Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A New and Improved Alex

My name is Ava “Alex” Burnell, I attended the Women and Leadership course at Summer@Brown 2011, and I am a completely different person because of it.

I could sit here and write pages and pages filled with overly descriptive paragraphs about every single little detail and aspect of my trip this summer. But let’s face it, most people don’t really care about it enough to have the patience to read that much; plus, that sort of ruins it for any other students reading this who want to go next summer. The surprise of not knowing all of details is what makes it so exciting for us students. So I will leave those spaces for them to fill in. The little things are always more special when you discover them yourself.

I am going to expand on the 3 main things that I feel have left the biggest impact on me. The first thing is community. The second thing is knowledge. The final thing is personal courage.

The community at Brown was unbelievable and left me in complete awe. The positivity around the entire campus was absolutely overwhelming. No matter where I was at any time, I felt welcome. People who didn’t even know me and had just seen me around would stop me and have friendly conversations with me. I would say about 99% of the time, if I passed by anyone on campus, including students I didn’t even know, I would at least get a smile and a wave or a cheerful “Goodmorning!” Little things like that actually greatly improve quality of life. During my stay at Brown I was more jovial and happy to be alive than ever. I found myself appreciating every little thing that would normally be easy to take for granted. I appreciated the random songs my roommate would play. I appreciated the quiet humming sound that the fan in our room made. I appreciated the cold showers at the end of a hot evening. I appreciated just being able to breathe clean air. Being surrounded by people who cared about each other and supported each other really made me feel like part of a big family. I felt like I had a place where I knew I belonged, they made me feel like I could do anything. They made me feel like I really could be a leader and change the world. I have made friends that I am of course still in touch with and that I could see myself being lifelong friends with. I know I can always call them whenever I’m bored and want to chat, if I ever want to have an intellectual conversation, or if I just have a bad day and need someone to talk to. I made 20 new best friends and they are now a big part of my motivation to reach for the stars until I get my dreams. I am confident that they will support me every step of the way, just like I will to for them.

I learned so much on this trip that I feel like a completely different person. There are some things you have to learn from personal experience. I learned both inside and outside of class. It was very easy to apply the knowledge we received in class into the real world. The one that I think meant the most to me was that in class we always talked about making sure to be inclusive, and to be conscious about when we are not being inclusive. This basically means to include everyone in the community and to reach out to those who feel out of place. I think that is so important because everyone goes through a time when they are trying to find out where they belong and they can get really sad if they are struggling to find it. I see girls sitting by themselves in high school all the time and people almost never reach out to them or try to spend time with them. As soon as I realized that, my attitude completely changed and whenever I was in the dining hall with my friend and saw someone by themselves I would say “Hey, let’s go sit with them.” One of the first times I did that, my friend from class said “I’m so glad I met someone who actually does that. At my school nobody even does anything about it or tries to reach out to people who are alone.” When she said that I realized how rare it is that people compulsively feel the need to take care of others. That is something I developed in my class. I made many friends through this way of reaching out to people.

I gained a great deal of confidence and personal courage. This class required public speaking and being able to openly express your feelings. When I was presenting to my class, I realized that public speaking is just like a normal conversation but with a few more eyes on you. What I liked about Kisa and Jen Madden and Dean Rose was that they didn’t try to shove a specific speaking style down our throats. They showed us examples of good public speaking and ways of planning a speech and asked us to go with whatever works best for us. I have learned to sound more confident when I am speaking about things I am passionate about which is crucial because if I sound sure of myself, it will be easier for others to believe in me too.

I want to take everything I’ve learned and use it to make my community a better place. I want to teach others the importance of taking care of everyone around them. I want to show people how much better life can be with just a little more effort and a positive attitude. My life is forever changed by Summer@Brown. I will never, ever forget this experience. Any success I have in the future can without a doubt be credited to those 2 weeks of my life. Which were quite possibly the best 2 weeks I’ve ever had.

As far as college goes, this has not changed my view on my application process. I adored my time at Brown, but seeing how lucky we are to have the change to get and education and to have that great time reminded me that there are so many people without that opportunity. This made me want to go to West Point even more so that I can be a soldier and fight for freedom until ever y single human being has that right to learn. The great experiences I had at Brown made me even more willing to fight for those who are robbed of those kinds of experiences. However, if I don’t get into West Point and for some reason can’t enlist then Brown University will definitely be on the top of my list.

Thank you to the Ivy League Connection, the donors, the WCCUSD school board, the leader fellows, the RA’s, my parents, all of the girls in Harkness, Guy Sanchez, the chaperones, our guest speakers, Kisa Takesue, Jen Madden, the amazing Dean Rose, and everyone else who made this trip possible and who made it the experience of a lifetime. It has left an impact on my life that will never go away. You guys have helped make me into a better person; a new and improved Alex.


Farewell Brown

This blog, the “reflective blog,” is what might be the final blog in a series that chronicled the adventure of a lifetime. It must encompass the past three weeks on the East Coast and at Brown University. I have to explain how this wonderful opportunity given to me by the ILC has changed and shaped my future. Given the weighty topics I’m dealing with here, maybe you can see where it might be difficult to begin…

Honestly, I’m going to have a hard time summarizing all the events and impressions of the past weeks in a single blog, but I’ll give it my best shot. Please bear with me.

I was actually very nervous when I boarded the shuttle at El Cerrito High School. I’m not at my best at 4 in the morning, so this probably contributed to my anxiety, but a lot of my stress was simply that I didn’t know what to expect. I had been away from home (translation: away from my family) a couple of times, but I had never been away from both home and close friends for such an extended period of time. I knew Adrianne, Ava, and Caroline only slightly from classes and extracurriculars, and I knew Josie, Cynthia, and Rebecca barely at all. I was also worried about my class. I had looked up the Women and Leadership course online, but even after reading the description and watching Kisa’s video I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. (Funny, but this seems to be a recurring theme.)

I have to say that all of that has changed. I now feel very close to my fellow W&L Brownies, and I hope they feel the same. I know that I will call them for advice or just to hang out! It was great to bond with my fellow El Cerrito High students, but I was especially glad to get to know the De Anza girls. I’m pretty sure that I would never have met you three if not for this program, yet these past three weeks with you have been wonderful and enriching. My life is better with you in it!

My new circle of friends goes beyond the ILC–I have to include all 14 non-ILC students from my Women and Leadership class. We were pretty open with each other, both in class during workshops and in our dorm. A major part of this was the very clear atmosphere of acceptance. I have never been in such a comfortable “safe space” before. As demonstrated by one Ropes course exercise involving “trust falls,” I believed that everyone else would catch me and hold me up; I can only hope that everyone else felt the same way about me.

We all became so close by the end of the two weeks that it felt incredibly cruel to separate us. Despite our different experiences and points of view, everyone in our class had become friends in only two weeks. So much of the differences seem to melt away once you really get to know someone. Yet, once you find the similarities, you begin to see the differences again in a new light. The things that distinguish people become interesting, quirky parts about a friend, instead of barriers keeping two strangers apart.

I won’t go into all the details of our departure from Brown; I think that my cohorts have said enough about it. Let it suffice to say that it was terrible and the sight of my friends’ teary faces made me wish that I wasn’t flying home that day.

I must thank Tiffany and Laura for helping make my two weeks at Brown so enjoyable. Both TAs were amazing at facilitating discussions and fostering an open, supportive learning environment. I know that Kisa made every effort to support this attitude both in her TAs and in every one of us.

What can I say? Kisa is the best teacher I’ve ever had and one of the coolest people I have ever met. She made a huge effort to get to know each of us as a student and as a person, which is tough when you have 21 kids and only two weeks. She created an atmosphere in which we could feel comfortable speaking up. She encouraged the “talkers” to listen and the “listeners” to talk, while acknowledging that it was okay to be either option or neither. Kisa is warm and engaging but she doesn’t hesitate to give her honest opinion, but she phrases it in a way that isn’t hurtful.

There’s that thing that you say sometimes when you’re little: Hey I want to be her when I grow up! That’s the way I feel about Kisa. Thank you for the best two weeks of class I have ever taken.

This entire experience has helped me to grow to be a better me. I learned so much about “women and leadership” this summer, and so much more than that as well. On one hand, I learned about other people, people who come from different backgrounds but who are all beautiful and brilliant in their own unique ways. On the other hand, I learned a lot about myself–how I deal with pressure, how far I can push myself, and how much I can actually accomplish if I put my mind to it. Everything that I learned this summer will be valuable in my future, and I am so grateful that I was able to go to Brown this summer.

Of course I must thank the ILC for giving me this opportunity. Without the chance to go to Brown, my life would be so different right now. I wouldn’t have any ideas about East Coast schools; I might have only started to think about college. Now, thanks to the extensive college touring, I have a bit of a better idea of what I’m looking for in a school. I definitely plan to apply to Brown. I know that Providence really reminded me of some of my favorite aspects of the Bay Area, which was comforting when I was in a new place.

So, thank you ILC. Thank you sponsors and administrators. Thank you Brown alumni and Brown mentor program for getting me interested in such an amazing school. Thank you for offering me this amazing opportunity. I hope that in the future I continue to prove to you and to myself that I was worth it.

Undescribable Feelings

I remember everyone's faces as we, the ILC girls, got onto the shuttle bus that heads to the airport. Every single one was now familiar as we waved goodbye and teared up. It's crazy how you begin to relate a person to their life story and pretty soon they are more than just a stranger that lived in the same building as you did; they have become someone important to you, someone who you have shared amazing experiences with.

The first week we spent away from California was impressive already-- We spent every single day at a new college (they were all mind blowing). Then the second week came and we all got ready to attend our all-girls class. The day before we started, I was a bit anxious seeing that the class was comprised of all females (and strong ones at that). Who would have expected that this would be the best class I have ever been in in my life?..

Within the two weeks we spent here, the 21 of us built a bond that is stronger than some people I see on a regular basis back home in the bay area. I didn't think it was possible, but through workshops, the Ropes Course, daily classes, evening outings, the ESTRODEN, we have. You could randomly mix up our group in any way and we would be able to talk like sisters.

The class itself was so amazing. I've never seen so many strong women in one room that were able to work together so well before. I guess an all-girls class was not what I had in mind before. There were many discussions on the female and her suppression as well modern-day women and how they are also being repressed. Girls gave examples of certain things by relating to them and sharing their experiences with the class.

Some people think that classes don't leave much in your head after you have passed it and have moved onto other activities, but this class has opened my eyes a lot. Now, when I pass by billboards, newspaper ads, magazine racks, posters, a Victoria's Secret, I think to myself about how it is degrading to women. Also, I try harder to be a better person. Before this class, others and I unknowingly were being judgmental and ignorant. Now I think before I speak and always give the benefit of the doubt. My mom even says my attitude has improved immensely since I arrived home.

I remember sometime during my first week there I was feeling a bit homesick. That day was just a bad day because so many things weren't going the way I planned: 1. the washer machine wouldn't work for the longest time. 2. the dryer didn't work after the washer finally did. 3. I locked myself out of my room 4. the reception was horrible and my mom couldn't hear me telling her that I missed her and everyone else. I cried that night and couldn't wait to go home.

Then the inevitable came and the three weeks were over.. I watched my new found family surround me at the gates and hug me and tell me how they'd miss me. We all cried and cried and as the shuttle driver became more impatient we cried even more knowing it was almost time. As I watched the girls I now associate to myself as family wave goodbye, my heart clenched because I honestly learned more from them than I did from anything else on this trip. They are the most wonderful people and I'm so glad I have had the chance to become one of them. Thank you so much ILC & Partners for giving me this opportunity of a lifetime.
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