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!

The ILC’s Maiden Voyage to Vanderbilt: Getting the show on the Road

We have two nights left of the Vanderbilt Summer Academy and us students are beginning to realize our experience is coming to an end. I cope with the pain by scrambling to get every ones names so that I can contact them on Facebook; that way I’m able to look forward to talking to them after camp.

In class we are continuing to learn more and discover new things in the arena of World Religions. We finished Buddhism and grasped its teachings by eating an exotic fruit and trying to describe the taste. This proved difficult because we learned that everyone’s experience I’m comparing the jehovah Witnesses to the Anglican church.

Later we enjoyed the VSA talent show showing an abundance of singers and dancers.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

VSA’s Got Talent

Today, our professor taught us two major aspects of Buddhism. The best way to learn a lesson is through experience, and that’s exactly how we learned about meditation and a certain rule of Buddhism.

Two students in our class were given an exotic African horned melon called a kiwano. No one had ever tasted or seen the fruit before. They were asked to try it and explain it to the class. However, they couldn’t find the right words to describe it. And when they found something to say about it, each had a different description of it. We eventually each got a piece of the mysterious fruit, and tried to explain it to our own selves. Some said it was like an un-sour lemon, some related it to a banana, some said pumpkin, and I and a few others said kiwi. The moral of the fruit tasting, was that just like Buddhism, you can’t just teach how to reach enlightenment and realization. Everyone has their own way of reaching realization. You can’t just describe how to do it flat out.

The second teaching was meditation. We were to sit anywhere we wanted on the field outside and list 5 items of the 5 senses list in our heads. So you would name 5 things you see, 5 things you hear, 5 things you feel, etc. After 5, you would start all over again with 4 each, then 3, and so on. We learned how calming and aware we are when our mind is cleared of all worries and other thoughts, and only focused on our surroundings. We saw insects on the blades of grass we wouldn’t have noticed before. We appreciated the sounds of the birds and heard the loud buzzing of cicadas in the trees. We heard the commotions of the world around us and the sound of the wind blowing the leaves in the trees. We felt the heat of the sun and the itchiness of the grass on our legs. We only tasted the remnants of the strange fruit and smelled grass for the cycle of the senses. Meditation can be so relaxing and so liberating. To only focus on the now frees the mind from negative emotions and thoughts. Everything is nice. I can appreciate the monks who dedicate their lives to meditation and learning of Buddhism.

Fencing today was intense. We played a game called Castle, which is like capture the flag, but with kings and pointy weapons. Our team barely won, since it was a long and hard battle. I found out that I’m great at defending myself with the saber, but not so fantastic at attacking my opponent. However, the boys of the group loved to heartily attack their opponents and became extremely overly-competitive, as boys normally do. Regardless, we all had a lot of fun.

Tonight VSA hosted a talent show. It was actually a hilarious show, with acts like: solving a Rubix Cube in 1:17 seconds; singing Pi Day, a parody of Katy Perry’s TGIF song; a Bollywood dance to the song Jai Ho (one of the performers was from my proctor group. Go Mashal Mirza!); a bagpipe and tuba duet; ballet; singing; and storytelling. Hilarious acts included a group of boys (the Testosterones) singing A Thousand Miles and a group singing to Backstreet Boys - I Want It That Way. There were no prizes awarded, it was all just for fun.

I can now talk about the surprise our proctor group gave to our proctor! We bought a basket at CVS yesterday and ran through the aisles finding things she would like. We bought tons of nail polish, some soap, tea, gummy worms, a bag of dum-dums, a horrible tabloids magazine, and a duck hat. We also bought a poster board and everyone wrote a message to her. We printed out group pictures and put it on the card and on the basket. She absolutely loved the gifts and could not stop smiling.

We’re such a loving group!