Tuesday, July 31, 2012

If Nothing Ever Changed, There Would Be No Butterflies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flipping Back Through The Pages Of My Journey

Our first dinner as a cohort.
My  journey began one afternoon when I was called for a meeting to possibly be a part of the Ivy League Connection. With much thought and drive, I followed every step necessary to be called an ILC ambassador, to be able to make connections outside of California, and to get a taste of college life. My older brother had tried his junior year, but unfortunately didn’t make it. I must say I’ve been following in my brother’s footsteps my whole academic life, with hopes of surpassing his own successes.

With many expectations put in front of me, I always turned to my parents to make sure they were willing to support me in this process. Joining the ILC was not an easy task, but I must say it is very rewarding. I decided to only apply to the Vanderbilt program, because they offered a variety of courses that interested me. During winter break I diligently finished up my essays, leaving much room for proofreading and revising.  I wanted to make sure I put much effort in, in hopes of getting a lot out of it. I never once regretted writing the essays, because look where I am now. 

Last February, I constantly checked my email for the list of Vanderbilt students who made it past the essay stage. There it was: my name written on the email. I then took every opportunity to practice for my interview. I am very thankful for Mr. Wilson, Ms. Vasquez, and the PVHS ILC alumni who held mock interviews for us. Without their support, I wouldn’t have grown to be the young lady I am today.

The WCCUSD board meeting.

The clock kept ticking as I waited for my interview. I was the last one to be interviewed, and boy was I nervous. I walked in confidently with a smile on my face, a little scared, but ready to tackle this challenge.  There was no turning back now, I was there, sitting in front of a panel of judges: the sponsors, alumni, and leaders who decided how my summer would be planned. With much relief in the end, it was time to announce the Vanderbilt cohort for the ILC.  As soon as I heard my name, I was filled with joy and excitement. I never expected my summer to be so overwhelming, yet so amazing.

The ILC did a great job preparing us for the trip physically and mentally.  Before embarking on this trip to the East coast I had only a few expectations in mind: busy schedules, hot weather, and a bunch of memories. I didn’t really know what to expect with the prestigious colleges we visited and the summer academy I attended. But there it lies, a month of exploring new places and things, a month of new experiences, and a month of unforgettable memories.

A few days have passed since I arrived from my summer adventure, and it’s hard to describe the journey I experienced in just one word. Flipping back through the pages of my journey I’ve learned so much; I’m surprised my brain hasn’t exploded.

At Georgetown University.
Let me begin with our first week of exposure to different Universities: Duke University, Georgetown University, and the University of Pennsylvania. In my life, I have only been on two college tours: UC Berkeley and Stanford University. Back then, I didn’t know what questions to ask and I didn’t know what to look for. However, my experience with the ILC has taught me that there is much more than the higher education offered in California.  Those colleges that I never heard of before, that never crossed my mind, don’t seem so far to reach anymore. Coming from a low-income school isn’t stopping me from aiming high at those prestigious schools. The ILC has proved to me that although I may a little fish in a pool of outstanding applicants, there is no such thing as impossible. A rejection letter from a school may be just their way of saying,  "We’re not the right college for you." I used to be worried about not getting accepted because of low SAT/ACT scores, but I learned that’s not the only thing they take into account.  It has given me relief that colleges take into account your grades in the context of your school, and don't just focus on one aspect of your college application. College admissions officers look at every part of your application, so one test score won't necessarily determine your acceptance to a college.

Although I am still in the process of discovering whether or not a school outside California is best for me, I am thankful that I was exposed to something different. I may be ahead of the game in some cases, however; I still have a lot of searching to do. The ILC is pushing me to discover myself more, and is personally challenging me as I continue to discover what type of college is right for me. I will be open minded to the possibilities outside of California because of the wonderful opportunities they offer such as: the freedom of class choices, internships, and study abroad programs. These are really important aspects to consider when applying.  I was amazed and overwhelmed with all these endless academic opportunities; how much these institutions care about each student’s success. In terms of financial aid and the application process, I must say I am far more educated than I was before. Although I know it still will be a stressful process, I am much more confident in myself.

The dinners with college alumni and talks with college admissions officers were a great privilege and opportunity to get to know the colleges better. Yes, the tours were amazing, insightful, and beautiful, but there’s nothing better then having one on one conversations with those who are directly involved with the college. Throughout each meeting, I was getting better and better at asking questions and getting as much answers as possible. Their words of encouragement and advice will not only stick with me throughout the college application process, but throughout the rest of my life.

My time at the Vanderbilt Summer Academy was definitely a big highlight of my trip. The experience placed a big stamp on my heart. I will absolutely never forget the connections I built with the many other brilliant students. I may have not experienced dorm life in any way, but through the ILC. This program was a rare opportunity for me to live in a dorm for three weeks. I didn’t fill out any roommate questionnaires, but VSA matched me with a perfect roommate. Everyone around me felt like a stranger in the beginning, however we all grew to be a family. Throughout those three weeks, I was able to step out of my comfort zone and be the bubbly Hannah I am around those who are close to me and whom I have known for a long time. I had the opportunity to be surrounded with people just like me, but who otherwise came from different backgrounds and cultures. I have learned to not be afraid when meeting new people, but instead if the opportunity arises, take it and dive in. I am now less intimidated when it comes to meeting new people, because I know they are just like me. I will always cherish the memories I've shared with the friends I met at VSA.

Honestly, it was harder to interact with other students in the academic environment. It’s really challenging when you’re in a room full of other bright students, because it really tests your intelligence. By the end of my Pharmacology class, I learned that I couldn’t always be the shy little girl in the classroom. I am capable of being as just as intelligent as the others, and nothing should hold me back. I must admit I was shy in the beginning, but I began to adapt to this new environment. During our final research project, I was able to prove that although I didn’t take an AP Chemistry, AP biology, or Organic Chemistry class like the others, I can rise to the top. It was an amazing feeling to know that my group’s research project won first place! I may have been perceived as a student who didn’t know much at first, but after much knowledge acquired from the course, I knew that I could rise to the top of a class with many brilliant students.

I chose Pharmacology as my first course choice because I wanted to be educated on how drugs work and use this information in my pursuit of working somewhere in the medical field, and also educate my peers about how drugs negatively affect their bodies. We explored the biology and chemistry behind drugs and how it affects the world around us. I was challenged with a bulk load of knowledge that it was so hard to capture and understand every single detail. The rigorous curriculum really kept me on my toes in class and kept me thinking, how will I educate my peers back at my own school? Yessenia and I definitely have a lot of information to share. For example, we learned what is actually considered a drug and what to be careful with when consuming drugs. Hopefully this will help change the minds of those who consume drugs, particularly street drugs. The use of illegal drugs has taken a big part in today’s society, and I hope Yessenia and I will find a small first step to combat this problem in our local community. The task at hand is not easy, but I pray that by the time I leave Pinole Valley, I will look back knowing I sparked a change.

Entering this program, I had the dream that I wanted to become a pediatrician; that dream has now changed. Through this Pharmacology course and talks with current college students and my roommate, my mind has changed on a few things. I do like science and working with children is my passion, but perhaps the path of becoming a doctor isn’t right for me. My roommate took the Med School 101 course, and her stories didn’t really discourage me from becoming a pediatrician, but a realization ran through me that spending over 10 years in college might be too much for me. Additionally, my passion for science and working with kids does not mean a pediatrician is the only possible job. As I sat in a workshop on Personal Etiquette, something just sparked within me. I realized that maybe I want to be a child therapist or even work at a University as a college advisor or counselor. The ILC not only exposed me to new knowledge, but VSA taught me that the world is not limited to the dream jobs of either a politician, doctor, teacher, or engineer. There is so much out there and it’s only normal for you to change your major in college three times. I have a good feeling my mind will change many times, but I still hope I end up doing something I’m happy about.

I must assure you, VSA was not just about going to class, eating, and sleeping. It was so much more than studying under a professor, eating cafeteria food, and sleeping in the dorms; it was preparing us for college. We took part with the Vanderbilt community for three weeks. It wasn’t just 6 hours of class each day, but it was creating a community of brilliant students. It was socializing with other people from around the country and even the world. It was learning how to dance together in the Dance Around the World Arête class and learning how to fence in our fencing class. Just as many colleges offer extra-curricular classes, VSA provided a well-rounded college experience. More importantly, they provided us with resources for our success in college. Not only were the coordinators and proctors available for us, but we even had a night where college admissions officers of Vanderbilt gave us actual college applications. It gave us an opportunity to have an idea of what kinds of applications are accepted, wait listed, and denied. I don’t think I’ll ever get an opportunity like this again, and for that I am grateful.

With all that being said, I as an individual have changed into a more independent, intelligent, and inspired young lady. I am no longer afraid of leaving my parents for college, although I will truly miss them. It won’t be easy, but I know that it is a part of life and I can conquer any challenge put before me. I have acquired the most knowledge that I can during this past month, and without the ILC I would have never experienced taking a college course in the South. I was surrounded with many inspirations throughout my trip, which has instilled more confidence in myself. It has pushed me to succeed beyond my potential and fulfill all my responsibilities. From blogging everyday to being prompt to activities, I have grown to become a representation of my school, the district, and most importantly the Ivy League Connection.

First and foremost, I’d like to thank God for bringing me this far. I’ve experienced a once in a lifetime opportunity, and none of this would have been possible without Don Gosney, Mr.Ramsey, and Ms.Kronenberg. I would like to extend a warm blanket of thanks to not only the ILC coordinators, but also to the sponsors for supporting this program financially. I cannot stress enough how wonderful it is that you people are extending a helping hand to the students in our district. I am also thankful to my parents for supporting me along the way. I cannot forget our chaperone, Mr.Mannix; thank you for caring for us and making this experience memorable. I’d also like to thank my cohort: Yessenia, Narges, and Chris. I couldn’t have asked for any other group. Thank you for the smiles and laughter; we've grown so much together, I can now call you guys my brother and sisters. Last but not least to all the readers: thank you for watching us grow throughout this journey. This trip has not only done good to me, but it has changed me.