Friday, June 20, 2014

Natalie At Northwestern

Today we learned all about Northwestern University. My day started when I woke up about 7:20, although I was so tired that I didn't actually get out of bed until about 8:25. However, this wasn't a problem because I'd gotten my things together the night before, and so I was in the lobby to meet Mr. Chan-Law by 8:45, the appointed time. Our cohort set out to find breakfast in the nearby mall, and found one buffet-like station open for business. I ate strawberries and french toast, which were delicious, and scrambled eggs, which were less so. I also had a cup of coffee, which was so hot that I carried it around for a while before I could drink it.

Carla had told us of her desire to visit the American Girl store in the mall, so after breakfast Mr. Chan-Law let us take a look around. I, who have read some of the books but never had an American Girl Doll, was surprised at how fun the store was. There were large displays of dolls in sports gear, in hospital with injuries, and riding horses. There was a special collection of dolls made to represent a large variety of skin tones, hair length and color, and eye color so that the doll would look like her owner. I was disappointed to see that although there was a doll with my skin tone, hair color and length, and eye color, she had bangs while I do not. However, in the store there were also several dresses that could be purchased both for a little girl and a doll, for matching outfits. Furthermore, dolls could have their hair done. I think that even Kevin was impressed.

Once we had exited the mall, we walked a while and saw the famous Bean. I was impressed most by its size and by the way it contorted the images of tourists, buildings, clouds, and birds on such a large scale.

Taking photos by the Bean, we could hear music. Turning a corner, we discovered that a symphony orchestra was having a rehearsal in a large and beautiful outdoor theater. Mr. Chan-Law let us sit and listen for a few minutes, as many other people were doing.

After sightseeing, we walked another few blocks to a metro station, where Mr. Chan-Law bought 24-hour passes for each of us. We then boarded a train, rode it for a while, transferred, rode a different train for a few stops, and then emerged into the metro station by Evanston, the charming town next to the Northwestern campus. We walked through Evanston until we arrived at campus. After locating the admissions building and checking the time, we hurried to get lunch from the food stations on one floor of a community center building. We had ten minutes to eat (I had a slice of cheese pizza) and go to the bathroom.

After having run back to the admissions building and arrived in time, we had an information session by an admissions officer and a student, who was graduating tomorrow. They described the quarter system, academics, social life, job and internship and research opportunities, applications, and financial aid. I was impressed not only by their statistics and descriptions of the Northwestern student's experience, but by the impressive anecdotes they shared. Northwestern students seemed eager to seize the many opportunities presented to them, whether by doing research as a freshman or taking classes not at all related to their major.

After the information session, several tour guides were introduced and led us downstairs, where the large number of people split into groups. The Cornell cohort was in a group with only two other people: a rising junior girl who was interested in music and her father. Our tour guide, Carrie, was a five-year senior graduating tomorrow with a long list of majors, minors, and certificates. As she took us across campus, I was struck by the number of trees on large expanses of grass, where we saw at least three rabbits. I also noticed that the architecture varied widely: some buildings are old and intricate, others are very plain and rectangular, while a few are very new and modern-looking.

During the tour, Carrie told us stories about her years at Northwestern, such as a friend who got a job campaigning for a mayoral candidate in Chicago and an adviser who emailed her back immediately when Carrie send a panicked email at two in the morning. She also spoke of professors who were warm and willing to form personal bonds with students, as well as put in extra effort to give a quality education. There were also stories about campus fun, like that sometimes students dressed as ninjas throw candy at others who are studying too hard, and then run away. While yesterday at the University of Chicago the anecdotes seemed slightly forced, today at Northwestern Carrie's words rang with sincerity. She seemed truly grieved to be leaving.

After the tour we spent a bit at the campus bookstore, where I purchased a purple mug and two postcards: one for my family, one for my grandparents. I also tried a bar of "awake chocolate," which claimed to contain as much caffeine as a cup of coffee. I was able to stay alert very well through the evening, so I think that it worked.

We were walking away from campus and toward the metro station when it suddenly started to rain hard. I had my raincoat/jacket and umbrella in my backpack and was excited to need them. It was strange to see it raining so violently even as the air was warm and the sky still sunny. Though some of us were rather wet, we made it to the train without incident, rode a bit, transferred, rode a bit more, and exited. Outside it was not longer raining, and so we walked back to the Drake. First, however, we encountered a Hershey's store and explored that.

from inside the metro
the Hershey's store
Back at the hotel, we had under an hour to prepare for dinner. Sue, Jun, and I started immediately and were ready to go early. We walked to the restaurant, which was a richly decorated and classy grill. We waited a bit for our guests, and when they joined us we were ushered to a circular table in the center of the room. We met Shannon Kennedy, an admissions officer at the university, and three students, Iheoma, Liam,and Katie (pronounced KAH-tee). I sat with Mr. Chan-Law to my left and Iheoma to my right.

the restaurant chandeliers
The menu offered many posh-sounding options for all courses, but most dishes seemed to feature chunks of meat the size of my head, so for starters I had a spinach-and-bacon salad with unexpected mushrooms (not my favorite ingredient), and as an entre I went rogue and requested a side dish of mashed potatoes. I had no regrets about my order; the potatoes were cooked with the skins on, lending extra texture and flavor, and the chef had used lots of cream and butter. Then, for dessert, I had an individually-sized coconut cream pie piled high with whipped cream and coconut shavings, and featuring a large coconut cookie. It was perhaps the best-wrought dessert I'd ever had, but I couldn't eat even half. To say that it was rich would be a severe understatement.

During our meal I talked primarily with Iheoma, a rising junior who came to America from Nigeria at two years old and is from Southern California, and less with Liam, a rising sophomore interested in film who did Speech and Debate in high school like me, and still less with Shannon, whom I heard periodically giving thoughtful advice about applications and college life to Kevin and Jun, who were seated next to her. I was seated almost exactly across the large table from Katie, who was in the school of journalism. Iheoma was extremely friendly and seemed happy to have joined us for dinner. As a tour guide, she was prepared to answer frequently asked questions, but gave thoughtful answers no matter what we asked. She spoke freely of her large family and the desire for independence when explaining why she chose Northwestern from amongst a few other prestigious schools, adding stories of research she had done with grants, her participation in philanthropic endeavors like teaching sexual health to Chicago seventh-grade girls or dancing for thirty straight hours to raise money to fight Muscular Dystrophy, and other amazing experiences. She and Liam had vibrant personalities and a strong rapport, and so kept us laughing all night. More importantly, however, they solidified my view of Northwestern as a university where students are challenged academically while growing through extracirriculars, in an environment that is supportive rather than competitive. I'm grateful to all my new acquaintances for introducing me to a school to which I will undoubtedly apply, because I am enamored with Northwestern University.

Today was my favorite day yet. I don't know whether it can be topped. Tomorrow, we have a couple hours of shopping in Chicago before we head to Ithaca for Summer College. I'll be sad to see the touring part of this trip come to an end.

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