Tuesday, July 10, 2012

It's Getting Better Every Day Here!

It's the second day at VSA, and I have been getting to know more and more people. I don't know why I was so worried about meeting new people and making new friends, when it was only the first full day yesterday. Friendships really do grow fast here, and everyone is so friendly here. I just wish  some proctor groups could split up a bit, because I can't meet some people because of their attachment to their proctor groups. 

Still, I've made a ton of new friends today--especially a group from Chicago. Five of them are in this scholarship program that sends them to different college programs as well, except they get to go for four years. They're a very friendly group of people. But, of course, they weren't the only people I met; there were many others today. I will take pictures of my new friendships sometimes and let you know who these people are, okay? Well, this one's sort of odd looking, but it was the weird lighting I guess.
My new friends (and old)!
Candid moving picture of the friends
And I'm sorry, girls, if you're reading this; I really missed you guys. We will get another laundry/blogging party with all the 4 reps. from Pinole, okay? Speaking of missing the cohort, it was great to see Ms. Kronenberg and Mr. Mannix again! It's been ages that we've seen Ms. Kronenberg, and although it's only been a few days that we haven't seen Mr. Mannix, it's felt just as long as not seeing Ms. Kronenberg. It was great to get updated on what everything was happening with them and the Ivy League Connection. I know that this program will keep expanding all over the country, and perhaps it will expand out of the country?

I've realized yesterday, and especially today, that the San Francisco Bay Area is a very unique place. I didn't realize how many slang terms I use on a daily basis, such as "hella", "hecka", "dope", "raw", and etc. I guess some terms I use are known as "ghetto slang", but everyone at my school uses these terms, so it's peculiar and pretty funny. I guess some of these terms aren't even "California"; they're "Bay Area".

One of my friends, Christien, asked me before my religion class if I surfed or not. I said, "Are you serious?" He looked at me with a straight face waiting for my answer. He told me that when you see California commercials you see beaches, surfers, and skaters. Well, the skating part is right, but there's definitely no surfing without a wet suit in San Francisco beaches. The misconception people have about California as a whole surprises me.

I've also realized that growing up in the West Contra Costa Unified School District has made me experience all sorts of diversity that many of the students here don't have the opportunity to experience. Many are actually jealous or curious for what it's like in  my area.

Anyway, in my Lived Religion class today, we did our crash course presentations of the three different monotheistic faiths that we will explore for the next 3 weeks. All the three groups of students' presentations were very thorough and gave me a good summary of what I should basically know about these three religions before diving in deeper to their religious practices. I'm glad I had the opportunity to be a part of the Islam slide show, because nearly everything I researched (as well as what my group researched) was something new that I never knew.

One major aspect of Islam that I've really got to learn was the Koran. The Koran is pretty much the continuation of the Bible. However, Muslims take the Koran literally, because it is God's word in first person point-of-view. Many people believe it to be sacred, even mystical, so they believe if the Koran were to be translated, it would lose its spiritual uplifting it has on Muslims. I also learned that the Koran is the most memorized book in the world. This just shows how passionate Muslims are about their faith. Well, the Koran is only 4/5 the size of the New Testament, but still, that is something. The Koran isn't as historical than it is doctrinal, unlike the Bible, so it was interesting to see that irony.

The second major aspect of Islam that I've really got to learn was Muhammad's role in the Muslim community. I pictured Muhammad to be a prophet and looked up to (like Jesus); well, he was looked up to as a prophet. However, Muhammad was more than just a holy prophet; he was a politician/conqueror. Muhammad fought wars, and he won them--helping future conquerors to spread the Muslim empire from Spain all the way to Persia. He also had several wives.

I could go on and on, but those were the things that popped out of me the most during the first half of class. The second half of class was mostly reading a few very complicated texts, and finding out what the writers' essays were trying to tell us. I'm not sure why, but I found this pretty difficult to do, and it was a little hard to concentrate until we got into groups. The essays were basically about how sociologists and anthropologists study different cultures and/or societies. There's this concept called, going native, where observing isn't enough to understand a culture; you have to be involved and immersed in it. This concept was basically what the essays were about. The essays brought to the table the question about whether we should preserve our own beliefs or fully immerse ourselves in the society's beliefs. Should we be fully open to what the society is like, or should we build a few walls in the places of our minds? I didn't expect these essays to be like this, and I realized they were a pathway for us to get more personal about how we will observe and analyze the various religious communities and places of worship these three weeks.

That's pretty much it today. I can't wait for tomorrow, because I know VSA is only going to get better and better.

Our Second Day In Class: What IS A Drug?

I can see that every morning will probably be routine. We wake up, have breakfast, (which usually consists of eggs, bacon, and cereal) and head to class. Fortunately, class was very interesting today; with a few discussions, a video, and reading.

In class, we had a class discussion about what classifies a drug. In general, something is a drug if our body reacts in a physical, biochemical, or mental way; if so, this substance is said to have a drug effect. So in the end, this puts a lot of things into that category like food, and even water. However, we all concluded that the difference between a drug and something else all depends on how you use it. For example, you can use a drug for recreational use like cocaine, and medical use like an anti-depressant. Even so, these roles can interchange with each other, which is interesting.
Another discussion we had afterwards was based off this video we watched during class. It was about a scientist from Harvard believing that placebos were stronger than actual medication for pain. Before I go on, I will explain what a placebo is. A placebo is basically a sugar pill given to patients who think its actual medicine. In the evidence stated by the scientist, he had more patients who had relieved symptoms from the placebo than the actual pain medication. Certain patients who complained about arthritis in their knee also got a fake surgery, and almost all patients reported no pain in their knee afterwards. I was a little skeptic about this idea, but I began to think about it more and I’ve come to realize that the body and mind are strongly connected to each other.

If you think about it, our minds affect a huge part of our well-being and even in other areas of life. For instance, when you have a huge test at school, you will more likely get the grade you want if you come in with optimism than negativity. All of this has made me begin to wonder about the limits of the placebo effects. Can it be used in other areas besides pain and confidence? I guess this is one of those questions you have to wait to be answered or answer yourself.

After class, I had my second day of fencing. Fencing was pretty fun today, except we haven't had a chance to use the swords yet. However, I think it’s safe to say that I am not doing too shabby on the technical part of fencing. Even so, I think that speedy crab walk we have to do is still pretty weird.

When dinner time arrived, I finally met up with my cohort for the first time since our separation. Ms. Kronenberg was also there, asking to us about our experiences so far in Vanderbilt. We had a nice long discussion about how different it was from our expectations.

Mr. Mannix and Ms. Kronenberg also talked to us about their visit to different colleges. There was a predominantly female college they were thinking about adding to the ILC and sending boys to this program instead of girls. I thought this was pretty cool since this school really needs more boys – I mean, it is 80% girls.
Waiting for our laundry
Anyway, after our meeting together, we had the rest of the day for free time, which I spent with all my friends I’ve made here at VSA. We spent the time dancing and learning different types of mainstream dances from different parts of the U.S. It was a blast! Our proctor even joined in! My VSA journey has just begun, and I really look forward to learning more about the class and the people here as well.

From Placebos To POGOs

I woke up not too early, but early enough to take a shower and get ready. Usually, it’s hard for me to sleep in an unfamiliar area, but these past two nights were no problem for me.
My lovely roommate, Alexa!
It was a normal routine with breakfast, but unfortunately it was raining on our way to class. It was humid, raining, and a little windy, and I’m a really glad it wasn’t burning hot. Wearing shorts and a t-shirt is not the smartest thing to wear in the rain, but I had an umbrella, so it wasn’t too bad.

Our Pharmacology class was really interesting today.  One fun fact I learned was that Vitamin C inhibits tumor growth. You may wonder why we talk about Vitamin C, but some people consider vitamins a drug. Because a drug is considered any substance in the body that changes you physically of psychologically, and a vitamin improves your physical health, it can be considered a drug.  We had a whole discussion about what actually classifies as a drug. Classification of drugs depends on how you use it.

Along with drugs, we learned a lot about the placebo effect. It is when a patient believes they have taken a certain drug, but actually they have taken a sugar pill.  The way a placebo works is all through the mind, because if you think it will relieve your pain, it will, but if you think it won’t, then it will not. We watched a CBS video concerning the battle between a placebo and an antidepressant pill. While one scientist’s research discovered that placebos are more effective, another scientist in a different country discovered that the pill is more effective for more people. Discovering that I have a balance view towards science, it’s hard to really decide if I believe in the placebo. I cannot make a final decision unless I know the long-term effects of the placebo. Many may have felt better right away from taking the placebo, but the video didn’t discuss the long-term affects, so it’s hard to believe which one is actually better to use. I can go on and on about this controversy, but I won’t. Let me leave you with one question: Did you know: by law, a pharmacist can substitute prescription drugs with generic drugs?

After very knowledgeable discussions in Pharmacology, I headed off to my ArĂȘte class. We began learning an Australian  partner dance from the Sound of Music. Since there is only one boy in our dance class, most girls had to learn the girl part. It was not too easy, but I hope to get the hang of it more.

Our cohort then reunited with our chaperone, Mr. Mannix and Ms. Kronenberg for dinner at the dining commons. We each shared how we were doing and I learned that Mr. Mannix and Ms. Kronenberg have been going on many college tours. It’s good to know that while we’re here working hard, our chaperone is also kept busy.
Spent time with Ms.Kronenberg and Mr.Mannix!
Blogging in the laundry room!

Instead of doing SOFT (Sign Out Free Time), the girls of my cohort all went to do laundry and blog. We’ve been out here on the East coast for just over a week, and a refreshed wardrobe was really needed. We also took advantage of the time to spend time with each other; too bad Chris is not with us. I really miss spending time as a whole cohort, but I’m glad we’re all making new friends. 

Before our night completely ended, we had a wonderful proctor group meeting. Our proctor is so awesome, and I can honestly say we are like a family already. We send little POGOs (Positive Gossip) notes to each other, and at the end of a long, challenging day, it's just a place we can relax and be honest with each other. We even had a little dance party, and it was interesting to learn the different Southern dance moves. I am very blessed to be around such friendly and genuine people, and although we each are different, we all have a special connection that we share. 

Getting into the Vandy lifestyle

Although it is only my second day here at the Vanderbilt Summer Academy, I am already starting to get the hang of the daily routines. My roommate and I usually wake up around the same time, but we manage to stay out of the other's way as we get ready for the day. For example, she'll be in the shower while I'll be in our dorm room doing my make up, or vice versa.

About an hour after I have finished getting ready, I will open my door to find a small group of girls standing around in a circle, chattering excitedly about everything. They greet me with cheerful hellos and friendly smiles and we all go down to the dining area for breakfast together. We sit together and chat as we eat, hang out a little after, and then go to our classes at ten to nine. 

I absolutely adore my class. My teacher, Dr. Jan, is a very fun and amiable person, and she knows a lot about the Mystery genre. We started off the class today by writing "morning papers", which is basically like writing in a diary or journal for twenty minutes. By doing this, we are relieving our minds of any distractions or burdens that impede our creativity and writing. I was skeptical about it at first, but after I got the things that were floating in my mind on paper, I suddenly felt lighter.

After writing our "morning papers" we traveled to the commons to read  The Adventure of The Speckled Band and The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle, two Sherlock Holmes stories. I really enjoyed reading both stories; I was on the edge of my seat the entire time my eyes scanned the pages. The silent reading time seemed childish at first, but it really helped to relax me. I was able to concentrate in class with a clear head for the rest of the evening.

We ended our class with study hall, which basically consisted of us working on our own short mystery story. Every time I would write something, I would stop and reassess it and then write it again. I kept erasing things because everything I wrote seemed like utter rubbish to me. Hopefully, I can come up with a decent idea in the next few days. 

The best part of the day, however, was when Mr. Mannix and Ms. Kronenberg joined Hannah, Yessenia, Chris and I for dinner. It was the first time we had dinner together as a cohort in a while, and it was nice to see Mr. Mannix again. I also enjoyed the chance to sit down and talk with Ms. Kronenberg because we never had the chance to speak with just her. We talked about our classes and experience so far at Vanderbilt and ended the evening with a quick photo before saying goodbye and parting.
My healthy breakfast on Day 1 of VSA 
Lunch Time!
The lovely girls on my floor.
Reunited, and it feels so good.