Thursday, August 3, 2017

It All Worked Out

When I went to the ILC presentation in the fall I wasn't sure if it was something I really wanted to do. The overall experience seemed to be worth it, but you could also end up writing essay after essay, and going to interview after interview with no luck. Initially I wasn't sure if I was up for that.

When Don sent the email detailing what was necessary to apply to be a part of the UChicago cohort, I was instantly intrigued. UChicago was going to be one of the schools that I was seriously considering, but wouldn't get a chance to visit, therefore taking away all personal aspects and experiences of the school. When I looked at the course listings and saw the Physics of Stars as an option, I knew I had to jump on it. 

Of course, I procrastinated and ended up rushing to write both my pre-essays and my topic essay, get them all edited and tidied up, and turn them into Don on time. Then it was time to wait. When I didn't receive an email on the date we were first told about I immediately figured I didn't make it to the interview stage, so when Don called me to tell me that I was going to interview I was ecstatic. 
I had so much nervous energy at the interview, so I couldn't keep my mouth shut. Luckily Jahnvi was also in the mood for talking, so we talked almost the entire time we were waiting. I interviewed sixth, and though I was initially nervous, the farther I we got in the questions the more confident I was in answering. Though it hadn't felt long when I was in the room, when I left I found out I had been gone for 20 plus minutes. The next hour or so was incredibly nerve-wracking. The panelists took some time to deliberate, and when Don came back into the room to tell us the results, he framed it in the worst way possible.

Our names were stated followed by "Pack your bags... you're going to Chicago." By the time I had processed that I was actually chosen, we had already been whisked into another room to take pictures. The whole night was completely surreal to me.

Throughout our other activities in preparation for heading off, we got to know each other better as a cohort. Immediately after the interview we exchanged phone numbers and began a group chat where we of course discussed our plans behind Don's back, only to let him in the loop later.

When the dinner and school board meeting rolled around, I realized just how important ILC is as a whole. We had an amazing opportunity to represent WCCUSD to alums and members of the school board. Raqeeb and I even had the opportunity to speak at these events and share how we will be able to bring back what we learn to our community. 

By the time we left, I wasn't really sure what to expect. I had predictions about how my class would be, but I didn't know how much I would like UChicago or the city of Chicago in general.
Before we realized the great time we would have!
The first week I socialized a lot with people throughout the entire program and in different classes, but not really in my class. When Jahnvi switched into my class I found myself being more social with my classmates, but still not talking to everyone. Over the weekend after the first week and when the Pathways program moved in I talked to more people and went out more often.

The second week I realized that this was going to be my last week at UChicago before we went to Yerkes, so Jahnvi and I went out more and talked to people we definitely don't see often in our district. People who can afford Prada and pay for rides downtown in exchange for shoe deliveries. 

At Yerkes I had the amazing opportunity to work with great functioning telescopes and gather data that furthered the project Jahnvi and I worked on. I also made more friends within my class and found people I wish I had talked to sooner.

Upon being back, and beginning school on Wednesday I realize how much I enjoyed the environment at UChicago. Though Middle College High School is probably better about people wanting to be there than other schools, there are still plenty of people who don't appreciate the environment. In classes students speak over classmates and teachers, and don't pay attention to the information. I didn't realize how spoiled I was at UChicago with people actually liking the class and being respectful to speakers. It was an environment that was conducive to learning both from your teachers and your peers, and I really miss it.

I have already been able to in person speak to a classmate who was unsure about applying to UChicago and convince them to go for it, and I can't wait for more opportunities to do so.

Final Farewell

At that time, I would not have realized it yet, but the ILC presentation would open many doors for me. 

My journey with ILC after the presentation began before my interview and – surprising, even to this day – subsequence acceptance for the Chicago program. Back around December or so of last year, I still had my heart and goal set on getting into the Vanderbilt program, strongly attracted by the Medical 101 course. I wrote the pre-essays and main essay, submitting just a matter of minutes before the deadline. Even though I put in effort into those essays, it still came as a somewhat of a surprise to both me and my parents when I made it to the interviews.

I pretty much entered into that competition the worst way possible – I knew what I wanted, and I worked to try to obtain it, but in reality, I lacked much of the motivation and ambition to see my desire into reality. Obviously, I did not make it into the Vanderbilt program, but I did leave that night with a few new friends and new experiences. Thus, for a while, I was content to put ILC in the back of my mind, and in the corners of my mind it stayed – until the email for the Chicago program came around a month later.

I'm so glad I met everyone!
Now, it would make a very nice story to say I learned from my mistakes and flaws from my first time applying to ILC and channeled my determination to improve into my second applying, which was to the Chicago program. However, that was not the case. I was much more uncertain the second time around about whether I even wanted to apply. What had attracted me so much to Vanderbilt that first time had been its medical course, and the offerings listed at Chicago made me hesitate. Luckily, at the gentle nudging of my parents, I applied again and made it to the interviews once more.

I remember arriving at ECHS for the second time, only to find that all the interviewees were much more intense than what I had experienced that first interview for Vanderbilt. Unlike last time, I didn’t find anyone I just clicked with. I remember looking around the room and feeling the seriousness of the competitive atmosphere, everyone’s anxiety and jitteriness. I questioned my right to be there. Somehow, during the interview, I managed to stutter out worse responses (at least, in my opinion) than I had at the Vanderbilt interview. I braced myself for the worst.

It was a shock for me when I heard Don announce my name as part of the 2017 Chicago cohort. I was completely stunned and floored; I was about to head back home after congratulating whoever got selected this time. My parents were so happy for me when they found out, and I was, too. But I think a part of me still didn’t believe in myself completely. The following months, the ILC school board meeting and dinner with alumni happened – and I shrunk away from experiences such as the short speeches that other members gave. I talked to people during ILC events, but I knew I could have made more effort to socialize and communicate more with other people.
ILC Orientation
I didn’t really break out of my shell until after I arrived at UChicago, and I realized that unless I wanted to live my life as a hermit in my dorm the whole three weeks, which some may argue I still did, I had to go talk to people and make friends. I didn’t have room to feel intimidated or to doubt myself. Even if I had to pretend confidence in the beginning, that confidence eventually become real, and I could strike up small conversations with random people everywhere (the dining hall staff is really nice, btw. I loved all of them).

During my time Chicago, I met a lot and all kinds of people. There were people I liked (my class was awesome!), and people I didn’t like. There were people whose values and choices I didn’t agree with, but it’s also thanks to meeting those people that I found my own identity. Where I once went with the flow – letting go small differences in principles because they weren’t worth it to fuss about, doing it so often that my own feelings become subdued – I was forced to abandon that way of living in Chicago because it was no longer a matter of subtle differences in values that existed between me and the people I met.

Memories with friends
I was faced with people who were very different from myself, but difference is not always good (though it could be, and I met many wonderful, different people in Chicago). I realized I needed to start drawing lines, defining my own boundaries, so I know where I stand and for what I stand, after being passive and indifferent for so long.

Finally, during the past three weeks, I was reminded again how picky I am with choosing who to befriend, but I also learned the friendships I do form are strong, healthy, and supportive. I don’t – can’t – make friends left and right, but the friends I’m willing to make are ones I’m willing to make an effort to keep for a long time, and that’s fine by me, even if I don’t have the most friends.

So, thank you to Don, who made everything possible and never gave up on us even while irritated at us. Thank you to Ms. Sciacca, who leaves the sweetest comments on our blogs and is the best chaperone ever. Thank you to my cohort, the only pieces of “home” I had back at Chicago. Thank you to my parents, who supported me and suffered through my innumerable calls home. Thank you to my friends, one in particular <3, back home, who eased my transition and homesickness when I didn’t want to talk to anyone else. Thank you to Ms. Kronenberg. Thank you to UChicago. And a thousand more thank yous to the panelists, the school board, and everyone else who made this experience possible for me.

I have grown much as a person during those three weeks, and none of this would have been possible without everyone at my side.

Many Sacrifices, No Regrets

Speaking at the Chicago-Vanderbilt dinner; public speaking
has always been something I've tried to avoid.
It’s been such a long ride with the Ivy League Connection (ILC) program. There have been times where I’ve wanted to give up, and there have been times where I questioned how much time I was willing to sacrifice to become a participant on this trip, but every time that I really gave it some thought, the more I realized that what I truly wanted was to be able to call myself a part of the ILC program and to represent the district at a top university as a student, even if only for the summer. Looking back on this lengthy adventure, I realize that the magnitude of effort and the amount of hours that I’ve put into applications, meetings, and writing for this program has been great, but also that I don’t regret committing any of it.

I remember being pulled out of class to attend the initial informational meeting in the school library. After it, a lot of kids were complaining about how much work the application sounded like and how they didn’t want to deal with someone as seemingly overbearing as Don. The meeting had the opposite effect on me; I was motivated by the slight chance that I would earn the right to attend a top university for three weeks of the summer, and that there was a person as invested in the program as Don was that would be there for support along the way.

My first set of application essays, to the Vanderbilt program, were rejected. Don emailed me after the scores were sent out to tell me that if I had formatted the titles of my documents correctly, it would have given my scores the boost needed to push me into the interview pool. Galvanized by the new apparency of my problems, I re-formatted my titles and eagerly awaited the results for the Chicago applications. I got a call on the day of my school’s jazz festival that one of the eight selected interviewees could not make the interviews and that I, as the applicant whose essays landed in ninth, was now invited to interview. Even after being told that my formatting was incorrect, I had still landed outside of the top eight, except that now I had a chance to prove my worth.

I went into the interviews with a chip on my shoulder. My pride was hurt by the fact that my essays weren’t good enough to earn me selection into the initial pool of interviewees, even after I fixed my formatting issues. A couple of days before the interviews, Alice Johnson, a Chicago cohort member from last year, sat down with me to go over the interview process and possible questions that might be posed. I felt well prepared on the day of, and added to the motivation I had to do well by my lackluster performance on the essay section, I was really excited to show the interviewers that I deserved to be on the plane to Chicago come July.
Looking back at our performance on the interviews.
The session went well, which is why I’m writing this blog post. However, it wasn’t exactly smooth sailing after that. There were more applications to complete, forms to fill out, meetings and info sessions to attend, and emails to respond to. A lot of emails to respond to. At a crucial part of the application to the actual class that I wanted to take at UChicago, the emails from the school kept ending up in the “Promotions” tab of my inbox, buried under scores of shoe discounts and online sales offers. I feel like that period was a quintessential couple of weeks for the relationship between myself and the ILC program; there were many complications and problems that needed to be solved, but when they were all taken care of, what was left was something greater than I could possibly have hoped for.
Around the time of the Chicago application, with the rest of the cohort.
Even while I was in Chicago, I had to make time to blog for the program, which was the least I could do to give back to the organization that flew me there. And now that the program is over, I’m still blogging. The ILC has truly become an ever-present aspect of my life since the first time that Don introduced it at school. I don’t regret even a single second that I’ve spent on this program, be it reading emails, writing blogs, listening to Don speak at meetings, or just worrying about applications. It hasn’t always been easy, but the whole journey turned out to be a great learning experience and a lot of fun in the end.
These people helped make the trip as fun as it was.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

I'm About to Reflect like a Mirror

Just a disclaimer: the process before this trip wasn't something too different for me since I had been through it before, so there won't be as much reflecting of that time.

When I first walked into the interview room, I remember clicking immediately with Lindsay. I was hoping we both would make it through this round, but little did I know, the two of us would come out as sisters/married lesbians. I was very nervous. I hadn't prepared nearly as much as I had last year. I had seen how much fun Ernie had when she was in Chicago and I didn't want to let go of this opportunity.

I was overjoyed when I learned that I had made it. Another year of this life-changing opportunity? How lucky did I have to be? It was too good to be real.

Some things never change.
I will always struggle with my luggage.
Before long, it was time for us to board the plane to Chicago. To be completely honest, my exact thoughts were something like, "I've fared through Vanderbilt as a shy, insecure girl dealing with a huge culture shock. Whatever happens here must end up being better than what I felt back there.” This made me feel a little more comfortable and excited for the program to start.

The very first weekend of the program, I could tell I was going to have the best time of my life. We were already making plans, and going on adventures to the beach. I couldn't wait for all of us to get even closer and meet new people.

However, the exact opposite happened when class started. This challenge I had taken up was proving to be nothing like I expected. The same was going for Michelle, and when she took up the courage to switch into a class she was more interested in, the idea wormed into me too. Luckily, I was mostly just borrowing Ryan's book so there wouldn't be a large financial loss if I switched.

But, I still didn't know what to do. I was having continuous mental breakdowns because I hated every second of work I was doing. I thank all my friends, Don, and Mom for taking care of me and leading me down the right path. I thank them for telling me something that I've never been told before: your mental health DOES matter. And I thank them for giving me the courage to actually switch classes and accept that I'm not cut out for this one.
When we basically just first met

This experience has taught me one of the biggest lessons in my life. It taught me to accept and face my flaws instead of being defensive and trying to cover them up. It has taught me to love myself including my flaws, because as Don said, "No one can be cut out for everything." (Or at least I'm pretty sure he said something like that).

This has been something I've always struggled with. I know the struggle will never be over, but at least I know that it has improved a great amount. Embracing my flaws has allowed me to become more confident about who I am and my beliefs against what's wrong. It's harder to simply show through text what I exactly mean, but I hope to paint something in your mind by the following example:

Since the beginning of this year, I realized I may be a romantic asexual. (I won't be going into what that means here, because if you don't know, maybe looking it up could give you more insight into the asexual community that is many times looked over). I simply pushed over the thought, convincing myself that my sexuality isn't a part of my identity. After learning to accept myself and becoming more confident over the course of this trip, I've learned to come to terms with who I am. I can proudly walk around, telling my peers I'm ace. I can proudly walk around without being afraid of what people think of me. I can proudly walk around simply being who I am, not what I think others want me to be.

Outside of that, I got a pretty good insight into what college life is like. I mean, we had ear piercings and hair dying happening in our dorms. That is some real college stuff.
Squad cont.
But, in all seriousness, I learned how to manage my time and make the most out of it. For many, it may be a lack of time management that I chose to socialize and then stay up all night doing work, but to me it was making the most out of it. Coming from an area full of immigrants whose children are trying to become first-generation college students, where else can I experience being friends with people who are the richest in their countries and can afford to give out free Uber rides? When else can I spend time with these people who I can't see after three weeks? To me, these three weeks were too precious to have to compromise anything that meant a lot to me. I was relatively accustomed to having little sleep, so I knew I had to put that advantage to its proper use. I decided I would put 100% effort into my class and social life because both aspects cannot be found back home. That decision may have made my life a lot harder than some of my peers, but I felt it as a constructive challenge that taught me how to tackle stressful situations with more ease. 

These changes in me may seem to be small, but these small things add up, and the effects can be noticeable (or rather, noticeable now that I am no longer sick and am finally functional). Just like last year, I came back feeling a difference. And it's the best difference I've felt in a while.

So thank you to Don, Ms.Kronenberg, the panelists who thought I was capable enough to handle this opportunity, Mom, and my cohort, for making this a life-changing experience that I will never forget. The lessons from these past two summers are truly ones that I will never let go of throughout my life.

(P.S: I'm still sorry about posting my blogs at 3 AM. At least I got to socialize, and finish all my homework and make-up work, and still do the blog...? Please forgive me <3 )

A different lesson learned from both years...
...but I'm still the shortest in the group hug circle