Saturday, July 2, 2016

The City of Non-Stop Action

First time in New York City
Today, we had the opportunity to go on a site tour at Columbia University and explore New York City, a first for all of us. The action started fairly early in the morning, as we had to meet in the lobby at 5:30 AM so that we could walk to the megabus by 6:00, when it would be leaving. We were able to get to the bus, a double-decker, and boarded with plenty of time to spare; as a result, we had our choice of seats, so while Mr. Hillyer headed to his reserved seat at the front of the bus, the other four of us climbed the narrow spiraling staircase to the second deck and sat together in back-to-back rows. Soon, we began the journey to New York, crossing the Benjamin Franklin Bridge and picking up some more passengers in downtown Philadelphia before continuing on to our destination: New York City.

As we travelled, the four of us talked about how excited we were to be going to New York City for the first time, although we were a bit worried about the weather report, which forecasted rain in the Big Apple. I took advantage of my window seat to observe the vividly green landscape (a stark contrast from California, currently in a drought) as we zoomed past dense woodlands and vast expanses of grass, with small bodies of water and residential areas interspersed throughout. Eventually, New York City came into view on our right, the skyline’s shadowy figure obscured by the dense fog and clouds surrounding the city, but nevertheless distinct and instantly recognizable. As we approached, the city’s outline became sharper and clearer while slowly revealing its true enormity. We entered Lincoln Tunnel, at which point all four of us were wide awake and enthusiastically taking pictures and videos, only to be awed by the multitude of tall brick buildings in neat rows and columns as far as the eye could see upon emerging from the tunnel. We had arrived in New York City.

Inside Kitchenette Uptown
Upon getting off the bus, we headed for the nearest subway station to get to Columbia University. Mr. Hillyer purchased Metro Cards for each of us, which were $1 each, and told us that fares were a flat fee of $2.75, unlike BART, which varies its price depending on how far one travels. Since we were still over an hour early for our tour, which started at 10:00 AM, we decided to get some breakfast at Kitchenette Uptown, a nearby restaurant. It was still fairly early at the time, so the place was somewhat empty, but the employees were pleasant and provided great service, and the food itself was tasty as well. After breakfast, we headed back towards Columbia and entered the university via College Walk. We were greeted by its absolutely beautiful campus, from its magnificent Greek columns to the lifelike sculptures, and proceeded to Low Library to check in for our tour, at which point we received Guest stickers. We also took the opportunity while in Low Library to take a look at the rotunda inside, which too amazed through its grandeur.
Low Library at Columbia University
Butler Library, directly across from Low Library
The rotunda inside Low Library
Eventually, we managed to escape the allure of the building and went to the Roone Arledge Auditorium in Lerner Hall for the presentation. However, the presenter was not there yet, so some tour guides, who are also students at the university, answered some of the audience’s questions until the presenter, Mr. James Ramseur, a Senior Admissions Officer at Columbia, arrived and began to speak. He discussed Columbia’s history, starting as King’s College, which became Columbia College, which, in turn, became Columbia University. He also went over some of the unique aspects of Columbia, including its diversity and its Core Curriculum. The diversity he mentioned was not only diversity of race, but also diversity of thought and ideas as well, creating a culture of questioning statements as well as cultivating students to consider a variety of perspectives. Columbia’s Core Curriculum is designed to create more well-rounded individuals capable of profound thinking. Columbia University is also divided into two undergraduate programs: Columbia College of liberal arts and Columbia School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, or essentially, Columbia Engineering. Finally, Mr. Ramseur conluded with a brief overview of the admissions process as well as the financial aid. Like many other selective institutions, Columbia uses holistic review, or consideration of all the information provided about the applicant, to determine which students to admit. Financial aid at Columbia is need-based, which means that the university will take a student’s financial situation into account and provide aid accordingly, but also need-blind, which means that the financial situation will not affect admissions.

After the presentation, we were divided into groups for campus tours. Our tour guide spoke a lot about her experiences as well as her friends’ experiences with Columbia in various aspects to demonstrate how Columbia was a great university that would provide a unique educational experience. She portrayed Columbia’s location as being part of a college town, as Columbia owns much of the surrounding land, allowing professors to live nearby and managing which businesses may operate nearby. Some other information that I gleaned was that most Columbia students live on campus all four years, a staggering 96% rate in comparison to other universities that can be attributed New York’s expensive housing, as well as that Columbia students were able to access many of the perks of living in close proximity of a major metropolitan area.

However, while the Core Curriculum, quality of education, and Columbia’s amazing campus sounded amazing to me, I felt that the city was rather overwhelming and that life at Columbia would be a bit too fast-paced for me, as I prefer a more relaxed environment. This sense was further compounded by the tour guide’s rapid-fire talking, which occasionally bordered on aggressive. We were able to secure a meeting with Mr. Ramseur to ask him more about Columbia, and he was able to answer most of our questions satisfactorily, which assuaged some of our more pressing concerns about the university, such as how well we would be able to make the transition from the West Coast to the East Coast. After thanking him for all his help, we stopped by the campus bookstore before heading to Central Park.
Central Park
A garden with a fountain in Central Park
Inside the Strand Bookstore
Visiting Central Park was certainly one of the highlights of the day for me, as it provided some much-needed relief from the rather chaotic and hectic atmosphere in the city as well as a breath of fresh air. We walked around the lake for a while before exiting the park and heading for another subway station. After successfully finding one and enduring all the rocking from the train once more, we surfaced and walked to the Strand Bookstore, which contains over 18 miles of bookshelves. I was rather overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of books present in the store and spent much of my time there simply wandering around and picking up books that looked interesting and reading the synopses. In the basement, I saw some books that sounded interesting, especially in the Philosophy section, but I did not end up purchasing any. I went back up to the first floor, where I found Allonna flipping through a book about New Yorkers. We decided to go check out the rare books on the third floor, which appeared to be accessible by elevator only, where we had some fun looking at how expensive some of the particular editions of the books were as well as seeing all the old books and works of literature preserved so well after so many years. The most expensive book we found was the first edition of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, which costed a stunning figure of $8,500.
Only part of the book collection at Strand Bookstore
One World Trade Center
We decided to get some food before continuing our tour of New York, so we stopped by The Hummus & Pita Co., where we got gyros and shawarmas, which were fantastic, although it turns out I’m not a fan of hummus, but I don’t regret my decision to try it, as my gyro was still great. After that short meal, we continued on to go see NYU, which apparently wants to integrate itself with the city and seemed to do a great job doing so, as we found it difficult to identify NYU buildings aside from the NYU banners. The university’s buildings seemed to be somewhat randomly inserted in between ordinary buildings, which contributed to our confusion, along with the lack of a true campus. We also stopped by Washington Square Park before going to the World Trade Center and 9/11 Memorial through the subway system yet again. The outlines of the Twin Towers are still visible because of the 9/11 Memorial, which I think does a great job of honoring those that lost their lives in the horrific incident by creating a symbol of hope and beauty instead of inspiring more hatred, and recognizing those people by engraving their names into the memorial for all to see. The One World Trade Center, the tallest building in New York, was also a spectacular sight to behold, still gleaming amid the darkness from the clouds. Shortly after we got there, it began to rain, and we saw lightning and heard thunder, which was much more intense than what we experience in California, so we descended into the subway system one final time to go to Times Square.
9/11 Memorial
Visiting Times Square was a nice way to conclude our trip to NYC, as it was more fun and lively than the other parts of the day. The bright, flashing screens of the billboards were rather distracting and overwhelming, but simultaneously appealing. We stopped by a NYC souvenir shop, which was filled with a diverse selection of interesting souvenirs. After some of us purchased souvenirs, we proceeded to visit Broadway. Among the various shows being performed in the area was Hamilton, which is apparently wildly popular, with tickets reaching about $9000 each, according to Mr. Hillyer. Some fans even sang and performed songs from the show on the street, which was certainly amusing to see. We also witnessed the crazy weather of the East Coast, as it changed from cloudy to downpour to sunny to a mild drizzle to sunny once more, all within the span of about 15 to 30 minutes.
Times Square
After our long day in New York City, we went to the bus stop to catch the megabus back to Philadelphia, but there were significant delays, so despite having reserved seats, we had to stand and wait in line for the buses to arrive, resulting in us arriving back at our hotel about an hour later than expected.

All in all, it was a fun day in New York that helped me gain some insight into my preference in colleges, so I’m grateful to the Ivy League Connection for providing me with this rare opportunity to participate in this program.


  1. Smart insights Chris about the city and the university. Glad you're getting to experience so very much. Have a happy 4th of July and know that there will be more adventures to come.

  2. I hope you had a great Fourth of July as well! So far, it's been great, but I'm still excited for what's still in store for me