In the four days I have been home, I have witnessed more examples of the ways in which my experience with Ivy League Connection at UPenn has altered the way I live than I ever expected. The month I spent in Philadelphia has changed the way I think about the learning process, applying to college, and the world around me.
Since I have returned, friends and family have asked me how my trip was. I feel bad, because in most cases I think they were just trying to be polite and expected my answer to be something like "Oh yea it was really cool, I had a lot of fun and I learned a lot. The end". What they invariably got instead was a ten minute long shpeel about systems neuroscience, single photon diffraction, cosmic rays, Bill Burner's amazing demonstrations, UPenn's dorm food, my amazing roommate, the frozen yogurt in Philadelphia, and a handful of funny stories about the people I met. It was kind of amazing when my parents picked me up from the airport. I almost didn't realize how many stories I had to tell until they couldn't shut me up the entire car ride home.
In fact, even when I am not asked, nowadays it is hard to get me to stop talking about physics. The month I spent learning from Bill was a real-life, tangible example of learning for the sake of knowledge and discovery rather than a report card and that experience leaves a mark. Now when I look around, I see opportunities to learn and teach all over even when there will be no letter grade at the end. When my friend showed me something on her computer yesterday, I spent about three minutes describing how the liquid crystals in her screen polarize the light differently based on the electrical signals they receive and that is how the image is made. By the end all she could say was "That's great, now let me show you this video." I have found that my colleagues here are a little less eager to learn than those I encountered at Penn.
That alone was a bit of a culture shock. After spending a month with a group of kids who were willing to sit through lectures for a third of their summer, it is hard for me to imagine that someone would not be excited to learn. Returning to high school is going to be strange. I have forgotten what it's like not to be surrounded by ultra motivated science freaks. Hopefully, I will be able to spread my enthusiasm to my classmates and get them excited about the subject instead of doing the bare minimum to get an "A". Now, I am more excited than ever to go to college where I know more and more people will share my passion for discovery.
So excited that on my second day home I dumped out the cluttered drawer I keep all the college information I get in the mail and sorted it into piles based on how interested I am in attending the college. Many of the letters I found in that drawer I had barely even looked at, but now I have a new motivation to continue to research colleges. I also have enough information to know where to start applying for scholarships based on my conversations with alums over dinner and our meetings with college administrators as well as the discussions I had with my room mate and other people on our floor. Many of the students I met talked about starting their essays for the common app as soon as they got home. Their motivation and organization has inspired me to take initiative and deal with the daunting task earlier rather than later.
The people that I met were inspirational in more than one way. I had been told that I would be meeting people from all over the world, but I didn't really think about what that would entail. I got to talk to people who's lives are incredibly different from mine in some respects, but I also saw that many experiences and ideas teenagers have are universal. Being around so many different cultures opened my eyes and helped me understand how big the world is. The international students that I talked to were absolutely the most driven people I had encountered. Not only are they generally fluent in English (and in most cases, multiple other languages), they are working hard in intensive programs like international baccalaureate in order to broaden their horizons beyond the colleges of their own country. The Ivy League Connection stresses that its goal is to help students realize that they are not limited to California. I now know that I am not limited to the United States. My roommate even offered to help me through the international application process.
It is only after I have learned these important lessons that I understand fully what exeptional program the Ivy Leage Connection is. I hope to broaden its impact by getting my fellow classmates involved with it and using the presentation skills I learned during my course to show younger students how fun science can be. I plan on working through the high school to schedule lessons at elementary schools like Fairmont where we can show the kids variations of the demonsrations Bill showed us in order to teach them about the basic concepts of Physics. I believe that learning it from someone who truly enjoys the subject will improve the odds of them getting interested as well.
It is amazing to think that it was in the span of only four short weeks, but my experience at U Penn has opened my eyes to a new way of looking at learning: appreciate the knoledge, don't stress about the grades. I believe this state of mind will not only help me enjoy my final year of high school, It will help me find a college I can thrive in and get me genuinely excited about the process.