My summer couldn’t have been filled with more eye opening educational experiences. I decided to apply to journalism and creative writing programs in England and New York, where my favorite colleges are located; I sought to immerse myself into the culture of the schools, different teaching styles, and of course meet other students and locals who shared my similar interests. On my adventures through the British Universities of Oxford and Cambridge and my journey to Columbia University in New York, I learned so much not only from the information imparted in the classroom, but from my hardships and the people I encountered in each program.
My 2 week trip to Oxford was with the New York Times Student Journeys Program. It was strictly a journalism course where participants were given lectures by New York Times journalists, editors, and reporters. Each student was required to choose a topic on which to report and create a piece through journalistic mediums (documentaries, long form articles, op-eds, photo essays, etc). My love for British literature and being in Oxford, the mecca of literary genius, allowed me to form a project that would link the location, the culture, and the locals together. I was curious as to how the morals and principals British literature conveys influence modern day British culture. After asking several Oxonians, who said they had taken a British literature class in school, I found that many could barely recall an English novel or work that had an impact on them. I continued this process for about 5 days, hoping that maybe I would receive quality answers; however, I did not. I was extremely surprised, but more so, I was disappointed. In my mind, this idea would have been absolutely perfect, considering the location. Having only a few days left to complete the project, I tried to brainstorm other potential topics. Through the stress and concerns I had, it was especially difficult for me to organize my thoughts. Prolonging the process for another three days gave me only two days remaining to construct my piece. In panic one night, I called my mom and she admonished me to give the subject an opposing perspective— to write about how my perceptions of Oxford were wrong and showcase the interviews that were “unsuccessful” in my piece. I was apprehensive at first, but it seemed appealing enough since I was so desperate to just complete the project. I completed one very interesting interview with a creative writing professor at Oxford who provided me insight to the university’s culture pertaining to my new topic. With help from a couple New York times journalists, I finished with a project I was very proud of as well as an incredible learning experience that could not have been done anywhere else. However, after reflecting on what I endured through this program, I could see myself as anything but a journalist.
After taking a long bus to Oxford’s rival university, I finally arrived in the town of Cambridge. I was excited to begin a full two weeks of purely creative writing, something I knew I was passionate about. Coming down for the first dinner terrified me as I had no idea who any of the students were. Before I knew it, teenagers from Austria, Hungary, Italy, Spain, South Africa, Cyprus, Monaco, etc. introduce themselves to me. In utter shock yet feeling a bit more comfortable, I began conversing with them; I felt right at home. The program itself, Cambridge Immerse allowed students to focus on one subject for four hours a day, whether it was business management, creative writing or law, and then all together as a group of over 200, students could choose to participate in activities or attend various lectures. My class luckily, had only six students; communication with the professor was easy as he was always available. He tasked us with several short exercises at the beginning of each class, and as he taught us writing tools and techniques, we wrote a few longer pieces throughout the two weeks. The class bonded incredibly; by the end of the program I think we all had reached our giggling record and our cheeks grew sore from laughter. I grew close with two of the girls in my class in particular: one from Mallorca, Spain, and the other from San Francisco. Together, we melded in with the group of girls who took law and management; they were predominantly from areas around Europe like Vienna, London, Brussels, Budapest, etc. Just one week of spending time with them felt like I had known these girls for a lifetime– I have never made such close friends in a such a short amount of time. Besides walking through the narrow, cobbled streets and talking or stopping every morning for coffee on the way to our classes, one of the most valuable memories I shared involved discussing a variety of intellectual, historical, and political topics. One morning after our run, a German student from London and a girl from Singapore and I decided to sit down for breakfast. Being a smaller group than our usual 7 or 8, the three of us could delve into any enlightening discussion subject. We began sharing our perspectives on American politics and soon, shifted to topics surrounding education and World War II. My friend from Singapore gave an insight into the Eastern involvement into the second world war and mentioned the lack of education about that portion of the war. It was also interesting to listen to diverse points of view on the Holocaust and immigration from a German and British point of view. Some of the anecdotes they integrated about their families at the time added facts that I had never read in a history book or online. Although it can be intimidating, talking to different people is the most effective way to learn and gain awareness of the world around us. After two weeks filled with more of these stimulating conversations, funny moments, thrilling activities, and lots of writing, it was time to say goodbye. It was the first time I had cried due to missing/leaving family or friends. In my entire life.
Of course, I had missed my parents for the past 4 weeks. I finally reunited with my mom at London Heathrow airport, ready to take a flight to New York. I was psyched to catch up with her as we walked briskly along the action packed streets of the city. I was ecstatic to finally tour and take a class at my dream school, Columbia University. The Columbia University programs for High School Students offered multiple classes; I registered for Creative Journalism and Non-fiction. I was a bit nervous at first, considering my first journalism experience, but the word “creative” in the course title and my love for Columbia overrode some of my anxiety. The one week program involved reading many published articles in many different journalistic styles. We were also instructed to write profiles as a first assignment to acquaint ourselves with the other students and later in the week, write an Op-Ed article with a certain publication to submit it to in mind. Besides the profiling, I was glad this class did not involve too much interviewing and reporting; the class was more about writing and reading, two things I feel comfortable with and enjoy doing. I felt more at ease introducing myself to the other kids since I had been a part of such a memorable group of friends at Cambridge. Since I did not participate in the overnight program, I did not get the opportunity to bond intimately with the other students. However, this class was especially eye opening to me, allowing me to reflect on my New York Times journalism experience and compare and contrast it to this one. The week flew by, and by the time friday came, I could imagine myself working as a journalist.
I was so fortunate to have embarked on such an incredible journey this summer. Through familiarizing myself with different writing styles, meeting New York Times journalists, constructing friendships with students from every point in the world, and growing to know my likes and dislikes in career paths was more than I could ever learn at school during the regular year. I believe strongly that learning comes through experiencing– whether it be traveling, taking courses abroad, or simply having conversations with others. Even the difficulties I faced were rewarding to fulfill once I had overcome them. If it hadn’t been for the program at Columbia University, my mind would probably still be closed off to journalism. The events that make imprints in one’s path of life allow you to make decisions, build relationships, and find meaning in learning– all through obstacles, resolutions, and opening yourself up to experience.