Saturday, July 22, 2017

The Journey of a Lifetime

It all started in my high school’s theater. Don Gosney invited a whole bunch of students from De Anza. I was happy because I heard a little bit about the ILC and wanted to learn more. It was a long event and Don had a lot to say, but I hung on to every word and took copious notes as he describes the program and what one would have to do to get accepted into the program. Many of my classmates left in the middle, but I stayed. 

  • One--I was really interested because I had no plans over summer. 
  • Two--I knew this was an important opportunity because it gave me a chance to visit and study many universities I wanted to apply to back east and hopefully attend one day and I knew I could never do these things without the Ivy League Connection. 
  • Three--I also didn’t want to go to my next class because it was weight training I believe (it was my least favorite class.) I jotted down my contact information and tried my best to polish my sloppy handwriting so Gosney could read it.
What followed was a series of many emails. They described the application in great detail. We had to write two pre-essays that were for the ILC in particular and then one essay for our program. It sounded pretty easy to be honest the essays all together were about 1,200 words. It was pretty easy, but I still stressed about it a lot because I wanted to get into the ILC and get the scholarship. So I wrote them up asked my mom and one of my teachers to read over it and then I sent them in.

What followed was a week or two of me pacing around and constantly checking my emails. I was nervous because I being the genius that I am sent in an essay that was completely blank (a fact that was pointed out by Don Gosney). When I found this out I panicked. I sent in the essay again except I sent in three identical copies so that there were no blank copies. For some reason I thought that fiasco ruined my chances and I wouldn’t get the interview and especially the scholarship. I wallowed for a couple of minutes then I accepted the fact that I wasn’t getting the interview. Then in a couple of days I checked my email and there it was. The list of people who got the interview and I was on it! I was excited. I guess I didn’t ruin my chances. I felt relaxed and happy until another long series of emails described the interview process.

The interview wasn’t as terrible as I made it. I thought it would be a borderline interrogation. Even though I practiced A LOT with my mom I still felt unprepared as I approached El Cerrito High School and made it to the classroom where all of the 7 interviewees were to wait. Everyone had to wait in that room for their interview and after their interview they had to wait to see who got picked. I sat there in that room twitching, pacing and fidgeting for hours. When it was my turn for the interview (I believe I was the fourth interview of the day) I was a nervous wreck, but I did my best to contain myself and to look professional and calm.

When I got into the room I felt dumb. There was nothing to worry about. It wasn’t an interrogation; there were no questions that I didn’t know how to answer. About half way through I was actually having fun. I relaxed answered the questions as honestly as I could. I liked being interviewed it gave me a chance to tell everyone about who I was and why they should give me thousands of dollars to go study at one of the most prestigious schools on the country. I left that room still a little nervous because I really wanted to know if I got the scholarship or not and it would be another couple of hours until I found out. I spent the rest of my time sitting and waiting.

Then the three panelists who interviewed me came in and immediately everyone in the room stared at them with nervous anticipation. At this point I accepted my defeat and the fact that I didn’t get the scholarship. Then they actually called the names of the people who got the scholarships and I was one of the names! I got the scholarship! I was overjoyed. After my name was announced I went into a little room with what were now my fellow cohort members to sign papers, but all of that was a blur all I remembered was the excitement I felt.

We had many events leading up to the trip and to me they all blurred together. I remember that with every event I got more and more excited because the trip seemed more and more real. We had many tutorials where we went over what we had to do before we go on our trip and what we had to do on our trip and that was all well and good. Over that time I got to know my fellow cohort members Noor and Javaria more and I got to know my chaperone Deven as well. We went to tutorials and a school board meeting where the ILC as a whole made a presentation to the board about the ILC, what we do and why we do it. I had to speak and it was pretty easy because all I had to do is describe the journey me and my fellow ILCers were on so far. 

Then my cohort, with the Brown cohort, had a dinner in San Francisco where we had the opportunity to talk with alums from the universities that we were going to for the summer. I thought it was helpful because I got a feel for what kind of university Cornell was and what to expect when I got there. I was nearly jumping with excitement as I heard all these wonderful things about Cornell and the wonderful things I would experience.

After the dinner we had an orientation which was just a bunch of last minute preparations and it also prepared the parents for what was going to happen. Shortly after the orientation in what felt like two seconds it was departure day. In reality it was a couple of weeks, but to me I was so excited that all that time flew by. I packed and was ready to go.

Departure day was tiring and I barely remember it because I was practically in a coma. I had to get up around 1 in the morning so I could be there around 2 in the morning. I only remember going to the airport and having a pretty nice nap on the plane to Chicago.

Chicago was absolutely amazing. We were there to visit two universities, The University of Chicago and Northwestern University, but while we were in Chicago we went to Willis Tower, the Art Institute of Chicago and Navy Pier. The Art institute was my favorite attraction because I got to see gorgeous and emotional works of art that actually made me look at the world differently. It taught me to look more closely at everything I saw. 

When we weren’t looking at the wonderful city of Chicago and its many wonders we visited universities. The universities were great and these visits helped me look at the things I liked and don’t like about them and helped me make the decision on whether or not I will apply to them. Spoiler alert: I am strongly considering applying to both. I loved Northwestern’s campus and its sense of community and fun. Everyone there looked like they were having a blast and the university seemed to encourage students to study in as many fields as possible. I liked the fun and laid back feeling that the university gave. The campus was also easy to get around and right on Lake Michigan which gave the campus some beautiful sweeping views. The University of Chicago on the other hand was less laid back. It had a similar sense of community though. You can tell that they focused on rigorous academics and challenging one’s ideas. I really liked this because when I go to university I want to be challenge and I want to bury myself in academics. I am not saying that I don’t want to have fun, but it wouldn’t be a focus of mine. Out of the two I preferred UChicago for its focus on rigorous academics and the challenging on ideas.

After Chicago it was finally time to go to Cornell. My time in Cornell was everything that I hoped for and much, much more. Cornell was amazing on every level and I loved everything there, the people, class, campus and the surrounding area.
The campus was amazing. I loved walking by a waterfall on my way to class and passed large old vine covered buildings. But what I loved more than the buildings and campus was the class I took. I took International Human Rights in Theory and Practice. This class was amazing because of the interesting debates we would have every day and what we learned because I had no previous knowledge of international human rights, before this class I had no clue that international human rights was a thing. I liked having my ideas challenged every day. I loved learning new and extremely useful things. Not only did we learn about law and human rights in the law, but we also learned how we can expand and fight  for human rights at home. This part of the class was my favorite because I always wanted to fight for my community and for the rights of the people in my community. Fighting for people’s rights is basically what I want to do for the rest of my life, but I had no clue where to start. But then when I took this class it taught me where to start and how to create my own human rights project. I was overjoyed and was itching to get home so I can use the amazing things I learned. This class was not only interesting, but applicable to my life and the things I learned here are things I wouldn’t be able to learn anywhere else. 

My favorite part of my experience was the people I met. I met some incredible people that I know will be life-long friends. My friends made everything I did there special. They exposed me to different ways of thinking and different ways of living. I learned so many things from my friends. Things I can’t learn in a classroom. My friends also encouraged me every step of my journey. They empowered me to speak up in class, go to office hour and most importantly they encouraged me to make change. This encouragement to make change came in the form of a human rights organization called We Fight 4 the Right. With my friends Javaria, Pooja and Sultana we founded an organization that is dedicated to empowering teenagers to fight for human rights in their local communities. We have chapters nationwide in New Jersey, New York and California and are expanding. I am so proud of us for doing something so ambitious and important. I am hopeful and excited for the future and I can’t wait for the amazing impact our organization will have when we get it off the ground. I would have never done something like this if I wasn’t empowered by the information I learned and my friends and I would never have those things if I didn’t take this opportunity to go to Cornell for Summer college.
My experience in the ILC and in Cornell was absolutely wonderful and an experience that I will look back on with happiness and joy. I am so happy I tool this opportunity because it changed me for the good and gave me so much. It changed the way I look at the world and how I perceive it. It changed my way of thinking and my perspective and how I look at others’ perspectives. The ILC taught me that I need to take every opportunity given to me. The knowledge I gained in my class and through my friends in my time at Cornell was by far the most valuable thing about my experience. I learned things that I will use in my community to improve it and the lives of the people who live in it. I also did things that I never would have like starting my own organization with my friends.  
Organizations like the ILC gives people the opportunity to change their lives and the world for the better. It gives people who don’t have the massive amounts of resources available to afford things like Summer College to be able to have the opportunity to go and gain valuable and important knowledge. I would like to thank the ILC and the person who runs it Don Gosney for giving me this opportunity to change my life and the world for the better.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Till We Meet Again


I’m not sure where to begin. My blogging days are coming to an end and I’m beginning to realize how difficult it will be to wrap up this journey.

Departure Day
Besides the fact that it has changed my life in so many positive ways, there are many reasons why I don’t want to let go of the Ivy League Connection. The program’s application process itself was incredibly humbling and taught me a lot. I signed up the first time thinking that it wouldn’t be too difficult for me to get in. After all, my sister was an alum and she had been admitted her first time. I thought, ‘How hard can it be?' 

Needless to say, I wasn’t surprised to hear that I’d been accepted for the Brown Women and Leadership Program interview. I had spent hours writing my essays and my parents helped me tirelessly rehearse answers to give the panelists. I was completely sure of what I would say and the way in which I’d deliver these thoughts of mine. Despite all of the preparation, I remained insecure, shy, and barely confident in my ability to improvise.

As a superstitious person, it’s usually difficult for me to be super confident about things that I desperately want, for fear of sabotaging myself. This wasn’t the case the day of the initial interview, because I came out of that room prepared to hear good news. If only someone had prepared me for the utter heartbreak and shame that I would face upon finding out that my name wasn’t among the ones read off the final list. 

Arrival Day
Naturally, I felt sad, angry, confused, and in denial about not getting chosen. I had made the mistake of being overconfident and it really bruised my ego in the end. It made me feel like I was worthless. 

But the situation did remind me of the need to remain modest and unassuming which is something that I am very grateful for. 

At first, I wanted to forget about the situation entirely, so when Don sent out an email about meeting up and looking over denied applications to see what had gone wrong, it pained me to schedule a time. Ultimately I knew that it was the right thing to do, and the interaction worked out beautifully in the end. Don helped me understand ways in which I could have improved my approach. We watched the interview together and analyzed my essays. To this day I firmly believe that it was his advice that completely changed the way in which I tackled the application process. It is what landed me a spot in the Cornell program.

I was aware that there was a high chance that additional programs would not be available, but still content with the help. 

The Cornell and UPenn programs were both released shortly afterward. I applied, happily took on the workload, focused all of my time and attention on my application, and made it through at last.

The second time around I felt pretty nervous and vulnerable while interviewing, but I was less afraid of rejection. I had learned to be humble and open to critique. I had also mastered the art of perseverance and didn't feel the need to act. I was also too exhausted to be anyone but myself. My answers were not prepared beforehand. The panelists and I engaged in conversation, it felt natural and we laughed. I enjoyed it a lot because it was a much more sincere and genuine interaction compared to last time. 

I think my photography skills might have improved
as well. 
This experience has allowed me to learn and grow in so many ways. Daily blogs have not only improved my writing abilities but also proven to be relaxing, inspiring me to document my thoughts and feelings more often. The interviews, ILC dinner speech, and class presentations introduced me to public speaking and improvisation. On the whole, I feel much more confident in myself.

I’ve met so many amazing people and made friends that have contributed to my knowledge, perspective, and overall happiness. Educated speakers, advocates, and activists such as my professor and TAs taught me how to stand up for my own rights and the rights of others.

I have learned about the many ways in which I can make a difference in the lives of people within my own community. I plan on spreading awareness and volunteering through an online blog, school club, and local organizations. This is exactly the type of work that I have been looking forward to. 

Yes, I’m very excited for my plans for the future. I’m also enthusiastic about the fact that my fellow cohort members, and driven classmates in the International Human Rights class are bound to grow up some day and make large contributions to society.

More than anything I am thankful to the ILC for granting my peers and I this opportunity in the first place, and to the panelists, sponsors, parents, and readers that have never failed to support us ILCers. Many thanks to our awesome chaperone Deven for his dad jokes and support. And of course, thanks, Don Gosney for everything that you do. This program would not be possible without your hard work and dedication. 

I must say, I desperately wish that I could relive this experience. The trip will always remain a significant part of my life, and I will cherish these memories forever. 

In the words of my favorite Cornellian, Andy Bernard, “I wish there was a way to know you're in the good old days before you've actually left them.”

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Take A Chance

This is from the day of my interview.
This year when Don came to El Cerrito High School to talk to us about the ILC was not the first time I had heard of this program. Last year he had also come to our school to tell us about this opportunity, I received a piece of paper inviting me to our theater at the end of the day. I wrote my name down on the clipboard to receive more information but never went all the way through with the application process because I had other plans. This year when I received the same slip of paper I went to the library to find a smaller crowd compared to last year, since there was a walk out as it was the day after the elections. I wrote my name down on the clipboard again in case I changed my mind this year.

Don actually had a typo in my email address so I didn’t receive any information about the programs until the last one offered, Cornell. There was also UPenn but not many people showed interest in it so it didn’t end up happening. I remember it being around a hectic time during the school year and since I received that information so last minute, I had to be quick on making the decision of whether I should apply or not. It was the middle of March, with midterms going on, a rally coming up, I had also just taken my SAT. March was a very full month for me, but I made the decision to take the chance and just push my schoolwork aside and make applying to the ILC a priority.

It was not long before we began with the long string of emails from Don letting us know that the group of students who applied was being narrowed. Some were from my school, some from Middle College, De Anza, and all over WCCUSD. It was down to sixteen students from which they would select seven to interview to receive three scholarships being given out that night. I didn’t tell many people that I was going through this process because I didn’t know how it would turn out, and I didn’t want to jinx myself. Only one of my best friends knew who helped me prepare for the interview so I could not even share my stress with anyone else.

I remember it perfectly, I was waiting for my math class to start and a sophomore came up to me and said congratulations. I asked why and he said Don emailed out the list for the students who got the interview. I didn’t check my phone at school because of school Wi-Fi, so he showed me on his phone and low and behold, my name was at the bottom of the list of seven.  I also saw some people on the list that I knew but the first thing I did was tell my dad because I was so excited.

When the interview day came I had school all that day and a test as well, so I had a lot running through my mind. I came home and just changed before grabbing my bag and heading to my dad’s store because my mom had work. I did my makeup there before my dad dropped me off at El Cerrito High School where the wait began. I was there for a few hours but Don had snacks so we could stress eat which was greatly appreciated. When they told us the order of the interviews, I, of course, was last. Even more waiting, so I was on the edge of my seat and literally shaking during the entire interview.
Balchies!
When they called the name of who received the scholarships they did it America’s Next Top Model Style where you were told on the spot to go home. My name was the last of the three called and it felt surreal. Of course it was only the beginning but I had no idea what I was in for. I applied to Cornell with Design Immersion but got my second choice, which was Inspiring Leadership, I am so glad I did because I met some of the greatest people from all over the world and did things I never thought I would be able to do.

I learned that leadership is about growth, but the kind of growth you foster in the community which you create for your team. You as a leader have people looking up to you for the things you do. Such a small girl in a big world doing big things: I brought myself to Cornell University where I sat in Phillips Hall to learn the secrets of leadership from all over the world. The real secret: you can’t teach leadership.

It starts with you, as a follower, as a listener, as one who sits back and observes what the great leaders of the world are doing. I learned that I identify as an introverted leader, which is not a bad thing. They can sometimes be the best leaders because they hear everyone out and use their platform for give others a chance to voice their passions. I was always an introvert and I struggled because of it, but I put so much focus on myself and what I was doing that I never took the time to slow down and evaluate what my beliefs were, what the values were that I was going to act upon.

I learned that in this class. I wanted to tell myself that my values were family and love and all these things which you think you can’t live without. But I stayed up late thinking about what the things were which subconsciously drew me into making the decisions that I did. My values are compassion and commitment and composure. Which when I could identify, changed the course of the way I viewed who I am and the organization I am a part of.

My graduation day!
Leadership starts with something small; it starts with you and me, it starts with a vision. To find those who share your values and common goals are those who will make your team. You have to trust them; you have to choose a team who can work diligently and at their best even when you are not there. You create relationships where people are not afraid t tell you that you are doing something wrong, and they feel comfortable sharing their ideas because it’s not always a democracy, or being an authoritarian. It’s about knowing what goes where, and when to embed that into the tactics you use in your approach to a mission.

That relationship, that community, that empowerment: I found it, I found it on the other side of the country held by the leaders of today. Tomorrow the world will be something else, and we will apply what we learn from our stories. There is no time to waste in taking action for what is important to you.

Coming from the birthplace of the free speech movement and seeing all the diversity in leaders from all different walks of life, it gives hope and encouragement to persist everything that I do to work towards my goal. Because I learned that we are, the leaders we have been waiting for.

This summer has to be the best of my life, I took in as much as I could and had so much fun, I made many friends along the way and came back with a different perspective. Cornell University, the middle of no where. Where I can proudly say I lived my dreams as cliche as it sounds. My advice: take a chance, have an adventure and see where you'll end up. It'll be your wildest ride. 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

I Love You Cornell

My trip to Cornell was nothing short of perfect and life changing. I went places that I wouldn’t otherwise go. I visited the universities of my dreams, met wonderful and learned amazing and life changing things. My time on my trip was precious. It gave me the chance to do something I would never get to do which is go to one of my dream universities and take classes thousands of miles away from my house. The time I spent in Cornell I learned, experienced and done things that shaped the way I think and thought of the world. In Cornell I met amazing people that empowered me to do things I have always wanted to do. I had a class that gave me the tools to do the things I always wanted to do and gave me the tools to create change. I loved my class and everything I learned in it. My professor was great, she was excited to be teaching and gave her class a hands on and rigorous course that gave us experience in the field of international law. Cornell was beautiful and full of wonderful things do to do. I was almost heartbroken that I had to leave after only three weeks. I wanted to stay longer so I could fully experience everything this fantastic place had to offer me. I am beyond grateful to be given this opportunity. I want to thank the ILC and Don Gosney for giving me this opportunity. Without their help none of this would happen. Without them I wouldn’t be able to travel across the nation and study at the university of my dream.  

This trip taught me a lot. It not only helped me figure out whether or not I want to apply to Cornell (spoiler alert: I do!). But it helped me find ways to help my community; it helped me figure out what college would be like and how to live by myself. I learned how to be better at critical thinking and time management. This trip taught me how to be an adult and was life changing. It was a lot of fun and was the greatest trip of my life. It is a moment in my life that I will look back on with happiness and nostalgia since it was transformative and an important part in my life. After the trip I am excited to bring what I learned and share. I can’t to bring knowledge from my class and fight for the rights of others. This trip was absolutely perfect and I’d like to thank Don Gosney and the ILC for sending me to Cornell. Without them I would never be able to have this opportunity. Without them I wouldn’t have the knowledge, experience and friends that I have. Thank you.

Cornell itself taught me a lot of lessons. It taught me to be independent and how to take care of myself without the help of my mom. This was the first time in my life that I was thousands of mile from my mom without her help to feed myself or do my laundry or get myself up for class. I did everything on my own and it was liberating. Everything that I did over there I earned completely by myself. It was a new feeling and one I got used to quickly. 

Living on campus and doing everything by myself also gave me a glimpse into my future. It gave me experience with what college life was going to be like and I love it. It was great to set my schedule to find a balance between fun and school work and to plan out my day. I was given a glimpse into college life and I love every moment of it. But after a while I missed home a lot and I started to hate the food that started to taste disgusting after a week. 

Most importantly my class taught a lot. The class I took was called International Human Rights in Theory and Practice. I learned more things in this class than I did in about two years of high school. I learned about how the UN works, certain treaty bodies, how to file a shadow report, how to write an action plan, how to advocate for human rights at the local and international level and so many other things that if I listed them this blog would be 7,000 words. The most important thing that this class taught me is how to advocate for my community. I would see things in my community that I believed were wrong, that I wanted to fix and that I complained about constantly. With this class and the real life situations and simulations where we would address human rights abuses like real lawyers I have the tools to fix the things I find wrong in my community. Before I would only complain because I had no clue how to change anything for the good, but this class taught me everything I need to know to become an advocate for my community. This class was important to me and I loved it so much because what it taught me was very applicable to my life. In this class I also had many of my beliefs challenged. We would have many open discussions where people with different opinions and perspectives from mine and many of them weren’t afraid to share their opinions and challenge mine. I loved this. It made my ideas sharper, it made me look at my ideas more critically and it forced me to look outside my perspective. This class helped shape the way I think and look at the world. This course helped me finally do what I always wanted to do and that is advocate for my community.   

When I was in Cornell taking my class and setting my own schedule I met fantastice people. People that became very close friends of mine and from what I can see lifelong friends. People like Pooja, Sultana, my fellow cohort member Javaria, Marian, J’nai and Eunji. On top of being funny, nice, smart, and generous and many other positive adjective they taught me many important lessons. They taught me friends and company is important. Previously I never saw the true value in having friends. I never saw having friends as being something special or being something that added value to what I was doing. But in my time at Cornell with these outstanding people I realized that it matters who you are with and the people that surround you can make a place a place even more special. These people also empowered me. Even with the tools my class gave me, I was hesitant to make change, but with my friends’ (Pooja, Javaria and Sultana) encouragement I help found an organization to help empower youth to create change in their community and internationally (for those who are curious it is called “Fight For the Right”). I am so happy about the people I met because not only do I have lifelong friends, but I was also given the encouragement to fight for change and empower others across the nation to do so as well.