Sunday, June 30, 2013

Time for PENN and Paper

Today was the PENN cohorts moving day into the campus dorms.  My room happens to be a single, as do many others.  For a single room, the size is massive with plenty of space.  The room has everything in it but a bathroom, although it does have a sink with plenty of shelves for space.  The only things that I do not like about the room is the freezing temperature.  It is so cold in here to the point where my phone is wet after an hour of lying out.  I need to strategically plan where to put any valuable electronics so they can avoid getting wet.  This is the perfect room for getting quality study time away from all the noise of neighbors.

With that being said, there is a wide variety of different people from all around the world.  I've met people from Turkey, India, France, China, Guam, and South Korea.  Everyone speaks English flawlessly and seems to be very friendly.  There is even another Michael who is directly across from me who also lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Everyone here seems to have a good sense of knowledge and ability in their subject, which isn't surprising and lays the road for some good intellectual conversations.  I do not think that there will be any problems with behavior with this group.

In addition to the dorms, we also had the opportunity to meet out Residence Councilors and the directors of the program.  We had an informative rules and guidelines presentation in the evening in a Chemistry lecture hall.  I figured that the front row would fill up in a heartbeat so naturally I grabbed a seat right in the middle of the front row.  To my surprise I was the only one in the entire row.  In fact, the next row of people was three rows back.  I wanted to avoid having a bad first impression with the directors, that is why I was in the front.  I was shocked when I saw everyone trying the get as close to the back as possible.  Oh well, I know that Don Gosney will at least appreciate the attempt at making a good first impression.

At the presentation, there was an extensive breakdown of the vast number of rules.  There were in fact so many rules that it took an hour and a half to go through the basics.  One rule that I wasn't very fond of was the requirement to travel in groups. I was looking forward to going into the library alone for some quiet study time by myself.  I hope that I won't have to beg people to go to the library with me.  Tomorrow our classes and the college experience begins.

New Everything

Today was the first day of our Summer Discovery adventure! We now are going to be living in dorms on the UPENN campus. Even though I checked double or triple on the room selection form, I was placed in a single room. At first I was a bit disappointed because I wanted to make friends that way, but I realized later that we have so many other opportunities to make friends and that we are, realistically, only going to be in our rooms when we sleep. We just got back from today's activities and it is almost 11:00 PM, and we are told that we should expect to sleep around midnight every night! Along with the new living arrangements, we also are making new friends, learning new things and experiencing new cultures!

We arrived on time a little before 11:00 AM and checked in with no difficulties. Upon arrival, we all received a folder with information, a Penn ID card which allows us access to virtually everything on campus, two keys (one for the outside buildings and one for our personal room,) and a t-shirt. The staff were very friendly and helped us find our rooms and get settled in. We had until 5:00 PM to unpack and make some friends. We then met for dinner and headed as a group to the commons where we will be eating every day. The food was better than expected and there were so many options and variety to choose from. There was also a lot of dessert options! I had chicken pizza and an eggplant dish for dinner and then apple pie and ice cream for dessert. I also had iced tea. I was pleased with the overall experience and look forward to having our meals there so frequently. 

After dinner we had some time to relax again. Audrey and I and some of our new friends got to know each other in the outside quad area where we were surrounded by an ultimate frisbee game and plenty of other groups talking. The quad area will be a very popular hang out spot, I think, because it is so beautiful and there are a lot of benches, trees and grass to relax by. Then we met up with our residential counselors (RCs.) My RC is Abby and she, along with all the other RCs, knows everything there is to know about UPENN, Philadelphia and the program. Each group had between fifteen and twenty people in it. We went to the orientation as a group.

The orientation was very helpful and cleared up a lot of questions. We met the people who are in charge of and run this whole program and got a feel for how many people there will be in our classes. In Social Justice there will be around 40. I'm so excited to meet everyone in my class tomorrow! I met some of the people in my RC group including people from Paris, Turkey, Kansas, New York and many more interesting places. The diversity in this program is amazing and even better than I expected! The rules were explained, and although there were a lot, most were common sense and very reasonable. We get a lot of freedom and are treated like real college students for the most part.

Following the orientation we had smaller group discussions with our RC groups. We all introduced ourselves more formally. There are some pretty interesting people in my group! One girl brought a whole bunch of henna and showed us awesome designs she can do for us. This is something I would definitely like to try some time in the next four weeks. There are also figure skaters, musicians, singers and much more! I'm really happy with my group and look forward to getting to know them better. We were then shown the office where we have to sign in at every night between 10:00 PM and 11:00 PM. As it was around 10:15 PM when we went, we all signed in and then went our separate ways. I hung out with some of my floor mates for about a half hour, got ready for bed and then went back to my room to write descriptions of my room and this blog! Seeing as it's almost midnight now, I should probably head to sleep. Wish me luck on my first day of class tomorrow!

Bittersweet Move-in

Moving day! All the cohorts reported downstairs an hour before check-in for Summer Discovery and the luggage was ridiculously tedious to "carry". I had the most difficult of times trying to even pull my luggage to the elevator because I had to inefficiently put my bag of books and my backpack on the two suitcases and it made it that much heavier. After all the shenanigans that my suitcases pulled on me, we signed in and I arrived in my long-anticipated dorm. My roommate wasn't in the room at first, but I met him later.

My room feels very spacious for being a double. We have AC so we won't be dying in the hot Philly weather in our room anytime soon. There's a shelf where I can put my things on - as you can see in the photo - and I placed pretty much everything I need on it. I settled in and we head out for some "grub".

Lunch was bittersweet. Not because of the food, but the short good-byes that we exchanged with Mr. Hillyer. It was only a few short days but we developed a parent-child relationship over that time. He knows a tremendous amount about the East Coast and through our interaction with him, the experience has become so much better. I can't imagine the trip without Mr. Hillyer, he has been a quintessential person in our adventure in the East Coast. In the end, It's like a dad saying their farewells to his children.

My roommate, Alex Ehlinger! He's French!
I returned to my room and I finally had the chance to meet my roommate! His name is Axel Ehlinger; he moved to the U.S. three years ago from France, and he is currently living in New York. His mother was saying her goodbyes - jeez, it feels like it's wartime with all the goodbye - and after she left, Axel and I discussed our backgrounds. For this blog, I'll talk about him! Axel had the opportunity to choose between continuing to live in Paris or living in New York for a year. He chose to live in NY and he loved it so much that he decided to stay. As a rising senior, he's taking the chemistry program! He's in a French-American school and his school bases its education on the French system. In his school, everyone has the option of studying a set of classes based on: science, economics, or literature. Generally, some of the classes intertwine. If a student is studying economics, they will most likely not take any classes in literature. Economics has a set of statistics and calculus classes while science has the general natural sciences. However, if a student is in the science set, they have to take a philosophy class senior year. I know that France has a very similar system because the French exit exam (for high school) has an essay section that regards philosophical questions such as: "Is it our duty to seek the truth". The French are very heavily invested in philosophy, they believe that its the foundation for thinking. I believe this is true and it'd be fantastic for America to adopt a similar approach in high schools but we're having our own problems; realistically, the American education system is not going to go through drastic changes.

We became acquainted and after resting, we headed out to meet the other people on the same floor. At first, there were only three but more and more people started joining the group. It soon became a party of twenty! After everyone became acquainted, we checked out the rest of the hall.

Apparently, the third floor always has a lounge/lobby available only for us to use. What luck! We were all gathered so we decided to have a giant conversation about expectations from each other and overall ideas of what we wanted our hall to be like. We became even more acquainted and we had even developed nicknames for each other. We're planning to get a board game or party card game for the floor so we can have fun during our free time. My floor is very sociable so we'll be able to have much more fun than the other dorms! Just kidding. I'm not trying to start a dorm competition, but... we're the best.

We met up at 5:00 PM and head out to the dining commons. I met even more people in line but I didn't get to fully acquaint myself with them until later. The food in the commons was much better than I had anticipated, especially the pizza. I had a couple slices but I didn't eat too much because I thought it'd be harder to make friends if they saw how much I could eat. Axel and I got a plate of what we thought was lemon meringue pie but it was actually banana cream pie. I didn't like the banana flavor but the rest of the pie was satisfactory.

It's been a pretty long day since we had to get settled in to our new homes for the next four weeks. I really love my roommate, I've learned more about France than I did from textbooks. Not to say that we didn't cover France but the actual experience is much more enlightening. Class is tomorrow and I absolutely cannot wait!

Moving Day

We finally moved into our dorms today! At 11 AM, my cohort and I brought our bags to UPenn and signed ourselves in. We received our Penn Card, which allows us to do what we want on campus, our room keys, and we were shown to our rooms.

My room is on the second floor (air conditioning!) and I have two other roommates. My roommates are both from New York and we spent the day getting to know each other, unpack, and meet others who are part of the Summer Discovery program.

Dinner started at 5 PM, so everyone headed to the 1920s Common Hall where the food was set up. There was a variety of food, but I chose a slice of pizza and a pear. Yes, that is a weird combination.

After dinner, everyone was taken to the Orientation which was held in a large lecture hall. Robert, Eli, and Lauren, who are the program directors and coordinators, spoke to us about the program and its rules. There are a lot of rules, but it is all for safety. After, my residential counselor, Haile, held a mini orientation with my dorm floor where she repeated the rules and answered all of our questions. She told us that she will always be there for us, so if we need anything we should go to her. My dorm floor consists of 12 girls from different parts of the country and world. We all got to know each other slightly, but will get to know each other better through the course of this program.

After our mini orientation we all "signed out", which is required for attendance issues, and went back to our dorm rooms. A lot of people are asleep already and that is what I plan to do as well.

Today has been a very long day, but I am so excited to be here! Tomorrow will be my first day of class and my first experience as an (uncredited) undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania.

The PENNthouse

I was able to sleep in a bit this morning, as check-in to the program was at 11. After I woke up, I had some time to pack and relax. We left the hotel around 10:30. While my bag was fairly light, it did not have wheels. We had to walk a fair distance carrying our bags. If I do this again I will definitely bring a bag with wheels. After we reached the area of the campus where the program is based, we got several papers, keys, and a card. You can swipe the card to get into a variety of places. We brought our bags to our rooms and settled in.
My room

My room was on the very top floor of the Franklin building. The heat rose to the top and made the air muggy and awful. Inside my room it was no better. There was an air conditioner, but it was controlled from the main office and hadn't been turned on. The ILC cohort headed out for a last lunch before the classes began. We went to a barbecue place. I had some hush puppies: fried cornbread. We then walked back to the dorms. Of course, since this was the first time I didn't have my rain jacket in my backpack, due to the heat, it began to rain. Given the heat of the day, the rain actually felt pretty nice. Inside the dorm, it was still hot and muggy. As I got higher up in the building the heat increased further. Luckily, the air conditioner in my room was on. I got settled into my room, and began writing up the room description for Don. I soon ran into a problem: I couldn't connect to the internet. The ethernet port didn't work, and the wifi required a Pennkey to log in. I did have my Pennkey... stored in my email. Given that I didn't have my email synced with my computer or phone, I had to go down to the office to get on to the internet. After waiting for almost an hour in line, I finally gained access to the internet. In the future, I will store my Pennkey on my flashdrive before getting to the campus.
Another view of my room.

After returning to my room, I returned to settling in. I wrote up the day's blog so far, sent in the room description, and called my parents. I am extremely glad they give you so much time to settle in on the first day. We all met in the quad at 5:00, for dinner. We grouped by floor. I had some spaghetti for dinner. Over dinner, I talked to two people, Oscar and Elliot. Elliot was from Fremont, and Oscar was from Majorca, Spain. He was quite excited because there is a soccer game between Brazil and Spain. He also told us about how he wants to run the bulls sometime. During the running of the bulls, some bulls are let loose to chase people down a street. At the end, the bulls are typically killed. While I can understand that this event must be extremely exciting to watch, it seems needlessly dangerous. I also dislike that the bulls are killed. At school, they have classes from about 9:00 until 2:45. This shorter school day is offset by more homework. I prefer having a longer school day and less homework. Spending time in school can be valuable because there is a teacher you can ask questions to.

Looking towards the door of my room
After dinner, everybody who is doing a Penn program through Summer Discovery went to a lecture hall for orientation. The rules can be summed up as such: don't do anything illegal, stay within a certain area of the city, and be back before it's late. We also got a bit of information. There are about 300 students in the program. Only 36 of them are in physics with me. They come from numerous countries. They told us a more information about Penn and Summer Discovery, none of it particularly noteworthy. We then met with our RCs, or Resident Counselors. They gave us a bit more information: times to be at breakfast, class, or in the dorms. They showed us where to sign in (the method of making sure we are in the quad by 11:00). Tomorrow we'll meet in the quad at 8:30 for our classes, and breakfast starts at 8. I have met several people in physics. I'm looking forward to it.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Best Day Ever!

Today was our cohorts’ trip to Manhattan, New York and a visit to Columbia University.  The day was off to an early start with an eight o'clock train ride.  As always, there was an issue with purchasing our train tickets, but thankfully the delay was short lived.  It’s beginning to turn into a fun game trying to guess what sort of problems we'll run into at the train station.  But it shows to be a good example as to why to show up early to something to allow for any technical difficulties.  

We had the privilege to take a private tour with our chaperone Mr. Hillyer’s aunt Dr.  Grace Hillyer.  However, Dr. Hillyer worked at a different part of the Columbia campus and didn't have access to a majority of the buildings. But in the end we were able to find alternate means of getting into the buildings and even a few service areas without any ID, whether we were allowed or not is a different story.  Unfortunately though, I do not think that Columbia is the right choice for me.  Each freshman is required to learn the Classics of education, meaning mostly the ancient Greeks and philosophers.  This is perhaps my most hated category of learning, so sorry Columbia but you’re not for me.  On the positive side though, our day was not wasted, as we got an extensive hands on experience in Manhattan.
While in Manhattan, we walked through Central Park with Mr. Hillyer’s aunt and uncle.  After that we sat down at a Jewish kosher deli in uptown Manhattan.  This was the first time that I had ever been to a kosher deli and it was an interesting experience.  Although, I must say that I miss having my Swiss cheese on my roast beef sandwich.  There were also a lot of side dishes like pickles and coleslaw which I thought was revolting.  Mr. Hillyer, however, forced me to at least try the New York style of the dishes, but that did not go over well.  I know it is his job to make us try new things and get the full experience, but anything pickled or any type of vegetable dish does not agree with my stomach. 

After lunch, we headed downtown to see Grand Central Station and Times Square.  Audrey and I were more acclimated to the New York style of walking than everyone else in the group though.  While everyone else was slowly lagging behind, Audrey and I were pulling out in front fighting through the crowd like real New Yorkers.   I overall enjoyed New York; however, it was not nearly as large or crowded as everyone made it out to be.  I actually felt that Manhattan was small in a way. Times Square was also different than expected.  It was a lot more compact than the pictures make it out to be.   There didn't seem to be the big culture shock value either.  The differences in personalities between New Yorkers and everyone else was very subtle.   The only thing that seemed intimidating was ordering food.  It went: shout your order, pay the money, and get the heck out of the way.  

The last big event in Manhattan was the 9/11 Memorial.  It was a strange feeling walking down the street towards the memorial.  I instantly recognized the street from videos and newscasts from the day of the attacks.  I was imagining that street filled with nothing but fire trucks, ambulances, and police cars, all with sirens blaring like they were on that memorable day.  As we drew closer and the new Freedom Tower became larger and larger, the anticipation began to grow.  Then the whole street became very ominous and eerie as a jet airliner flew in the sky over the new World Trade Center. 

It took almost half an hour to actually get into the memorial due to the extensive security.  Every one hundred feet or so there would be security guards checking for tickets.  This seemed to be a peculiar amount of ticket checking for a free memorial.  Then there was a TSA like security checkpoint with metal detectors and the works.  It was a lot of hassle just to get into the actual memorial area.  Once inside, there seemed to be an alarming amount of people who were just there to have a good time.  The majority of the people that I saw were less concerned with admiring the memorial and what it represents and more concerned with their Facebook status.  I had done some extensive research on the World Trade Center and 9/11 during school after we seemed to just skip over the whole event as if it had never happened.  It was difficult to imagine the area with the Twin Towers still there and hard to accept the fact that my mother had been at the top of the North Tower in late August of 2001.  I enjoyed the visit to the memorial the most out of everything else.  It was good to have some closure after so many months of research.
When we were done with the memorial, we could't help but to get some authentic New York style pizza.  We found a local place and sat down.  Once again Jun proved that he could eat anything and everything on this trip and he ended up eating the most out of everyone, even after we had just stopped to eat just before that.  I enjoyed the consistency of New York pizza very much and plan on getting some more when we go back to Manhattan later this month.  Overall, today was a very fun and exciting day with a wide variety of new people and experiences.  If only the city was cleaner, I might actually consider living there.  

A Californian's Bias in New York

Today was a day of days. After 8 exhausting hours of conquering Manhattan, we're back! I knew that New York was an enormous city, but today's trip really put things into perspective. We started from North Manhattan and headed South all the way to Times Square. We only explored Manhattan yet the city felt so big! I'm just a small Californian, huh. A trip to New York is like a trip to Disneyland, but the amazement replaced the fun, not to say that it wasn't. (The pictures below aren't even half the amount that I took in total)
Before we could even get to New York, we faced a couple difficulties. Apparently, the date of the reserved tickets for Amtrack was scheduled for another day, which is fairly odd, and so we had pay much, much more in order to get to New York. During the ride, I met a nice young lady; she's younger than me by a year. Mr. Hillyer and I conversed with her and she was pleasant to talk to! She will be visiting Stanford to scout out the school - it's surprising because she's an upcoming sophomore. Kudos to her! We gave her the link to our site and so we won't find out her name until then because we forgot to ask.

We used the subway to go up and down through Manhattan and the subway system is highly inefficient. I'm so used to BART - we can buy multiple tickets at once; plus, we can get back our money through the machines. However, New York's subway system does not have those functions and so we had to spend a good twenty minutes just getting six cards for everyone. We couldn't put all the money on one card because after a good four uses, the card is rejected to prevent fraud (something like that). I'm so used to BART so New York subways seem very inefficient.

We arrived at Columbia University and it was different from what I imagined. In my mind, Columbia's buildings seemed like they would be completely brand new, seeing as how they're in the city. However, the school had many old buildings. BUT, that is not bad at all. I think it gives Columbia a much more refined and unique feeling especially because they reside in Manhattan. Many of their statues have Greek influences; one of their buildings list off the classic Greek philosophers and an Alma Mater statue. Unfortunately, Columbia's campus was closed today so we didn't get an official tour from the school, however, we later received a small tour from Mr. Hillyer's aunt.

After taking pictures and wandering around, we met up with Doctor Grace Hillyer and her husband Mike - Mr. Hillyer's aunt and uncle. Since Mr. Hillyer was there, it was much easier getting to meet and talk to them. I was excited to meet Grace especially because she's a researcher! Through her, I was able to get a clearer image of Columbia. Students are required to take classes in the Classics. At first, I thought this was ridiculous because those classes could occupy other classes that students would want to take. Columbia is a college that not only wants to produce educated and sophisticated students, but rather leaders that can make a change in the world. The Classics - philosophy, Latin, and Greek - can really contribute to that goal. They engage the students to explore not only the context of papers, but also the ideas and philosophy. They really take education at a higher level back at the origins. Grace quotes: "In order to change the world, you have to know what the world was like before". Learning the Classics truly produces students that can function in society to make a change in the world.

I also had my first experience in a Jewish deli! I've never had Jewish food before, nonetheless authentic Jewish food! I've never had meat that melted in my mouth as easily as the roast beef. I forgot the restaurant's name, but I'm sure you can get that from the other blogs. I was a brave soul so I attempted the triple decker (check out the photos). A certain someone doesn't believe that I finished the sandwich. I had 5 slices of roast beef left, but I finished MOST of the sandwich. I eat very neatly so you don't see any on my face or shirt. If you see the napkin on my left, you'll see the grease of the meat from my mouth. If you ask anyone from my group, they'll tell you that I did finish the triple decker!

I was stupefied by the colossal size of New York. Seriously, every corner I spotted buildings that "scraped the sky". I wouldn't know what to do if I lived here. 

Roar, Lion, Roar

Which school’s alumni include four presidents, ninety-seven Nobel Prize winners, and five of the founding fathers of the country? The answer is Columbia University!

Today my cohort and I took a two hour train ride to New York City to tour Columbia University. Mr. Hillyer’s aunt, Dr. Hillyer, is a researcher at the university, so she showed us around and told us about the school.

Columbia University was founded in 1754 and has a lot of history behind it. History is also important to the school, so freshman are all required to take certain courses (mathematics, literature, history, etc.) to learn about their history. Columbia believes that their students can change the world if they are knowledgeable of the past because they can learn from it. Columbia is a school that is open about their philosophy. Their philosophy is to create scholars and great thinkers. They have many alums who graduate, make something of themselves in the world, and come back and contribute to Columbia. Columbia even attracts the attention of others, such as Al Gore who has taught a class there.

Columbia University has top of the line programs, such as the law and engineering programs, but they do not provide a premed or prelaw program. This is because the school is focused more on building their student’s intellectual capacities than on teaching them a certain skill. Columbia trains their students to be the best of the best and to become CEOs and government officials. Dr. Hillyer let us know that Columbia University is a very selective school that does not base its admission solely on grades, but also on character. 
Columbia University campus
The campus was beautiful and what I learned about the school helped me to think more about the type of school I am looking for. Columbia University is a great school that has definitely caught my attention.

Times Square
After our tour at Columbia University, we went inside St. John's Cathedral, walked through Central Park (not all of it!), took the subway, and went to a local Jewish Deli. The deli was crowded, but I understood why once I tried the food. The sandwiches were delicious and melted in our mouths. While we were waiting for our food, the waiters put starters on our table. Nothing unusual about that, but the starters were cabbage slaw and pickles. That was something I had never experienced before. At the restaurant, Jun ate a full three-decker sandwich that was larger than his head. That was something to watch.

After the deli we went to Times Square, then the 9-11 memorial. It was a beautiful memorial dedicated to a heartbreaking event that has forever changed the lives of many. After the memorial, we went souvenir shopping and ate authentic New York pizza. The pizza was thinner and lighter than the California pizza I am used to eating. It was so good, that even though I was still full from the deli food, I still had to have another slice.
9-11 Memorial 

We finally arrived back in Philadelphia at 10 PM, and I am now completely worn out. Walking 16 miles (Mr. Hillyer keeps track) can really tire out a person.

Today was a great day and I am sad to conclude these school tours. I have really enjoyed seeing and learning about these different schools and weighing my options. Now, we will all be moving into our dorms and starting the classes we came out here to take! 

The Big City!

One of the main building of Columbia University
We spent our last day before moving into our dorms at UPENN touring the wonderful city of New York! We began by taking Amtrak to the city. It was another early start so we decided to save time and eat breakfast on the train. I ordered a yogurt parfait and a blueberry muffin and took a seat along with Audrey by some women who were going to the city to see a show. They were from Delaware and were pretty good company for the slightly long train ride. We arrived and immediately went to Columbia University. It was, again, very beautiful. Most of the buildings were closed for the weekend but we got to see some of it through Mr. Hillyer's aunt, Grace. She is a researcher at the university. I very much enjoyed conversing with her and having her with us for half of the day! The school offered a lot and I wish we could have seen more of it. I was particularly interested in how much they focus on philosophy. The names of famous Greek philosophers were even engraved into one of the main buildings in huge lettering. I was also impressed with how involved the alumni are; Grace was telling us about how all the graduates aspire to give back to the school once they've become famous!

After touring the school, we looked around in the gift shop and then made our way down to see a magnificent church and central park. It seems like the people who made central park really thought of everything when they planned it! There was even a pool in the summer which is a skating rink in the winter! I imagine lots of New Yorkers spend a lot of time in this park.
Panoramic View of New York from Central Park 
We then took the Metro, using our cool "Metro cards," to one of Mr. Hillyer's favorite New York Jewish sandwich places. The sandwiches were huge but very good and I found it very interesting that they served us a bunch of pickles in a bowl, a pickled tomato and pickled cabbage with everything we ordered. 

Pastrami Sandwich on rye bread
After lunch, we took the Metro again to Times Square! It was very lively and I liked the atmosphere. We unfortunately had to rush a bit in order to get to the 9/11 memorial by 4:00 PM. The line was huge and the security was everywhere, but the point was made that this event was one of the saddest and most tragic days in a long time for American history. The memorials were twin pools of water falling a long distance into a big, black pit in which the bottom was not visible. After our self guided tour, we looked at some souvenir shops for typical New York souvenirs and then found a place to eat some famous New York pizza! The pizza was very good- we ordered margherita in order to please everyone. Even though we all were very full from the deli and occasional street vendor stops, most of us had a second slice and as a group we managed to finish the whole thing, which surprised us. After dinner, we walked back to the train and came home. I know I feel exhausted after walking over fifteen miles today and I'm sure everyone agrees! We are all looking forward to moving into our dorms tomorrow and starting our class Monday, although I will miss touring the colleges. I wish we could see more, but I'm also eager to begin our "Summer Discovery at Penn.”

Scraping the Skies

According to Dave Barry, taxis in New York sometimes slow down to 125 mph to take better aim at wheelchair occupants. I woke up at 6:45 to get to New York on time. We walked down to the Amtrak station. Setting the tone for the day, the station was enormous, with an extremely high ceiling. After waiting a short amount of time, we boarded the train. It went to NY, stopping only 4 times. After we exited the train, we got on the subway and arrived at Columbia University. All the buildings at Columbia seemed huge, matched by the size of the city around it. While the campus was mostly closed, we were accompanied by Mr. Hillyer's aunt to give us a tour, as she is a researcher at Columbia. We explored many of the buildings. All of the exterior architecture was huge and majestic. Inside, it felt much like any school, except a bit cleaner and nicer. 
At Columbia, in the first year you have to take classes in the classics. I appreciate this desire to make students well-rounded, as it can help students discover what they are interested in along with helping them work with people in other fields. However, I worry that it may restrict the classes you have time to take too much. Mr. Hillyer's aunt says that Columbia really trains leaders. I like that instead of just trying to just help people to do their jobs in day to day life, Columbia focuses on making a larger impact. Columbia's computer science program is supposed to be great. However, though the academics sound pretty good, I do not like the location. I could not stand to be trapped in the city. I need to be in a slightly more rural environment. Though I might acclimate slightly, New York seems too confining.

After we finished looking around Columbia, we decided to explore the surrounding city. New York is massive. In San Francisco, there are certainly a few large buildings. In New York, those large buildings cover an enormous area. Everything seems big. We saw an extremely large cathedral. It had soaring ceilings, stained glass windows, all that you would expect in a behemoth of a church. Mr. Hillyer's aunt and uncle left us as we walked down a few blocks to a park. As we reached the park, they rejoined us. The park was quite nice; open green grass. At one point we even got to see a bunch of buildings behind the water. After walking through the park, we took the subway to a place to have lunch. After waiting a little while, the busy restaurant seated us. The restaurant served classic Jewish food. While others had very meaty options, I went with the vegetarian option of scrambled eggs. Jun had a sandwich the size of his head. I do not understand how he can possibly eat so much.
After lunch, we headed over to Times Square. There was nothing particularly unique about Times Square, except that it was an interesting place that I had heard about many times before. It was a plaza surrounded by stores. We also saw Grand Central Station. It was most certainly grand. I probably don't need to say this, but the place was enormous. Not even Mr. Hillyer, who is quite tall, had no need to worry about bumping his head on the ceiling in the main area. If he had been fifty times taller, he still wouldn't have to worry about hitting his head. 

Mr. Hillyer's relatives left us as we went to the next stop: the 9/11 memorial. We had to wait in a long line and go through security to get there. The memorial is made up of twin pits. The pits were sided in black stone, with water pouring down into a pool. In the center of the pool was another pit which water cascaded into. It was designed so that you could not see the bottom of the second pit. I really liked these memorials. They fit the event they memorialized - you could peer down into the depths and contemplate the wreckage that was there 10 years before the memorial was created. 

After we left the memorial, I had a pretzel. We then walked to Wall Street. On the way, I saw a  sign about the New York Federal Reserve. I have been into the San Francisco Federal Reserve. In the NY Federal Reserve, according to the sign, they keep billions of dollars worth of gold. 

We had some NY pizza. It was quite good. We then took the subway back to the station where we could get back to Philadelphia. Once again, I am amazed by the quality of public transportation on the East coast. The subway is such an enormous system, but it works extremely smoothly for its size. After a wait for the train back, we sat on it for an hour or two. By the time we got back to the hotel, we had walked 16 miles over the course of the day.

Friday, June 28, 2013

The Best of Both Worlds

As pointed out by multiple faculty and students, Swarthmore really is the "best of both worlds." We headed out this morning on the train again to arrive in the very cute town of Swarthmore around 9:15 AM. We then proceeded to eat breakfast at a small diner called Vicky's Place. I found the diner to also be very cute and we felt as if we were in an older movie as we ate our hot cakes and french toast. It was very delicious, to say the least. We then walked a quick five minutes over to Swarthmore College. My first impression was that it seemed very homey which proved to be true during our tour. 

Our guide was very enthusiastic, as were all the people we spoke to who studied or worked at Swarthmore. She told us personal stories as well as campus stories, such as the huge chair. It was originally a prank; A student built this giant version of all the chairs they have around the campus and moved every chair near it looking as if they were bowing down. The administrators loved it so much, they kept the chair and then later hired him as an art instructor!

The school has a lot to offer. There are countless clubs, a small faculty to student ratio and of course, the beautiful campus. This is, however, what we've said about every school we've seen.

This school seemed extremely close-knit. There were rules about including all 1500 students and lots of ways they kept the underclassmen and upperclassmen interacting. The social life there seemed amazing and fun.

There were also some unique aspects of the academics. For example, in your first semester as a Freshman all classes are on a pass/fail grading system in order to give students more of a chance to grow accustomed to college life. 

After travelling back to Philadelphia, we had some down time during which Audrey and I spent getting supplies for our class starting Monday, finishing up and reviewing some pre-reading material for our Social Justice course and hanging out around the hotel.

We met up for dinner at 6:00 PM and walked over to Distritos, which is owned by Iron Chef star Jose Garces. It was probably the best Mexican food I have ever had and I was very impressed. The atmosphere was fun and inviting and I enjoyed it a lot. Throughout the dinner, I was imagining my family and I eating there if they all came to visit me as a student in Philadelphia. I think this proved to myself how much I can see myself going to UPENN. I had a great time today and am feeling especially grateful to the people who made this experience possible for us.

Sweat More, See More, Swarthmore

Today, I was stupefied because we visited a unique school on the East Coast - Swarthmore University. It was only roughly twenty minutes away from UPenn so I wasn't expecting a major change in settings - I was wrong to assume so. I am so surprised to see the extent in which East Coast colleges differ from that of California. The University of California system is exceptional, but all of the schools are very similar in terms of education, environment, and students. Some may disagree and say that all of the UCs share major differences, but after experiencing three East Coast colleges: University of Pennsylvania, Princeton University, and Swarthmore University, East Coast colleges are much more unique. I've only seen three of the schools, soon to be four, but they have exposed me to the potential of East Coast colleges.
Swarthmore University, by far, is one of the most distinctive colleges that I've seen, not to say the other schools are not. I'll give you an idea of how different it is - freshmen do not receive grades for their classes; they receive either a P(pass) or F(fail) on their transcript. At first, I highly disliked this system because it does not give the student an idea of how much he or she mastered the material in the class. But after listening to the informational presentation and thinking about it on my own, this system's benefits outweigh its disadvantages. The Pass or Fail system's purpose is not to immediately engage students into their major, but rather introduce them to the various classes and studies there are out there. From talking to the alumni from my school, I learned that their minds greatly change after graduating and they're not sure what to major in or study in college. In fact, many of them didn't even know what they wanted to major in when they started as freshmen. 
With the Pass or Fail system, it introduces the students to a specific set of classes and at the end of their respective courses, they do not receive a letter grade. Many students are stressed over grades and as a result, they diverge from their anticipated majors because they did not do well in their prerequisite classes. Swarthmore University avoids the issue of failure and stress on the students by first introducing them to a diverse set of classes - ranging from English, Physical Education(yes, they have to take PE), natural science, foreign language(it is a requirement), mathematics, and humanities - their freshmen year, but they do not punish them for doing poorly in their classes. Through this, the students can really find their passion without having to experiment with punishments; it allows room for students to try new subjects. And the college makes sure that its students dive into humanities, it's a requirement to have a major, nonetheless graduate. 

The major motto that the campus guide promoted was: "Learning for the sake of learning". This directly corresponds to the philosophy that I've promoted to my schoolmates. Many of my classmates, and including myself sometimes, often worry too much over the grade and neglect the knowledge in class. I've tried to avoid this mentality but it's hard when we're conscious that colleges will be judging most of their applicants on academics, although it is not the entire application. It's disappointing that the education system has to resort to such a method, but it's necessary to create an efficient system.

Surprisingly, Swarthmore does not place freshmen in their own dorms; seniors, juniors, and sophomores can dorm with freshmen. This is great because not only do the freshmen have access to upperclassmen as a resource, but the upperclassmen get to gauge the potential of the future and guide them along a successful path. Even more surprising is that Swarthmore offers guaranteed four years of housing and 95% of the students decides to live in dormitories. Also, if students need to borrow suits, Swarthmore has a center where students can borrow suits - brand new! 

From what the campus guide told me, Swarthmore has unique social events and policies. For a winter formal, they offer a Yule Ball, which is based on the ball in the Goblet of Fire. Fun fact, they have a regional Quidditch team. On the topic of clubs, any club can be formed as long as there are two people in it. But the person forming the club has to send an invitation to everyone from Swarthmore. As for parties, the school funds them only if the person hosting invites everyone. From this information, Swarthmore University seems to be a very social-orientated college and it wants everyone to engage in its activities. This is perfect for me because I love to socialize. 

Also, the area that college is located in feels very homely. Because it's in the suburbs, I feel very comfortable.  In fact, the food court outside of it looks very similar to downtown Pinole. Even the school itself feels very homey. Not homey in reference to the Bay Area, but in reference to: "It looks like I could live here outside the college". In fact, I think the lobby where they held the informational looks nicer than the Sheraton that we’re staying at. Swarthmore is very, very beautiful and it has a plethora of trees and grass; the campus looks incredible and with all the social events, it's impossible not to love the area. 

Although the school is exceptionally beautiful and I can relate to its education and philosophy, it's not exactly the right kind of school for me. Not to say that I wouldn't enjoy learning at Swarthmore, but the school does not tend to my needs as a scientist. I am fully intent in becoming a scientist or engineer and personally, Swarthmore is not the perfect school for that criterion. It offers many of the classes that other universities offer, but it doesn't offer many opportunities to work as an engineer. I was reassured when the guide told us that their engineering classes are not meant to teach us how to become engineers, but how to think like an engineer. This type of style is more suited for either lawyers, policy-makers, and etc that have to deal with problems with an engineering perspective. Swarthmore University is not the ideal college for me as a scientist, HOWEVER...

If I were to major in Liberal Arts, then Swarthmore would be the perfect school. Both Mr. Hillyer and I were stupefied by the variety of history and Classics classes they offered. They specifically had a class for analyzing the political, cultural, and social effect that water had on history. If that's not interesting enough, they also had a class titled: "Angels of Death: Russia Under Lenin and Stalin". The class confronts the impact that Stalin and Lenin had on the Soviet Union. For Classics, they offer a class for analyzing Plato's works and specifically Plato's Republic. I'm into philosophy and if I wanted to major in it, I would most definitely want to attend Swarthmore. 
From the trip, I learned of applicable advice to future college apps. I should stray away from writing generic essays and try to delve into specifics of why I want to major in a certain subject at a specific school. And also, the most common question is "Why (insert University name)?" and the best way to approach that question is to explain the relationship between myself and the school. These seem like common advice, but hearing it fresh out of an admissions officer adds so much more. 

Swatties or Swarthmoreans?

Swarthmore College campus 
We all woke up early to attend the tour and information session at Swarthmore College in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania today. Swarthmore College is a liberal arts college which was founded in 1864 by the Society of Friends, otherwise known as the Quakers. The school still focuses heavily on its Quaker values and maintaining a  liberal community. The campus was very lush and green and the school obviously has a passion for the environment and environmental awareness. Everyone who spoke to us about Swarthmore were warm and excited about the school. As our tour guide said, "Swarthmore is made up of quirky intellectual people who end up forming a community." 

Swarthmore College Amphitheater
I liked Swarthmore for many factors, such as the pass and fail system enacted during first semester freshman year. For a student to receive a pass or a fail on their transcript the first semester really helps them to not be overly stressed about school work while trying to become acclimated to moving away from home and living on their own. I also liked that about 40-50% of students study abroad, and that learning a language is a requirement at Swarthmore College. Housing on campus is guaranteed all four years, and the freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior classes may sometimes mix. I enjoyed the community aspect of Swarthmore and the dedication to have the students learn but also enjoy their time.

Swarthmore College seems to be a great school, and if I decide that I am ultimately looking for a liberal arts college, then Swarthmore is definitely at the top of my list.

Swarthmore, Pennsylvania
After the tour and information session, we still had plenty of time before our train back to Philly, so we walked around the neighborhood of Swarthmore checking out the sites. Swarthmore is small and nice with affable little restaurants. The neighborhood reminds me of a larger and more historic version of mine back in the Bay Area. 

By the time we came back to Philadelphia it was still quite early in the day, so we all went to the UPenn student store and the Penn Book Center. Jun, Michael, and Kai explored the bookstores looking for a good read, while Hannah and I went in search of the textbooks for our class. Afterwards, we all went back to the hotel and relaxed in our rooms.

Around 6:00 PM we all walked to Distrito, which is a gourmet Mexican restaurant owned by Jose Garces the Iron Chef. We ordered a countless number of dishes Tapas style and everything tasted absolutely delicious. The food tasted differently than Mexican food back home, but that was because this was a modern take on the Mexican cuisine. It was different, but very good.

Today was fun and I really enjoyed seeing and taking in the different parts of Pennsylvania! 

I Want More Swarthmore

Today was the PENN cohort’s third college tour here on the East Coast and today we went to Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania -- a rather small college that lies off in the wooded countryside not too far from Philadelphia.  Once again we had to use the train system, which is now becoming routine.

The Swarthmore campus was another pleasant relief to the city style of schools in Philadelphia. To our surprise, the Swarthmore campus was the first place we've seen on the East Coat that actually had rolling hills.  Now granted the surrounding area wasn't very hilly, but the campus did offer some really nice gradual up slopes that seem so very rare here.  In addition to the hills, there was also a surprising amount of green.  Green grass, green trees, green buildings, green was everywhere to be found.

For many years now, I never really saw myself attending a small college in a small town.  However, no matter how much I resisted the temptation of denying Swarthmore any credit or consideration, at the end of the day Swarthmore seems like it would be a perfect fit for my personality.  Although it may be a liberal arts college, there was a relatively strong astronomy department with descent physics labs.  On the tour I found out that a literature major was doing some work for an astronomy professor one night and actually found a new planet using the on-site observatory.  I thought that was the fun fact of the day.

For the academics, I found it interesting at how relaxed the grading policy was.  For the first semester of Freshman year, all grades are posted as either a pass or a fail.  This is designed to help relieve stress from beginning college and to prevent over competition for grades.  I am interested in the relaxed nature of the students as well.  Although there is not a huge emphasis on grades, the students are still very passionate about school.  Instead of trying to get the best grades, emphasis is on actually learning the course work.

Although I like to think of myself as being able to master everything, in the end I am actually only slightly better than average at most things.  Swarthmore is a college for students exactly like that. I also love the fact that there is an immense aspect on social life, but at the same time Swarthmore is not a party school.  I cannot stand party schools because they typically have annoying people in them, however, at Swarthmore the so called "party" dorms worst offense was a loud chess match in the commons at two in the morning.  To me, that sounds like the type of fun that I'm into and not the typical class of "college fun".

The only thing that I didn't like about the academics at Swarthmore was the required twenty addition mandatory courses outside of your major.  I supposed that's one of the main components of a liberal arts school though.  I've had my heart set out on physics for years now, but maybe after the physics course at PENN is over I'll have a new interest.  But in the meantime, I will definitely be adding Swarthmore to my college list.  Without the Ivy League Connection I would have never even heard about this school.  Thank you ILC.