Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Adventure in Retrospect: Looking Back to Look Forward

Upon returning home from my trip to Vanderbilt University to study World Religions for three weeks, I was asked if my trip was worth it. I responded worth what? They replied all the hard work and time you had put in to get there, was it worth it? Beforehand I knew the time for this blog was here, but It hadn’t become clear to me what I‘d write about because there was so much to choose from. Though at that moment, it became clear to me that I’d write about culture


Before I left to go to Vanderbilt, before I had been to the ILC Orientation, before all the dinners, and emails, during my interview I was asked, “Why do you want to go to Vanderbilt World Religions?” I thought about my dreams and aspirations and also the world around me; I thought about how much we all as a human population know so little about each other, where we come from and what we do. I thought about religion and how it has become such a controversial issue over time. I answered I choose World Religions so that I can relate to the variety of people in this world and I revealed a thought of mine to become a preacher later in life. World Religions was a chance to bridge the gap between peoples of the world and it would be a way for me to explore all customs, culture, and beliefs, but little did I know the differences in culture within our borders of America.

There have been recent accounts of a young Jewish teenager trying to perform his morning prayers on a plane, which consisted of putting boxes on his arms and head. This resulted in the plane being immediately diverted and the boy’s detainment. In Murfreesboro, Tennessee people argue against the establishment of an Islamic center built by a fellow American. They go as far as to let themselves be made a mockery of on shows like “The Night Show,” where these men and women claim that the reason they are against the establishment of a religious center is because they feel as though all Muslims are attempting to take over the world.

worship at Murfreesboro Islamic Center

We learned about the 5 major world religions (Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism) and others including their beliefs and why they might think that way according to the origins of the religion. Most importantly we learned that ignorance destroys. It destroys families, communities, and countries themselves; it can change the Land of the free, the home, and the brave into a land that breaks up a family of immigrants.

One should learn as much as they can about something new or different than themselves because you can create an asset out of a potential liability. Instead of shunning someone’s ways, one can learn about them and adapt them to one’s ways potentially making them a better person. A challenge at Vanderbilt and in life will be not only applying this principle to international culture, but also our regional differences within America.

Yo son, and Ya’ll, aren’t the most common words heard among people of California, let alone the bay area, though at the Vanderbilt Summer Academy I was exposed to a wide variety from all over the country. My classmates within my World Religions class came from 5 different states alone and in the program itself were kids from Florida, Georgia, Texas, Utah, Louisiana, Missouri, Tennessee, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Kentucky, just to name a few.

Within the dorms, I was exposed to many different accents and backgrounds that I had never encountered before. I tried to learn as much as I could from each region in order to broaden my knowledge. One of the VSA administrators said it best when he compared this experience sharpening a knife. We were all smart kids in one environment, instead of trying to fight each other to see who was smartest, we should simply learn from each other sharpening each other’s intellects. I’ve learned things about computers, lacrosse, taxi’s in New York, music, League of Legends and other computer games, physics, Taylor Swift, cicada’s, Tennessee and more which I would have never come in contact with if I hadn’t gone to Vanderbilt.

Yet to truly grasp this experience of education, culture, and college life, one can’t simply explain it one has to go experience it. So what my cohorts and I plan to do is hold seminars for Pinole Valley High School Sophomores and Freshman letting them know about the true importance of academics and the doors it can open like the Ivy League Connection, Vanderbilt Summer Academy, and the real goal college.

We also want to express the need for searching outside our own boundaries of California because there is so much more to learn outside the classroom and at schools like Vanderbilt. You are able to reach outside of what you know therefore expanding your knowledge base. Theseare the things our community needs to know.

This as stated earlier was an amazing journey, and I learned a lot and more importantly things Ill never forget. I'd like to thank God for this moment and the moments preceding this because I've come so far after three weeks. I also want to thank Ms. Kronenberg, Mr. Ramsey, and Don Gosney for giving me the opportunity for the trip of a lifetime. I also want to thank my amazing team starting with the chaperon Ms.Bulls and then my cohorts Ms.Julia Chang and Ms.Aiyana Hedeen-Garrett. Last but not least I want to thank any readers of this blog past, present, and future because we know this was not all in vain.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Closing the Curtain

Arriving back to the Bay Area, the place I have called home for the sixteen years of my life, it seems as though the invisible gates that have been holding me back have been pushed open, with the vast whole world shining beyond them.

I returned home with knowledge—more than I could have ever expected to come back with. During my time in the Southeast, I had many “firsts”—my first time having grits, to my first time standing and beholding the beauty in a Hindu temple. The exposure to a completely new culture and setting has altered my mindset and opened it, ready to accept and embrace new ideas.

I walked into the program with almost no knowledge of college—I just knew I wanted to succeed and do my best, as I have always tried to do. Of course, I honestly never even considered schools across the country because they have always seemed too far out of reach. However, possibility has now become possible.

There has been an incredible growth in me as well. I will admit that I walked into the program with doubt in myself—how could I not when I was the only sophomore from my school participating in the ILC, having to live up to the ideals of the juniors who were taking AP classes and had already survived through the SATs and ACTs?

I think that is one of the things that inhibited me in the beginning, but as I continued into the program and worked hard to prove myself to others as well as myself, I found myself.

I developed something invaluable and completely necessary for success in life: confidence. I am confident in myself and my abilities to go beyond the expectations of others as well as myself. I am confident that I can and will compete alongside some of the brightest students across the world and nation and do well.

Through it all—the dinners, the campus visits, the program itself—I have learned an invaluable amount of information about college.

The opportunity to meet admissions officers on such an intimate level during dinners and breakfast was truly an honor and a priority.

I learned so much about Vanderbilt from Rachelle Soderston and John Tilsch during our dinner at Perbacco’s—one of the first milestones of our incredible journey—and Mr. John Nesbitt at Fido’s for breakfast. I learned what campus life is like from a student’s perspective and the rich experiences each has had at the prestigious university, from studying abroad to developing life-long friendships. I also gained insight to the admissions process for Vanderbilt, and understand what I must do to make myself an able applicant to a highly selective school.

I know now that the college application process started on the first day I stepped foot into Pinole Valley High School as a freshman and will not end until the day I walk across the stage to accept my diploma. There is much work ahead, but I am ready for it—more ready than I have ever been.

From the lovely dinner at ECCO with Ms. Merideth Ray to the supper at Bacchanalia’s, I learned about the beauty of Emory College and the bountiful opportunities that the students are opened to at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

The visit to Emory College was bursting with a fresh outlook on attending a smaller, closely-knit institution. With a strong emphasis on academic rigor, it being a liberal arts college encourages students to expose themselves to a broad panorama of academic concepts, which can be done through Emory’s exceptional study abroad programs that range from countries in Latin America to the Middle East.

The Georgia Institute of Technology—the #7 public university in the nation—is a research-based institution where students can gain hands-on experience in an array of different fields, from Aerospace Engineering to Biochemistry. Students can even begin work in researching in their freshman year if desired. Tech also offers co-op and internship opportunities, and it is the largest voluntary program in the country!

Although it is not likely that I will attend college in Georgia, the visits and informational sessions were invaluable. I learned so much about what I should be looking for in a college and have developed a better sense of my dream university. My perspective in my search for college has also been widened through these—I understand now that there truly is an overflowing abundance of options out there, and there are no limitations.

I learned how important it really is to visit a college. Just a simple visit—a stroll through the campus, a conversation with a student, an informational session with an admissions counselor. That one visit can make it or break it, because you honestly cannot know the college without experiencing it.


My World Religions class was no doubt one of the many highlights of my time at Vanderbilt. I had the privilege of being part of a classroom environment unlike any other I have experienced. With only eleven students sitting in the desks around me, I was able to engage myself in class, asking questions whenever something was unclear, and voicing my opinions and thoughts during the many class discussions held. The small class size definitely made a difference in my learning experience, and it is something I am no doubt going to take into account when considering a college.

Also, I have returned with a deep appreciation and respect for culture and religion, both of which are closely intertwined. I learned about the histories and practices of the five diverse major faiths of the world, and even had the honor of visiting their holy places. Coming from a family that practices little religion, I was exposed to completely new concepts every single day which sometimes had me asking more questions than they answered. Some could even say I came back enlightened, in a strange way.

I have had the amazing opportunity to study and thrive alongside some of the brightest students from across the country, and it has truly made me more determined to work even harder than I am now to reach my full potential. I come from a public high school in California where one has to work hard to succeed in the environment, and yet I am proud of my roots, proud of my community, and proud of all those who commit their time and effort into their education because it holds the key to our futures.

My time at Vanderbilt was nothing short of extraordinary. I truly had one of the best times of my life there, learning an immeasurable amount of new things and making some of the most beautiful friendships with amazing, hardworking students like myself.

It made me honestly think about what kind of college I wanted to spend years of my life at, if I wanted to be walking down the same pebbly path between the towering trees two years from now.

College is not a long way ahead as I had previously and constantly thought to myself. The experiences I have had have me yearning for college, and I am more excited than ever to embark on my journey towards my future education with an enlightened and educated mind.

Of course, simply because our journey to the Southeast is over does not mean our work here at home is. Besides encouraging our peers to expand their horizon and look beyond their current limits when applying to college, I along with my Vanderbilt cohort will to begin working with the younger generation of students at our school to prepare them early on for college. We are currently putting together a Mock Admissions Session—the workshop we took part in at Vanderbilt—to allow the students to see exactly what the admissions officers see and consider when they apply for college in a few years. The students will be able to decide who the most qualifying candidate is from a group of four rather exceptional students, each with different shining qualities. They will accept one, wait-list two, and reject one. I learned a large amount of information through this workshop, and hopefully these students will as well and be prepared for their senior year. As I stated before, the application process begins right when they walk through the door on the first day of school.

This entire experience—everything from the stretch limousine to the pool party—has been incredible. I want to extend my gratitude to Mr. Ramsey, Ms. Kronenberg, and Don for the Ivy League Connection. It has been an honor being an ambassador of my school and community in the Southeast.

I also want to thank the sponsors of the Ivy League Connection for making all of our experiences possible. It has truly been a three weeks that I will not forget any time soon.

In addition, many heartfelt thanks to the Vanderbilt cohort: Ms. Bulls for being a loving and caring chaperone who always took the best care of us; Aiyana Hedeen-Garrett and Kye Duren for being the greatest companions and fellow-pioneers that anyone could ever ask for.

It has been a pleasure, and I certainly cannot bring this to an end without a Southern valediction:

I’ll see y’all later—it’s been real!

Always Look Back. Always Look Forward.

After an essay and an interview, on January 24th, 2011, I found out I was going to Nashville, Tennessee to study World Religions at Vanderbilt University thanks to the ILC. I was excited, regardless of the fact that I had never even heard of Vanderbilt. I was ready to experience life as a college student. I was ready to see the South, and experience the differences in cultures between there and the West. I was ready to learn and explore about religion. I was ready to leave for Nashville as of January 24th with my cohorts Julia and Kye.

The reason I chose to take the World Religions course is a personal one. My family is not the religious type, and I had not grown up into a specific faith. I had always felt lost and confused when it came to religion. I was pressured into following faiths that my friends belonged to, despite the fact that I knew deep down, I didn’t believe in their same beliefs. I chose the World Religions class in hopes that by learning about the five major religions in the world, I could find a religion that I could connect with and finally learn about the faiths and beliefs of others.

With my World Religions class, I found exactly what I was looking for. Not only did I learn about the major religions, but I learned about the many sects of the religions. Through research projects and lectures, we dived deep into the beliefs of people around the world. Through field trips to a temple, synagogue, mosque, and church, we got a hands-on look and understanding of places of worship. We learned what college level work can be like: researching a lot in little time. On a personal level, I found a religion that I could relate to: Buddhism. I realized that I didn’t have to force myself to believe in the same God and religion as my friends. I don’t feel as lost anymore, and I am definitely less confused than before. I connected with Buddhism because it wasn’t about devoting your life to a higher power. Buddhism is about reaching enlightenment and salvation through your own self. Everyone reaches it in their own way. After taking this class, I'm considering taking some sort of Buddhist religious studies course in college.

The World Religions course was not the only course with hands-on learning. The Medicine, Health, and Society class members lived the life of a wheelchair bound person for 24 hours. The Law School 101 class got to sit in on a murder trial. Members of the Med School 101 got to shadow different doctors at the local hospital right on Vanderbilt campus. Literature and Cognitive Theory took trips to the wilderness to ponder and analyze nature and their surroundings. The Engineering 101 class learned how to make an app for Apple and built bridges out of spaghetti. Each class at VSA isn't just filled with lecture after lecture. The professors make sure we learn through experience as well as learning in class.

After getting into the Vanderbilt Summer Academy, I began to research the school. What was it known for? Where was it exactly? Did it have my major? What extra-curriculars did it offer? What made this college standout? After my research, I put Vanderbilt on my college possibilities list. It had my major of elementary education, and even had the top graduate school of education in the country. But like every college admission officer told us, you have to visit the campus in order to truly feel like it’s a good fit for you. Brochures and website research can only get you so far. When I arrived at Vanderbilt, I instantly loved it. It was large and open with spacious green fields all across the campus. The buildings were beautiful. It wasn’t too big of a school, in which it was spread out across the city, and it wasn’t too small either. The freshman dorms were a nice size, although not the biggest I’ve seen. The food was surprisingly fantastic. Everything you needed was either on campus or within 15 minutes of driving. I felt comfortable at Vanderbilt. I could see myself attending the university. It will definitely stay on my college possibilities list with a few others. But by the same token, Emory had also been on my college list. After visiting the campus, I still loved it. However, I was not sold on the city of Atlanta, and the city life and feel is definitely a factor when choosing a college. A pro and con list is always good to use in situations like these.

I am so glad I got to attend a college summer course at VSA. It is very different from the other summer programs that the other ILC participants attended. VSA has a work hard, play hard ethic to it. We spent 6 hours a day in class, compared to other summer courses of around 3 hours of class. The rest of the evening was packed with scheduled activities. We had the opportunity to take arête classes that included fencing, improv, staged combat, dance, Glee, art, step and stomp, and more. We could sign up for activities like spa night, tie-dye, movie watching, kickball, and more. I loved that VSA had so many activities for us to try because we discovered things we liked and didn’t like, and found some activities that we could participate in at college. There were dances once a week, providing fun and chances to let loose of all the work, while dancing the night away with close friends. We went on trips to an arcade and various Nashville tourist locations. College workshops were also hosted by VSA, where we got a hands-on feel for what college admissions officers look for when going through admissions of prospective students. We had the opportunity to bond with our proctor group and become a family. VSA is unique because of all of this. The program allows so many choices and so many possibilities to learn, discover, experience, and meet new people who have similar interests to yours.

Before coming to VSA, I was a bit apprehensive about the people that would be there. I was worried that coming from a small town in the Bay Area, from a public school nonetheless, I would not fit in. I was worried that everyone there had SAT scores up the roof, and perfect AP scores. I learned, however, that I was wrong. I met many people with similar scores to mine, and people from public schools and small towns across the country. But I also found out that many students also came from private schools and wealthy families. It made me happy to realize that even though some kids may have better opportunities than I did, I was at their same level. Despite other students having personal tutors and more classes to choose from at school, we were alike in more ways than one could even imagine.

Through the college tours and meetings with admissions officers of Emory, Georgia Tech, Clark Atlanta, Morehouse, and Vanderbilt, I learned a great deal about what we students should be doing to prepare ourselves for college. One of the most important things I learned through these meetings is about testing scores. They stressed that students shouldn’t worry about tests making or breaking them in their application. Yes, it is important to take them, and yes, it is important to do your best, but do not think that just because of your test score, you will not get into a college. So many students feel like their test scores aren’t good enough to get into the college they want. But colleges don’t just look at scores. They look at your dedication to your life at high school. Did you take rigorous courses and challenge yourself? Does your GPA decline or increase? Did you take advantage of the extra-curriculars your school offers? Did you work or do community service? Based on your choices in high school, will you be a good asset to our college?

Before the ILC, there was so much I didn’t know about college. But there are so many students at our school that do not have the same opportunity that we have had. The ILC is big on this question: how will you bring what you have learned back to your community? The first logical answer is to spread the word. I first find out about the ILC at the college fair, thanks to Ms. Dyana So. But I still didn’t know much about it, and my friends weren’t interested because they thought it was impossible for them. What we ILC participants need to do, is to let everyone at Pinole Valley know about this program and that each of them can get into it. If we start out giving this information to incoming freshman, they can get on the right track, not just to be in the ILC, but to graduate with the right aspects that colleges across the country are looking for: good grades, nice test scores, participation in extra-curriculars, and challenging classes. Everyone can go to college, and everyone can have the chance to be in the ILC.

The second concern of the ILC is that students stay in California to attend college. There is nothing wrong with California schools, besides the fact that California has no more money, but there are so many schools out there that could be a perfect fit for students at Pinole Valley. The problem is, is that we aren’t aware about the colleges out there. If someone had mentioned the name Vanderbilt to me a year ago, I wouldn’t have known what they were talking about. Emory? Georgia Tech? Clark Atlanta? No, no, and no. These are all schools that are unheard of at my school. A possible solution is to ask more far off colleges to come visit the Bay Area and our school. A second solution is for the ILC members to get together and host info sessions on college admissions and different colleges with prospective students.

We Vanderbilt cohorts have already talked about possibly being ambassadors at the Pinole Valley college fair for Vanderbilt University if an alumni or college admissions officer from the school is unavailable to attend. Otherwise, I would like to be a spokesperson for the ILC and help inform others of the program like one did for me earlier this year.

I am incredibly grateful for what the ILC has done for me. I never could have imagined that I would have taken a college course in the summer in the South. And free of charge for that matter. The ILC also pushed me to understand the responsibilities and duties I had. It was my responsibility to blog every night about what I learned and it was my duty to represent the ILC and my school. I was given freedoms and chances. I learned so much and experienced so many things. I got to live the life of a college student before even being an actual college student. I would like to thank Mr. Ramsey, Ms. Kronenberg, and Don Gosney for giving me this opportunity. I would like to thank the panel of judges during the interview for selecting me for this program. I would like to thank the ILC sponsors for helping this program reach out to so many students in the district. I would like to thank Ms. Bulls for taking such great care of us. I would like to thank Kye and Julia for being the best cohorts and friends. And lastly, I would like to thank the readers of the Vanderbilt blog for following us in our adventures. Thank you all for everything.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

The ILC’s Maiden Voyage to Vanderbilt: I’m Coming Home

Returning home was a great experience today. Being gone for about a month really allows you to enjoy the little things and the places you take for granted. For example my own bed and my own room, for the last three weeks I was with a stranger that had become family. I’m also glad we were able to travel so smoothly. On our way to Atlanta, we were delayed for over an hour at our layover in Chicago, but this time we had two flights back to back.

When we finally arrived home, I couldn’t believe what I had been doing for the last months. I was blessed enough to be able to visit colleges, but not only that, I was able to live at a selective college, study under a professor, and meet some of the smartest kids in the country. After all that adventure, I was able to come back home safe and sound with lots of new friends and experiences I will never forget


Saturday, July 30, 2011

Home At Last

Being back home in Pinole feels relatively normal, yet incredibly strange.

As I stepped foot into my dusty bedroom, everything is as I had left it exactly twenty five days ago, yet the girl returning to it is anything but the same. There is a beauty in returning to a familiar place and realizing how one has changed and evolved as a person.

It was a long day of traveling: After a quick breakfast at the Georgia Tech. Hotel & Conference Center, we hurried to ATL to return the rental car and check in our baggage. We were perfectly on time for our first flight to Houston, Texas. The rush to catch the transfer flight to San Francisco, however, was slim—we made it just in time as the passengers were boarding the plane.

That of course left no room in between for us to catch lunch, so Ms. Bulls bought our luncheon on the plane to enjoy while flying high in the cloudy sky. I had a grilled chicken salad with Italian balsamic vinegar dressing, which was very delectable.

After a bumpy landing, our cohort made our way to the baggage claim, where my sister and some of Aiyana’s family were waiting. We snapped a last photograph of ourselves as we closed the book of our journey and headed home.

I have to thank Aiyana and Kye for being the best companions to travel to and experience the Southeast with. It was a pleasure having their company.

I also thank Ms. Bulls, our chaperone, for being our guardian and taking care of us, even on the days when we were busy with our studies and many activities. She always made sure we were healthy and happy, finding time to visit and check up on us.

And last, but certainly not least, I must thank Mr. Ramsey, Ms. Kronenberg, and Don for making this entire experience possible for us. It was no doubt a life-changing experience that I would have never dreamed of having, and this has opened up our eyes and minds to the world and everything it has to offer, so much more beyond what we would have ever known.

A View From Above

Everyone in Atlanta gripes about the traffic; and they have every right to do so. We were running a bit behind to go to the airport because of the roadwork, but we made it. We had a nice and informative conversation with our driver from the Hertz company that took us to the airport. Apparently he’s from the Bay Area like us, and moved out to Georgia a few years ago. I loved hearing the opinion of a fellow Bay Area person on life out here in Atlanta. He talked about the cheap costs of houses out here and the incredible amount of heat and humidity.

The first plane was a Continental Express plane, meaning it was dinky, and only three seats wide. We passengers were stopped from leaving for a few moments after we had landed, because there was a passenger that needed medical attention. It didn’t look deathly serious, but he seemed a bit woozy and pale.

We sped to our next plane, which we boarded immediately. Even though this plane was bigger, I found it surprisingly more uncomfortable than the previous compact plane. Houston to San Francisco was a long flight of about 3 or 4 hours or so.

My mom had arrived from her trip to Thailand just a few hours before I did. We got a ride from a family friend and talked about religion on the way home. It was fun to talk about and hear everyone’s opinions on religion, because everyone has very different views.

The first thing I did when I got home was to try to find my cats and get them to be excited about my arrival home. After little prevail, my mom and I then showed all the items we had brought from our trips and shared stories. I am glad to be home. It’ll take some getting used to of not having a dessert with every dinner though.

Throughout the week, Julia, Kye, and I will be posting our final thoughts on our trip. Check in soon to see our evalutation!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Simply Floating

It was a sad parting this morning as Aiyana and I said goodbye to our friends before we embarked on our journey back to Atlanta, Georgia.

I honestly did not know what to expect when coming to Vanderbilt—the last thing on my mind was meeting people who I would admire and adore as much as I do with the people in my proctor group. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to meet and experience VSA with each and every one of them, and they have become part of my everyday life. Leaving is difficult and at times tearful, but I now know that throughout my lifetime I will meet some amazing people, and all I can do is enjoy the moment and cherish the happy memories.

On our way to Atlanta after breakfast, we decided to take a detour to Ruby Falls, where a beautiful waterfall is hidden inside an intricately carved cave. At one point, we were 1,120 feet underground, with the mountain towering above our heads—a comfortable thought indeed.

We made it just in time to the CNN Worldwide Center to catch a tour explaining the works behind the broadcasting of news.

Afterwards, we decided to visit the Georgia Aquarium, the largest aquarium in the world. It was very fun observing the exotic fish and enjoying the vast, beautiful tanks that held thousands of gallons of water.

It was a great note to end the day on.

The ILC’s Maiden Voyage to Vanderbilt: “Just Keep Swimming”

It feels so foreign, not being in Hank Ingram House playing with cards with classmates and proctors, but being alone in a hotel room preparing to go home. Vanderbilt was my home for the last three weeks and I felt its Southern Hospitality throughout its inviting campus. I’m glad to be off a set schedule, but at the same time the schedule allowed us to see everything the school and the community had to offer. I’m also glad to be out of class or not having the responsibility to wake up early during the summer; because in most instances my World Religions course wasn’t a class to me, but a precious opportunity to learn about something interesting from an expert in that field. Another thing I’m ecstatic about is the fact that I get to see my family even though I must temporarily leave the family I called my own for three weeks, full of smart motivated kids full of different interests and desires. I truly enjoyed getting to know each one of them including staff, my TA, and my professor.

To accomplish the goals we had set earlier in the trip, to see the sites of the cities in which we stayed, we had to leave earlier than the other campers, at about 7:00AM. We were quite exhausted from staying up late hours into the night signing autographs and blogging and then waking up early that we fell asleep throughout our whole ride to Atlanta, excluding breakfast and our trip to Ruby Falls in Lookout Mountain. Yes, I literally mean inside Lookout Mountain. Within the Mountain are caves, one leading to a waterfall over 120 ft high submerged in about 1100ft of solid limestone. The Falls are a beautiful attraction, but not the only one; the path to the Falls have many beautiful and unique rock formations like the onyx column and the leaning tower.

Upon our entrance into the city we immediately went to the CNN center to explore the eight stories of innovation and history. When one enters, they immediately notice they house the largest unsupported elevator, only being held by its start and end point, it spans the whole eight stories. I learned how green screen and Teleprompters work along with the stressful and intense life these dedicated broadcasters lead in order to inform us about what’s going on.

After leaving the CNN center we began to make plans to head to the Georgia Aquarium and the Ocean Voyager, the largest indoor habitat for animals. When we had finished checking in at our hotel we headed for the Aquarium, which on our first approach looked empty. Then we noticed the multitude of people in the courtyard waiting to buy tickets or to enter into the building. When we had purchased our tickets and were admitted into the building, we saw the vast amount of exhibits: Georgia’s waters, coral reef life, fresh water animals, cold water animals, dolphins, and the famed Ocean Voyager exhibit. It was amazing; we saw a huge array of animals including whale sharks, manta rays, beluga whales, otters, penguins, fish, shellfish, and even sea anemonemone (anemone) according to Nemo of “Finding Nemo”, also Nemo’s species of clownfish.

This brought me back to the words of Dori that stay with me through any circumstances especially regarding school and college “just keep swimming.”

Las Aventuras Continuan

Our proctor group had pulled all our mattresses to the common area of our floor. The plan of pulling an all-nighter was not all too successful. A few of us lasted until 4, and I and one other lasted until 5ish. We watched videos on YouTube, ordered too many pizzas at 3 AM, played Uno, had unhealthy snacks, and took tons of pictures. Sadly, I passed out with only one hour left to go. So close! After that golden hour of sleep, Julia and I quietly packed up the rest of our stuff and put our mattresses back on our beds in our room. We then said our tearful goodbyes to the girls in our group. As my friend Kristen put it, leaving VSA is bittersweet. We love all of the new friends we made, enjoyed our freedoms, and learned so much, but we missed our friends and family back home. It was our time to go, but I’m so glad I had the chance to come.

The second I got into the car and was settled with my comfy pillow and warm blanket, I was out like a light. Ms. Bulls did not like that we weren’t energetic and lively so that she could talk to us, since she had no one to really talk to for quite a while. But I didn’t wake up until we found an old-fashioned-timey country breakfast stop called Cracker Barrel. When we got back in the car I fell asleep again, only to awaken in Chattanooga, Tennessee at a spot called Ruby Falls. It’s a cavern that contains a 145-foot underground waterfall located more than 1,120 feet beneath Lookout Mountain’s surface. The cave was ominous and the waterfall was beautiful. Apparently, it is still unknown where the source of the waterfall is coming from.

After yet another nap in the car, we awoke in Atlanta, Georgia. When we were in Atlanta three weeks ago, we had planned to visit the CNN center but had run out of time. So Ms. Bulls took us to see the CNN Headquarters today before checking into the hotel. We went through the tour which took us through the different recording studious and research stations. Being a reporter or newscaster, or just working for a broadcasting station in general, is a very hectic job. Time, dedication, and passion are greatly demanded at CNN.

After a quick break at the Georgia Tech Hotel, we headed over to the world’s largest aquarium, the Atlanta Aquarium. Ms. Bulls let us explore all the exhibits while she rested and took in the smooth jazz music being played by a live band in the middle of the building. The best exhibits of the aquarium included the blue whales, beluga whales, otters, penguins, and of course, all the strange fish. The jellyfish and seahorses are always cool as well.

I appreciated the fact that Ms. Bulls wanted us to experience as many of the attractions in the South as possible. We visited some truly amazing and fun places today. Tomorrow, we leave for home. I am looking forward to seeing my cats again and meeting up with my friends. Pinole, California, here I come.

The ILC’s Maiden Voyage to Vanderbilt: Looking Back on VSA

This is the last night of VSA and the feeling of sadness is among all of the students. We had to say farewll to our teachers after class today which was a big wake up call.

We had the longest class day ever, visiting the Sri Ganesha Temple, and then returning to the class to finish presentations. Overall I truly enjoyed our time together as a class especially with Dr. Dunn, who we learned is Christian, opened my eyes and allowed me to be exposed to so much more about religion than I had learned previously. I truly appreciate him for his help.

At the Closing ceremony, solemn faces had spread into the Rotunda at Wyatt waiting to be addressed by Ms. Pitts and Dr. Stambaugh. They gave us encouraging words about conquering college and how well we had done in our VSA classes, saying that in an experience with one professor he described his kids as completing the work of a Junior or Senior in college, passing with a B-. Our proctors came and presented some students with superlative reward; Julia Chang won one with her proctor Malika.

Later we enjoyed our dance In which we allowed ourselves to let go on one more Friday. The dance brought back memories of our first dance and our first week. How I didn’t know what to expect when a mixer was announced and how I didn’t know what to expect from this program either, but it has been a truly rewarding experience and a blessing; even in spite of my problems to maintain my health.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Last Chapter

The inviting smell of spices drifted through the room as our tour guide explained to us the principles and beliefs of Hinduism. We were visiting the Sri Ganesha Temple, having the opportunity to view the beautiful statues of the many deities worshipped in the faith.

It was our last field trip—coincidentally scheduled on our last day here at Vanderbilt.

The closing ceremony recapped our experiences and knowledge gained during our time at VSA, acknowledging our growth from earlier this month to the present day. Superlative awards were also passed out to students; I received a “Most Likely To Be Giggling At Any Time” award from my wonderfully loving proctor, Malika.

To wrap up the night, as well as our time at this Ivy League of the South, a Hollywood dance

was held in the Rotunda, where we had fun and savored every last moment we had with our new friends.

We decided to have a sleepover in the Common Room since tonight is our last. The girls were troopers, pulling and lifting mattresses as well as mountains of pillows to the Room.

We are to wake up fairly early tomorrow morning to return to Atlanta, and then, finally, our last stop: home.

Last Day at VSA

One would normally expect the last day at a college camp to be relaxed and chill, filled with activities and goodbyes. However, even though the last day of school had all of that, it also had more. Class today was busy with a field trip and presentations.

We traveled to a Hindu temple today. No pictures are allowed inside the temple, so I’ll try to describe it as best as possible. We first sat and listened to a Hindu women describe their beliefs to us. Though what she was similar to what we learned in class, her words seemed to validate everything we had learned about it. Though the first floor of the temple is bland, the second floor is the complete opposite. It’s a huge room with statues of deities across the walls. The statues were of the incarnations and representations of the Supreme Being (God) in god and goddess forms. They were made of either stone, wood, and marble, and were either in their natural state, plated in gold, or painted a certain color. Each deity represents certain aspects of the Supreme Being, and Hindus pray to the god they need or relate to. For example, one god can represent wealth and power, and another can represent compassion. Though the temple is dedicated to Ganesh, there are about 8 or so other deity shrines. But of course, the biggest statue is of Ganesh. Ganesh is in his own room in the middle of the room, and around it are 16 miniature statues of Ganesh. There were also statues of the gods of astrology representing the 9 planets. The statues were so beautiful and detailed. Every single one of them was different. The Hindu woman told us that there are over 300 million deities of Hinduism!

Back at the classroom, the groups were supposed to present their intra-religious projects to the class. Julia and I had the religion of Buddhism and were to research Pure Land Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism. My side of the project was to research Tibetan Buddhism. Basically, it’s a mixture of Buddhism and the national Tibetan religion of Bön. The main difference between Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism is that Tibetan Buddhism believes in gods, and has another separate religious text called the Book of the Dead. Also, Tibetan Buddhism has the Dalai Lama, which I found is chosen immediately after the death of the previous Lama. It takes 3 to 4 years to find the next one, and the new Lama can be found through dream, vision, or direction of smoke of the cremation of the Lama. After the child is found, the child has to choose the correct object that belonged to the previous Dalai Lama.

Fencing was so intense today. It was our last day fencing, and we played 45 minutes of Castle. As I said before, those guys can get extremely over-competitive. It was them against the girls, and they were not going easy on us by any means. However, we gave them a run for their money and ended up tying with them. Our method was to have one girl start battling a guy, then have another girl sneak up from behind and attack him. We were very slick! I got very into the game, and when it was over, I realized how over-heated and dehydrated I was. I had to take a break for a bit before heading over to the next event.

The closing ceremony took place in the rotunda after our arête. The program coordinators made their speeches and the proctors handed out a couple awards for their group.

The last activity of the night was the Hollywood dance! We all got dressed up and headed up to the rotunda to dance the night away. It was super fun, and we all got slow sticks and glow in the dark glasses. The music was pretty good, and we all had a blast.

Our proctor group decided we didn’t want the night to end, so we pulled our mattresses out into our floor’s common area. We’re having a sleepover! We’re ordering a pizza as I type this and eating tons of junk food while writing in each other’s termbooks. The housemaster showed up to our hangout. We found out that he had never had a gummy worm before, so we forced him to try one and also demanded that we document this important milestone for him. Our plan is also to pull an all-nighter, so let’s see how that goes.

I honestly believe we have the absolute best proctor group. We’re so great. I’m really going to miss these girls!