Park Record intern remembers her time in New York City
Amelie Corson participated in a program facilitated by Columbia University
This summer, I spent three fast-paced weeks in New York City thanks to a program offered by Columbia University. Here are my biggest takeaways.
Expectations Versus Reality
Coming from the small town of Park City, New York City’s looming skyscrapers and 24-hour energy always felt like a different planet. I love Park City’s laid back, mountain-town attitude, but still, I’ve always wondered what life in the Big Apple is like.
Going into senior year and beginning to start college applications, I’ve learned that schools love to see applicants spend their summers furthering their academic or extracurricular interests. This summer, I wanted to do both: expand my learning beyond courses offered at school and also pursue my passion for exploring the world.
After a few minutes of internet searching, I found that almost every U.S. college offers summer programs for high school students. But out of the hundreds of choices, one school stood out: Columbia University in the City of New York. For three weeks, I could live in campus dorms, take classes in University buildings and venture around New York City. It sounded perfect–not too long, not too short, and I could experience the city of my dreams.
Going into the program, I thought my biggest takeaways would be what I learned in class and my memories adventuring the city. Looking back—I did accomplish these goals. However, the most noteworthy moments were not what I initially expected.
Thrust into life in one of the country’s busiest cities, I wasn’t the slightest bit overwhelmed. At least, not by the subway, or endless crowds, or sirens blaring all through the night. Instead, I was unnerved by the peace of Columbia’s campus. The tall trees, Roman classical architecture and high iron gates isolated the city’s bustle right next door.
After only a few days, I established a routine. Wake up. Cram in breakfast with my roommate. Walk five flights of stairs to class. Lunch…and then back up the stairs. Power nap. Head to the gym. Dinner. Homework. Sleep. Repeat.
It was easy. But, wait, I thought. This is New York City. It shouldn’t be this easy.
I soon realized that if I continued on my current course, I would finish the three weeks without seeing any of New York City but the five square blocks housing my dorm, dining hall and class building. And that wasn’t what I signed up for.
So, I picked my head up and started looking around, searching for opportunities. I talked to my hallmates, my classmates and my RAs. I asked questions. Are there any excursions happening this afternoon? What are the weekend plans? Any chance we can see a Broadway show? Or a Yankees game?
It turned out showing a little initiative, something usually beyond my comfort zone, was all it took to break the dam.
“Sure, we can do anything you guys want,” the RAs responded. “Just let us know, make a plan and we’ll make it work.”
My hallmates and I put our heads together and compiled a list of everything we wanted to do. We found times that worked with everyone’s varying schedules. We enlisted RAs to chaperone us. We bought tickets and planned activities.
The Real New York City
Because we were assertive, our hall got the full New York City experience. Early morning breakfast bagels, Central Park picnics, roller skating, subway riding, 4th of July fireworks, Times Square, Broadway, baseball, Coney Island, the Met, Soho shopping, thin slice pizza and more.
Talking to other people in the program (there were 550 residential students), some commented they wished they got out to see the city more. Listening to them, the importance of self-advocacy dawned on me. If my hallmates and I hadn’t been assertive, we might have never escaped Columbia’s little quiet paradise. And while the peace of campus was certainly nice, the serenity felt 100 times better partnered with the hectic environment outside its walls.
Reigniting the Love of Learning
Columbia was also a period of what high school parent Candi Meyer called “supervised independence.”
Meyer’s son Daniel, a rising junior at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, also attended a collegiate summer program. His was at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, as part of the Center for Talented Youth. Similar to me, the Meyers were looking for academic enrichment opportunities outside their usual circle.
Candi, a Franklin & Marshall alum, said “F & M was a draw because it was a campus I knew, and Daniel hasn’t gone to camps away from home.”
She also said her family was attracted by the program’s promise of “good academic opportunities but also the social aspect of living away.”
Though different, Daniel and my experiences embodied the value of leaving one’s comfort zone and exploring opportunities. Whether it’s through a program, like it was for us, or just an individual adventure, getting out and reaching beyond high school requirements can be truly transformative.
Still, Daniel had mixed feelings going in.
“I was excited to take the class, but somewhat anxious to be away,” he said.
In the end, though, making friends was no issue. Daniel commented that with “a dozen kids in my class, which is more people than in my usual friend circle,” meeting new people was easy.
In addition to the program’s social benefits, Daniel’s class, which he described as “game theory with a mix of probability and psychology,” was equally illuminating.
Candi attested that before the program, some of Daniel’s “love for math…had been worn out by school.”
“I wasn’t super interested in probability and didn’t think it had many useful applications,” Daniel said.
But, through the program, Daniel got the opportunity to explore more exciting applications of probability that he wouldn’t otherwise at school. He said the opportunity allowed him to “pick something [he] was interested in, but didn’t have too much experience with.”
Despite his initial worries, both Daniel and his mom feel it was a worthwhile, productive experience.
“I’m definitely happy I did it,” Daniel said. I learned a lot, and it helped me understand what it will be like living by myself in the future.”
His mom agreed.
“The experience of being on campus, what he learned, doing his own laundry…it was all very positive,” she said.
Regarding his class, Daniel added “I definitely changed my mind and might take more probability classes in the future.”
It even “reignited some of his love for math,” Candi said.
Debate is a great way for students to learn communication skills.
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