I've been home for three days now, and I still haven't adjusted to the colder weather. However, all this time spent walking around in winter coats and hunkering down under blankets has given me the opportunity to reflect on the journey I just returned from. Going to Penn was the most amazing thing I could have possible done with my summer. It changed me as a person and a student and taught me more than I had ever hoped to learn about Physics and myself.
When I went to the first ILC presentation at my school, I automatically knew that this was the program I would apply to. Julia and Brian, close friends of mine and two thirds of last year's Penn cohort, spoke so highly of it, I knew I couldn't let this opportunity pass me by. Every day, I am glad I stuck with it, even when I didn't get the first interview and even when I was so sure I had made a fool of myself in front of the panel.
The first week, when we toured colleges and met admissions officers, ranks pretty highly on the scale of awesomeness. It gave me a clear sense of what I want in a college and introduced me to one of my new top choices- The University of Chicago. Sometimes it seems that when I send of my college apps they will be thrown in the air, and the lucky few that land in a certain spot will get acceptance letters. However, meeting admissions officers, the people who will read my essays and applications, helped ground my worries and give the process a much more personable spin. During that week, I sparked friendships with David, Alysa, Cameron, Chloe, Ivette, and Mariko that grew tenfold over the following month. I loved seeing parts of the country that were unfamiliar, and, of course, the food we ate was an experience in itself.
Once we started class, things shifted. To be honest, that first week was incredibly challenging. I soon realized how smart the people in my class were, and how much I had to focus in order to understand science, something that usually comes naturally to me. The period of adjusting was tough, but after a while, I realized that we were all in the same boat, and maybe the people who initially surprised me were just smart in different ways. "Smart" is a funny word, and this trip changed my personal definition of it.
Every day of class was amazing, and I am very thankful to Bill, Ryan, Craig, Penny, Brian, and Joe for making it that way. I'm not a person who will just accept things as they're told to me, so I appreciated the hands-on and visual aspects of our class. Seeing Bill dash around the room, doing the same things he's done for the past 15 years with mountains of enthusiasm, showed me how important it is to find something in the world that I love to do and just do it. I grew to love Philadelphia, heat and humidity included, and met people from all around the world. I realized that there is so much out there, a concept I though I understood, but never really proved to myself before this trip.
Having returned, my life has settled pretty much back into its old rhythm, but I do feel like a different person. Studying at Penn instilled a new sense of confidence in me. Even in a room with 35 other students, top of their class, straight A's, future rulers of the world, I could hold my own. As I begin my college applications to schools both in and out of California, I see the long road a head of me, littered with essay drafts and stress-filled nights. The next couple months will be by no means easy, and they may shape my entire future. However, if I play my cards right, it just might be a little fun.