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 arĂȘte 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.