Saturday, June 20, 2015

Six Hours and a College Tour Later

When my peers first mentioned Amtrak, I thought it would be similar to the Bay Area Bart stations. I was in for a surprise. Our group groaned in unison this morning when we gathered at the lobby at ten minutes before seven. We were split into two groups, Shanti, Helen and I riding the first cab and everyone else catching another. Our driver gave us an insightful lesson on driving in D.C. After forty years of experience, he has earned the unofficial title of top D.C. driver and informed us about how street laws differ throughout the day and pointed out the traffic-free streets during rush hours. His driving lesson, gave our group a good start to the day.

The others showed up shortly after we were dropped off and our group entered the station. The
Getting into the Amtrak.
opened and we entered through the automatic double doors. I slowed down to admire the structure before me. Now I know why my biology teacher shook his head when I compared the Amtrak to BART. It was an actual train, complete with metal railways on the bottom and an enormous sleek machine on top. Unlike BART, the metal rails are constructed directly on top of gravel and travels above ground. The inside proved different as well. Each seat resembled an airplane’s blue flattened cushion seats, complete with reclining chairs and a menu for hungry passengers. My awe was cut short when Thao shouted my name from the front of the car. There were about four people in between me and the group. I managed to snatch a seat somewhere in the middle of the car, but the rest of the cohort was sitting behind me.

As I pulled out my phone, a man drew his luggage beside my seat and stared up at luggage storage. His glanced at me with surprise. “Do you mind if I sit here?” he asked with a kind smile. What started out as a seating disaster became a new friend. I helped Mani put away his luggage and settle in his seat. Mani explained that he heard his sister was deathly ill and flew over to D.C. to check up on her. He later revealed that he majored in economics, was a Minister of India, and frequently visits Universities across the states to give speeches, some including Berkeley, Stanford and Georgetown. I could have been catching up with my blog or sleep, but I gained something much more valuable. As our conversation continued, Mani sheepishly admitted that he thought the seat was unoccupied from behind. When he came forward and noticed my presence, he was nervous about sitting next to some foreign teenage girl. A smile spread across his lips as he continued explaining his experience. On top of noticing the unexpected seat mate, his left arm was marginally immobile as a result of age. His anxiety vanished when I offered to help him with his luggage and settle in his seat. He said he was glad to have met me.

My mouth hung ajar, astonished at the news. In all honesty, if a man in downtown San Francisco asked for a seat next to me half a year ago, I would give him the thumbs up and continue staring at my phone. Nevertheless, Don stressed the necessity of socializing and absorbing the surroundings through interaction, a piece of advice I didn’t understand until now. What I gained by simply helping out a gentleman is something I could never gain. By the end of the train ride, Mani and I had discussed everything from schools to foreign countries to family. Chan-Law helped me lower my baggage and I stood in the walkway, waving to Mani one last time. He smiled, and unexpectedly, pulled me in for a hug. “Maybe one day, I’ll meet you again on the train.”

Our cohort dropped off our baggage at the train station and begun the next event. We walked to the
White Dog CafĂ© in Sansome Street and settled on the sidewalk until the restaurant opened. As I pulled out my phone, a foreign voice called out, “hey, you guys wouldn’t happen to be part of the ILC, would you?” At the sound of the magic word, everyone jumped to their feet with a surprised smile. Dyana So gave a hearty laugh and admitted that she has a keen sense for folks from the Bay Area.

We gathered in the restaurant and even before settling down in our seats, our cohort was already sharing jokes and earning sighs from the waiters. The diner itself was a great representation of our group, classy and quirky. The walls were decorated with portraits and plush faces of dogs, hence the diner’s name. Everyone gathered in a room for the lunch, where an enlarged oil painting of what seems to be the top dog, greeted us.

Everyone clicked right away. I sat at the edge of the table, with Dyana to my left and Thao to my right. Next to Thao sat Briana Williams. Justice sat in front of me and Kahaari Kenyatta sat to the left of him. The seating arrangement, coordinated by none other than Chan-Law, allowed everyone to socialize with someone new. After confirming that the final member could not attend, we made a round of introductions. After introducing ourselves, Dyana, Kahaari and Briana took the ball and ran. Unlike many of our other dinners, one person spoke at a time. The conversation jumped from different aspects of campus life to important points to consider when choosing a college all the way to the different extracurricular activities on campus.

The different style of speech allowed everyone to listen in on conversations they may have missed in an open conversation and provided an atmosphere of understanding and closeness amongst everyone in our room. In addition to the soothing ambiance, the alums made an effort to find common ground and build on that. The alums kept the conversation open and helpful; the conversation could evolve from a favorite Korean drama to the process of getting a grant to study abroad in Korea. Before we knew it, the noon had come, and everyone rushed to get their last words of wisdom in before everyone had to rush to jobs and tours.
Group picture time!
Beautiful buildings.
Our cohort rushed down the streets toward the University of Pennsylvania where a meeting had started without us. We entered the grand room with our shoulders pressed together and our heads low to hide away from the judging glares. Just like many of the other college tours thus far, admissions and technical advice was covered in the seminar. Afterwards, everyone met outside for the college tour. Unlike other schools, the guides of Pennsylvania did not wear matching shirts, so it was difficult to locate them from the similarly dressed mass. On top of this, only a handful of guides were available to serve an auditorium full of families. During the walk, our cohort agreed that although the school was beautiful and the alums were marvelous, the tour did little to inform us about the school. We did manage to collect some historical facts and traditions. The story of a growing button seems like it came directly out of a storybook. Conversely, our information session with, Dyana, Kahaari and Briana helped balance our opinions about the university. Unlike buildings on the West Coast, most of the architecture has a Victorian styled twist which is gorgeous, but technology is also an important aspect of learning. 

We met Chan-Law in Barnes and Nobles after the tour and we returned to the train station to grab our bags. After collecting our items, we took a van taxi to the airport, had some dinner and waited for our plane to arrive. The time came eventually, and the automatic doors opened. Without turning toward their expression, I knew a smirk had found itself on everyone’s lips. The time has finally come. We're going to Ithaca.

We made it to the dorms at around 11. Ana the resident advisor helped us settle into the dorms. Everyone pulled out our laptops and panicked as we realized we couldn't connect to the wifi. That was when Shanti announced that Don gave us the okay to blog in the morning. We all collapsed in our bed. Good night, Ithaca.

1 comment:

  1. It makes me feel good that one of you remembered what I tried to teach you. Sitting with a stranger and striking up a conversation can be rewarding--as I think you saw.