Friday, July 5, 2013

New York, New York

This morning we woke up at 5:30, met in the lobby at 6:30, and caught a train to New York from Union Station at 8:10. The train ride to New York was three hours long. The train was extremely crowded; almost every seat in our train car was taken. Due to my lack of sleep the night before, I soon found myself dozing off. I woke up again in about an hour, feeling much more rested.

When I woke up again, I started thinking about Hitler's rise to power, and realized that in many ways Hitler and Palpatine (Darth Sidious) from Star Wars, are very similar. The both started out in low positions and patiently waited to obtain more and more power. Both used fear to drive their campaigns for power, which lead to both of them receiving emergency powers from the Senate. They also both started out with a republic and turned it into a dictatorship. They both committed genocide to "cleanse" the country of an older group that their culture is based on. (The Sith are based on the Jedi, and Christianity is based on Judaism.) Palpatine targeted the Jedi Knights, while Hitler targeted the Jews. This made me realize that George Lucas probably got the inspiration for Palpatine from Hitler. Lucas's best friend Steven Spielberg, who often worked with Lucas, was Jewish, and wrote the movie Schindler's List. They probably sat down and decided they needed an evil character for Star Wars. Spielberg probably suggested modeling the character after Hitler, which would also add a life message to the movie. Being a Jew, it would make sense that Spielberg wanted to spread the message of not allowing the atrocities of genocide. I know this is all just speculation, and might be completely wrong, but it makes sense to me. I know it seems strange that a visit to the Holocaust  Museum would ultimately lead me to thinking about Star Wars, but my mind was definitely wandering while I sat on the train. Regardless, I can now say because of the ILC I realized that Palpatine in Star Wars is based on Adolf Hitler.

At about the two hour mark, the person next to me left the train, and a new person joined me. For a while the newcomer made some calls, but in the last half hour of the ride, we started talking. Our conversation started with her asking me if I knew where the dining car was, and if they had coffee. Eventually, I found out she was from California too. (Burbank to be specific.) She asked what I was doing out here, and I told her about the ILC. She was very impressed. She told me years ago she took her son on Amtrak to see various colleges in the area. She said he was even accepted to UPenn, but turned it down to go to Chicago. She also said he regretted that, and would have accepted UPenn if he were to do it again. I was very glad to hear of someone who regretted not going to UPenn, as this shows just how great of a school it is. Overall, she was very impressed with the program, and wished us the best of luck in our search for colleges. Soon enough, we were at the New York station and had to say goodbye. She was traveling on to Connecticut to visit a friend of hers. She wanted to know more about the program and our adventures, so I gave her the URL for the blog site.

My delicious Southwest Salad
Once we arrived in New York, we took a short walk to the Empire State Building. We wanted to go inside and look out at the city from the observatory, but the wait time was an hour and thirty minutes. We decided it was not worth it (and we did not have enough time anyway), so ate lunch at a nearby restaurant. I got the "Southwest Salad." It was quite delicious, and had a good balance of meat, beans, lettuce, and avocado.

After lunch, we caught the subway (the rail system, not the sandwich place) to Columbia University. In fact, Columbia had its own stop. I had no idea just how complex the New York subway system is. There are seven different lines and over a hundred stops. I used to think the BART system back home as complicated, but not anymore. The Columbia campus was beautiful. It had a nice balance of older, historic building and newer, modern building. The information session was run by the head of Undergraduate Admissions, who has had this post for 30 years. He had an interesting way of approaching the session. Instead of trying to sell his college to us like most presenters would, he stated that is not his job. His job is to give us information about Columbia, so we decide for ourselves whether to apply. He even went as far to say we shouldn't apply unless we really want to go to Columbia. There are plenty of people who want to go to Columbia, so the spots will be filled. For the entire presentation, he spoke in a matter-of-fact tone, and just gave out facts. I could tell that this rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. They expected him to sell his college, but he did not, making it seem that Columbia was not a good choice. I agreed with his style. It is the job of the student to decide whether to go to Columbia or not, and the serious people will research the college extensively, and then apply. You should not apply to a college just because you can, but rather that you want to go there.

The building where the information session was hosted.
These stairs were used in the movie Ghostbusters when
the Ghostbusters got fired from the university and 
decided to become fulltime Ghostbusters.
The first three-quarters of the presentation was all about how Columbia is unique. Columbia is a very active campus. There are over 500 student clubs, that host events year-round. Secondly, he talked about location. Columbia is located in a quiet area of New York City called Morningside Heights. Thirdly, he discussed life in New York City. Columbia students get free or discounted tickets to the Metropolitan Opera, the New York Philharmonic, and various other New York performance groups and museums. Also, by being in New York City, there are lots of internship opportunities, as thousands of companies are based there. Fourthly, he mentioned study abroad, which 40% of Columbia students do for a year of their four year education. Fifthly, he discussed the staff at Columbia. There have been eight Noble Laureates from Columbia, and six of them still teach there. Lastly, he discussed Columbia's classic education. Columbia's core curriculum has been used since 1919. It consists of five classes you have to take before you graduate. The first is a year long "Literature Humanities" class, where students read and discuss classic works like Homer's The Iliad. The second is a yearlong course in ancient civilizations. The third and fourth are one semester classes called "Masterpieces of Art" and "Masterpieces of Music." The final course is "Frontiers of Science," which as it sounds is a foundation course in science. Students in the Engineering college only have to take one yearlong course, and one semester long course. I found this style of education to be interesting. I never thought the required courses would be in the classics, but it makes sense: they are trying to make well-rounded members of society. Teaching the classics helps them do this.

The main Columbia library.
The latter part of the session was about applying to Columbia. Last year, they received 34,000 applications, and accepted 1,370 students. This boils down to a 6.7% acceptance rate. Columbia is looking for students that are intellectually engaged, look forward to challenges, and are independently, intellectually curious. Columbia uses the Common App, and has some very specific questions. They ask what books you have read in the past year as part of school, and outside of school. They also want to know what newspapers, periodicals etc. you read. They are looking to see if you are reading up in the areas that interest you, to show you how independently intellectually curious you are. They also ask what clubs you are involved in. From that, they gauge your involvement in each club. They want people who are committed and do activities they are genuinely interested in. They would rather you be in two clubs that you spend all your time on rather than being in 18 clubs and doing nothing. They want to see your test scores on the SAT with two subject tests, or the ACT with Writing. Columbia does not care about your class rank. They want to see that you are taking challenging classes, and are not very concerned with GPA. Columbia admits students based on the factors mentioned above. They are race-blind, and aid-blind. They do not offer scholarships, but only need-based financial aid. Just like UPenn, they are a no loan school. I thought these criteria and standards made a lot of sense. They want people who are dedicated and engaged. All of these questions help narrow down the field of 34,000 applicants into the less than two thousand students that are accepted. 

After the info session, we got a tour of the campus. I was actually underwhelmed by the tour. The tour guide was very robotic, and really just said what the buildings were. Dyana was much more energetic and informative, so I enjoyed the UPenn tour much more. The Columbia tour was also much shorter. We only stopped outside five department buildings, the library and one of the dorms. Because the tour was so fast, virtually no one had time to formulate any questions. I enjoyed walking around the campus, and seeing all the beautiful buildings, but the tour was not great.

A giant Twinkie!!
After the tour ended, we caught the subway to Times Square. I had never seen Times Square before (not even on TV) so it was a new experience for me. To be quite honest, I did not enjoy it much. It was extremely crowded, and full of stores with flashing lights that made my eyes hurt. I do not see the attraction to the area at all. All these stores have other locations in less crowded locations, where you will have a better experience. I think the best poster I saw was of a giant Twinkie, advertising its return on July 15. Even though I did not see much point in Times Square, we got the best picture ever there. We were outside a shop, and decided to take a picture. In front of that store, there were multiple people dressed up as Elmo. As Mr. Mannix was taking our picture, two of the Elmos were walking down the street, and walked around us. Mr. Mannix took a picture just as they appeared behind us. Unfortunately, the picture was take with Kim's camera, so I currently do not have the photo, but I can guarantee it will be in her blog. Best photo ever!!!

After walking through Times Square, we decided to visit the nearby Central Park. Central Park was amazing. I had never been in a park so big and so well-equipped. It had everything from bicycle paths to play structures to courts/fields to play every sport you could imagine. We walked around for a bit and enjoyed the beautiful scenery. We then caught the subway back to the Amtrak station. We got dinner, and waited for our train's gate to appear on the monitor. Our train ended up being delayed by five minutes.

Tomorrow we go to Georgetown, which is literally a block from our hotel. After our tour, we will go see some more sites in D.C. and then go to a dinner with some alumni from Georgetown at the City Tavern Club. I'm ready to make some more connections!!

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