Sunday, March 30, 2008

East coast college visits, part 1

As I pulled my two suitcases down the stairs, I heard my mommy crying in her bedroom: "I can't believe she's going to college soon -- we're not going to be a family anymore."

I closed the front door without even saying a final goodbye to her -- not because I wasn't going to miss her (of course I miss my mommy!) or because I was in a rush, but because I couldn't bear to say goodbye to her.

On the plane from California to Pennsylvania, I worked on my college counseling questionnaire -- a mini college application with questions such as "How have you pursued your academic interests outside of school?" and "What are your academic interests? Why are you interested in these areas?" The latter question led to memories about being five-years-old and getting bullied everyday for my clothes and for being Asian (I was the only Asian at my school) -- so humiliated one day that I hid in the public library and read five books in one sitting. Every week, I started lugging home 20 books to devour by myself by the next week -- I was determined to master the English language and prove to the bullies that I could read and write just as well as then. By 3rd grade, I was reading at a 7th grade reading level -- a devoted bookworm I was.

I stopped working on my questionnaire after recalling this memory -- the pursuit of perfectionism apparently started at a very young age for me. It was spring break, and yet the first thing I did was work on my college counseling assignment -- for once in my life, I needed to slow down.

The next morning, my daddy and I ventured on my first two east coast college visits: University of Pennsylvania and Swarthmore College.
University of Pennsylvania: Philadelphia, PA
My friend, who is a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania, gave me an informal tour around the urban campus in West Philadelphia.
He was going to be a biology major and played clarinet and swing danced in some college organizations. The quad, pictured above, is absolutely gorgeous and is definitely the most beautiful landmark on campus. My friend chose UPenn over Duke University, University of California-Berkeley, and John Hopkins University -- mainly for its wonderful balance and diversity.

"I'm so happy that you're so happy, oh my gosh!" I squealed as we sat in Starbucks together.

He smirked and grinned at me in a teasing way -- "You're such a six-years-old," he said, "But it's okay, it's good to be bubbly like you." I giggled and hoped he was right.

The school has such a wonderful history -- founded by Benjamin Franklin in the 18th century because poor ol' Ben was rejected by Harvard University. Traditions include throwing toast down onto the turf after the third quarter of football games and staying up until midnight before the Economics final and screaming on the balcony to let out the stress.

Swarthmore College: Swarthmore, PA
The Swarthmore College campus is actually an arboretum -- all the plants have name tags. The campus is absolutely gorgeous and even contains its own patch of woods and a hiking trail! Founded by Quakers, the school stresses community and only has one dining room and common hall in order to unite the students -- all 1,500 of them. Professors are extremely helpful and even invite the inquiring students to dinner to discuss intellectual subjects further. An alumni from my high-school gave me an informal tour of the school -- the students here are very nice and cheerful, although they are also very passionate about their subjects and can get stressed out very easily. Students actually work to be the best at their passions -- not for the grade (GPAs are not even calculated by the school). The girl who showed me around is pursuing a double-major in biochemical engineering and film -- she wants to write science-fiction films.

My only problem with the school? It's only double the size of my high-school and everyone knows everyone -- just like my high-school. However, if I studied art history and English here, I would have great opportunities to conduct research and work with my passionate professors. There's even an Alexander Calder mobile sculpture on campus! Fabulous. It would be very interesting to attend a school where everyone is extremely devoted to their interests.
I'm extremely excited for the future -- at the same time, I'm haunted by the words my mommy said to me when I turned 17 last December, "When you almost died, I prayed to God and told him that all I wanted was for you to stay alive -- I didn't care if you were ugly or stupid. It never mattered to me if you were nobody to the world." I spent the first year of my life in the hospital because I was deathly sick -- so sick that I received shots on a weekly basis and everyone in the hospital knew my name.

If my mommy never expected anything from me, why have I always carried the mentality that I must make something extraordinary of myself?

Humbled and awed by the extraordinary things my friends are doing in college, heartbroken by my mother, worn down by jet lag -- my mind wants to focus but prefers to wander.

Miss Couturable

P.S. Please forgive for not responding to all of your comments. The last time I checked my comments, I had 32 new ones. I promise that I read every single comment and I remember everyone's names (the readers that state their names, at least) -- the number of comments just have been too overwhelming to respond to individually anymore.
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