Thursday, July 21, 2011

Love at First Sight?

Tonight I leave to you my departing words as I join the my fellow Yale cohorts on our train ride to Columbia University tomorrow morning. Philadelphia - the downtown area especially - is an amazing city. It reminds me of San Francisco but is also distinct in itself because of its East Coast flavor of brick buildings and narrow streets that you don't see too often in the Bay Area. It's not the kind of city that never sleeps; it's a diverse community with all shades of faces passing you by or casually enjoying their time outside local restaurants and cafes. In addition, the presence of colleges such as nearby Drexel and the University of Pennsylvania has turned its local areas into productive hubbubs of bright and ambitious individuals everywhere you look. It's only been three days and I'm already very comfortable with the "City of Brotherly Love". With regret, I wish we had more time to actually walk around the downtown area some more - especially in the evening among the beautiful lights from within all those stores and restaurants. Leaving Philadelphia will be a bittersweet departure but time has arrived to move along again. Prior to boarding the plane just three days ago, I couldn't wait to see New York City above all the things we had scheduled, but now, I actually wouldn't mind staying in Philly a little bit longer if I could. However, I can assure you that I will come back someday - I don't know under what circumstances exactly but I'll definitely return to the "City of Brotherly Love".

For myself, today has been the best day so far. All of us - minus Mr. Ramsey and Mr. Miranda - met at the lobby at a very reasonable hour to head over to the University of Pennsylvania for their first information session of the day. Initially, as our group of five stepped onto the campus looking for the student center, I wasn't all that taken aback by U. Penn. However, that quickly started to change as we walked deeper and deeper into the heart of what turned out to be truly remarkable campus. The outskirts of Penn - the view from across the crosswalk - will appear somewhat bland for many but a few seconds in your initial impression will surely change for the better. And that, to me, was a great aspect of Penn - right off the back. It was a beautiful school but more beautiful if you actually took the time to explore what this institution was all about.
  1. Finding Your Unique Preferences: The information session was held in Penn's largest lecture hall - a college building with an interior unlike any I've yet to encounter. The ceilings are adorned with this intricate motif of repeating shapes, patterns, and colors. It made you want to stare endlessly at its ceiling, just to admire its beauty in awe. With a sensitivity to design and architecture - as I've mention before in my previous post - such details in a college has a relatively large impact to me. I like being surrounded by beautiful things and being exposed to fantastic architecture while getting my higher education would make my experience in college all the more enjoyable. Everyone has different standards and preferences when it comes down to what it is exactly about a college that makes it a good fit for them. Among the various ones I have, the outlook of the campus is certainly something I value. In the long run, the outside of the building probably would mean little when its the inside - the quality of your everyday learning environment - is what should matter most, but such unique preferences like these at least gives you an opportunity to better understand what it is that makes you different. For myself, this constant exposure to brick motifs and intricate designs on most buildings here in Philly has taken my breath away.

  2. Taking Notes: What I've discovered among my peers is that everyone has their own take on which learning method works best for them. Although I'm still trying to figure out what mine are exactly (yes, even as I enter my senior year in high school I'm still searching), I have developed this habit to take notes whenever possible. I am not gifted with impeccable memory unfortunately and the paranoia of forgetting certain information or failing to recollect something someone said that once meant a great deal to you usually makes me take out my little, yellow notepad with little hesitation. Therefore, as Kat - our great speaker at the information session - delivered her elaborate speech of Penn, I took off with my pen across lined paper.
  3. Admiring Foundations: Before I go any further, I will spoil all of you right now that I absolutely love the University of Pennsylvania. This strong attraction is honestly rare for someone like me who's always been very open to pretty much anything due to a philosophy that it is the students that make his/her experience at college, not the college itself. But before I go on and on about why I suddenly had this strong pull to this university, I will backtrack and introduce one of the first things I liked about Penn. That first thing is Benjamin Franklin. I think back to my days in AP U.S. History this previous school year and the amount of exposure I had to that great founding father, Mr. Franklin. This very individual - an avid scholar, well-liked by many and having an earnest desire to assist those around him through his acquired education - was the founder of Penn and many of his philosophy transcends to the general attitude of the school. An appreciation for the individual that founded the school you are particularly fond of has never been something I thought would have significant weight in my pool of features I look for in colleges but I guess that's what a school like Penn can do to you. I admire Benjamin Franklin greatly for his achievements and general take on life, but I admire Penn more for echoing those ideals.

  4. Major Brownie Points: Another aspect to Penn - one of my favorite among them - is "one university". When prospecting students apply to Penn, they much choose, then and there, which of the four schools they wish to join. These four undergraduate schools are: School of Arts and Sciences, School of Engineering and Applied Science, School of Nursing, and The Wharton School. When I hear that a school expects me to choose immediately what path I already want to walk on before I even start college, I cringe. In the past three years of high school alone I've altered my possible career paths more times than I count - entering freshman year thinking about law, going through sophomore year with my mind set on pilots (I'm too short unfortunately), and crawling through junior year with a very strong desire to pursue anything related to art and leadership, with some tangents of architecture. However, Penn does not line their students into one school and expect them to stick with it. A student may start off at a specific school but that does not mean they cannot take classes in the other schools and even have many minors in them too. That sort of structure - a need to follow some line but not be completely faithful to it - is just what I've been looking for and I realized this before I thought I'd actually like that sort of aspect.
  5. About the Four Schools of Penn: (1) School of Nursing is the smallest but mighty school of Penn. Students studying there have a very hands-on education in additional to those of the traditional settings. Sophomores can start immediately on clinical work and many Penn students from this school graduate as leaders of their fields, often pursuing careers as doctors afterwards. (2) School of Engineering and Applied Sciences requires all incoming students to have a strong physics background. The class sizes are very small allowing for closer connections with the professors. There are hundreds of courses students can choose from and they are all of great breadth. (3) The Wharton School is renowned. The sparknotes mantra for this school is teamwork, leadership, and communication. Eighteen concentrations are offered; it's not solely theory since lots of hands-on projects are offered. There is a strong liberal arts core and business majors do not necessarily have to follow a path of finance. (4) School of Arts and Sciences is understandably the most populous school with its 26 departments and about 50 available languages. Many of the courses offered serve as foundations for many of the Penn students despite their school affiliations.
  6. Observations That Stand Out: I knew that Penn students were distinct not because the tour guide repeated it constantly but because I could extract such an attitude from simple observations. There is large broken white button sculpture designed by a Penn student that is more than what one look would tell you. It was an artwork representing the missing button on the coat of the Benjamin Franklin statue sitting just across from it; the student artist told the story that perhaps Franklin was eating so much that his button popped right of his coat and landed as a gigantic replica in front of the largest Penn library. In addition to this creative take on a seemingly simple statue, there are the unique study tables in the library designed to look like diner booths to encourage study groups and conversations. These are little details but to me, they're impressive because they display a lot of depth in thought and creative thinking. And if that is what Penn student is all about or will graduate to become, I'd love to join them.
  7. Good Signs: I've yet to leave a college tour with a very satisfied feeling that immediately captivates me to apply on the spot until today. Just as we left the campus I thought to myself, "wow, I'd really like to be at Penn". From there I was hooked. I didn't feel awkward admitting that I had really enjoyed Penn and what it had to offer and although I was cautious not to get too carried away with how much I liked it, it felt good to say that I finally had a school that ranked really high on my list of colleges.
  8. Patriotic High: Another reason why this day had been so wonderful was spending time at Independence Hall and its nearby areas. As someone who really enjoyed learning American History, walking around such historic ground quickly elevated a sense of pride within me. Inside Independence Hall, I repeatedly said in my mind: "This is so surreal." I see the signing of the Constitution before my eyes as our guide tells everyone the history lesson. I greatly enjoyed visiting this historical landmark, in addition to seeing the Liberty Bell. I'm proud that I can now claim I've been to the part of Philadelphia where the major, political actions of our premature nation was constantly taking place.
  9. The Cherry on Top: As I was changing for dinner at La Croix that evening with the Penn guests, I told my excited self: "this dinner will truly seal whether you truly like Penn as much as you think you do at the moment". And, to my greatest pleasure, my interest in Penn only heightened after dinner. This was largely due to the Penn guest sitting around my area. To my right was the very open and friendly Dr. June Chu - one of the advisers among Penn's Asian students - and to my left was the engaging and insightful Mr. David Toomer - The Director of Multicultural Admissions. Although getting myself comfortable to chat freely took some time within that crowded table of 16 people, I quickly got past it. I am very fortunate to have Dr. Chu talk with me so candidly. She offered advice to me from a very personal and understanding perspective, with both of us making connections with our shared aspect of being Asian scholars. Such a nice adviser convinces me that if I were to go to Penn, I'd probably have a more comfortable time seeking one for guidance. With Mr. Toomer, I spoke mostly of random things - from details about admissions to his personal life to his opinions on contemporary issues and ideas. These casual conversations greatly reduced the straight-spine tensions I sometimes feel in such fancy restaurants and made the entire dinner there on after very smooth and enjoyable. Near the end of the meal though, I did also get to talk with one more Penn guest - Mr. Shawn Chen - a currently rising junior under the dual program with an extremely admirable academic stature. Although he is in The Wharton School, he also takes classes in two of the other schools. Hearing of his success in getting into several selective schools as a high school student reminds me of the reality and the need to limit daydreams. Imagining yourself in Penn will do you no good at all if you do not spend that time and more working towards securing yourself the best chance of getting accepted.
  10. Thank Yous: I really have to hand it to all our Penn guests for not only joining us for dinner but for being such unexpectedly open and relaxed characters. As our table was giving introductions around the table, Dr. June Chu said something that really caught my attention: "We're looking forward to seeing your applications". There was no guarantee of acceptance but that little acknowledgement alone furthered my appreciation for both Penn and its people. There are so many colleges that I cannot see saying the same such words at even fancier dinners than this. I've been looking for those details of every college that immediately stands out to me and makes the school unique and I'm beyond happy that I found that in Penn. Therefore, I am greatly thankful to both the ILC and the people of Penn for instilling such a remarkable change in me in a single day. I know there are no guarantees of acceptance no matter how much I comment on what I like about Penn. I know my particular reaction to rejection would be understandably higher due to such heightened appreciation for the school. However, despite all these factors, I'm glad I learned more about myself and actually found a college that resonated so well with me. Penn is no perfect and no institution out there will be but as of now, it's the closest in my standards.
To conclude, it's been another great day out here in the East coast, hot and humid days and all.

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