Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Fourth of July In DC

There is no better place to be on the Fourth of July than in the nation's capital. It was a scorching 96 degrees today in Washington, D.C. but that didn't stop the Vanderbilt cohort from exploring. We looked at monuments, saw a parade, took pictures, visited museums, played an interesting word game, and gawked at the beautiful fireworks show. It was a very fun and eventful day, but it was also surprisingly educational. By the end of the day, I was left with a mixture of confusing feelings, as well as with a profound new view of the world in which we live in.

The day started as it usually does with me and the other Vanderbilt girls waking up and groggily preparing ourselves for the day’s activities. We left our hotel around 11:30 and made our way through the throng of people to various places around the city. Every now and then we would stop to take some pictures by some sort of interesting or intricate monument. At one point we came upon a road that had people lined up on either side of it. Being the curious adolescent that I am, I asked someone what everyone is lined up for. "There is a parade happing here in 45 minutes," a police officer told me without even looking up from the notepad she was writing on. I thanked her and hurried back to my chaperone. When I returned to my cohort, I informed them of the parade and asked if they wanted to see it. They agreed, so we watched a bit of the parade and then headed towards the Holocaust museum. I don't know what I was expecting, but it certainly wasn't the emotional strain I felt after we toured the exhibit.

We started by learning about a Jewish boy named Daniel. The exhibit chronicled his life and had replicas of his different homes throughout the years, from the modern home he lived in before the rise of Adolf Hitler, to the concentration camps where his mother and younger sister Erica were murdered. Daniel survived the Holocaust, but thousands of other children, as well as adults, had not.

It was a four story long exhibit. After depicting Daniel's life, it showed several different stories of the Holocaust. One short film clip described it as "an entire school vanishing every day for 8 years." No Jewish soul was spared; not even young children. Their lives would end even before it began. I saw the faces of young girls my age who were murdered before they were even married. I saw the blue striped pajamas the Jewish people were forced to wear, and saw various videos of concentration camps. After a while, it became too much for me and I had to take a break from the exhibit.

I found a vacant bench in the corner of one exhibit and planted myself there as I reflected on what I had just seen. I never realized how incredibly fortunate I am to live in a land where I am not persecuted for my race. I could not fathom going through what the Jewish people of Nazi Germany went through under Hitler's hand. What's worse is that genocide still continues today in parts of Africa, Israel, and other parts of the world. It made me question the nature of men and evil and hate in the world we live in. However, after visiting the Smithsonian Museum I started to believe in the beauty of the world again. 

We watched a show called Journey to the Stars. It was a short documentary on the history of the sun and the stars. I was much too mesmerized by the magnificent pictures to properly listen to the facts, but I remember thinking how beautiful and interesting space is. It made me curious about the history and fate of the world.
After visiting the museums, we walked to the National Mall and found a place to watch the fireworks. Sweat glistened on our foreheads, our clothes clung to our bodies, and our legs ached from walking, so we decided to just rest for two hours until the fireworks began. To pass the time, we played a fun little game Hannah introduced us to.

Before we knew it it was 9:10. We watched in amazement as multicolored fireworks flared in the sky, emitting a loud boom and lighting the night sky. I have never seen such big and beautiful fireworks before in my life, and I will not forget them anytime soon.

The Surprises and Adventures Continue

It’s the third day, and I still have been getting the same amount of sleep every day. But this is okay, because luckily, today was our “off day”, since it is Independence Day. Nonetheless, an “off day” for us still means a very busy day, especially because we were in our nation’s capital for the 4th of July. From morning to late at night, our day was for the most part, full.

Just a nice biblical quote

I liked the sign, especially with the White House behind it.

After breakfast, we headed out to the National Mall by bus. From there, we began to take many pictures when we first encountered many gigantic buildings, like the National Treasury and the statues of people of historical importance, like Jackson. As we kept walking, we found the front of the White House (not the back like yesterday) and the Washington Monument, taking many more lovely pictures.

D.C. still wasn’t very busy, that is until we waited for the parade to start. It was nice to rest after quite a bit of walking already in this humid heat, but I could tell that the city was now filling up. We didn’t stay for the entire parade. We only watched a few floats, a few singers, and a few marching bands (although there were a lot of bands since there were--we heard--over a 100 different performances), before we decided that we just didn’t have enough time to watch the whole parade. So, after, we decided to go to our first museum, the Holocaust Museum.

Uncle Sam: giant size
I’m so glad my cohort wanted to go to the Holocaust Museum, because this was actually the number one thing I wanted to do here. My mother told me the museum had so much information and that when she was there, she spent countless hours reading and looking at everything there was. She was right; the museum was very informative, keeping me interested the whole time there (not all museums are the most interesting to me). I knew a lot about the Nazi Germany and World War II, because you learn a lot about them in AP U.S. History and World History. I knew about their propaganda tactics, their brutality towards the Jews, and especially about Adolf Hitler, since I wrote an extensive research paper in the 10th grade about how he was able to rise and maintain his supremacy over Germany for so long. However, in terms of getting really personal with certain Jews about their experience and the rescuers, I wasn’t as knowledgeable, until I came to this museum.
A very philosophical quote by Dwight Eisenhower
In addition, the museum was very specific giving me the names of all the concentration camps and ghettos that the Jewish people had to live in. One thing that did surprise me greatly, however, was when I saw the map of all the concentration camps, death camps, and ghettos that were all over Europe. There were so many; there had to be at least one of these just a few miles apart from each other. This just goes to show how much effort the Nazis took just to exterminate a generation of a race.  

Hannah and I were given a little head-start on our Lived Religion course. We watched a fifteen minute video about anti-Semitism toward the Jews. This seemingly can be traced back to the times of Christ. Christ was a Jew himself, and all of his followers were too. However, later, Christians would blame the Jews for killing the Messiah. Rome’s religion then became Christianity, and so their anti-Semitism continued to grow, and the rest is history. It wasn’t until the late 20th century would the Vatican take out of their records that the Jews were responsible for killing Jesus Christ. To be honest, I still think there is a lot of bullying towards these people, and hopefully it will stop soon. It makes me sad, just typing about this place, so I’ll just stop there. Anyway, we stopped by the museum's cafĂ© to eat lunch; it was nice and light.

At the Air and Space Museum
After eating, we made our way to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. I thought all the museums and monuments in the D.C. would be closer, but now I know that I was very wrong to think that. It took a while to get to this museum, but when we did, we explored many things inside this enormous place. It was my second time coming to this museum, and the girls kept telling me that I should lead them because I’ve been there before. But honestly, I didn’t remember anything except for plenty of airplanes and rockets, and that’s what I told them. The place was huge, and super busy. A rock band by some military members was playing inside the museum, and this place was definitely much more lively than the mellow feeling of the Holocaust Museum.
In front of the original Wright Brothers plane!
After that, we walked to a huge grass field near the Washington Monument to wait for the famous fireworks.  It was great to be able to chill for a little bit after a long day of walking. The fireworks were absolutely amazing; I have never seen fireworks this close before, nor have I seen them that big! It was a great way to end the night. Before blogging, we got some pizza and took them in the hotel room.

Well, I guess we can call it a night. Happy Fourth of July!

Our Eventful Day In D.C.

The Fourth of July: the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, a night to spend with your family and friends, and ultimately, the Vanderbilt cohort’s day off from any activities planned by the ILC.

Even though today was supposed to be a break from our usual plans, it really didn’t feel like it. In my opinion, today was the most tiresome day we’ve had so far. Of course, this is most likely because much of the day consisted of walking, (we had no rental car) which in addition to the heat, was not an enjoyable process. However, all of that walking was worth the spectacular sights we saw today.
The streets of Washington D.C.
Our morning was particularly quiet, probably because of how late we went to sleep last night. We first headed out to finally see the front side of the White House, which looks just as pearly white as it does in the photos. Unfortunately, a gate blocked most of the view of the White House and we only had a small view of it.
We then took a few photos, and went on to go see the Washington Monument. However, on our way there we got sidetracked and decided to stay near an intersection and watched the 4th of July Parade. All the performers that we got to see were entertaining and I enjoyed watching the several marching bands play. I admit, as a band member myself, I was a little jealous of their fancy new instruments and energetic color guard, but overall I am content with the band I am in. Even so, I still felt bad for the poor guys marching in the torturous weather.

During the middle of the parade we eventually chose to leave to the Holocaust Memorial Museum a little more than half a mile away. This museum is somewhere that I’ve always wanted to go to, and I am glad I did. From the videos about treatment of Jews throughout history to the heart-wrenching story of a little Jewish boy, the museum reminded me of the importance of the factors revolving around the Holocaust and how things like this terror are happening today. It is not just a nightmarish story, it is real and we must all act to prevent genocides from occurring everywhere. It is terrible to live in a planet where hate is overflowing; that is why it is our job to prevent so much hate on this planet.

After the Holocaust Museum, we took an extremely long and exhausting walk to the Air and Space Museum, which is a part of the Smithsonian. It was huge, with tons of people and enormous model airplanes hanging off the ceiling. We did not stay there for very long; however we did see a show called Journey of the Stars. It was a mesmerizing show in a room with a huge dome for a screen. This screen enabled everyone to see every aspect of the show, making it look like we were really in space. I enjoyed the short film and I wish all movie theatres were like this so it can give a very realistic movie experience.

Once the film ended, we once again went in the excruciating heat and walked near the Washington Monument to watch the fireworks at 9 PM. We arrived extremely early so we tried to relax on the sticky grass before the show was to begin. After about 2 hours of waiting, the fireworks display finally began.

Gosh, I have never seen such a brilliant display of fireworks so close in my whole life; I mean one year, we didn’t even see any fireworks and I ended up watching a video of one on my laptop (I was 10, and I really wanted to see them that year). All the colors were extra bright and even hurt my eyes a little but it was still gorgeous. My favorite of all the fireworks is the one that looks like a beautifully flowing golden waterfall. I think it is the most enticing one of all of them and it gives the sky an angelic and divine look to it.

After about 10 or 15 minutes, the display ended with huge minute-long bangs that probably were loud enough to be heard in California. I think this was a brilliant way to end an excellent day of sight-seeing, and touring.

I am glad we got to have this taste of Washington D.C. before our tour at Georgetown tomorrow. It makes the tour even more intriguing now that we know how the surrounding city is like. Time for Georgetown, my second east side university!

Independence Day At Our Nation's Capital

Many people can look at our daily itinerary and see that our 4th of July is full of relaxation compared to our busy college tour schedules. While it was quite an adventurous day, full of new sights and information, it was quite tiring and not quite relaxing. We kicked off our day with another continental breakfast, then took a bus ride to explore the monuments and tourist spots at Washington D.C.

Unfortunately, the blazing heat hit us right from the start of our day. Regardless, we took many photos to capture this wonderful opportunity of spending Independence Day in our nation's capital. From monuments to the White House, we made sure we documented this rare trip with our lovely cameras. It was my first time to see everything, and I enjoyed how beautiful everything looked.

The Washington Monument!
The White House!

We then decided to watch a snippet of the 4th of July parade near the National Mall. I was amazed to see the many marching bands that participated. Being the upcoming drum major of my school’s marching band, I paid close attention to the different bands. Some were very large, some played very well, some had different marching formations, and one band was just a little off step. Even though my band may not be able to participate in a parade like this, it gave me a little push to improve it. I commend the marching bands for playing in such hot weather, and thankfully there were adults squiggling around the band, squirting water into mouths that were dehydrated.

After a brief parade watch, we took a walk to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. I was really thankful when we entered buildings because they were very well air-conditioned. I was touched as I walked through the Daniel’s Story exhibit. It was a story about a young Jew, who experienced the oppression of genocide, but amazingly survived the concentration camps. I walked through a replica of his home and read his diary entries. Overall, I was saddened by how much torture Jews experienced, but enlightened by the fact that although it has passed, people are working now to prevent genocide.The Holocaust Museum provides an opportunity for people to help those who are affected by racial persecution by educating them on the issues and problems of genocide.Its efforts to change the world are touching and inspiring. The experience was very overwhelming as a lot of information was to be taken in regarding the Holocaust. You could spend a whole day at the museum just looking and reading everything, and boy would you be astounded to see the real bunk beds used in concentration camps, and the shoes that were worn by the Jews.

With much more to see on a full stomach from lunch, we then walked to the Air and Space Museum, just one of the many sections of the Smithsonian Museum. I enjoyed seeing the many planes hanging from the ceiling, especially the very first airplane built by the Wright Brothers. I couldn’t believe it was really the actual plane! Without them, we wouldn’t be where we are today! We also watched a show called Journey of the Stars in the planetarium. Because I don’t think I will ever become an astronaut, this experience was the closest I will ever get to the stars. It was very beautiful, and it felt like I was actually spinning in the galaxy.

The Wright Brothers plane!
Out of the past three days we have been traveling, this was definitely the hottest. I was sweating like crazy and it was not fun at all. We took a long walk to the National Mall through the crowded festival, and ended up sitting in front of the Washington Monument to get a good view of the fireworks.

As we sat, relaxing on the grass, I taught my cohort the word game called Contact. At first it took them a couple of tries to understand the game, but by the end even our chaperone Mr. Mannix joined in. We had some good laughs and had an expanded vocabulary word bank.  

The day ended with a brilliant fireworks show. The entire National Mall was completely filled with people, and of course it was the best fireworks show I have seen. We had a great view with the fireworks being right above us. It covered a large part of the sky, and the finale was a beautiful sight of continuous pops and booms. Amidst the large crowd we managed to arrive safely back at our hotel. We each ended our night with a nice cold shower and freshly baked pizza. I’m exhausted, but excited for  the college tour of Georgetown University tomorrow!


A Very Busy Day

Today made it official: I am going to apply (and get in) to Duke University. In the past, I never would have made such a bold statement. In fact, I never would have considered applying to any schools outside of California for college. However, after touring the awe-inspiring campus of Duke University twice, hearing an abundance of information about it, and talking to some actual Duke students, it kicked any doubt of applying to out-of-state universities right out of my mind.

The hotel alarm woke us (Hannah, Yessenia, and myself) up at 5 o'clock in the morning today. We weren't supposed to meet our chaperone, Mr. Mannix, and the lone male wolf of our group, Chris, until 6:55 in the hotel lobby, but we needed the time to get ready; three girls plus one shower and one mirror takes at LEAST an hour and half to get ready.

After we finished getting ready, we headed down to the lobby to have breakfast with Mr. Mannix and Chris. Once we finished our biscuit sandwiches, cereal, fruits, and coffee, we hopped in our rental van and headed for the admissions office at Duke University, where we met with Samuel Carpenter, the Admissions Officer for Northern California at Duke.

Mr. Carpenter was an interesting character. Usually, when I hear the words “college admissions officer” I think of a man with cold beady eyes and pursed lips pressed into a hard line with a stoic face who is annoyed with high school students constantly pestering him to reveal the secrets of college admittance. However, Mr. Carpenter was not like that at all; he was very friendly and warm. He greeted us with a warm smile and a firm handshake when we met him in a room that was designed like a living room. He happily answered the many questions each of us threw at him rather thoroughly—including Yessenia's "How culturally diverse is Duke?" question, for which he provided a very interesting answer.

He informed us that Duke was diverse in every sense of the word. Not only does Duke accept students from different parts of the United States, but also from other countries. In fact, 11% of the population of Duke are international students. However, Duke is also diverse in terms of the interests, skills, and abilities of the students who attend this university. So, really, you can find very different students at each corner of Duke.

I also asked him a question that daunts many high school applicants: SAT scores. Personally, it is a subject that makes me want to run in a closet and hide, but Mr. Carpenter lifted my fears. He told me that there is no “average score” for students who attend Duke, but rather a 25-50-25 system. What this means is that 50% of the students at Duke will score between certain numbers in each category of the test, but that means 25% scored lower and 25% scored higher. He stressed the fact that test scores and grades are things that only tell the school of your test taking abilities and academic skills, but nothing about who you are; the personal statements are what are important. 

After our meeting with Mr. Carpenter, we attended an hour and a half long information session about Duke University given by yet another admissions officer. She talked about how close the professors are to their students. In fact, one teacher actually plays in the marching band for the school, and another teacher once asked his students to scream at the top of their lungs in the auditorium to help alleviate the stress of their first Duke test. She also spoke about the study abroad program and the various things Duke students were given the opportunity to do abroad. 

Another interesting thing she mentioned was the certificates program, which is something like a minor program. Basically, what this program does is that is allows students to develop a deeper understanding of their major by putting in classes that pertain to their major in a more real world way. These classes apply everything students learn and focus on in their majors to the real world, instead of just focusing on the fundamentals. It is a great program that really helps students succeed in any job pertaining to their major.

After the information session ended, we participated in yet another tour of the campus, however this tour was much more informative and in-depth than the one we had our first day. My forehead glistened with sweat and my legs ached from all that walking, but it was all worth it because I got to see the lovely campus of Duke on a more in-depth level. I learned that Duke is religious, but it practices several religions rather than just focusing on one. There is even a house dedicated purely to Islam! I was jubilant when I heard this because no other school I visited practiced Islam.

The final stop of the tour was inside the Duke chapel. It was my first time entering a holy building that was not Islamic, and it was the most beautiful, magnificent piece of architecture I have ever laid eyes on. It was big and grand and very colorful, with stained-class windows that depicted all the major stories of the Bible. The images made me curious, as I was not familiar with their story; it made me want to learn about them. The beauty and grandeur of the chapel left me breathless.

After the tour ended, we trudged our way through the heat to our rental van and drove to return it. We then took a shuttle to the airport and went through the headache that is airport security before we boarded the plane to Washington DC.

The flight itself was very short, but it felt much longer to me. Perhaps it felt that way because I had so much flowing through my mind. I thought about Duke and everything I had learned in my two days in Durham. I pictured myself there and I tried to pick out one bad thing about it, but I simply could not find one. It literally has everything a student needs; it has a center that is like a shopping center where students can buy anything they need. There are also many restaurants on campus so students never have to leave to get a bite to eat. I have never seen a university with so many things to offer its students. Duke University is simply wonderful.

When we arrived at DC we were driven to our hotel in a big, black SUV. We had only one thing on our minds when we entered our air-conditioned room: blogging. Just kidding! We had just come from a blazing hot place with sweat from our bodies falling like Niagara Falls. Naturally, the first thing on our minds was the pool (but don't worry, blogging was the second thing).

We swam for about an hour and then readied ourselves for dinner at Founding Farmers, an organic restaurant that is close to the White House and recycles its food. We were a little more over-dressed than a majority of the patrons there, but that did not phase us. We ordered some delicious foods and spent the night chatting, laughing, and getting to know our chaperone. We even ended up saving some money on the bill because our vegan chaperone spotted a sliver of bacon buried within his salad.
Our delicious appetizer at Founding Farmers
Black Pepper Chicken Wings
House Salad
Stray and Hey Pasta
At the end of the day, we returned to our hotels via taxi. We then bustled into our hotel room, changed out of our formal attire into our pajamas, and readied ourselves to begin blogging when Chris knocked on our door. We let him in and the four of us began to blog about our day together. There were brief moments of silence where the only sounds were that of the air conditioner, mutters under breathes, and busy fingers typing furiously. Occasionally, one of us would break the silence and read our blog out loud to the other, asking for some advice and changing whatever we felt needed to be changed.

So far, this is the second night that we all blog together as a team, and honestly it is my favorite way to end a busy day.
Vanderbilt ladies waiting for our table
The two Vandy girls who are terrified of flying
My view from the plane
Outside the East Wing of the White House