Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Living History at UPenn

Today started early for me, though not nearly as early as yesterday. I saw last night that the hotel had a fitness room on the third floor, so I dragged myself out of my soft Hilton bed (complete with four plushy pillows) to go try running on a treadmill for the first time ever (the streets in Philadelphia are narrow, and, unlike California, it seems pedestrians don't really have the right of way, and there is no road sharing). It took me about ten minutes to get used to the feeling of the floor moving without me going anywhere, but afterwards, it was fun to play with. After a nice 27-minute workout, I rushed back to my room to call everyone (I was assigned wake-up call duty by Mr. Chan-Law).
One mode of public transportation.
Independence Hall, from afar.
City Hall, 1791-1854.
We first headed out to Independence Hall via taxi. We had an extra hour before the tour, so we all walked down to the nearest restaurant and grabbed some breakfast. All of the guys wanted the Philly cheesesteak, but it was too early. I wanted a fruit salad, but it was also too early for fruit, apparently; I had to settle for an omelet, and now I no longer wonder how America developed such a huge obesity problem. After breakfast we headed to the famous location where colonial delegates signed the Declaration of Independence; we also met up with the Columbia group for this tour. The first part of the tour showed where the Constitution was signed and what the room looked like; the guide was a little flat, and frankly, he seemed tired of reciting the same history every day. At the west end of Independence Hall, we had a female guide who showed us the first rooms for the House of Representatives and the Senate (before D.C. was built); she was much better, and even threw in some jokes during her presentation. The whole tour only lasted about 30 minutes. We saw the Liberty Bell through a glass window (the line was too long), and we were going to check out the Constitution Center, but decided against it due to time constraints.
The Declaration of Independence was signed here.

Area for the first House of Representatives.

The first gathering place for the Senate, just upstairs.

Inside architecture.
Outside architecture
Our second tour was of the University of Pennsylvania; it was founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1740, and has since become known as one of the more social Ivy schools. The buildings were beautiful, and screamed of history on the outside; inside, they were modern but still amazing. Unfortunately, they do not have a nutrition science major, but it was still interesting to see the campus. It was very different from a California school, which is typically all modern architecture, inside and out. There is also a certain feel to UPenn, similar to UC Berkeley - it seemed like a school for the privileged. The student tour guides were dressed nicely; our tour guide (Anna) wore black dress pants and a black shirt despite the hot weather. Usually, the tour guides at California schools are either dressed in a uniform, or have on jeans and a t-shirt. Of course, I guess if one can afford an Ivy League school (especially UPenn, which provides no merit-based financial aid), then one has the right to show off a little.
Penn is still bustling with tourists and students during the summer.

The main campus library; probably has every book...

When the tour ended, we were all hungry again, so we walked to the nearest food cart and ordered some small Chinese dishes (I got vegetable fried rice). We walked back to the heart of the campus to eat with the Columbia group, who had also toured the school. After talking with Adrianne Ramsey for awhile, the group left, and we headed back to our hotel rooms to take a break before dinner.

Tonight we had dinner at the Fountain Restaurant with UPenn alumni and admissions officers. The woman I sat next to (actually a current student), Monique Sager, was wonderful to talk to; in fact, I think she may have been a distant cousin. We coincidentally sat next to each other, but we discovered that we had the same ethnicity and culture, grew up in similar environments (both by the bay), and she had 33 food allergies while I had a gluten intolerance. I've never met a random person before with so many similarities, but it was fun, and was an immediate ice breaker. She told me a little bit about the university and its culture, as well as what to expect. I specifically asked her if AP classes actually prepare students for college courses. She said no, they are completely different. She also added that Ivy League schools state that they accept AP credits, but the credits do not really count for anything.
My delicious, though salty, entree.

On top of the great company, the food was excellent as well. The restaurant was very understanding of my dietary needs, and provided me with all gluten-free meals (including bread!). I ordered a caesar salad (no croutons); sauteed sea bass with shrimp, lobster, and bomba rice; and mint ice cream for dessert. They also gave us something in between the entree and dessert; it tasted like tart raspberry, and resembled a more solid gelatin, but I did not catch the name of it. The seafood was too salty for me, so I only had a couple of bites, but the rice was mouth-watering. It seemed like a rich, nontraditional version of mac and cheese. 

A Day at Penn

We started the day off by joining the Columbia group to visit Independence Hall, which was very neat, especially because of the thought that the founding fathers would have stood at the same spots that we stood in. I was very surprised that they had most of the original artifacts from the 1700s at their sites because I would have expected replica chairs since the originals were well over 200 years old. After seeing such a fantastic historical site, we visited the National Constitution Center before arriving to our main destination, the University of Pennsylvania.
Independence Hall
We took two taxis to the college and arrived at College Hall, where we began our tour. Our tour guide, Ana (I think), gave us some very interesting facts, while showing us this great campus. Though it got very sunny and humid, it was a marvelous experience. This was the first old school college I've seen, and I really liked it. The one thing that stuck in my head from what Ana said was the traditions that follow this prestigious school, including Hay Day, where Juniors wear straw hats and march through the school.
Amazing U Penn Building
We finished off a nice day with a superb dinner at the Fountain Restaurant located in the Four Seasons Hotel. When reading Four Seasons: The Story of a Business Philosophy for my summer assignment, Mr. Sharp, the founder of the Four Seasons Hotels clearly stated that his main priority was customer service, and I wanted to see how great their top rated service actually was. When arriving by taxi, we were immediately welcomed by the employees, who opened our doors and greeted us courteously. We entered the hotel and saw our guests, the UPenn alumni and admission's officers. They were as nice as one could hope, and they treated us teenagers like adults. We all entered our reserved room, and again, were greeted by the waiters. I sat next to two very amazing admission's officers, David and Amy, and we discussed about school activities and why UPenn is their choice university.

The food we ate there was probably the best I ever had. For the appetizer, I had a delicious halibut, topped with some cashew butter and Forbidden Black Rice. The main entree was a mix of seafood that included lobster, fish, shrimp, and was balanced out with some rice. To top off this delicious meal, I had an extremely rich chocolate souffle. This delicious chocolate souffle was a little too much for me to finish, however. For the first time in a while, I was actually full from a fancy restaurant (not including yesterday's steakhouse.) What was really surprising for me was that the chef walked in to make sure everything was okay. I mean, how many other restaurants do that?
Appetizer: the halibut
The Main Course: mixed seafood
Desert: the chocolate souffle
As the first full day of the East Coast, I'm glad that we went to UPenn. The campus was filled with trees, making the buildings look more magnificent, and the third oldest college of the Ivy Leagues, which was founded in 1740. Not only is the campus amazing, their people, including the alumni, admissions officers, and even current students had great personalities.

City of Brotherly Love

This morning we met up with the Columbia cohort at Independence Hall to tour together. It was nice to get to see the Columbia cohort and the great Mrs. L again. During the tour, the guide gave us a mini crash course on colonial American history. One interesting fact we learned was that in a portrait of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, there is one person who's face isn’t show. The artist shows the back of this person as he signs the document because historians know he was at the convention but there is no recorded portrait of this individual. Another fact that we learned was that the original Senate hall was secret, no one was allowed to listen in on what the Senators were talking about, so there really wasn't to hold a Senator accountable. 

Independence Hall
After we finished our tours at Independence Hall and bid farewell to the Columbia cohort as they went to lunch, our cohort walked around and soaked in the sights around Independence Hall before we caught a cab to UPENN for the information session and college tour.

Independence Hall

The two chaperones talking about plans.

Columbia cohort

The information session was extremely beneficial for me personally because I'm looking forward to applying to UPENN this coming fall. During the information session the admissions officer told us what they were looking for in an applicant. She told us about how UPENN wanted individuals who are open to being changed and learning a new thought process and how our application had to show that we challenged ourselves at school and that our "Why Penn?" essay needs to not only explain what drew us to Penn, but what we can bring to Penn and how we can "own" Penn.

Following the information session, we left on a tour of the UPENN campus. Our tour guide, Anna, led us around UPENN and spoke about traditions such as "Spring Fling" and "Hey Day" and led us along Locust Walk to show us the library, quad (dorms), and Wharton Hall just to give us a taste of what UPENN is like.

UPENN College Hall

Locust Walk
At the dinner, I sat next to admissions officer Amy Smith and rising senior at Penn, Hamlet (Yes, that's his real name.) When I asked what both liked the most about Penn, both said the "one university philosophy". I have to agree. Based on the information sessions and dinner that's the one factor that has stood out to me the most. UPENN has four colleges, (Wharton, College of Arts and Sciences, Nursing, and College of Engineering) and I thought that the atmosphere would be like having four separate universities on one campus. That couldn't be further from the truth. I believe this is because of the "one university philosophy" which means that the university forces every student to take classes that not only aren't part of a student's major, but also from a college that he/she isn't part of. I love the "one university philosophy".

Octopus appetizer

Seafood entree.


Well... That Was Nice

Front and Center, yes Don, we know you are proud
After a good night's rest in my luxurious room I woke up with just enough time to shower and iron my clothes in preparation for tonight. After meeting in the lobby we took taxis to Independence Hall and, after a quick breakfast, took a tour of the building where the Founding Fathers created and signed the Declaration of Independence. I really enjoyed being inside such a monumental building, and learning more about our nation's history. Apparently, according to our tour guide, John Adam's inauguration as the second president was the first peaceful (or did not involve someone's death) transfer of power of that level.

Outside of our next destination, the National Constitution Center, I was forcefully "elected" by my cohort to participate in an  on camera interview with three college students researching for a school project. They asked general questions about me followed by a variety of questions about what I was doing in the area, if I was visiting local sights, etc. Unfortunately, I do not think I was very helpful to them, as my answers were almost always "no" or "I don't know." Still it was a fun experience.

Halibut and Forbidden Rice
After a quick stop at the Constitution Center we headed back to the UPenn campus for our information session and tour. I was very excited, as that was my first serious college visit. Throughout the information session I learned a lot, not only about UPenn but also the college admission process in general and what the college experience is like. A current student at UPenn gave us an informative tour. It was amazing to see the level of care and dedication to the university which both our presenter (a UPenn alum and admissions officer) and our tour guide had. I was very impressed by UPenn. The campus was very nice, they offer extremely helpful financial aid options, and the policies encouraging inter school and even international study appeal to me greatly. Luckily I am only a sophomore and have lots of time for consideration, but UPenn certainly made its way very high up my list.

Nice to have some seafood after that steak.
After our UPenn visit we got a surprisingly good snack at a local Chinese food cart, then said farewell to the Columbia Cohort who also happened to be visiting UPenn. Then it was a short walk back to the hotel. After some time blogging and listening to music I got to take advantage of another of our hotel's great perks, an air conditioned gym. Then it was off to the showers, and dinner!!!

We ate dinner at The Fountain at the Four Seasons Hotel, which I understand the Hotel Management group had to read a book on. I was immediately made comfortable by the UPenn students, faculty, and alums when they greeted us with friendly smiles and warm handshakes. After we made our introductions we were led by hotel staff to our private dining room. I sat between two current students, Matt and Ross. We talked throughout dinner about their experiences at UPenn, their majors, what I wanted to do, and surprisingly Ross and I had a lengthy discussion about the intricacies and our personal interests in architecture. The food was excellent. From my halibut and "forbidden" rice (named because it was so rare only the emperor of China was allowed to eat it as Matt and I learned), to my lobster, crab, shrimp and rice, to my chocolate souffle I was blown away by the taste and presentation. Altogether it was a great night, made so good by the excellent service, fine food, and pleasant company.

I learned a lot about UPenn today, and while it may not be the school I end up going to, I know I will apply.

Tomorrow its off to New York City to visit Columbia University.

1 Down, 2 To Go

I was sleeping soundly when we were suddenly awakened by an "early" wake-up call at 8:15. After washing up and getting dressed we headed out to get some breakfast before touring Independence Hall. Once we were done, we met up with the Columbia cohort and toured Independence Hall together. It was nice meeting some friends from both El Cerrito and former ILC interviews. Overall, the tour of Independence Hall was very informing and interesting in putting our nation into perspective.
Independence Hall
The Columbia Cohort on the Independence Hall tour with us
The room where the Declaration of Independence was signed 
After the tour, the Columbia cohort left for lunch with the UPenn admissions officers (we will be having dinner with them). We, on the other hand, went for a short visit to the National Constitution Center but didn't get to see the actual Constitution due to time constraints. However, we did get Eric Wilson to get interviewed by some college students doing a project. After that, we went to UPenn for our first informational session and campus tour.

The National Constitution Center: the place to rock out to freedom!
At the informational session, we sat right up front and were informed by an extremely vibrant admissions spokesperson named Doris. She talked about all the great aspects of UPenn and what to expect if we choose to attend. However, the part that stood out to me the most was her tips on college admissions (especially the letters of recommendation) on not only UPenn, but all the other colleges we will be applying for. Once the informational session was over we went on the campus tour with our guide Anna. We got to see the engineering quad, main library, and the Wharton School (a business school within UPenn). A prominent theme in UPenn is Benjamin Franklin since he founded the school, but he is also the one that truly defined the modern education in liberal arts.

Tonight, we went to The Fountain Restaurant inside Four Seasons Hotel with two admissions officers and a handful of current students and alums of UPenn. I sat next to UPenn rising senior Margaret, who is originally from Guam, and Mr. Chan-Law. Margaret and I started talking about why she chose UPenn over her other choices and how the application process was. I learned that she is currently majoring in biochemistry, switching majors from journalism. During our talk about colleges, Margaret gave an extremely helpful tip of choosing a college which caters to your desired method of transportation to class. This didn't occur to be a great importance for me before but now that she said that, getting to class is a major part of the college experience and I would not want to go to a college that doesn't cater to my desires in that area. After a while, the conversation drifted towards the great things you can do around UPenn like all the free events that happen quite frequently throughout Philadelphia. 

As for the food, it was beyond amazing. We all started off with some hors d'oeurvres which consisted of tuna, scallop, beef dumplings, and crab. For the appetizer, I chose the octopus with potatoes and it was phenomenal. I had the seafood paella which had shrimp, rock cod, and lobster. The seafood was the best I have had in a while. As for dessert, I had the strawberry sauvignon. While it was a little on the sweet side, it was still delicious. Funnily enough, all of us (except Mr. Chan-Law who got lamb) chose the seafood dish since we were all full of beef from Del Frisco's the other night. Dinner ended with a group of us talking about the local sports teams and we also got to meet the chef that prepared the stellar food. Overall, the dinner was extremely informing and entertaining. It had a very "laid-back" feel which really helped when it came to the conversations.
Dinner at The Fountain Restaurant
Appetizer: Octopus with Potatoes
Main Course: Seafood Paella
Dessert: Strawberry Sauvignon

The Greatness of Penn

Our group of students started the day at Independence Hall to learn and feel the creation of our great nation.  There were some moments that felt like they were in a history class, but the visible and authentic settings made history come to life.  

We had a quick view of the famous Liberty Bell and took a lobby tour of the National Constitution Center.  

Then off we went to the Penn information session and campus tour.  I believe the kids came out with very valuable information about the various colleges and programs at Penn.  The presenter had some volume trouble with the mic, but we sat at the front row, so that helped a lot.  

She gave some great advice about the process of choosing the best fit university for yourself.  It is not just 4+ years of commitment, dedication, and hard work.  The university becomes part of you and you part of it for the rest of your adult life.  It is a life-changing choice and students need to evaluate all the information and experience given to them to make that choice.  

Not everyone can come to Penn and get a first-hand experience of the campus and college life.  But I believe every student can access the same information and more through the university's website, be it Penn or any other school  It has a tremendous amount of information regarding admissions, application process, financial aid, and so forth.  I understand that seeing and reading something online is not the same as doing it up close and personal, but realistically speaking, not every WCCUSD student can come cross country to do a info session and campus tour.  But, we can encourage one of these admission officers to come to us and talk to our various high schools about their particular university.  We have showed great interest in them and hopefully, they can reciprocate that as well. 

UPenn: Can We Go Back?

Independence Hall
Our first morning in Philadelphia was well spent.  Our first destination was Independence Hall, and after grabbing a quick breakfast at Honey Restaurant a block away, we met the Columbia cohort right outside the gate.  This trip to Independence Hall, where we were part of a larger tour group, reminded me a lot of my eighth grade field trip to Washington D.C. and how our destination revolved around early United States history and how this political foundation affects us today.  As the Columbia group had a lunch commitment with UPenn alumni and admission officers, we headed toward the National Constitution Center to rest before our UPenn tour. 
UPenn Freshman Dorm Quad
I can say that the tour of the University of Pennsylvania was truly enlightening.  The Columbia group was also on this tour after returning from their lunch, but we were separated during the campus walk part of the visit.  For the first half of the tour we were greeted into the Irvine Theater by Doris, an enthusiastic alumni who now works in the admissions office.  She described the many different courses that the school offers, and later went into depth about the typical admissions process and how to apply for financial aid, something I found particularly useful.  Currently I am not sure what field I want to enter as an adult or what exactly I want to study during college, but the options in various “schools,” that is, departments within the university and the availability of help and guidance on campus encouraged me to look into the school at a greater depth. 

Wharton School of Business
After our introduction to the university, Anna, a rising junior at Penn, led our walk around campus for the second part of the tour.  She is duel majoring at Wharton, the business school, and in nursing.  We explored the campus altogether and visited various buildings including the main library and the Huntsman Hall, which belongs to the Wharton Business School.  Anna belongs to the business school and displayed particular enthusiasm when explaining the opportunities offered through Wharton.  One thing that I liked about her experience at Penn was when she explained a recent trip she took to China, only for 10 days, to study economics and business.  These unique opportunities are really attractive to me and if I were to have more time I would have loved for more alumni to speak to us about their experience at school, which was perfect, because after resting at the hotel our next stop was Fountain Restaurant to meet UPenn alumni and admission officers.   

At 7 o’clock sharp we met with the UPenn group which consisted of admissions officers, alumni, and current students.  I found it a lot easier to speak to these people because of our visit to the campus earlier today.  When they were talking about campus life and the accessibility of the city I was able to better understand and visualize what they were talking about.  Again, similar to the dinner at Prospect back in San Francisco, we were seated in a private dining room and served delicious food.  After last night’s hefty steak dinner (don’t get me wrong, it was wonderful), I decided to stick to a seafood course instead.  
Wild Bass Dinner 

Day two was incredible.  Visiting Independence Hall was a good way to explore the city and it’s history, but I found it most important that we were able to visit with the Columbia group during the outing.  Even though it was only yesterday that we left the Bay Area, a lot has happened and traveling in this way has been am interesting transition.  Seeing familiar faces in the Columbia group was just comforting as well as enjoyable.  Who doesn’t want to visit the East Coast with friends?

In addition, visiting the UPenn campus and taking a tour has truly been eye opening.  Having alumni share their knowledge with us while on the tour certainly was valuable and then later speaking to alumni and admission officers and really understanding what they are talking about was beneficial.  I am attracted to the school from what I have learned today and am considering applying there when the time comes.   Today was really a day to remember and continue to make me proud to be a part of the Ivy League Connection and represent our school district.