Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Summer Discovery

Penn on the first day.
The clock has struck its full 24-hours and this year's Ivy League Connection at Penn has come to an end. I arrived back in California on Saturday night and I've been thinking since then. The experience, laughter, exposure, and knowledge that I have gained not only through the month that I was in the East Coast, but the program as a whole has given me insight for the future. Before the actual experience, I heard many tales and anecdotes from alumni of the program, and I vicariously imagined it to be an adventure filled with new thoughts everyday. There were new thoughts that popped up, but most of the time it was just reevaluation of previous thoughts. Thinking the same questions: “Why do I want to go here? Where do I belong? Is this what I want? What do I like here? Do I want to major in this? What do I do with my major? What about graduate school? What is a college experience?” - it really takes a toll on the mind. With all these thoughts going through my head, I'll attempt to put them all down in this blog. 

Way back when the application process for Penn (ILC part) was still underway, I was extremely nervous. I had previously applied for the Vanderbilt program, but I was not chosen for the interview – not even for the program as a whole. My confidence had been struck down like lightning in the East Coast – sudden and swift. Back then, I thought that my essay was solid, but now that I look back – after my writing has greatly improved – I realize that the essay wasn't that great. However, I'm surprisingly glad that I wasn't selected for Vanderbilt; it might have been a “blessing in disguise”. If I had gone to Vanderbilt instead of Penn, I might not have changed as much as I did at Penn. I wouldn't have met the amazing people that have influenced me – although, Vanderbilt could have the same effect. I wouldn't have had the opportunity to meet the amazing Bill, Craig, and Mary combination. I would not have decided to pursue a career in science,rather than engineering. There are a lot of "would not haves", but that's what made the Penn experience so influential to me. Coincidentally, this played out just exactly like my mom had predicted. The day I was not selected to the Vanderbilt interview, my mom consulted me and told me (by the way, this is translated from my thoughts): “Don't feel disheartened. This may be destined, didn't you tell me your most favored program was physics at Penn? Maybe you didn't get accepted so that you could go to Penn. Would you rather go to Vanderbilt while wondering what it would have been like to go to Penn or would you rather feel sad now and be beyond satisfied at Penn? Hui-hui (my mother calls me that), don't feel discouraged, try harder for the Penn application.” Never have I been more stupefied by my mother's sayings. She's been the biggest pillar of support for me my entire life, and little did I know that she had everything predicted. I'm content that I was not selected for Vanderbilt, Penn has been such a life-changing and mind-morphing experience. I'm not going to think of how I would have changed if I went to Vanderbilt, Penn has been the best, especially the class. 

After we were chosen.
During the interview process, I was surprisingly calm. Because I was so calm, I conversed with the others very frequently, talking about physics, high-school, and ourselves. In the hours that we were there, we became friends – knowing that we would not all be accepted – and at that point, we were close enough that we would not spite each other. We were all competing for the same thing, but we weren't enemies; everyone was on the same team. Although, this is what I had thought, the others could have thought differently. I was confident that I would do well in the interview: I thoroughly prepped on physics before the interview and from my experience in Speech and Debate, I had the speaking and interviewing skills to impress the panel. However, once I stepped in the room, my mind quickly became pressured. It was as if some unknown entity filled my head with discouraging thoughts: “What if I don't get in? What do I do?”. But, at that point, I spoke out of instinct, not really elaborately thinking like I do at Speech and Debate competitions. I didn't have the enthusiasm and charisma that my voice had at competitions. It was my first time interviewing for a program of such a large scale - $10,000 a person. In retrospect, it was an advantageous experience – being interviewed by professionals for a large sum of money, much like an interview for a job. Anyways, after the interview, I wasn't as confident as I was previously; I talked for a relatively long time compared to the others and I didn't answer all the questions to an extent where I was satisfied. The atmosphere grew heavy after I was done with my interview – I was the last one to be interviewed – and everyone knew that the end was coming near. I tried fixing the atmosphere by creating small talk and giving encouraging words. When we were all called to the room, the atmosphere grew even heavier. Name-by-name, our hopes plummeted – and after Kai and Michael were chosen, there was one name left. At that point, I felt discouraged and I thought what I would do to do better next year and my plans for the summer. While I was thinking of the future, I heard my name. At that point, a big smile grew on my face and it was embarrassing – I was smiling full of pride. Realizing that the amazing friends that I made just hours ago were struck with disappointment like I was with Vanderbilt, I thought of what to do. I resorted to calling for a “huddle-up” and giving some last words before we departed back home either happy or not. I told my mom and she gave me the most sincere and happiest “congratulations” I've ever heard from her. She was proud of me. 

After the application process, don't expect to have the “calm after the storm”. At that point, I had to apply for the actual school and I thought that it would be relatively easier because the application was much more lenient. However, I had to send in multiple “papers” to Penn, even before I got in. On their website, June 1st is the deadline for the application, but that's a lie – don't think of it like that. It's a trap laid for the unexpected. I planned to send in the application a month before the deadline, but I got a call from Don a month and half before the application was due that time was running out. I had everything done except my teacher recommendation because I wanted to give time for my teacher to do it, but I had to e-mail her that it was urgent. Lesson from this experience: make sure to finish the application two weeks after you're accepted, it gets hectic if you don't. Especially because the deadlines aren't very helpful. 

Hours before our flight.
After being accepted, it was a time of extended wait. Actually, we had a couple of events to go to, but those weren't as worrisome as the other parts of the program. During that time, I didn't think about the ILC because school work was growing bigger-and-bigger towards the end of the year. Tick-tock-tick-tock, then the day arrived. It hit me; I was leaving for Pennsylvania in twenty hours. I thought every second of what I was going to experience in the East Coast. Not a minute passed that I didn't think about it. 

The East Coast was completely different than what I had originally thought. The buildings were mostly brick, the atmosphere of Penn inspired me to rethink my college choices, and the community that I met felt much more fitting for me than home – probably because I had to open up myself since I was away from home. The Experimental Physics Research Academy was the most diverse; the class was more orientated towards learning the concepts than drilling the students into remember the concepts. We did many experiments that tested theories and we built a sense of the relationships of nature by being physicists. Now that we've arrived in the East Coast in the blog, the majority of my entries after this sentence will be about my thoughts at the end of the program. 

Princeton Perspective.
Before the program, my thoughts on colleges were different than that of now. For the majority of my college choices, I was looking for a “good” engineering department and communities that would fit me. I blindly picked colleges based on their reputation and prepared objective colleges. After really experiencing a “college life”, it makes me really think of what I want out of a college. Do I look for mostly education? What about socially? After Penn, I can confidently say that I'm looking for an equilibrium of the two. I wasn't able to fully explore my academic interests at Penn, I spent most of my time meeting and learning about new people. In retrospect, I'm glad that I spent my time more socially than academically because it's made me think much more broadly about college. 

Columbia, nothing to do with Connor. Sadly, I didn't
get a picture with him.Columbia relates to Connor
because he was the philosopher of Penn.
Columbia's freshmen are required to take the Classics.
However, I did have an engaging academic experience. I expected there to be people much, much “smarter” than me in the physics program, but actually meeting them is a different story. I had the opportunity to meet Connor Dube, who is probably the wisest person I've met, and at first, I felt intimidated and discouraged to be in his presence. He would answer elaborately every question that Bill had and it shocked Bill as well. I felt discouraged because I was unable to challenge Bill with answers such as Connor's, but I had the chance to personally talk to Connor later in the program. Connor and I do many of the same activities: chess, policy debate, physics, and chemistry. He has such a broader and detailed perspective of those activities than I do, and just listening to him endlessly talk about them was so inspiring. I threw away my pride, being a liability, and consulted Connor about practically everything. He's the fuel that I needed to throw away my pride. Knowing that there are people like him out there – and even more people smarter – it inspires me to catch up to them. Not in the sense of competition where I need to beat them, but to gain enough knowledge to think like them. If I was so stupefied listening to Connor, I wonder how more stupefied I would be if I were to think at such a high level. As a result of the “Connor Effect”, I consulted Bill about my plans on not taking a physics class and what to do. He gave me a path to follow – M.I.T. Courseware and 2 semester's worth of college level physics textbooks. I've also met people other than Connor that pushed me to this path, but he has been the biggest figure in this experience. I put together my resolve and wrote down a couple of goals. Whenever I'm lazy and procrastinate, I'll remind myself that I need to pull myself together to push towards the Path. 

A representation of my change in perspective.
In the end, I've rethought my career and decided to become a scientist. I planned on becoming an engineer because it's much more applicable and there are more engineering jobs than research-orientated jobs. But, after researching more about chemical engineering – what I wanted to do – I've realized that it's not what I want. Chemical engineering seems as if it'll get progressively boring compared to the opportunities and frontiers that biophysics (molecular biology with applied physics) offers. I'm into diving into new concepts, theories, and applications than improving current techniques. Sure, it's possible to think of new ways to perform chemical engineering, but that's much more apparent in biophysics than that of chemistry. Connor, Bill, and Craig have influenced me into making this decision. Hopefully, I don't regret it in the future. Actually, I still have time to rethink my career path, so this may not be important at all. 

Bill was a representation of Penn
for me.
Are Ivy League colleges fit for me? What about Penn? From the experience that I had at Penn, I can say that Ivy Leagues are fit for me. The exposure to people from all around the world is amazing. It's interesting to hear of the differences of Californian life from Guam's, Shanghai's, New Jersey's, New York's, Michigan's, and culture as a whole. I'll be able to see much more of this if I attend an Ivy League. Also, from the guest lectures offered by actual Penn professors, I can say that I love the learning environment of Penn. The professors are genuinely interesting and they can really speak to the students. The manner they present their research and the research itself captivates students to keep their ears open. Not only the professors, but also the environment itself gives off a scholarly feeling that makes me want to be productive. Also, the people that I've met at the program felt like family to me. I opened up to them much more than I did at home and school, and it was stress-relieving to release my thoughts without heavy scrutiny. Being far enough away from home that family cannot visit really does that to students. This may be one of the reasons I want to go to a school in the East Coast rather than the West. I love my family, but I won't fully develop unless I am released from their grasp. 

I'm like the bubble captured in the tank.
Being an ambassador of the WCCUSD, I had – and still have – great pride of my school and the District. I'm proud to say I am from Pinole Valley High School; we have many diverse students that engage themselves in activities that otherwise would not be as big if it were not for the students. PV's Marching Band is synonymous with the city, Interact helps out the community dinners all the time, and the Forensics Speech and Debate team broadens the perspective of its students, not only to debate but also life. We may not be the best academically but we offer the most in terms of community. I have unrelenting pride for the efforts of the WE Science Body (science club at my school) to expand science to elementary school students. An effort started by the ILC's own Austin Long, it has been exponentially expanding its reaches. Through my experience in experimental physics, I plan to bring back new ideas and experiments to show to elementary school students. 

My amazing friend Sophia; she's a poet,
physicist, singer, and friend.
Even a five-hour event like the Talent Show(hosted by Summer Discovery on the last day of the program) influenced me. I had originally expected a boring talent show with nothing but singers, but the variety that Penn offered was mind-blowing. There was a magic act; who has the confidence to do a magic act now-a-days, especially a student! Even the spoken word acts were diverse: we had Malachi(not the one in the ILC) perform a Black-style spoken word, one filled with subtle anger, and Sophia perform a playful-rhyme piece. 

How the ILC may affect my future? I can say, for sure, that the ILC has done so much for me. It has developed my mind intellectually, maturely, and emotionally – nothing has done all three for me in one bundle. I've rethought my college ideals and options, and frankly, I've become more open when it comes to conversing. I'm not intimidated with talking about controversial topics and my experiences at Penn. The ILC has created a different path for me to take and it has given me the opportunity to experience college and practically the world in a sense. The ILC has provided me the knowledge to strengthen my science club, and it has given me the connections that will last a lifetime. Being an ambassador of such a great program puts me under scrutiny of the world and I'm grateful for it, I want to show the world what the District has to offer. The ILC gave me the opportunity to meet fascinating people that have given me the drive to improve myself. Not only do I plan to give back to my community through my school's science club, but also through prospective college underclassmen. I want to tell the underclassmen of my school about my experiences, tales, and changes at Penn. I hope to influence them to partake in this program and get a feel of what college is. The ILC not only provides a perspective on Ivy League Colleges, but colleges as a whole. Through my interactions with a college life, I am much more knowledgeable about it and I'm capable of providing insight to underclassmen. I can create a long, very long, list of “The ILC has”, but it would not represent my gratitude for it. The only way to show my gratitude is through results, and being an obliged person, I will give back. I want to end this blog by just saying:

Michael's not in the picture.
We're representing Pinole Valley High School!
My role model, Dyana So, an alumni of my school.
“Thanks, Mr. Gosney, Mrs. Kronenberg, Mr. Ramsey, and of course the donors, for providing such a life-changing experience for not only me, but the students of the District. It has provided an alternative path for us and I am grateful for your efforts to expand college culture outside the West Coast. I hope that this program continues and for the years to improve. With my humblest and most gratuitous text: 
Thanks.” Sometimes, it's the simplest of messages conveyed in a long blog that convey gratitude. It has truly been a "Summer Discovery" this summer. I've learned much more about college and I've discovered myself.
Not everyone I met is in this picture, but thanks for giving me the opportunity to meet
such amazing people! By the way, I literally fell two seconds after the picture.

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