Thursday, June 21, 2012

Princeton Charming

It was Princeton’s turn today, so we all rolled out of our soft beds at 6:45 AM to catch our 8:30 Amtrak train to Trenton, New Jersey. In Philadelphia, it was supposed to hit record temperatures of 100 degrees, and in New Jersey, it was 95. The train ride only took a half hour and this time I brought my iPod so I could listen to music while watching the worst part of Philadelphia slide past my window. The train passed ramshackle, crumbling buildings, now only decorated by faded bricks, broken windows, and large-print graffiti. I can’t imagine anyone living there, but I know some people are forced to.

From the Trenton station, we caught two cabs to Princeton, which was about fifteen minutes away by freeway. Eric Wilson accidentally left his camera in the taxi, but thankfully he was able to call the driver and get it back. After that small scare, we went to the campus information session; we waited in an older building that honored fallen soldiers that were former graduates (from the Revolutionary War all the way to the Korean War), and then went to a separate room to listen to the charismatic admissions counselor describe why Princeton was the best choice for us. I’m noticing that the Ivy Schools are rather limited in major choices; Princeton only has two schools - one for a Bachelor of Arts and one for a Bachelor of Science and Engineering. Between those choices, students only had about 46 concentrations to pick from. The campus also seemed to have little diversity (unlike Columbia). However, the buildings were absolutely amazing; some were set up in a Gothic style, while others maintained their 1746 appearance. The college is surrounded by greenery and brass statues; although it did not offer my major, it seemed like a nice school. With only a little over 5,000 students, and a 7.8% acceptance rate, it was smaller and homier than the other campuses that we have visited (as well as more competitive).
The dorms look like a castle!
From the campus tour, we went out to lunch at an Italian restaurant. I was only able to order a small salad, but it was very tasty. We also went inside some stores; I picked out a postcard for my brother, and a tiger stuffed animal for my niece (Princeton’s mascot is the tiger, and my niece’s room is jungle-themed, so it fit). We only walked around for a little less than an hour, though, because it was so hot. After making a loop back to the campus, we caught two more cabs back to the train station.
Once back in Philadelphia, the guys went out to get a Philly cheesesteak; I had to watch with envy. Then we went back to our hotel rooms to relax. Dinner tonight was at Lacroix in the Rittenhouse Hotel. The food and service were both out of this world; I ordered octopus for an appetizer, branzino for the main course (a light, Mediterranean fish), and a variety of ice cream flavors (rosemary, yogurt, honey, chocolate, and vanilla) for dessert. Upon special request, the restaurant even provided me with rice and tapioca gluten-free bread. It was another fulfilling day in many ways!

All of us at dinner; I apologize for the poor resolution, but I couldn't get it better than this.

A Journey Ends, a New One Begins

We started out the day similar to yesterday, walking to the train station and then grabbing breakfast before we boarded.  We got an early start as our appointment for our info session at Princeton was at 10. From the Amtrak we took a taxi to the school, where we met our guide, an admissions officer at Princeton.

Princeton University
His presentation has been my favorite info session we have attended. He was engaging, talkative, and told stories about experiences while on the job during his lecture.  He specialized in describing the admissions process at Princeton and went deep into detail for what the school was looking for.  He continued to emphasize the importance of presenting yourself as a unique individual interested in the school and how important the personal statement is for the admission officers. I agreed with his theory, as while grades and standardized test scores are extremely important to colleges, it will not set you apart from the hundreds of other academically gifted students like you. Expression of your interests as an individual and why Princeton is the best school for you seemed to best summarize his philosophy. "Make us think of you as a person during the application, not a number."

Our tour continued with a tour from Kelsey, an undergraduate at the school. What interested me most about her was that she was involved with music at school, and, being a musician myself, I would have loved to ask her a couple questions about what she is involved in specifically, but, seeing that our tour group consisted of about 70 people, all hungry with questions, time to answer my many questions did not seem to be a possibility. 

What separated this tour from Columbia's was the openness of the campus. As Princeton does not offer any summer courses, only about 200 students attend school for the summer, most of who are finishing their senior thesis (or final project).  This allowed us as tourists to explore the insides of many of the buildings (which were equipped with air conditioning!), something that Columbia was more limiting over.  This campus was very green and spacious. We saw very few students roaming around campus, unlike the other two schools that we visited. Princeton also tries to preserve the buildings of the schools, but has also built newer, more modern-looking buildings, such as the Firestone Library.

Philly Cheesesteak at Abner's Restaurant
At the conclusion of the tour we stopped at small Italian restaurant for lunch and then walked around the college town a little bit.  With very few college students on campus the area was relatively empty. We took a cab back to the Trenton station to return back to Philadelphia, where we made a quick stop for an authentic Philly cheesesteak to hold us over until dinner. 

Variety of Breads with Butter and Goat Cheese
Dinner was held at Lacroix in the Rittenhouse Hotel.  Unfortunately, with few Princeton alumni living in Philadelphia, any people belonging to the school could not accompany us.  However, with the reservation already set, we were still welcomed into the restaurant’s private dining room.  The dinner was exceptional. Everybody kept making comparisons to Tuesday night’s dinner at Fountain, with the similar type of menu and dining experience.  Being in a separate dining room, we had a large attentive staff that was always coming up to check on us.  My meal consisted of a soft shell crab to start, followed by ribeye steak, and for dessert a selection of sorbets.  And by selection, these were not the regular fruit flavors you would expect.  I received an assortment consisting of honeydew, hibiscus-grapefruit, cherry cola, cantaloupe, and Thai-spiced pineapple (my favorite), all spun in the kitchen.  Again, the staff was very considerate toward Rachael’s food allergies and mine and went out of the way to prepare substitutions that we could enjoy as well.  I really cherished this night out again with just our group and am sad that this is the last fancy dinner we will have together in Philadelphia.  However, this just means that new adventures are sure to come!

Last Dinner in Philadelphia!
And with that we conclude our stay in Philadelphia as we depart for Ithaca tomorrow. I've have had a great time in Philadelphia and have learned quite a lot not only thought the college visits, but through traveling in a group in a new city and interacting with different people. Even though we are still in the same country, I have learned many things about a new culture on the East Coast through observations and interactions. Tomorrow in Ithaca will be our last day before we are introduced to Cornell and begin the transition to the dorm life and begin our classes. With our time in Philadelphia I would love to extend my thanks to the ILC as they have provided such an amazing opportunity that I could not have dreamed of without their help. I want to emphasize their generosity as well as we have been living a life of luxury without having to take a single penny out of our own pocket, and am truly grateful for that as well. Also I want to thank Alfredo for his outstanding guidance and responsibility, as he has been a great leader and organizer as we all explore a city foreign to us and he has really allowed us to count on him as the week has progressed. Tomorrow we will board a plane to Ithaca and spend the night on campus at the Statler Hotel, meeting alumni and a summer program coordinator for dinner as well.  

Leaving Philly Behind

We woke up at 6:45 to get ready for our last main excursion during our stay at Philadelphia. Like yesterday, we arrived at the train station and this time, set off to Trenton. After a roughly 20 minute taxi ride, I saw Princeton for the first time ever. The buildings in view were amazing and were just like the old fashioned castles from the early century. The campus was very large, and the buildings' architecture added a historical touch to it. Another upside to Princeton was the abundant trees that provided shade when we weren't outside the buildings. We walked in the visitor building, and awaited for the info session.

We walked into a one of their magnificent buildings, which had large doors similar to Hogwarts'. We entered the room, and every detail of that room was eye catching. There were around a dozen portraits hanging off the wall, with seats on two sides of one long table. There held the info session. The man who spoke was very energetic and very passionate on what he talked about. His pants were like pajamas, and from the moment I saw them, I knew that he was different from the regular admissions officers. He wasn't one of those strict people that were usually expressionless when they talk. When he spoke, he was giving personal experiences, and amusing the crowd as well as giving enough information on Princeton.

Room at Princeton 
The tour was great, but I could barely hear what our tour guide was saying. We were in the back, and I was mainly just mesmerized by their old school  architecture. The buildings were not like those boring skyscrapers. They brought us back 200 years, as the scenery was what we weren't used to look at in the Bay Area. It was a great experience, and to top it off, we finally got a taste of a Philly Cheese Steak after coming back to Philly. It was great, but I only had a chance for a taste, so I could save up for the dinner.

Cathedral in Princeton
Castle Looking Building
Our First Philly Cheese Steak
We had a good few hours to relax at the hotel before heading out to yet another fancy dinner; this time, we came to the Lacroix Restaruant. We were supposed to meet up with Princeton alumni, but they couldn't make it. None the less, the dinner was still enjoyable. The food and service made this dinner just as good, if not better than the Fountain Restaurant a few days ago. Their bread was superb, along with all the other courses. I had a soft-shell crab appetizer along with a tasty duck dish. Because this was our last fancy dinner,  I had to have a desert, a blueberry and lychee cheesecake.

It was disappointing that no one from Princeton could have a dinner with us, because no one lived near Philadelphia. This was the second time we dined by ourselves instead of with college alumni, which was great and all, but I wanted to get to know how Princeton was through its past student's eyes. Though we dined by ourselves, this was still a fantastic day to end our Philly stay. Now, our last stop, Cornell, finally awaits us.

The Amazing Bread

Soft-Shell Crab

The Tasty Duck


Princeton: A Serious Competitor

Our journey to Princeton University was relatively easy, with only on minor mishap. We walked to the Amtrak station in Philadelphia, and once again the heat difficult. The train and taxi ride were uneventful until just after stepping out of the taxi I realized that my phone had slipped out of my pocket during the ride. Luckily the race driver had given us his card and personal and number (he was the only driver to do that) and I was able to call him. He was very understanding and  kind and drove back to return it.

I enjoyed our visit to Princeton very much. The campus was beautiful, full of old stone buildings, grassy fields, and the occasional statue, fountain, and garden. Princeton's buildings were reminiscent of old European castles and churches. It was the first college we visited which was not located in an urban environment, and the rural setting was nice. It created a more detached environment which seems like it would be helpful for focusing on learning. It does lack some of the culture and experiences that come with living in a city which is a factor I am definitely going to take into account when making my college decisions.

The information session was my personal favorite so far. The presenter was very engaging and personal. He did an excellent job of selling the school. In addition to facts about the school's program offerings, policies, and statistics he told us all about the application process and gave us advice on the "do's and dont's" of applying. He did not tell us (too much) ho great of a school Princeton was, he knows we know that. He focused more on the specific benefits that only Princeton offers, what we should expect if we do become students, and how to become students in the first place. The information session taught me a lot about not only applying to Princeton, but applying to colleges in general. It was very helpful.

The tour of Princeton was made much less enjoyable by the weather, but it was still nice to see the beautiful campus and learn more about the school's history. I think Princeton University could very well be the school for me if I decide that a rural environment is one that I want to go to college in. The course options are very open, and the option to take one, two, or even three minors appeals to someone like me, who enjoys the process and results of learning. I want to leave college feeling knowledgeable about a wide variety of subjects, not just my major. The extremely small class sizes would make it easy to get any additional information or attention from the professor which I needed. The options to study abroad is also something I would definitely take advantage of. All in all I was very impressed by Princeton,and it is a college I would love to be at. The only potential drawback for me is the environment.

After the tour we ate lunch at a local Italian restaurant. I had a seafood risotto which I thought was absolutely excellent. We spent our time during the meal having conversations about our extremely loud neighbor's conversations. I have become very close with this group, and it a lot of fun just spending time with them. After lunch we took a quick (due to the heat) walk around town. Then it was back to station, via taxi, and from there, after a brief wait during which we blogged on our I pods, it was back to Philadelphia. Before returning to the hotel we made a brief stop at a sandwich shop to get a Philly cheese steak sandwich from its hometown. I am glad we made the time to do that, since that was our last day in Philadelphia.

After that brief excursion we returned to the hotel for some downtime. I spent an hour listening to music and blogging, then it was off to the gym. After the gym and a quick shower it was off to dinner at La Croix.

The meal was amazing. We dined in a private room with only our cohort, and all the benefits a private room provides. I had soft shell crab as my opener, followed by rib steaks, and topped off with a dish of various chocolate deserts. Even the bread we were served for free was amazing. With four varieties of breads, fresh and warm from the oven, and choices of salted butter or goat cheese as a spread we were eating in luxury. The dinner was not all good though. As I was taking photos I noticed a lag in my camera. When I tried to check the photos I had taken the camera froze. I put in down and ignored the problem until the end of dinner so as not to ruin my meal with unnecessary stress. After dinner when we returned to the hotel, after an hour of troubleshooting and a phone call with Don we determined that the card was corrupted. Don generously offered to fix it f I mailed it back to him, and said he could even recover the photos. Frank has an extra card he said I could borrow, so it seems like the situation will end up alright. It is some extra stress I would have rather avoided, but I am glad my photos will not be permanently lost. Unfortunately it means no photos on my blog tonight, which is a real bummer because I had some really good ones.

Today was our last day in Philly, and our last day of college visits. Tomorrow it is off to Cornell for our orientation and to take our classes. It was easy to forget, after how eventful this week was, that the main point of the program has not even begun yet.

All that is left for tonight is to pack and get some rest for tomorrow. Then, finally, it is off to Ithaca!!!

Making Records

With an extra early wake-up call of 6:45 and Eric Wang with the responsibility to wake everyone up, our alarm went off at 6:20 PM. Once again, we walked to the Amtrak station and headed out to New Jersey. With record highs in the upper 90s in Philadelphia, I thought NJ would be slightly cooler, but I was quickly proven wrong as it hit a high of 101 degrees. The ride towards Princeton was fairly smooth. Instead of taking a train though, we decided that taking a cab straight to Princeton would be cheaper. However, once we got there, Eric Wilson realized that he left his camera in the cab about 10 minutes later. In a stroke of luck, the taxi driver decided to give his own personal phone number to us thereby allowing Eric to call back the taxi and retrieve his taxi.

Princeton's campus is made up of almost all Gothic buildings which were absolutely beautiful, but they all looked the same so if I was to attend Princeton, I would probably get lost very easily. During the info session, we were greeted by a very enthusiastic spokesman. Throughout the session, the spokesman was very engaging which really made me want to go to Princeton (along with the fact that they have an aerospace engineering major unlike the other two universities we visited). The spokesman was really informative in the application and admittance process.

Hello Princeton!
One of the many Gothic-style buildings in Princeton 
I didn't think Princeton's campus tour could one up Columbia's tour in terms of weather, but the Princeton tour was like walking around an oven. Throughout the tour, there was a theme of the buildings burning in the past which then had to be rebuilt from the ground up. This struck me and Eric Wilson odd as to how a stone building can go up in flames.

The whole Princeton visit ended at around 12:30 PM and we went into the surrounding area for lunch at this Italian Restaurant. We got back to our hotel in Philadelphia fairly early at around 4:00 PM and took a cab to experience our first (well most of our first) Philly Cheesesteak. We only ordered one in order to leave room for our fancy dinner later tonight. 

Philly Cheesesteak!
I was a little disappointed again since Princeton couldn't find anyone to have dinner with us, so it was dinner with ourselves once again. We had dinner at a French Restaurant called La Croix in the Rittenhouse Hotel. I would like to start off in saying that the service was phenomenal; the waiters and waitresses treated us like VIPs (well we were in a private booth). There was even a doorman who opened the door every time one of us had to use the restroom. Well, enough about that, time to talk about the food! Eric Wang, Mr. Chan-Law, and I started off with the Foie Gras since it will be banned in California starting July 1. It was my first time trying it and at first sight, it looked a little like SPAM Ham. When I ate it, it melted in my mouth; the only word I can use to describe it is "interesting." For my main entree, I chose the lamb with lamb meatballs. Overall, it was cooked perfectly and was simply delicious. As for dessert, I had the cheesecake with blueberry, lychee, and meringue. The presentation was not at all what I expected because the actual cake was shaped like ice cream scoops, but it was delicious nevertheless. Even thought we didn't have dinner with Princeton, the dinner was extremely fun as we held multiple hilarious conversations.

The soon-to-be illegal Foie Gras (only in California though)
Succulent lamb
Ice cream scoops of cheesecake
Group photo taken by our lovely waitress
After dinner, Mr. Chan-Law told us about tomorrow's agenda and that we need to pack tonight. He stressed the issue of not leaving any electronics behind and I'm pretty sure that jinxed me. As we pulled out of the hotel, I noticed that I didn't have my camera with me. Eric Wang and I ended up running back to the restaurant to get it back. Two forgotten cameras in one day? I'd have to say that is probably a new ILC record.

Tomorrow, we will be leaving Philadelphia and heading out to Ithaca to prepare for the Cornell University Summer College Orientation. Now it's time to finish packing. Goodbye Philadelphia! This week has been one of the most entertaining and informing week in my life!


Journey in Princeton

We spent today in Princeton, New Jersey to visit Princeton University. The day began early as I woke up at 6:30 so I could call to check if everyone else was awake. We then left for the train station and after a short ride we arrived at Trenton, New Jersey. The plan was to take a train to Princeton Junction Train Station and then take a train to campus, but the local cab drivers at Trenton told us that it would cost $40 or more to get to Princeton Junction and then $2 per person to get on a train there whereas $45 dollars would bring us to the gates of Princeton University. We decided to just take a cab and we arrived at Princeton early. However, we ended up waiting for awhile because Eric left his camera on the cab and luckily, the cab driver gave Alex a card with her personal cell phone number. Eric called the driver and soon, the driver came back with Eric's camera.

We then went to the information session where I learned that I really like Providence. Unlike Columbia, students at Princeton can take a wide variety of classes to fulfill the diversity requirements. Like most universities Princeton allows students to hold off on declaring a major, or concentration as it's called at Princeton, until the end of their sophomore year (excluding engineering majors). What makes Princeton unique is that even after a student declares a concentration he or she can still change majors and graduate on time or close to on time. Also due to the fact that Princeton allows a variety of classes to fulfill requirements, most students graduate with two minors, or certificates as they're called at Princeton. Another reason why I like Princeton is that the certificates don't have to be related to the concentration at all.

Princeton campus

Princeton campus

Inside of a cathedral

Princeton campus
Following the information session, we went on a college tour that wasn't that informative because there was only two groups and each group had about 40 people which  made it difficult to hear everything the tour guide was saying.

After the tour we had lunch at an Italian restaurant, walked around Princeton, then went back to Newark to catch a train back to Philadelphia.

Our dinner at La Croix was sublime. For my appetizer I had foie gras because I knew it's going to be banned in California and because I wanted to see why it was a considered to be a delicacy. Foie gras is weird. It has the look of spam and the consistency of canned tuna. The foie gras was followed by lobster with pasta which was amazing. What put the dinner over the top was the conversation. While we couldn't have and admissions officer or students with us for dinner, our cohort really seemed like not  just some people who had to be together for a trip but a group of good friends.

Tomorrow we're off to Cornell!

Tuna and mushroom bite

Lobster and pasta