Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Freshman Year at Stanford University - Jennifer Kuang

Freshman Year at Stanford University

As I sit here in my living room typing, I am still quite in awe that I have finished a year of college. It is truly unbelievable, and I can honestly say that this year has been the best year of my life. That is not to say that I did not experience any challenging times or hardships, but I feel that in all, my freshman year has been very positive and exhilarating and I have learned a lot and grown as a person.

In the beginning, I admit that I was very unsure and apprehensive about Stanford. It is after all one of the most prestigious colleges in the world, and I wondered if I would be able to keep up. In my first couple of months there, I definitely had a sort of culture shock. Students at Stanford are very different from students at El Cerrito. Everyone here had a work ethic, everyone was very focused and intelligent and they knew what they wanted out of Stanford and where they were going in life. Almost everyone I talked to knew what they wanted to major in, or at least had some sort of plan, whereas I was just winging it, my "plan" to figure it out as I went along. The people and the rigorous environment of Stanford made me realize that my concentration and work ethic from high school just aren't going to cut it here, that getting accepted, which seemed like a big deal at the time, was only the first step. I still have a lot more work to do if I want to survive through the next few years and come to possess the self-confidence in academics like my peers do.

More specifically with academics, I used my freshman year to explore my interests. Within three short quarters, I have taken classes from various fields, such as psychology, environmental science, archaeology, race and ethnicity, and much more. I can't say whether taking all these classes has helped me narrow down my interests toward a possible major, or made it even more confusing to decide, but I know I'll figure it out eventually. Apart from that, I really enjoyed my classes, although again I felt very incompetent compared to my peers during discussion seminars. I felt that they were all able to contribute so eloquently and used such substantial vocabulary while speaking that it was hard for me to keep up. However, what I always had to remind myself was that Stanford wasn't paying for my education in order to let me sit like a lump and not make the most of my education. I think that was a very important thing to think about in terms of academics at Stanford. You have to make the most out of every opportunity, whether that is in classes and learning to not be self-conscious about your intelligence and asking questions, or social life and stepping outside your comfort zone and talking to people you would not otherwise talk to. Something else that I learned at Stanford that is very crucial is that you have to be very proactive if you want something. It was very hard for me to come to terms with the fact that everyone at Stanford is good at something, and they are not just good, but also exponentially better than YOU. So if you want to do something, such as get elected to a government position or apply to be a part of some program, you have to put your all into that application. Doing things halfway gets you nowhere at Stanford, because you can bet that there are plenty of other people more capable than you who are fighting harder and better than you for that same spot.

Although the academic part of Stanford was downright intimidating at times, I had a lot of support from the friends I made here, and this is where the amazing aspect of an all-freshman dorm comes in. Living in an all-frosh dorm was exciting and the best part of my freshman year. It's great because everyone else is going through the same thing you are, transitioning from high school to college life, figuring out classes and getting to know Stanford. We have such a tight bond within our dorm, and I feel that we have really become a family that we can fall back on in the years to come.

I feel that my freshman year has been very successful. In addition to the amazing academics, I also spontaneously decided to walk on to the crew team, and it's been a lot of fun, despite the fact that I spent a majority of freshman year waking up before sunrise for practice. Because of crew, I had the opportunity to travel to other schools, such as Harvard and Princeton, to race, and I also obtained a lot of free gear, which is definitely a plus. I am also proud to say that I am a part of the team that won the national championship this year! That's right, look it up: Stanford Lightweight Women 2010 National Champions! Sorry, I had to. Apparently, it was a big upset.

Anyway, for me, freshman year seems to have been more like camp than school. Actually, I often like to say that it has been like an extended, year-long version of SEAD! Yes, the academics were hard, but the life experiences and the friendships I garnered are immeasurable. I absolutely cannot wait for sophomore year, where new and exciting things are awaiting. Not only will I be continuing crew for as long as I possibly can (before the realization that waking up at 5 AM is abnormal hits), but I have also been selected to serve as the Professional Development chair for Stanford Rotaract, as well as the Public Relations intern for DreamCatchers, a tutoring program for East Palo Alto middle school students. My freshman year has been a great foundation on which to build the rest of my Stanford career, and I, like Susan Rice said at Stanford's commencement just this past Monday, do feel that Stanford really is the best university on the face of the earth!

I thank you for reading, and I am especially grateful to everyone who has helped me to get to this point - my parents, family and friends, and especially the SEAD Program and Jay Davis, the ILC and all of its supporters, and of course, Ms. Kronenberg and Mr. Ramsey. You have all been there to witness my growth from a freshman in high school to a freshman at Stanford University!

Jennifer Kuang
Stanford University Class of 2013
El Cerrito High School Class of 2009
SEAD Class of 2008

Friday, June 4, 2010

My first year - Theresa Berger

To my fellow ILC students, supporters, Ms. Kronenberg and Mr. Ramsey,

I just finished my first year as a student at the George Washington University and my first year living as a respectable young adult in a new world. In the course of just nine short months, I managed to grow what feels at least three years older and essentially plan the next several years of my life. To all of you who just experienced the same thing, I hope you learned just as, if not more than I did and had just as much fun in the process. And to all of you getting ready to begin that chapter, I hope you’re ready for something you’ve never experienced before, hence why I figured I might as well share a bit of my experience and what I learned.
To be completely honest, I hated the first month of school. I had very few friends, missed home, and kept to myself in my room. Attending a well-known private university in the heart of the nation’s capital where a good majority of the students came from private high schools, well-to-do families, and great ambitions was intimidating, lonely, and one of the hardest things I have ever experienced. I didn’t feel smart enough, rich enough, and felt completely out of place. Growing up in the bay area where the culture is as diverse, fresh, and exciting as its population and attending a school on the east coast where somewhere around 90% of the student body is white turned out to be a major and unexpected shock. It was humbling to realize how lucky I am to have been able to grow up in the east bay and attend a public high school as diverse as Pinole Valley, something I learned to become extremely proud of when introducing myself to my peers.
Luckily however, I soon realized I wasn’t alone in the way I felt about not fitting in. After about a month or so, I decided to get a job and began working as a second grade teacher for an inner-city after school program called “Heads Up.” At around the same time, I began talking to and becoming friends with my coworkers and some of my floormates. While I may not have had the same past as the majority of them, I did have the same present and found that we were all just as nervous, unsure, and confused as the other; we were all freshmen in college, away from home and everything we had ever known. I soon realized that becoming friends with someone wasn’t about finding people who were the “same” as me, but rather it was about learning to bond over our differences and what we could learn from each other. I think it became the most important thing I learned the entire year.
Of course, my social life wasn’t the only thing I was worried and ended up learning a significant lesson about. One of the main reasons I chose GW was for its academics and the challenges they promised to provide. I would be lying if I said I loved all of my classes, especially the science ones I was forced to take to fulfill my general education requirements and the Biology class that gave the biggest perfectionist in the world the first “C” of her academic career. Retrospectively, I think it was a good thing and a nice reminder that nobody is perfect and not everything we want and may think we deserve goes as planned. However, believe me when I say that the amount of material you are exposed to and the individual attention provided by the instructors of a private institution is one of the best things you can ever hope to experience. My favorite class during my first semester was an upper level Early American Cultural History course I decided to take. I was one of two freshmen in a class of about twenty-five that required close to fifteen hours of reading per week, an intensive amount of writing, and an extremely intimidating discussion section with juniors and seniors in which putting together a coherent sentence was a struggle. Nonetheless, I tried my hardest and learned to not care about what everyone else thought. I loved the material, barely slept, and went to my professor’s office hours almost every week. Eventually, my hard work and dedication paid off when I got the highest grade in the class. That class inspired me to take a few other American Studies courses, all of which I was one of a few freshmen, and all of which became my absolute favorites. As a result, I am now a declared American Studies major with a concentration in Cultural Studies and Global Connections, and, coupled with my amazing experiences as a Heads Up tutor and a member of the ILC, would like to go into education policy when I graduate. I finished my first year of college in a position many only dream of being in, with a declared major and a goal to work towards. I was only rewarded as such, however, because I was willing to explore, work hard, and challenge myself, actions I promise will provide you with the best experience possible so long as you give them your all.
I could go on and on about what I learned and about some of my favorite experiences, but I think the above two do well serving as the highlights of my freshman year. Although scary at first, one of the best parts about going to a new school is meeting new people and being able to learn not just about them, but also about you in the process. Embracing difference and developing self-confidence are what help make you as an individual as well as some of the best friends you could ever hope to find. Similarly, taking risks and embracing the most strenuous of academic challenges also build tremendous character and provide rewarding lessons of their own.
College is all about you and what you make of it. And a little selfishness can definitely go a long way.

-Theresa Berger
Cornell University Summer College c/o 2008
Pinole Valley High School c/o 2009
George Washington University c/o 2013