Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Tourism and Dining

I woke up this morning a little later than I would have liked, so I had to rush down to the lobby to meet up with the cohort. Promptness is a characteristic that I struggle with and that I need to work with.

We grabbed breakfast (I opted for a soup) and headed for the subway soon after. We struggled briefly with getting our tickets, but we had plenty of spare time so it did not matter too much. We headed down into the hot, stuffy subway station, which is quite different from the BART stations back home. The platforms seem smaller, while each station seems larger at the same time. There are, however, many more platforms in the subway stations of New York, since the system is far more complex than BART.

When we boarded the subway, I was surprised to be hit with a wave of cold air. It was odd transitioning from the stuffy subway platform to the air-conditioned subway. It was not too crowded, so we all found seats rather easily on our way to Columbia.

After we arrived, we looked around at the parts of campus on our way to the Low Library, where we were supposed to check in for our informational session. Walking through a set of gates into Columbia was a large transition from the hectic metropolitan life of New York City; Columbia is quite insulated from the busyness of the city. I imagined Columbia to be more integrated with the city, like UC Berkeley, since Columbia is in a rather central spot of Manhattan. Seeing this university first-hand definitely cleared that assumption.

We checked in for our info session, which was held in Lerner Hall. The room was filled with families from all over the states and even other countries, reflecting the diversity that one would see at an institution like Columbia. Undergraduate students held an informal, quick Q&A while we waited for the admission officer to come in. When he did, he gave an overview of many aspects of higher education and of Columbia itself. Distinctive features of Columbia are the core curriculum and the diversity of the campus. I’ve been to a number of info sessions before, so the general information was not as helpful to me (though I’m sure the other members in my cohort found good use out of them). The specifics of Columbia were more important to me.

The tour guides came back into the room as the info session neared its end. The room was broken up into several groups, though each group was still rather large. I would say there was somewhere between twenty and thirty people in our group, though I may be off with my rough approximation. Our tour guide was a student from Washington, D.C. that was majoring in film. I found her viewpoint rather refreshing during the tour, since I think about math and sciences much more than I do about humanities and arts.

Tours seem to be rather hit-or-miss in terms of usefulness of the information they provide. Showing people where buildings are or what buildings specialize in does not contribute in any significant way to college applications or college decisions, though it can help give students a feel for the campus. I did like how our tour guide talked about many of the idiosyncrasies of Columbia; for example, there is a building where a trained team edits any written works of Columbia students for free.

After the tour ended, we headed back to Low Library to grab informational packets and to rest for a moment before we continued our day. We stopped by the bookstore, where I bought a water bottle and a pennant, and we made our way to The Heights Bar and Grill for lunch. I got a burger, and the cohort shared chips and dip.

We made our way into the subway again, and we headed to Times Square. When we arrived, all I could think about was how touristy it was! All the stores and the people on the street just pointed out how people take advantage of the opportunity to profit. We stopped by Aéropostale, and I bought a pair of chino pants there. After walking around Times Square, we headed down to the 9/11 Memorial. While we had constantly been cracking jokes all day, visiting the memorial was rather sobering, and I tried to pay my respects.

While we were on our way back to the hotel, we noticed that we were a little pressed for time. By the time we got back to the hotel, it was about 5:30 PM, and we had to be ready for dinner by 6! Our reservation was at 6:30, and we needed the time to get down to Harlem, where our restaurant was.

When we walked into The Cecil, one of the first things we did was crowd around the TV mounted on the wall to see how the soccer game was going. At that point, it wasn’t looking too great for the US! We met the Columbia students near the entrance. The de facto leader of the group of four was named Beulah Sims-Agbabiaka, and she was my brother’s classmate in high school! The other three students were named Ellie Kirk, Noelle Bradley, and Heather Akumiah. Two of them were rising seniors, and the other two were rising juniors, much like our cohort! (The primary difference was that they were college students, while we were not. Of course.)

We found our table, and we were greeted with a lively waiter. I find waiters that let their personality shine through much more entertaining than the waiters that seem to act the same way as nearly all other generic waiters. After the group agonized over the menu, I ordered feijoada. It was my first time trying it, though I’ve seen pictures of it before. I enjoyed the subtle spiciness of my entrée.

During dinner, the nine of us joined into one large conversation. I had expected us to break out into many smaller conversations, but the Columbia students had all sat near the center and they took turns imparting their wisdom upon us. Not all of the info was specific to just Columbia; they talked quite a bit about transitioning from high school to college. I’ve participated in quite a few programs at colleges already, so I have the slightest hint at being away from home, though I still worry about college! The college students did touch on a few topics that I haven’t considered too much, like the way you spend your time around friends in college. One of the students told a story about how she used to be friends with an individual that was a bit of a slacker, and he was not a good influence for her and even blamed her for his lack of productivity.

After our meal and dessert (I had an avocado crème brûlée), we gathered around outside of the restaurant to take pictures. Beulah told us to stay in touch with her and even offered to add us, the Vanderbilt cohort, on Facebook! I did so, and I was surprised to see that I had seven mutual friends with her on Facebook, through my brother.

The dinner was definitely the highlight of my evening. Being able to share a meal with such a group of people is not something that I can do every day exactly, so I appreciate these unique opportunities that the Ivy League Connection offers. The dinner was inserted into the itinerary very briefly before the trip started, so none of us had anticipated it until when our trip was almost here. We were planning to spend the extra time sightseeing in the Big Apple, but instead we had this unique opportunity!  

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