Sunday, July 20, 2014

An Opportunity of a Lifetime

A symbol of what I accomplished 
It has not sunk in that my ILC journey is over. Just yesterday I was typing my application essay and prepping for my interview and now I'm writing this blog, reflecting upon the past four weeks. I returned from Cornell more mature with new knowledge and a new possible direction in life. None of this would have been possible without the ILC. To commemorate my amazing experience I give you my ILC story in a nutshell:

Becoming a part of the Ivy League Connection has been my dream since middle school. Until 11th grade, that was still what it was to me--a dream. I knew I was eligible to apply, but I did not believe that I actually had a chance competing against the brightest students in my district. I did not think I was good enough for the ILC.

Despite my apprehensions, when I was faced with the decision to apply, I realized that I could not miss out on such an amazing opportunity. After sitting in on a presentation given by Don Gosney I decided to at least try to apply by signing up for more information.

My inbox was flooded almost immediately. There were pages of emails to read and plenty of forms to sign. My first task was tackling the pre-essay portion of the application process. Explaining exactly why I wanted to be a part of the ILC, what I hoped to gain from my experience, and how I planned to give back to my community upon my return was easy. Believing that I could actually take part in such a remarkable experience was not.

One of the many emails I received included a list of the 11 programs available. I had no particular preference in what class to take or which school to attend. I decided to choose a class I felt I had the best chance of getting into.

For some reason the Hotel Management course stood out to me. I had no previous interest in the hotel business or the hospitality industry, but I thought maybe I should try something new. Not confident in my odds of actually being accepted, I told myself not to get my hopes up, but, me, incapable of doing anything half-heartedly, worked tirelessly on application essay. After several revisions, I asked for feedback from my parents, my English teacher, and my Math teacher, who majored in business at UC Berkeley. Once the final draft was submitted I was relieved, yet still unconvinced of my ILC potential.

A very long week later, I received the email notifying me that I had made it to the next step of the application process: the interview. While I was shocked, I was excited. I realized that I had a real chance of going to Cornell and I was not going to let this opportunity pass by me. Preparing for the interview began at once. Two ILC alums who attended Cornell, Damian Wong and Rochelle Yee, helped me and the other Hercules candidates practice for the interview. We all met at Starbucks, where they shared information with us. They tested us with practice questions and gave us tips for ace-ing the interview. Without them I know would not be writing this reflection. My family also lent a helping hand by setting up a mock interview for me with my uncles. By the time I walked into the interview room facing three interviewers, Don Gosney, Madeline Kronenberg and a video camera, I was ready. Of course I was incredibly nervous, but I pulled myself together and calmly did my interview.

The three interviewers returned at the end of an agonizing two hours and informed us of the winners. Shaking from anxiousness, I listened as they called my name. Words cannot describe how I felt at that moment. I was ecstatic. I thought I was in the clear. I was ready to be shipped off to Cornell right then and there. But I was very wrong. This was just the beginning.

I now had to apply to Cornell. The Cornell application consisted of an additional two essays, teacher recommendations and safety forms. Completing this application was tedious. The forms were difficult to fill out and I was juggling my school work at the same time. All the trouble applying to Cornell was well worth it though. A couple months before my trip, I received my official acceptance into the class. It was then that I could rejoice. 

The Cornell cohort at the school board meeting
But my work was still not done. Don had lined up a list of events for us, which he informed us through his mass of emails. Our first event was the blogging tutorial. There, Don instructed a group of us, ILCers, on how to blog and what to blog. He also discussed some of the basics of what we needed to pack further down the road. This was our first step in our experience as ILCers. Next came the school board meeting. In my 12 years of going to school in WCCUSD I have never attended a school board meeting, so it was quite interesting to see what goes on behind the scenes so to speak. I also appreciated how we were introduced to our district. It reminded me how honored I was to be an ambassador of my community.

Our biggest event was a dinner in San Francisco with ILC sponsors and Cornell alums. I was extremely nervous about branching out of my comfort zone and meeting new people, but I had nothing to worry about. That night was a great experience. I mingled with Cornell graduates, who told me things I had to do while I was back East. After dinner, I was extremely excited to go to Cornell. My dad even told me he wished he was going instead of me! Our final event, the parent orientation, came one week before our trip. There we received final information and a detailed itinerary of the following four weeks. I started to have mixed feelings by then: I was excited to go, but sad to be leaving.

Before I knew it I was on a plane headed for St. Louis--ready or not. The Charles F. Knight center, where we were staying, was a pleasant surprise. Due to some mix-up, we all received our own rooms. It was our first taste of independence. Even better the hotel offered a complimentary snack pantry. The first event on our trip was a tour of Washington University. The campus was beautiful. By the end of the tour I was ready to apply to WashU. Later that evening we all went to dinner at Tony's with three alums and an admissions officer. I was nervous about conversing just as I was prior to the ILC sponsor dinner. Fortunately, I was wrong again. I enjoyed the company. I enjoyed learning more about different schools. The rest of the week continued much the same. After St. Louis we travelled to Chicago. We went on tours of Northwestern University and University of Chicago and ate dinner with representatives from each school. 

University of Chicago
The first week of our trip travelling around with my cohort was, in one word, awesome. It was a once in a lifetime experience. Without going on some of the tours I probably would have never even considered applying to some of these schools. Thus, in some way, this mini "vacation" or sight-seeing adventure, was life changing. I am extremely gratified by the ILC who made that possible on top of sending me to an Ivy League school. But of course the fun was not over. 

We arrived in Ithaca, New York, on a Friday night. We were the first students to check-in. My dorm was located in Mary Donlon, which I found to be a great hall to live in. It was the largest dorm in North Campus, plus it was closest to the Robert Purcell Community Center, where all our meals were provided. My roommate was Elizabeth, who is from Massachusetts. She was taking the Speech and Debate course. Our schedules were very different so we did not get a chance to bond very much, but I enjoyed meeting her and living with her for three weeks.

I did not spend too much time in my dorm anyway. My class was lengthy and rigorous. Most of my time was spent in class or in the lab. I had no idea what to expect when I walked into Room 396 on the first day of class. I certainly did not expect to enjoy the class as much as I did. I had two professors, a husband and wife duo, Mark and Reneta McCarthy. They were the perfect match for each other and the job. Reneta acted as our mother, always asking if we were sleeping okay and condemning our sugar intake, while Mark was our jokester, providing comic relief throughout the day (I learned about our right-click fingers.) 

As for the course itself, I actually had fun learning about which hotels are owners, managers, franchisors or franchisees and about how to create pivot tables using Excel. Every day I made the 20 minute walk to class, passing the Statler Hotel on the way. Every day I walked up three flights of stairs to Room 396 and claimed four seats for my group. We either had an hour long lecture or a quiz to start off our morning. Then, the class was split into two groups and was either sent to the Bin lab or told to stay seated. In the Bin lab Mark taught us business computing skills. In Room 396, Reneta taught us everything we needed to know about the hotel industry. Our class started at 8:30 AM and ended at 3:30 PM. We then had mandatory office hours from 4:00PM to 6:00 PM.  We had to stay in class for 13 hours on two different days in order for us to complete our biggest assignments. The length of our class was sometimes overwhelming, but well worth it not. After taking this class and learning more about the hotel industry, I have decided to apply to Cornell's School of Hotel Administration in the fall. 

Of course, besides learning new things, I met several new people. On the first day of class, I was placed in a group with three other girls: Dani, Sabrina and Yueyuan. We worked together for all three weeks on huge assignments worth up to 20% of our grade. Luckily, I loved my group. We were the best group in my eyes. But I also met other people in my class, who I plan on keeping in touch with in the future. 

My experience would not have been the same had I spent it with anyone else besides my wonderful cohort and chaperone. From having sleepovers in hotels to trying escargot, we bonded while venturing to new places. I'd like to thank them all, Sue, Carla, Natalie, Jun, Kevin, and Mr. Chan-Law for making the past four weeks an exciting adventure. I'm glad I got to know you all a little better and I look forward to keeping in touch. Hopefully a Cornellian cohort reunion is somewhere in our future!

To end my "short" spiel on my journey, I would like extend my utmost gratitude to the people who made this all possible: the wonderful staff and supporters of the Ivy League Connection. I cannot thank Mr. Ramsey, Mrs. Kronenberg and Don Gosney, especially, enough for making this opportunity of a lifetime a reality for me and all of the other ILCers. Thank you to everyone who played a role in this life changing experience, including whoever is reading this blog. With that, farewell!

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