Friday, July 1, 2011

So Much To See, So Little Time

Today was another long day for the Penn Ivy League Connection group. It being our only full day in Washington, D.C. we set out to learn as much about the area as possible before our early departure for Pennsylvania tomorrow.

Our adventures started at Georgetown University where we met with Admissions Councilor Mr. Chamberlain. We talked with him about admissions and financial aid in general, as well as specifically pertaining to Georgetown. He also shared with us some interesting insight into what colleges look for in perspective students. He mentioned that many people automatically jump to the term "well rounded" when describing an ideal candidate, however the question he posed was, "Would you really want to go to a school full of well rounded people?" He admited that a diversity of experiences is helpful when applying to college, but assured us that specificity in focus was not something to shy away from. He was a very interesting speaker and it was an extremely valuable experince having a college admissions officer as a rescource to answer all the questions we had regarding the application process.

After our discussion with Mr. Chamberlain, we watched a very well delivered presentation on what Georgetown University has to offer. After that, we were guided on a campus tour by a very knowledgeable rising junior who attends the universtiy.

The impression I got from the college was that it fostered a very tightly knit community. The freshmen take their core classes together and are required to live on campus for their first two years, there is only one dining hall where everyone goes to eat and socialize. We heard about an amazing number of diverse clubs and groups. The average class size was also quite small, only about twenty-something. However, it seemed as though the college was more focused on social sciences, and of course being in D.C., politics and foreign affairs. As a science and math-oriented student, it was hard for me to imagine fitting in at Georgetown, however, learning about the campus was still an interesting and beneficial experience.

After Georgetown, we walked up to Wisconsin street past all the nifty shops and resturaunts in the college town. We stopped and ate and once again, had delicious food.

After lunch, we visited the Holocaust Museum. I was very greatful for the opportunity to see the exhibit. Coming from a Jewish family, I have been taught that being as educated as possible regarding past atrocities is the best way to honour those who suffered through them and to prevent them from happening again. In this way, the historical exhibits were very moving for me. Having enough information to begin to understand what life may have been like during the war was incredible. We were able to walk through an authentic train car used to transport prisoners to labor camps and get a glimpse of the terror they might have felt. It was a completely unique experience. I think it took us all some time to process because the taxi ride to our next destination was a little quieter than usual.

In an effort to see as much as possible of Washington, D.C., we decided to take an open-top bus tour as our final activity.

Apparently, these buses were not built (and the trees were not trimmed) with people as tall as brian in mind. In fact, some of the branches were so low we were all in danger of a branch to the face at one time or another. It really kept us on our toes.

From the bus, we were able to see all the major monuments: Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson as well as some very impressive government buildings such as the Capital Building, the Supreme Court and the Library of Congress. These buildings were impressive not only in size but also as uniquely artistic architectual masterpieces.

We also passed the Federal Breau of Investigation which, despite its lack of artistic design, was very impressive in its own way.

Finally, with aching feet and rumbling tummies, we sat down to a lovely dinner. Although much less fancy than the previous night's, the people at the resturaunt we chose were very friendly and the food was still great. Plus, we got to sit outside and enjoy the hot weather that still hangs around even at 8:30 PM.

We walked home from dinner, managing to only take out our map once, marking the end of another very evenful day in our nation's capital.

July 1st, both Educational and Entertaining

Today I woke up feeling much less tired, and quite enthusiastic to start our day of touring Washington, D.C. I went downstairs with Alex, and we found Julia and Mr. Miranda already waiting for us at the hotel’s restaurant. We ate a quick breakfast, and then took a cab to Georgetown University. We were early for our appointment, so we decided to stroll around the campus for a bit. One thing that I’ve found about the east coast is that I love the architecture. In California, earthquakes happen all the time, so there are very few large brick buildings. Therefore, I was very impressed by the massive stone and brick buildings on the Georgetown campus.

Before long, it was time for our appointment with Georgetown’s Northern California admissions representative, Bruce Chamberlain. For approximately half an hour, we talked to Mr. Chamberlain, or Bruce as he told us to call him, about Georgetown. Bruce was very direct in pointing out Georgetown’s strengths (a long history, very strong political science programs, location only miles from our nation’s capitol, the fact that almost 90% of students serve in an internship during their time at Georgetown, and much more).

What I really appreciated however was that he seemed very interested that we each find what college we truly want to study at. Instead of emulating the role of a salesman and only presenting Georgetown’s strengths, Bruce was also very open about discussing colleges similar to Georgetown, and why they might be better or worse fits for each of us. Bruce also expressed that he feels that too many applicants blindly attempt to show that they are “well rounded” in their applications instead of displaying a strong passion for one area of learning, which he believes is very important. All in all, I found our conversation very refreshing and enlightening.

After this meeting, we went to the general admissions talk, where the presenter showed an extensive slide show about Georgetown. Something that caught my eye here was that over 50% of Georgetown students study abroad during their four years at Georgetown. I think that studying abroad sounds very interesting, so learning that the majority of Georgetown students study abroad was very appealing. In my opinion, all colleges should require that their students study abroad at some point during their college life so that students can both expose themselves to other cultures and learn to appreciate how privileged they are to live in the U.S.

Also on the theme of the importance of understanding other cultures, after lunch, we visited the Holocaust Memorial Museum. This most recent school year, I had the privilege of taking a World War II history class at my high school. The course is written and taught by Marsha Hebden, who has taught me and hundreds of other students about World War II and the Holocaust. Although I already have a strong knowledge of World War II history, there was tons to learn, and in particular the propaganda exhibit was very informative. In particular, a question posed at the end of the exhibit will stick with me for a long time. The question was, “What limits should there be on speech, and what are the costs of imposing them?” Of course there is no one answer, but I think it’s an important idea to think about.

After an emotional few hours at the Holocaust Museum, we decided on a change of pace, and we took a fun and touristy ride on a double-decker bus. The weather today was beautiful, and it was enjoyable to sit back and soak in all of the attractions in town.
A Fun Bus Ride (Photo thanks to Alex Elms)
Finally, we headed back to Georgetown (neighborhood, not the university), and after a few minutes of looking at various restaurants, we settled on a place called Mr. Smith’s. Once again, we each enjoyed a delicious meal. I had a large cheeseburger, and there was some killer chocolate cake for desert. Now, I’m all set for our train ride to Philadelphia early tomorrow morning.
A Delicious Dinner (Photo thanks to Alex Elms)

Being Lopsided is OK

I woke up at 6:30 this morning to a pleasant surprise: the alarm worked! One hour and forty-five minutes later I discovered something that was not so pleasant: the snooze button didn’t! Unfortunately Brian and I had overslept. This was ironic considering we had actually woken up when we had originally planned to… However, we were only a little bit late to breakfast and were not actually delaying our departure from the hotel. We left the hotel and hailed a cab around 8:45 and headed for Georgetown University.

The university was a lot closer than expected and we arrived an hour before we were supposed to meet Bruce Chamberlain, the Northern California Admissions Representative for Georgetown. We decided to take a quick stroll after finding the General Admissions Building, which was where we would be meeting Bruce (Mr. Chamberlain was kind enough to allow us to call him by his first name). I realized that I had forgotten a notebook so we walked to the student store, all the while taking in Georgetown’s beautiful campus. We were able to see the campus more extensively on our tour a couple of hours later. We walked back the General Admissions Building and it was about 9:55, five minutes before we were scheduled to meet with Bruce, so we decided to check in early. Thankfully he was willing to speak with us early!

Our meeting with Bruce was excellent. We didn’t get to ask very many questions, but he was so thorough that we didn’t even have to ask any! Bruce began by asking what we were academically interested in. Engineering and physics was the general consensus between the three of us so he told us what Georgetown had to offer in those fields. He told us that the university does not have an engineering college, but does offer excellent opportunities in physics and other math-applied sciences. He also told us about a way to compensate for the lack of an engineering college at Georgetown. There is a path that students can take called the 3-2 Plan. Anyone who decides to do this will spend three years at Georgetown and then two at Columbia University, in New York City. This would give students better access to resources and the opportunity to study at two of the best universities in America. This sounds like a pretty enticing deal and made me pay a little more attention to Georgetown as a possibility for school. However, Georgetown is still primarily a school for business and politics and that is still something that I have to take into consideration as well. Bruce also told us about Georgetown’s generous financial aid packages. The university will meet one-hundred percent of a family’s demonstrated financial need! He told us that a small portion of that will be composed of loans and work-study programs, but the majority is grant money (aka FREE). We concluded our discussion with different aspects of the admissions process. He told us that there are three main focuses when it comes to the application: a student’s coursework in high school, our letters of recommendation, and our application essays. Bruce was generous enough to talk with us for longer than the half an hour that we had agreed upon (as well as let us into and excuse our tardiness to the information session). Meeting with Bruce was certainly one of the highlights of my day.
The information session also had some excellent nuggets of information that piqued my interest. First was that Georgetown is home to one of the top five policy debate teams in the country. I hope to continue debating in college so this is definitely a plus for Georgetown. Georgetown also has a very good student-faculty ratio of 10:1 and ninety-nine percent of classes are taught by faculty, as opposed to TA’s. Fifty percent of Georgetown students get the opportunity to study abroad. Since I hope to study in Japan (THE leading country in green energy technology), this was an excellent factor. I also liked something that both Bruce and the information session covered. In both sessions it was mentioned that the school is not necessarily going to prefer a well-rounded student over someone who is maybe not as diverse. I enjoyed hearing this because I am not a part of many extracurricular activities, but I am deeply involved in the ones that I participate in. We also learned about the school’s mascot, Jack the bulldog, the primary academic strengths of Georgetown (business, politics, and medicine), and several things about how the undergraduates attending Georgetown live. Our first couple of hours spent at Georgetown were well spent and we were given a plethora of helpful information.

Our guided tour was very nice. Our student tour guide, Glenn, was very knowledgeable and masterfully led us around Georgetown’s gorgeous campus. The majority of the campus buildings were made of brick or stone and were very easy on the eyes. The buildings that weren’t had more modern architecture and were all very interesting to look at. However, more appealing than the architecture was the university’s lawns and quad areas. The campus is compact in a lot of areas and has a lot of paved roads and paths, but Georgetown also has excellent wide, open spaces. There are lush, green fields for sports and even areas with miniature forests. Wildlife is abundant and it makes the school feel much farther from Washington, D.C. than it actually is (only about a five to ten minute walk). This concluded our time at Georgetown and I was extremely satisfied with everything I had learned (and also the nice Georgetown hoodie I purchased).
After Georgetown we walked through downtown Washington, D.C. to find some lunch. We eventually stumbled upon a nice restaurant called Clyde’s. We enjoyed a nice lunch and we discussed our favorite parts of Georgetown. I feel like we all walked away more impressed than when we had gone in. And, since I know our readers love food details, we shared some sliders for appetizers and I enjoyed some excellent Tortellini Bolognese (pictures below!)
Following lunch, we decided to visit the Holocaust Memorial Museum. Unfortunately they do not allow pictures inside the museum because I would have loved to take away some visual memories of all the history we soaked in. I did not really know too much about the Holocaust other than what I had learned in World History two years ago, but even that was not very much information. Today’s experience changed that. I was inundated with details of the lives of the Jewish people prior to and during the Holocaust. I never thought that I could be so moved by a museum. I knew before of the horrible things that were done to the Jewish population, but this put it into full perspective for me. We learned about German propaganda, the internment camps, and so many other terrible events that led up to the Holocaust. Every detail and exhibit was so captivating that it made me see things differently and realize how fortunate our lives are compared to others who have had so much pain and suffering throughout theirs. After we left, our cab ride was mostly quiet because we were still processing all that we had just seen.
We decided that the mood needed to be lightened after the Holocaust Museum so we did some sightseeing in Washington, D.C. We enjoyed an open top bus tour around the capitol and got to see some of the many sights that the city has to offer. Unfortunately the bus did not stop in the most convenient of locations for snapping photos so I was only able to walk away with a few good shots. The pictures below are the best I took.
In the middle of our tour we realized that we would not be able to make our original reservations at the 1789 Restaurant because our tour would take too long. We had to cancel, but we were still able to enjoy a nice, casual meal at a restaurant called Mr. Smith’s Saloon. It was a nice little pub with a dining patio in the back (this is where we were seated). Although this was not a gourmet restaurant, the food was still excellent! I enjoyed two tender and juicy pork chops as my entrĂ©e and finished off with a decadent, rich double Godiva chocolate cake. I have to say that Washington, D.C. has a ton of excellent dining options.
This concluded our evening and we returned to the hotel after dinner. It has been a long, but fun day and we are anxious to see Penn tomorrow. In order to fully appreciate our first view of the campus at which we will be spending a whole month, we’re going to need all the energy we can muster. So with that, I am signing off.