Wednesday, June 29, 2016

First Time For Everything

Today was the day we have all been waiting for to arrive. The suspense, nerves, and stress would finally be uplifted from us and our excitement and urge to explore would soon be fulfilled. The meeting time was 3:30 AM at El Cerrito High School. I fooled myself into believing that arriving and dragging myself out of bed would be as hard as it is when I get up for school the next day; I was completely wrong. Being so prepared to begin this adventure ahead of me, my mentality this morning was "I'll sleep when I'm dead."  

My mom and I soon arrived to EC after we made a minor detour along the way but still before 3:00 AM. Everyone in my cohort was already standing there talking to Don except for John who appeared when the time came around closer to 3:30 AM. Don gave us the usual run down of what is about to happen, what to expect to happen, what he expects out of us, along with the itinerary of our first three days there, and good sized variety of snacks for us to bring on the plane in case we were hungry or needed something to hold us down until we were able to eat an actual meal. Hearing the words of wisdom from Don was familiar but hit me harder than all of the others because this is the real deal. Of course everything Don had told us before in the past was, too, but the reality of this trip actually happening hit me harder than it ever had before. This is the breaking point and climax of the entire ILC and it still is hard to believe I had made it this far along with the rest of my cohort. 

Before it was time for our departure, we took pictures and said our goodbye's to our parent(s) before it was time for us to depart. I hugged and said my farewells to my mom. As we held each other I could sense the emotion in her; she was tearing up and sad no matter how hard she tried not to show it. I made it quick to spare her from releasing these emotions in front of the rest of the crowd. I stepped into the shuttle, along with our luggage, and were soon shipped off with a courteous driver to transport us to the SFO Airport where the beginning of our adventure would just begin. 

SFO Airport
It took us about thirty minutes to an hour to pull into the drop off zone at the airport. We gathered our luggage from out of the back and scurried along into the airport to check in with our flight and Check our luggage. 

Being my first time ever in an airport, everything went by so fast it was hard keeping up with what was going on. There was a large number of people for such an early flight, in my opinion; it was so fast paced the way the workers ran their stations. Thankfully I did not get lost from the group while we were moving from one part of the airport to another, only because of John's wonderful guidance and Chris always waiting behind for me. Before I knew it I was making my way to the back of the plane and because of our assigned seating, I was able to get a window seat. 

Taking off gave me thrills. As soon as the plane began speeding up and lifting off of the ground, it felt as if I was on a roller coaster. The familiarity of gravity pushes against you and the rush of speed resisting the strong force could not stop  a grin from sneakily appearing across my face. The higher the plane drifted into the air the bigger my eyes lit up seeing the sight of what was below us. The clouds looked like a sea of white cotton balls grazing the tan sand of the dead, dry hills. It reminded me of the severity of the drought we were living in California. 

Plane View 
The rest of the plane ride I began talking more with Diana and Chris since they were sitting right next me and pretty much the remaining strangers behind us were knocked out most of the time. We discussed the type of music we listen to, controversial topics that are happening within the world,  our summer assignments, our thoughts to things that occur within our schools, the excitement of being in Philly, while munching on the remainder of the snacks given by Don. Five hours later, we were in Pennsylvania. The time went by faster than I had anticipated. I was so caught up in enjoying the view, speaking with my cohort and getting to know them better. The more we talked the closer we got , making the experience of being out there even more enjoyable. 

As we were waiting to get off of the plane, the people who had finally woken up behind us, asked what our group was doing in Philly. We told her and her two daughters about the program at Penn we’re taking as well as the high schools we were from. It turns out that her uncle used to teach at Pinole Valley as an AP US History back in the day and is now retired. She and her family are moving to Philadelphia from the Bay Area which was her reason for coming out here. It's surprising how big yet how small this world really is. We wished each other luck in the future then separated ways.

Now officially landed in Philadelphia, it was our mission to get our luggage, catch a shuttle to the hotel, and quickly grab a bite to eat before we all starved to death. We handled things so effortlessly until we were checking in at the hotel. There was an Organ Historic Convention going on at the same time we were checking in so the lobby began filling up with waves of people, mainly old ones. A massive line to go onto the elevators became overwhelming just looking at it. As soon as the lobby cleared out another wave of old people began swarming in, and the cycle repeated. It took us about ten minutes waiting in line to finally get onto the elevators. Allonna, Diana, and I shared a room on the twentieth floor while John and Chris both got rooms to themselves. Finally reaching our room after the journey felt so relaxing and over 35 lbs off of our shoulders. 

UPENN Bookstore
We met back up downstairs in the lobby at 5:00 PM where we would go across the street to get some pizza. I ordered a slice of buffalo chicken pizza which turned out to be amazing. My hunger for the day was finally satisfied with a thin and spicy version of an Italian classic. Our stomachs overwhelming us as we scarfed the foods down as soon as we got them and finished the evening with a small tour of the UPENN bookstore and CVS around the area. Seeing the bookstore left me in awe. There was a complete upper level dedicated to only books while the bottom was filled with merchandise representing the school spirit. Having to leave bummed me out but we ended up going back to the hotel to relax until our next outing with a former ILC alum for gelato around seven. 

Knowing we wouldn't be long in the hotel, Allonna, Diana, and I decided to do some exploring. The floor we were staying on had a club level where there was free snacks and drinks for us to come in and take or if we wanted to hang out and lounge around. The view from outside the windows was stunning; we could see the buildings and the whole other part of town. I thought to myself, "this is so pretty being able to see so much of one city through one glass in a room." The more we explored the more surprises filled our eyes. 

We made our way to the bottom level where the gym and pool was. We stepped outside to view the beautiful sight of the pool. The pool was outdoors surrounded by a tall sized wall with beach chairs surrounding it and a deck with an overhang. I was relieved seeing that I would be able to enjoy it without worrying that I would soon drown since I do not know how to swim. The pool water was the perfect temperature for a dip but we had to resist the temptation given that we were meeting up within an hour. All agreeing to come back later, we walked back inside where to scope out their gym where we came in as a joke but came out sweating from doing an actual work out. I was surprised in myself that I actually had worked out, even if it wasn't serious. It felt surprisingly good and relaxing afterward. The time had passed so fast that we had to hurry up back to our rooms so we could have enough time to freshen up and change clothes before heading back out.

Outdoor Pool
By the time we made it downstairs, it just turned to 7:00 PM and John, Chris, and our special guest, Dyana So, were already there. Diana is/was a part of the ILC when she was attended high school at Pinole Valley; she went to Yale and Cornell while with the ILC. She recently graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in May and is a current admissions counselor for the school. She is a first generation meaning she is the first in her family to go to and graduate high school. Dyana and her family  originated from Hong Kong, back when her parents were growing up, they didn't really need a college education because the country they were in was going through a Golden Age. We introduced ourselves and she soon reminded me of the Bay Area from the way she talks and her comforting, happy, and funny personality. walked to a local gelato spot called Capogiro where we discussed her background, financial aide, college apps, personal essays, and why we should consider going to PENN. 

She describes Penn similar to Hogwarts. There are four major branches or schools to choose from: School of Nursing (top in the entire world), Wharton School of Business, College of Arts and Sciences, and PENN Engineering. From these four schools you could branch off into more specific graduate schools. There is no out of state tuition needed since it is a private school and they do not depend on the government for funding. Given your entire family's income, if it reaches lower than $40,000 annually, you are eligible to attend the university for free if accepted. Depending on the tuition or financial aide you're given, you may be able to live on the dorms for free. As we finished our gelato, we headed out and toured more parts of the city and UPENN campus and continued our conversations while walking.

To get accepted into not only PENN but other top schools as well, your GPA, AP classes, and SAT/ACT scores should not only be your main focus, but what you're doing to make yourself stand out. Instead of trying to juggle too much onto your plate and dabble in every different club at your school, dedicate yourself to certain clubs that actually mean something to you. Become an officer of that club and build a relationship with the teachers supporting that club so recommendation letters will help increase your chances. PENN gives a key focus to what your letter of recommendation says because it shows a view of yourself that you may not see that another person does. It's easy for an admission officers to tell when someone is just faking their way. It's about what you can do to not only lift yourself up, but your school and community as well. When writing your personal essays and filling out your college admissions, you need to focus on a part of you that you want each school to see; a story that shows the key parts of yourself. Give the school a real reason to want you attending their school more than anyone else; show motivation, passion, integrity, and dedication. Giving interest into the school such as participating in summer or other programs there, making an early decision (If accepted into the school, it's already decided that you will be attending that school. If a financial aide packet is unavailable to you, you will not be in debt while attending PENN), or choosing early action (If you are accepted into PENN, you do not have to accept right away, but you have a time limit where you make your decision) can bring you closer into gaining an acceptance from PENN. Closing our walk back at the hotel lobby, Dyana gave us one thing to think and consider about: Why choose PENN?

The University of Pennsylvania has an outstanding environment. The community is diverse and rich in culture, you gain stronger public transportation and street knowledge, it's a suburban-urban area meaning that one part of the town can easily lead to a more city life blocks away, and has great resources for students. There are buses designed for PENN students to commute home and to school for free that runs from 6:00 AM - 3:00 AM that reaches all the way to West Philly and North Philly. There are many extracurricular activities you can discover or start digging in detail about. Ask counselors or people in admissions can help guide you where to start based on what you're seeking for, such as Photography. There are buildings designed for students where they can just lounge, talk to one another, and eat and dedicated counseling centers. 91% of the graduates of UPENN find another path to move on to whether it's a job, graduate school, etc., and is number one for campus security. 

From there we thanked her for the evening she had dedicated her time for. She gave us her phone contact and email in case we ever want to meet up again while we're here. Every piece of advice that came out of her mouth was vital and helpful information. Taking all of this into consideration, I had a lot to think about, even if I still have two more years of high school left to go. I realize now that it's always good to start early, learn, and research as much as I can. 

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