That’s not a typo! In Ram territory at Colorado State, they don’t have Family Weekend … they have Ramily Weekend! CSU alumni Jeff Southern recently took The College Sage on a Ramily Weekend tour of scenic Fort Collins and the CSU campus.
While The College Board was busy creating an “adversity score” to allocate to every student, The College Sage was busy doing good in our community – actually helping students to apply to college, to complete their FASFA forms to earn financial aid, to apply for community and national scholarships, to build resumes, and to look for interesting summer opportunities. And over the past week, The College Sage has been attending awards ceremonies and surprising well-deserving graduating seniors with no-application scholarships! That’s right – this week we handed out $3000 of cash, renewed a $3000 scholarship so last year’s recipient could continue into his second year at Clemson, and orchestrated $1300 of dorm room packages from another generous donor, Freshman Fifteen, for two well-deserving Charleston students.
It’s that time of year again where I sit back with a big smile and think about the exciting college journeys that lie ahead for College Sage 2019 high school graduates. I also can’t resist offering a little bit of advice to send my students off with open eyes! Read my new blog article Sage Advice for a Successful College Experience. In my blog I highlight the 10 most important considerations for college bound students - from orientation to choosing a major, and study abroad deadlines to summer internships. My top two pieces of advice to remember during your college years are: You are Your Own Advisor! and Learn for the Sake of Learning. You can check out all my advice in my new blog article I’m Accepted! Sage Advice for a Successful College Experience - see link in my bio.
Going to college abroad – as opposed to study abroad for a semester – is an incredibly enriching experience. Having lived outside of America for almost half my life, The College Sage encourages students to give an international college experience considerable thought. Many students don’t realize that it’s also surprisingly affordable! Most international college costs are equivalent to attending an out-of-state public college in the US.
I recently caught up with a University of Edinburgh junior Katie Cole. Katie was on official business with a University of Edinburgh club in Charleston, SC. Her home university club had sent her to learn about a similar club at the College of Charleston. Here’s Katie’s story of how a teen from Savannah, Georgia found her way to an amazing college experience across the pond.
During last year’s spring break, The College Sage scoured Southern California for great college ideas. That trip to the West Coast produced so much excitement – College Sage Class of 2023 clients have received acceptances to UCLA, Berkeley, UC San Diego, University of San Francisco and Loyola Marymount. One College Sage student has already accepted to study in Los Angeles, with a merit scholarship! So this year The College Sage headed east and across the pond to find more uncovered gems for our adventurous students. Follow our journey to Ireland, Wales, and Sweden and check out these unique opportunities to study outside of the USA!
About this time of year, when many College Sage students are celebrating their college acceptances, the discussion returns to college affordability. College is a significant investment for every family, no matter the wealth level. Below are a few discussion points to help families through the decision phase of where to pay that May 1 deposit.
Foreword by Susan Leadem
In an excellent New York Times article, David Gelles recently interviewed Julie Sweet, Accenture’s CEO of North America for his Corner Office piece (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/02/business/julie-sweet-accenture-corner-office.html). In the interview, Ms. Sweet was asked what characteristics she looks for when interviewing applicants. To paraphrase her response, she highlighted two attributes she most values: firstly, curiosity and secondly, the applicant’s ability to deliver a tough message. I have reflected on Ms. Sweet’s insights over the past few weeks as I traveled through Cuba. Having never been there prior, and having never deeply analyzed Cuban politics, I now realized the fascinating history that I had neglected for so long. Each turn of a street corner brought more mystery and introduced me to more faces, collectively recounting a history I had never investigated. Returning from Cuba, I was left clamoring for more insights on the Cold War, Castro, the Cuban people, and US-Cuba relations.
As I toured the University of Havana, I was struck by the incredible study abroad opportunities that American students enjoy today – especially the chance to enjoy those “a-ha” moments at such a young, idealistic age. Pausing below me on the grand staircase of the University of Havana was a group of students from George Mason University. They had toured the surrounding neighborhood and were ready to meet with University of Havana students to exchange their student experiences first-hand. Over 325,000 US college students study abroad for credit. Over 325,000 students are exposed to this magical journey of discovering a new culture, a new people, a new way of thought. With that discovery comes an amazing growth in confidence, a newly-refined global perspective, and a trove of personal realizations.
Below I share one student’s recent reflection on study abroad. Matthew just returned in December from a six month adventure through Asia: two months of work-study with a small group of Columbia University students at Beijing’s Peking University (and working at technology powerhouse ByteDance) and a further four month semester as Columbia University’s sole exchange student at the University of Hong Kong. Please enjoy his personal journey of self-discovery below. And for advice on study abroad college opportunities, contact thecollegesage.com.
My Ghost Leg by Matthew Leadem
What does dry-cleaning have in common with stomach medicine, with a VPN, and heaps of unenduring confidence? They’re all mainstays I needed for the first time in my life – all a product of the city I lived in ever so temporarily. Beijing’s hot and sticky summers, in tandem with its notorious air pollution, turned my white oxford shirts into an ombré of yellow and gray, prompting frequent, and highly overpriced, dry-cleaning runs at business hotels. Stomach medicine was the digestif of most meals, taken out of prudent ritual rather than immediate need. Virtually any social media I had used back home required a VPN to access, which I routed through Taiwan or Singapore. And I hope the confidence will speak for itself.
I usually went by 0729 while in Beijing, the last four digits of my Chinese mobile number. To the average taxi driver, that’s your identifier. Beijing cab drivers are infamously chatty, nagging, and incredibly stubborn. Most would kick of conversation with, “你是哪国人？” (where are you from?). My answer elicited polarized reactions – upon hearing the United States, most would sever off conversation and gripe under their breath about the eternal, unending traffic on Beijing’s ring roads. But some were curious, and pressed on. The casual joke in passing about 川普(chuan pu, or Trump) was quite welcomed. More so than the assumption that I had come to China to find a wife, or the question of whether or not I used chopsticks. Some were incredibly humorous. I recall one jocularly accusing me of supporting Shinzo Abe’s regime because my first car was a Japanese-made Mazda, and one took the liberty of believing I was mixed-race – he guessed Middle Eastern and Chinese – simply having seen my face in the rearview mirror. While this bluntness may not necessarily extend to the general public, it gave rise to the first of many unique encounters in a new city.
People watching is an incredibly powerful act, for some even a hobby. I saw a woman, child in hand, clap a street vendor across the face and smash a shiny Huawei tablet, serving as the register, on the ground, then knock over an entire bamboo steamer pot display – all because she was mistakenly shortchanged five Chinese yuan (seventy-five cents, as of writing) on her purchase of a tangbao, a soup-filled dumpling.
I spent a few hours in a maternity ward – receiving an ultrasound scan alongside pregnant mothers – with no dividers separating us, mind you. Why? I had consumed duck intestine upon my professor’s request. She herself had proudly stated that “westerners have weak stomachs” and wanted to test her theory. Unfortunately, she was spot on. The duck intestine, which vaguely resembles fettuccine or some other flat, wide noodle, had an odd snap to it, and didn’t go down easy. What I assumed was an acquired texturewas actually a product of inadequate cooking, and just like that, raw duck intestine had slid down my throat.
I awoke from a nap later that day in a cold sweat, and proceeded to vomit multiple times, before reaching out to my program director on WeChat, asking if I could go to the hospital. It was dumping rain that evening, the estimated wait for a Didi, China’s monopoly on the rideshare market, exceeded an hour. And so I hobbled down a university clinic on foot and checked into the emergency room, awaking the doctor on duty in the process. I was gifted traditional Chinese medicine – memories of those few days are foggy, but it was some semblance of a root, maybe ginseng? - which I found marginally effective. The clinic was insufficient, and I was transferred to the larger university hospital – this time via Didi. While there, I was seen by three doctors, each of which generated a unique diagnosis. To one, my appendix was minutes from rupturing, and an appendectomy was forthcoming. To another, I had cholecystitis, my gallbladder urgently inflamed. And to the last, I merely had a brutal case of food poisoning. Either way, the majority of my examination transpired in the maternity ward, not the first destination I had in mind.
But for all of these mishaps and shenanigans, Beijing is a magnificent city, and furnished some incredibly unique experiences. I greatly enjoyed my status as a regular at a whiskey-only speakeasy housed in the first floor of a Mao-era tenement, and a Middle Eastern restaurant tucked deep into a hutong, or narrow alley with traditional architecture. I worked for an Internet Technology company that shared its office space with a government-run aeronautics research firm. They had moved in first, and adorned the shared lobby in appropriate fashion. Comically, we slick twenty-somethings at the IT firm migrated through a display of missiles housed in glass cabinets, before sitting down to our work on brand new Macs. In one instance, I recall returning from a night out clubbing at 6:30 AM – the first subway back to my neck of the woods – only to find that a throng of elderly men and women had congregated at the plaza near the subway exit for their morning tai chi. Needless to say, my washed-up appearance paled in comparison to their vibrant tracksuits – literally.
Even prior to spending six months in Asia – two in Beijing and four in Hong Kong – everyone had mentioned that the former was the “hard part” and the latter the “easy part”. I was told to be thankful I was getting the “hard part” out of the way first, and that it would all be smooth sailing from there on out. While I don’t feel the need to comment on the relative difficulty of living as a foreigner in each respective city, I can say that I did feel an urge to continue onto Hong Kong when my time in Beijing had reached a close.
And so,I landed in Hong Kong having already visited twice. I had spent significant time abroad. I didn’t necessarily face a language barrier, and I had a basic knowledge of the city’s public transit and geographic layout. I already possessed an Octopus card, a Hong Kong lifeline, and knew how to use it on the subway, or at any 7-11 convenience store.
I felt as if I had broken free from the study abroad stereotype. I felt savvy from the get-go, ready to take it all on.
Against my expectations, the first few days were more commensurate with most students’ experiences while studying abroad. All of a sudden I needed a US-UK power adapter – did not put that together. The street tram I was counting on taking cruised so unhurriedly that I could get just about anywhere faster on foot. Tipping – is that a thing here? I recall excitedly returning to an open-air café I had formerly visited, only to find it had been displaced.
By day three, the only thing I had accrued were foreign transaction fees on my debit statement, sprinkled with roaming data charges. Friends were forthcoming – I had to hope! Upon my previous visit, I had befriended a sales associate at a denim store in Causeway Bay, a highly commercial district towards the eastern end of Hong Kong Island. She had given me her WhatsApp and eagerly promised to show me around once I arrived for my extended stay, and, having zero contacts at that time, I was just as eager to taker her up on her offer. I sent a quick message – “Hey! It’s Matthew, the one who asked you to try on the oversized pale jeans that didn’t fit right haha…anyway I’m in Hong Kong now and would love to hang!” It felt oddly like a first date…my nerves kicked in at the prospect of being ghosted by the one person I could rely on to go out with. Twenty-four hours elapsed - solitude amongst the multitudes of people around me – and one could say her reading and ignoring the message was a humbling experience.
I think it took until now for me to register the unmatched power of a human network. I’m never someone who has had to bend over backwards to feel part of something greater. As one of four children, my immediate core growing up comprised of my siblings. Each of us prioritized our respective friends next, many of whom grew up within walking distance from us and attended the same elementary school. Small classes and close friendships cultivated an environment where I never had to find my own fit – because everyone fit by virtue of being there.
I find it very true that being surrounded by millions of people exacerbates the feelings of solitude that come along with a poor – or, in my case, absent – network of individuals. This brief pause in your life is meaningless to the rhythm of the greater city. Suddenly I was awash in a mega-city, and it would hurry on until I joined it.
But humans do like to connect – it’s their very nature. The first individual I came across, a fellow American on exchange, had the advantage of living on campus and meeting a large network of individuals. A sort of social ripple effect, one connection and I met the individuals alongside whom I would trek across Hong Kong and beyond.
This is not a unique phenomenon by any means. It happens every day, everywhere. But this moment of realization sparked a period of growth that has outpaced my entire career as a university student thus far.
Hong Kong affords absolutely everyone a place – and so four months passed seamlessly as I began to cherish the individuals around me, the streets and scenes I walked down and through as a commuting pedestrian. I was particularly partial to the neighborhood I settled in. Kennedy Town, the westernmost fringe of Hong Kong Island, buzzes with an identity it only recently refined. At last put on the map with a recent subway network expansion, it now thrives on a co-mingling of local Hong Kong families, many of whom come from blue-collar backgrounds, and transient foreigners who carry with them aims of injecting their respective backgrounds into the culinary and commercial landscape. Schoolchildren pace hand-in-hand, cats lie lethargically in shop windows. The sidewalk cha chaan tengcomprises the same individuals as the bistro Lyonnais, antique stores leave their retractable aluminum doors up to let the harbor breeze sweetly drift. Eager eyes curiously browse. Macau-style egg tarts are a universal crowd pleaser. Spaces and traditions here are shared.
In East Asian superstition, there exists a form of lottery known as “Ghost Leg” – a direct translation of its Chinese name, 畫鬼腳(hua gui jiao). It’s a tricky and randomized process wherein participants choose one of six starting points, each of which corresponds with one of six end points. What lies between the starting and terminus points is a convoluted web of interconnecting lines, all subject to the menacing “ghost leg”, any point at which the course of the pre-set lines derivate from a straight path, and cross over into the path of another. Each participant selects an origin, and then the randomized path is revealed – each of the six lines end at a different terminal point, and only one is the elusive, pre-selected path.
Unlike other forms of lottery, the appeal of “Ghost Leg” is its partiality to personal choice – the participants’ preference for one origin point is indeed a critical factor in this lottery. A slot machine, a lottery ticket, even arcade-style pinball and Japanese pachinkoall rely on pure fate to generate an outcome. But Ghost Leg prioritizes the participant’s personal investment. You choose your path, and fate draws the line.
Hong Kong is a transient place. The coming and going of individuals is as much a product of the city’s shifting identity as its socioeconomic prowess, as its magnetic cosmopolitanism, even its sometimes prohibitively high cost of living. Following three months in Hong Kong, I can’t help but feel that everyone’s Ghost Leg line has led them there. For most, there’s an impetus – but there is often also conscious choice. My study abroad is another’s contract as a domestic worker, a foreign businessman’s two-day conference, a local student’s return home from university abroad. It’s the teahouse owner’s commute home on foot, the tech startup intern’s daily passage across the harbor on the Star Ferry. Anyone can have a purpose in Hong Kong, but not everyone pursues it.
It’s as if not everyone’s line leads to Hong Kong; in fact, some never come remotely close at all. But to those whose lines intersect at this speck on the world map, a sense of appreciation is often imminent. It’s an appreciation for the glittering marvel that Hong Kong has become, an identity fiercely held onto in wake of nebulous political agendas, a constant influx and efflux. It’s the recognition that, no matter how far one strays, a Ghost Leg line will lead back to Hong Kong at some point down the road.