If there is one word that describes what the Ivy League Connection provides for, it is exposure. In my Ivy League Connection experience I was exposed to new colleges, new people, and most of all, new ideas and ways of thinking. This exposure to new things put me outside of my comfort zone, and I was forced to analyze and learn from everything I was experiencing. And although I learned an extraordinary amount about leadership, women’s issues, and the college experience, I learned the most about myself.
Although I chose to participate in this program for the academic experience, I ended up with an incredibly enlightening social experience as well. Even within the first five days (when I was only with my cohort) I had to adapt to the different perspectives, mindsets, and ways of interacting. I learned to be more receptive, patient, and open-minded. This open-mindedness became even more essential once we signed into Brown. Again I had to adapt to new things, such as being in an all-women’s dorm. When I entered the class, I was excited to learn that we had girls from Chicago, New York, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Boston, Ohio, New Orleans, Los Angeles, and even Hong Kong. This diversity was one of the main components of the most unique learning environment that I have ever been in. However, (without sounding too cliché) I was shocked that despite our different backgrounds, our similarities greatly outnumbered our differences.
It was extremely interesting to observe how the other students interacted with people they weren’t comfortable with. After conversing with young (and older) alumni over the previous five days, it was a bit of a shock to be surrounded by more than 2,000 high schoolers. The high school mentality was even more apparent because many students came alone and therefore felt vulnerable and insecure. Although I tried my best to separate myself from the people I knew, branching out became increasingly difficult when these insecurities caused people to form groups instead of stepping out of their comfort zone and meeting new people. And even though I did end up meeting and conversing with many new people, the workload and the isolation of the Leadership Institute from the rest of Summer@Brown made it very difficult to further develop these relationships. I never had seen myself as someone with trouble branching out, so not being able to easily make friends was extremely intimidating to me. However, I hope that in college the environment will be different and more supportive in terms of meeting new people.
As soon as I entered the Women and Leadership classroom, I knew that the learning environment would be extremely unique. Not only was the classroom all girls, but all strong and intelligent girls. It was like nothing I had ever experienced. At home, many girls are timid when it comes to speaking out and expressing their opinions in front of more aggressive males. Even the more quiet girls seemed to notice the uniqueness of this learning environment, and ended up speaking out and contributing their thoughts. I found their contributions to be extremely valuable, because the perspectives of more quiet observers are not often heard in the classroom. It was good for those of us who were used to dominating class discussions because we learned how important it is to step back and listen to others. I felt that these skills are important for leadership positions and for life in general. I also saw a side to girls that I rarely see back home. Without the male presence, the girls cared less about their appearance and more about the discussions or the tasks that needed to be accomplished.
This class was also extremely valuable because it challenged us to analyze our society, our prejudices, and the way we view ourselves. I was exposed to the hardships that women still face today in the workplace, in the home, in society, and in the media. I realized the extent to which I had subconsciously been a victim of the messages sent by society and the media, and how I had contributed to these prejudices and ways of thinking myself.
This class was most valuable because I learned that I have the ability to do something of importance. Before the class, I never saw myself as a leader, and never actively thought about the problems that the world faces and possible solutions that I could implement. I also learned about time management and realized that I get a lot more work done when I have a genuine interest in the subject. This made me feel more confident about my ability to succeed in college. Finally, through the Action Plan final project I researched about existing problems in my community and brainstormed on ways to implement change. I chose the subject of food justice, or the idea that organic and healthy food should be equally available to all people. I learned that the poorest 25% of Americans are twice as likely as the wealthiest 25% of Americans to be obese (and many other disturbing statistics). In my community I see that while many wealthier people can afford to eat fresh and organic food, lower income areas cannot and often result to eating unhealthier packaged and over-processed foods. Since childhood obesity is such a critical phenomenon, and since good habits start in childhood, I decided that I could make a greater impact on the lives of families with children. My original idea was to start a farmer’s market style produce stand at a preschool or afterschool program so that tired parents could pick up fresh and organic produce as they pick up their child. However, the infeasibility of this idea became more apparent throughout the process of preparing my action plan. At this point, I have adapted my idea to a more educational approach. I hope to be able to do interactive presentations at elementary afterschool programs, teaching about the nutritional and ecological benefits of seasonal organic produce, as well as easy and tasty ways to prepare it. I would then sell that produce in a box with the printed information, and pre-measured ingredients so that busy parents can prepare fresh meals more easily. I know that there are many obstacles that I will encounter with this project, but I feel that I will be successful if I can adapt to those obstacles and continue to fight for the cause.
The summer is now over. I have gone from humidity to fog, from peers from around the world to those who have never left El Cerrito, from new things to same old same old. And although my Ivy League Connection experience is over, my college experience has yet to begin. And I know that through this experience that was so generously given to me by the Ivy League Connection, I will be able to make the best of my college experience.