Cornell Engineering Experience
Summer College 2014
Hi, this is Kevin, a Chinese boy growing up in the rapidly-expanding, urban-industrial area that exhibits sparks of culture, technology, and rich traditions. I currently attend HFI in the South China city of Guangzhou, taking mainly AP classes along with other aspiring peers. I'm very interested in science and engineering, especially the science that directly addresses environmental and societal problems.
I'm a guitarist, a painter, an environmentalist, and an aviation nerd. I'm also the coordinator of a charity group, because I enjoy helping others with my skills and have a sympathy for social injustice and poverty. An eerie mix, I would say. I chose to study at Cornell this summer because of the amazing programs it offers, the equally amazing diversity, and the opportunity to meet new people.
I worried about two things the night before I departed. No. 1: my running nose would trouble me for another summer. No. 2: I would need decades to get used to the food. The moment I walked out of the airport, I wanted to pump the cool, clean Ithaca air into a tank and ship it back to my home. My first concern instantly became total nonsense as my nose totally forgot about its naughty clogging.
18 hours of flight brought nothing but weariness and a strained pair of legs. Pulling the suitcase that I later discovered was not even mine, I arrived in this gorgeous town of Ithaca and held my breath the first time I saw the sunshine.
It is awesome! I found that even on North Campus there's a lot to explore. I walked across a bridge and entered East Avenue where I saw something that I thought only appeared in dreams: Beebe Lake dam splashing white foam on the rocks scattered around the immensely deep creation of water, gently roaring in swirls, as it has been doing for centuries. On the left there is a waterfall. On the right there is the jungle that reminds me of the Amazon. It's exciting to be a member of this community that rests silently amidst nature, with squirrels, birds and trees that I can or cannot name, have seen or have never seen, all contributing to the refreshing smell of moisture and soil.
At RPCC I invalidated my second concern, as I discovered that they serve delicious combinations of cuisines from all over the world. It would take a while for someone to taste all of them. This week, I've tried my best to taste everything, but I believe I still have a long way to go.
Meeting people here is another cool thing. With a thousand "samples" from all over the globe, I met a lot of interesting and inspiring souls. Here's a piece of advice that I wish someone would have given me earlier: Get a cellphone that operates smoothly because if your phone takes approximately ten seconds to shift from contact to Facebook, you've already missed the chance to connect with a couple of great minds. I'm delighted to have found someone who shares my interest in civil aviation. And the fact that guitar enthusiasm is common on this campus added yet another factor of fascination.
Among things that I regret not bringing with me, my bike is certainly the one that I regret most. The hilly campus is quite large and it takes me about 26 minutes to walk to my engineering class. Cornell is designed to be bike-friendly, which is evident in its crisscrossed bike trails that pedestrians often borrow for convenience. It's a perfect way to work out even if you do not enjoy nature one bit.
Taking classes and researching are the times I enjoy the most. Olin library is a perfect place for me to find every bit of information I need for my engineering class project, with its world-class resource materials and high-performance computers, or to finish up the physics question in this hall of near-absolute silence. There is always a place to study, be it the library, the dorm, or on the lawn.
Every day here is exhausting, until you get tuned into the Big Red world. And this fact is made worse by the nostalgia that I tried to avoid but failed to during the first few days. But what if I someday make this my home? Then I'll have no such problem, I guess.
It's another breezy morning. Jogging on the asphalt path along Fall Creek, I celebrate the first week of living in this place that has become my summer home, with the brilliant bless of this tranquil town.
Life is good at Cornell!
It's not that I met you in the best time of my life.
It's the end of the fourth week. Counting becomes only more disturbing, instead of reassuring, when the t-minus 17 days till home becomes 17 days left with you. The stormy afternoons, soaking my shoes, affirmed the fact "it rains way too much in Ithaca." Being with you is all I have in mind. The sunny days, baking my bag, reminded me not of my home, where the sun is always sweltering, but of you, Cornell.
And I understand you.
You might need a shed, a loyal companion, a seasoned guide, or just an audible timepiece that keeps you around the clock. You've got them. The trees and grass plotted the quads and paths and hillsides, interweaved by asphalt bike trails, dotted by rocks of all shapes. Thousands of students from every corner of the world stay with you during the quiet summer, after the bustling year in which you proudly embraced some of the brightest people on earth. Fragrance of grass chewed by mowers permeated the air, reflecting the white and grey mixed by the low clouds above central campus. Wherever you want to go, there's almost always a route you like with dozens of others alongside that all bring you to the same place with similar distance. You'll never get lost, almost never, as long as the appearances along the way have gone deep enough into your consciousness. You have an elegant clock that peeks over the West Campus and the Arts Quad with unhindered sight. Unblocked chimes reverberate on the old brick walls of Rockefeller Hall, and the glass wall around Uris Hall. You hear it, or you see it. Perhaps you need something to remind you of the night check, after which the world becomes quiet above the gorges, below the twinkling stars. Even a brief separation called night is difficult. I would always jump up at 7 to embrace you, in the cool breeze of the brand new day.
You bid farewell to some of us at the end of the third week. You, too, sensed the proximity of our farewell for the first time since I arrived and got acquainted. For the first time, you hugged me with the same warmth that I embraced you. You invited me to talk to your faculties, to have lunch with your professors, or just to walk around finding something new and exciting. I enjoyed the intimacy that you began to confer. I appreciated the things that you began to confide, be it happy or sad, glorious or infamous. We got closer and closer, even when classes became tougher and tougher. Projects became more abstract and demanding—so demanding that simply scratching my head didn't help. Deadlines suffocated the energy; requirements clogged the effusive inspiration. It's stressful, challenging, but breathtakingly beautiful when everything finished is ranked an "upper end."
You want a walk. You want to vocalize. You want me. The evening poured upon the silver ground covered by foliage, while the breeze, cool and misty, carefully voiced one tone after another that slowly composed a song. You won't mock my awkward singing that I unconsciously uttered upon seeing the amazing tranquility you have. I touched your hair, trembling in the evening coldness, shuddering at the unforgettable time that I've spent with you, and how happy my life will be if I am lucky enough to stay with you for the next four years starting next fall. You smiled.
And you understand me.
It's not that I met you in the best time of my life. It is only the best time of my life because I met you. Blame it on the fabulous summer that deserves its place in everyone's memory, if you like, as you made this possible.
I remember what it was like when the first Monday struck my alarm. I was totally off-tune, rushing to breakfast, fidgeting in the room about what and what not to bring to my first physics class which started at 11:30, when RPCC already started serving lunch. The afternoon engineering class was different from the physics class which seats less than twenty people. The room was stuffed with students devoted to engineering, anticipating what sort of thrill would come from the two-and-a-half hour lecture delivered by professor Belina. What came, of course, was a chapter to read and the first week's assignment before we quickly got into a temporary group to intensively research the existing technology in cooling so that we have the high-end stuff that we can use to design the fridge that would be assigned the next week. The day was roughly composed of those two chunks of lecture, filled in with hours in the Olin Library where "any person can find instructions in any study" from the enormous volume of books and latest computers available. There is simply no excuse for not studying. The only thing I could look forward to was the next Friday.
The last days to eat in RPCC.
I was excited to discover that the place called "Robert Purcell Community Center" is right next to my dorm. It took me a while to remember the name which, upon arrival, was immediately superseded by its acronym RPCC, the place where I will be eating. You might hear rumors about how the food served in Cornell fits its scenery. I'm here to tell you that unfortunately, that rumor was so, so true. Dishes of all places can find their counterparts on the top-floor of RPCC, from the Caribbean to France, from the United States to Asia. Sushi can be found every day at dinner. Juices and pop are served till you cannot take them anymore. Pasta and pizza surpass those offered in restaurant chains like Pizza Hut. Even so, though, the irresistible flavor of my country, China, especially for such rice-loving person like me, adds to my longing for home every night when I take a walk around campus. Weekend treats in Collegetown are probably the best chance to reward the week. But there are not many days left for me to enjoy the fresh fruit and hot food in RPCC.
The last assignment to finish with BOREAS team.
We named Friday Team A BOREAS, developing RecoFridge step by step for every Friday afternoon's engineering group presentation. Each from different regions of the world, the Boreas members are specialized and dedicated to their work, proposing wonderful ideas that gave check-pluses to our grades. You might realize that the engineering class this summer is not a traditional science class but rather, a business world simulator. We all attend regular staff-meetings, and a TA will occasionally show up to offer help. Our TAs specialize in different engineering fields, thus becoming concrete examples that we can ask about their respective areas. I don't remember how many Google docs we have started, and don't know how we organized them all together. But I do know that not many days are left with this amazing group.
The last week-count before going home.
I remembered the week before I departed. I looked forward to boarding the multi-leg plane journey, on my own, some twelve thousand kilometers away from home, sweet home. I looked forward to the fresh air, the cool weather, the clear blue sky away from the megacity where I've spent most of my life. Every day from Jameson to Balch Arch to East Avenue then to Rockefeller Hall, I hear the fall, feel the scorching sunshine, breathe the wind, and study the terrain with my paces. The trip to Niagara Falls this Saturday adds to my adoration of the people I've met, even if that was the first time in five weeks that I actually stepped out of Ithaca. The sentiments have shifted subtly from anxiety to excitement to comfort now to the very attachment that I am reluctant to remove. Yet all that will happen in approximately a week. So will the final exams and farewell moments, the first part of which is stressful, the second heart rendering.
For six-week fellows like me, who came first and will leave later, the last thing I want is to make all the aforementioned memories the last. Nonetheless, somehow I need to part with it, only to make everything happen again, next fall.
I started this post on my flight back to Guangzhou. Simply because it's too long, I guess? 19 hours in the air, more than 12,000 km covered, the distance that had separated my home and my summer—I had not yet realized the magnitude---allowed for a time of reflection.
By the time I arrive at the bus stop, it would be another midnight, the same darkness and coldness with which I left Jameson in a planned hurry. The juggling OTIS elevator, usually grumbling louder than the impatient people inside waiting for night check, quietly walked me down the floors, saluted my exit through the glass doors by gently closing its gates, wiping the last slit of warm yellow light when I turned around.
I met two of my teammates of BOREAS, all of which completed presentable, creative, while realistic design work on time, at high quality. It's the goodbye between boys. It's the gratitude of meeting one another. It's the cliché but real "my pleasure to work with you guys." Even though BOREAS consists of people from Connecticut, California, Atlanta, Massachusetts, Washington, China and Korea, we worked as an integrated entity, balancing sparkling creativity, heated debate with collaboration and order, and we got along smoothly while completing professional engineering work on time. Of course, professor Belina and all the TAs contributed tremendously to this experience, and we learned a lot.
We rocked the engineering final in the afternoon before departure. Tension rose and eased when we approached and finished within the stipulated twelve minutes limit. My friends and I went to Collegetown for a decent dinner, only to find the heavy rain, stopping us from leaving. We walked slowly, from Hollister Hall to Olin Hall, where we have engineering class, via Olin Library, where I usually stay, through the Arts Quad then Milstein Hall, where architecture students, our "rivals" at Cornell, had already emptied, across the bridge over the gorge, passing Balch Arch, only to say goodbye to the cherished memories. Cold and misty wind splashes tiny drops of rain on our ties; the cloudy and gloomy sky dimmed down the light that was usually reflected from the glass exterior of Physical Science building, reminding me of the last bit of Central Campus.
And now I'm in a pretty baffling situation. I missed my home. I think tears dropped when I ate, for the first time in seven weeks, the porridge that my grandpa boiled for me. I might need some time to get familiar with the scorching humidity in Guangzhou, after my stay in the paradise of Ithaca (well at least for summer). Yet I still have the 11:00 Physics 1112 at Rockefeller Hall alarm sounding every day, as well as the weekday night check at 22:50. Simply put, I'm tuned to this campus, physically and psychologically, long after the flight took off bumpily in the misty morning, when the town is still asleep, unaware of my departure. Slicing through the clouds, the CRJ200 soared rapidly above thick clouds without giving me the last gaze at the landscape of Ithaca. This is it. It's time to say goodbye.
So long! I hope you enjoy reading my posts, however weird they might sound. Be it terrible or terribly enjoyable, I will try to improve. Most importantly, though, I'll be back here, but before that, I'm afraid you'll have to eat at RPCC yourself.