arch where someone whispers from one side and you hear it in the other
One of the swinging tables

As we were walking around the campus, Nandini and Michelle explained the various activities going on at Duke University. For one, Duke has an exceptional study abroad program, where students get to travel to various countries and study a specific subject. For example, many students go to South Africa, France, or Italy to study what program that area offers. Studying abroad is something I’ve always wanted to do and I think Duke is a great place to do that – especially since they spoke well of the program, having done it themselves.

Another cool thing Duke does is try to keep the cohesiveness between each class. For example, they do these focus groups where all freshmen are around each other all the time. This creates a bond between the classes and in turn creates an environment that is both welcoming and helpful. I saw this for myself when I saw all of the students eating together like a huge family. It is really pleasant to know that Duke has this kind of atmosphere.

I was also wondering how normal college life was for each of these students. Expecting them to be similar, I was surprised to find out that their college lives completely differed from each other. Sebastian described his as a stereotypical college life, the kind you see in the movies, while Nandini describes hers as the complete opposite. I found this quite interesting. The Duke students then explained that at Duke, college life can go either way. It all depends on what you do there and what you envision yourself to be. I really enjoy this kind of freedom because I believe that everyone has the power to lead their lives in any direction they want to. To add to this, Michelle and Matt also informed us about the freedom all students have in Duke. For example, people don’t have to declare a major until sophomore year, which gives a ton of time before people decide what they really want to do.

In the end, I was really pleased to what Duke had to offer so far. I can’t wait to find out what else Duke has in store for us tomorrow, with our meeting with the admission’s officer. I also am looking forward to Georgetown and UPenn later this week. Can’t wait!

A New Found Love

“Everything we have you do is for a reason.” I have heard these words a multitude of times since I became a member of the Ivy League Connection. I never really understood the substance of that sentence until today. I have only been traveling for one day and already the Ivy League Connection has had a substantial impact on my life.

Today, the Ivy League Connection allowed me to face one of my biggest fears: traveling on an airplane. I have never flown on an airplane before, and I have always harbored negative thoughts about them. However, the actual experience was not as bad as I imagined it. In fact, it felt as though I were riding in a car. Sure, my heart began to race when the plane increased it’s speed and I felt it lift from the ground, and yes, my stomach did drop when the plane stooped down to land, but besides that, I was fine.

As a matter of fact, I felt absolutely nothing when I rode the plane from Chicago to Raleigh. On that flight, I was able to open up a book and read peacefully without any anxiety at all. I am sure that after this trip is over, riding on a plane will no longer be a big deal to me. The Ivy League Connection has allowed me to overcome a childish fear and grow up.

The Ivy League Connection has also opened my eyes to schools outside of California. Before I came on this trip, I never considered going to school outside of California for college. However, today the four students who gave us a tour of Duke University really made me rethink things.

They spoke very fondly of Duke. They talked about how the student body is very small, even though the campus itself is rather large. They each agreed that almost everyone knows one another at Duke, and that the students participate in many activities that involve a lot of social interaction, so you are always meeting new people.

Beside the jovial atmosphere of the student body, the architecture of Duke is also reason to attend college here. I have never seen so many brick buildings in one place before (North Carolina has many brick buildings because it does not experience earthquakes). The architecture is truly remarkable, and it gives off a Harry Potter-like feeling. The crimson, orange, and golden brown of the buildings was complimented by the lush, green landscape. The entire campus is just very beautiful and very relaxing.
Vanderbilt Cohort underneath one of the many amazing
buildings of Duke University.
All in all, it was a very informative (and exhausting) day. I overcame a childish fear, saw a new state, and fell in love with a new school.  It is only the first day and I am already beginning to change. I wonder what the next 26 days has in store for me. Well, only time will tell.
These are just one of the very interesting structures found all
around campus. Many students like to sit down and chat here as they
swing on the benches. 
Vanderbilt cohort at Duke University

Arriving At The Green State

Our first day, was quite a long day. As I rode with my parents to El Cerrito High School at three in the morning, it finally hit me that I will be away from my family for just about a month. I will truly miss them, and these same feelings will run inside me when my brother leaves for college in New York next month. Although it is a sad feeling, whether it is me going away for a month for the ILC program or my brother going away for college, I know it is a beneficial opportunity for us.

Our whole journey started really smoothly and everything went well. From our security checks, to the sudden landings of the planes, I am thankful for our safe arrival here at Raleigh, North Carolina. I am not a big fan of plane rides, because of the queasy feeling you feel as you land, and the elevation changes making it hard for you to hear clearly, but I must get used to it, for we still have quite a few plane rides here back East. I must admit going from place to place, with a tight schedule, in this hot muggy weather is not my favorite thing in the world, but I am sure the information gained and lessons learned will definitely pay off.

This sudden climate change compared to the Bay Area will take awhile to get used to. I feel like it is the most I have sweated in my life! But throughout these next few weeks, I hope to become adapted to the blazing heat. It was interesting to see North Carolina completely surrounded with green trees and green lawns!

In front of beautiful trees and a beautiful building!
We began our trip with a tour of Duke University led by current students attending the college. As I walked upon the campus full of beautiful green trees, I was amazed with the architecture of the brick buildings. Even off campus, I noticed many brick houses, and learned that it is because there are no earthquakes occurrences, but rather many thunder storms. The four Duke students who led our tour seemed very active in their school. As we walked from building to building, it astounded me to see how passionately they talked about their college. Each student had contributed their own perspective to college life at Duke, which proved the endless possibilities at Duke University. Of the many amazing opportunities mentioned during our tour the ones that stood out were:

  • You don’t declare your major until the spring of your sophomore year. This gives you the opportunity to explore a wide variety of classes, and discover which ones you are truly passionate for.
  • All freshmen are only required to take a writing class, with a maximum of 12 people in each class. Furthermore, there are tons of different writing classes, from the art of friendship to politics.
  • During your first year at Duke, students are put into some type of focus group, in order for them to start building a community within the school. This allows freshmen to become more comfortable with their peers as they begin to adapt to a college life.
  • Duke University has an amazing study abroad program. For example one can study pre-med in South Africa, and another can study in Italy. This emphasizes the vast opportunities that many people aren’t aware of.
  • If you walk around campus, as a student you’ll know 97% of the people there. Although the campus is very large and spread out, everyone practically knows each other and is like a close-knit family.
  • Lastly, while their academic program is great, many students have a lot of fun and show their school spirit. It was interesting to hear about their rivalry with North Carolina University during basketball season, and how they even “tent” for days outside the gym, to get good seats. On the contrary, Duke and North Carolina still have partnerships within scholarship programs.
Misters to create a cooler environment!
Awesome rocking table and chairs!
Our intelligent tour guides!
It’s overwhelming taking all this information in, making me eager to dig deeper into the school of Duke University. In addition to need-based scholarships and merit-based scholarships, they even have community-based scholarships! I especially liked how they stressed the fact that it’s each one of us who make our own decisions in college. We each have the freedom, to join as many clubs as we want, play as many sports, be as active as we want in our school while balancing our academic life. Our tour guides each had their own perspectives at Duke, with different experiences, exploring wonderful opportunities.

I am very thankful for this opportunity to hear life at Duke through a student’s perspective. It opened my eyes to the world outside of California. I am hoping to learn more tomorrow as I learn more about Duke through a different perspective! A lot of information has been soaked in this first day, and I am looking forward to more adventures!

What Have We Done?

Last Friday Nashville was 109º.  On Sunday it had dropped to 106º.  This afternoon our Vandy group will be flying into Raleigh, NC where it’s expected to be 96º with a 60% chance of thunderstorms.  Tomorrow they’ll head to Washington, D.C. where it’s expected to be 96º as well.  The heat has crippled the electricity grid where millions of people from Indiana to Washington, D.C. are without electricity and where officials hope to have it restored before the 4th of July holiday.

In some parts of our country what we’ve done might be considered child abuse or child endangerment. Transporting young people from a safe environment where the temperatures are in the mid-60’s, where the sun warms the soul without torching the body and where they won’t have to worry about incurring the wrath of Evil Don just because there’s no electricity for their blogging--all of this could be viewed by the wrong kind of jury as a crime against humanity.

We could argue that we’re just building character but when the prosecutors show the jury photos of four piles of ashes that used to be our Vandy group, some of us are going to be toast and can expect to do some serious prison time.

Nonetheless, our Vandy group gathered in front of ECHS this morning well before civilized people rise from their slumber so they could go through the ILC departure ritual where their luggage was examined and weighed, they were given last minute travel and blogging instructions and they said their fond farewells to their loved ones.

As an added bonus, the airport shuttle arrived plenty early and the driver was quick to load the luggage and his passengers before heading for the airport.

I fear, though, that the confidence of some of the parents (as was mine) was tested when the shuttle headed north when the freeway to the airport was south.  I have confidence, however, that sooner or later he’ll find a freeway onramp that will head him in the right direction.

It’s off to Vanderbilt by way of Raleigh, Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia where they will visit other universities to learn of alternative to the schools we have here in California.