A European in America and Other Fun Things

As the summer draws to a close and the memories of it are still fresh in my memory, this post is almost a bit too late! As many of you know from my last post, This summer was potentially one of the most influential on me as a person and in my academic career thus far. I know, being only sixteen, talking about a “career” is a bit too foresightful, but in all honesty, I do not bother too much to think about that: I just do what I enjoy, and those activities are called by others “CV builders”. I am just lucky that the stuff I enjoy doing is actually helpful! Anyway, enough with my possibly condescending mini-rant, onwards with the adventures I had this summer! This post is likely to be very long, so beware!

First, but not the focus of this post, I was kindly invited to go to Imperial College to undertake a week’s worth of work experience, working on the European Commission Project, BioSonic. The aim of the project is to devise a system and build a proof-of-concept plant thereof, by which waste sawdust would be processed into commercial chemical products. I, along with a good friend of mine and, rather interestingly, an American from Edinburgh, spent part of the week in the lab conducting rough experiments to determine the most important factor in the processing stage: time, compound concentration or temperature. I am not sure of the level of classification the project planners want to keep the project at, so I kept the description as ambiguous as possible! Overall though, my time spent at Imperial was great and I would again like to thank all that made that week (and a bit) so enjoyable: The post-doctoral research fellow, the professor that organised the entire week and even the PhD students in the coffee room, who explained their PhD projects to me!

Me in my lab coat

The following week I managed to finish my 3D printer! It took about 3 months in total, but the funny thing is, while one may think that my all important GCSEs would have taken priority, they did not! I came into school during study leave to work on the printer – it was kept at school as we have a rather impressive workshop and a very helpful technology department, and they were keen to assist me in the construction! So, with the majority of my study leave spent in the workshop, how well did I do in the actual exams?

My desk while working on the 3D printer

The first successful 3D print!

I got Straight A*s (11 in total) and an A* in the AS-level Core 1 Maths module! For international readers, A* is A-star, the top grade. This is good, and my reaction when I first saw them was equally appropriate, but that’s just academic testing, which is rather dull, wouldn’t you agree! Much more important to me this summer was my 3 week trip to California!

I was fortunate enough to be accepted to and attend the Stanford Education Programme for Gifted Youths (EPGY) at, not surprisingly, Stanford University! Before I begin, let me point out that, like many of my posts, the following will be an unplanned and incoherent ramble about the events; however, unlike many of my posts, this one will be rather personal and revolve around a more visceral side of things, but I will still have the typical over-thought rants in there as well! For those who would prefer a TL;DR version and skip to the conclusion, everything was a lot of fun, I learned many academic, as well as, if not more importantly, life skills at EPGY. In addition, I shall be making two comparisons throughout the following ramble: the differences between European and US culture, and secondly, university life, given that I spent the best part of 7 or 8 days at Imperial College London. These comparisons are purely of my recognition and observation, so please do not take these as the final word on the matter, or indeed, an unchangeable opinion of mine, but enough with the disclaimers! Let us begin!

Before departing to San Francisco, I found out that United Airlines had 747-400s from the stone ages: the plane that I would be flying 11 hours from London Heathrow to San Francisco International. That entire debacle, I have already documented in a previous blog post, but I felt that rubbing it into United’s face again would not be a bad idea! Despite this, I willingly boarded the plane at 10:35am at Heathrow Terminal 1, gate 48 I believe, armed with my sturdy backpack, stuffed with electronics, copies of the Economist and two books, safely in the knowledge that my 23.5kg suitcase, being just below the weight limit, was securely stowed in the cargo hold. This suitcase was packed over a course of 2 days, during which time my sister’s room was occupied with my clothing, given that her room was more suited for packing. She was annoyed. I did not care. I needed to pack. So it goes.

My boarding ticket

I fly LHR-JFK (London Heathrow to New York JFK) about once a year. That’s about a 7 or 8 hour flight, which is very tiring! So, I was concerned about my 11 hour flight, especially given that I would be getting to bed at about 4am London time at Stanford that evening! However, it was a rather pleasant flight, despite United’s dire shortcomings. The crew was friendly, which is unusual for a long-haul flight, my neighbours were interesting and engaged in conversation with me, my copy of The Economist was captivating and I managed to have a good 4 hour nap, so I was not to groggy when I landed where the Korean Air plane had crashed a week before, on the same runway. There was no debris to goggle at.

Landing at San Francisco International

Immigration was a pain, as it always is*. The officer was more than friendly, however, asking the standard questions (“Where are you from? Where are you staying? Etc.) but the lines were soul crushing. I mean, when a fully loaded 747-400 comes in, you do not have only two officers at the international passport control, San Francisco Airport Management. So, after about 1.5 hours in the stuffy immigration hall, armed with passport, EPGY documents and my hefty backpack, I marched out into the arrivals hall, not forgetting my 23.5kg suitcase. Greeted by a friendly member of the EPGY programme, I was promptly loaded onto a bus bound for the Stanford campus!

I apologise for the rather linear nature of the post thus far, but this is probably the best way to describe the events! I promise, it will become more disjointed as we progress!

Anyway, on the bus, I met the first person who would be in my house. For the sake of privacy, no names or pictures of people shall be posted, unless I have received permission from them. I may make pseudonyms for them, but it may become too much of an effort to remember them all over the days of this post being written. We shall see.

Moving on, this person was from South Korea. Not starting the obvious “Oh, what’s your stance on North Korea?” conversation, we had a very good bus journey together. She would later go on to sing “Gangnam Style” in the native Korean during a karaoke activity, which was very impressive!

It may be worth mentioning how a normal day was structured at EPGY: it was, very much to my surprise, similar to am American High School, in that there is one schedule for the day, and that is repeated daily. I was used to weekly timetables, with a different order of lesson every day! Anyway, in the mornings, we would have 2.5 hours of lectures on our course, followed by lunch. Then there was a 3 hour study-hall session. The concept of these baffled me: most of the time, it was 3 hours of reading the set course material. I found it hard to focus for 3 hours, and given that the UK system often does not have 3 hour study sessions timetabled, it was a change! There would also be activities, such as discussions and debates, which I got involved in enthusiastically, but the TAs (teaching assistants, as I later learned) did not know exactly which debating format we were using [I don’t think we actually used one!], so I did not know whether I could make my annoying “Points of Information”, a feature of the British Parliamentary Style of debate! So it goes.

About the actual course, I took Environmental and Earth Sciences. Although not my first choice, which was Artificial Intelligence (for which I was clearly not qualified I would later find out), it was still insightful and very interesting. We mainly focused on agriculture and land use change, and although I used to joke around with my friends about farming, I now realise the challenging decisions that have to be made to support the current human population! I must honestly say that I learned a great deal from the experience, especially from the various field trips to different local farms and cooperatives! Interestingly, the AI guys were also with us in our house, called Casa Italiana, so I got to watch them program away at neural networks, binary trees, and whatnot during our occasionally tedious study hall sessions.

After these sessions, we had a snack and then an organised activity was undertaken. These were chosen based on your order of preference in a survey taken the previous evening during house meetings. These ranged from sports to walks to arts and crafts to excursions to Palo alto or the Stanford Shopping Centre. There was a huge range to choose from! After this, we had dinner and free time until the 9:30 curfew. Lights out was at 11:00, but if you had a torch and a good conversation starter, it would often range from 12:00am to 2:30am. Shame on you if your lights were on after 11:11 though! The RCs (residential counsellors who were also the TAs. These acronyms all confused me significantly!) would patrol the perimeter of the house, throwing tennis balls at the windows with the lights still on. On the first evening, when we heard the very loud thud, we honestly thought they had concealed cameras or that we were breaking the beds!

My bed on the right: already messy
The “main” room – the above picture is through the door

One of the requirements of the course was to complete an eight-sided research paper, based on the very broad term of “land use change”. I had met someone from the politically interesting region of Puerto Rico, which is technically part of the USA, but is not a state and has no say in D.C’s decisions. Just through working with her on the paper collaboratively, I learned a lot about Puerto Rico! Our topic was tidal energy production and the impacts the plans had and would have on local ecosystems. We decided to focus on the La Rance estuary in France, analyse what happened there and apply the lessons learned to the proposed tidal barrage across the Severn Estuary in the UK. We had to trawl through academic journals and papers, reference them correctly and compile a concise paper from that annoying qualitative data, all within three weeks, in parallel with the above schedule! We had to also produce a poster based on the project, to be presented by us during the final lecture session. I must say, although it was challenging, and at times stressful, working with my partner was a pleasure! She would not hesitate to work diligently and seemed to have a better grasp of the journal material than I did initially, which would undoubtedly be down to her interest in marine biology. I am very doubtful about whether I could have produced an equally good piece of work on my own, and for that, I must say thank you! Generally, the academic side of EPGY was very, very enjoyable and engaging! I most certainly learned a great deal about not only Environmental and Earth Sciences, but also how to go about writing a research paper.

Now onto the “other” side! Although the Stanford campus is truly astounding, one very important thing I learned from this experience is that, while it is important to go and see different geographical locations across the world, it is predominantly the people you are with that can make an experience truly unforgettable.

A view of the campus main entrance: Palm Drive

“The Oval” just outside of campus

The students I interacted with on a daily basis were a diverse, fun and intelligent group of individuals. Just my type! Despite my obvious lack of social skills, I managed to fit in nicely with a large majority of them, although I am very sure that my quintessentially British accent and mannerisms helped there! This comic by the Oatmeal summarises very well how I felt! I would often spark loud, somewhat obnoxious conversations about the clear superiority of SI units over their Imperial counterparts. I mean, clearly the completely arbitrary Fahrenheit scale is far, far easier to comprehend than Celsius, stupidly based on water’s physical properties. And the fact that one millilitre of water is one centimetre cubed, which is also one gram? How screwed up is that system! Please notice the extraordinary levels of sarcasm in the previous three sentences. Aside from the inferior imperial system, I would also, along with a French friend of mine, mock the American spelling: come on! Colour is spelt with the “U” and isn’t “S” much more civilised than “Z” [realise over realize!]?* These conversations would often be held with someone from Wyoming [I would always get that confused with Wisconsin. She hated that. I am European. Deal with my shortcomings of US geography.] and the other from Turkey: the Turkish one and I would often gang-up on the Mid-westerner; however, I must say that many of my stereotypical preconceptions of the US Mid-west have been disproved by her, and especially given how challenging past year has been for her, I have the upmost respect for her.

Of course, inside jokes developed. Naturally! The Europeans had theirs, well, me and the French guy at least! There were only about five or so Europeans in my house. More predominately, perhaps, were those I had with my roommates! I was very fortunate to have the roommates I did: they were both fun, bewildering and fascinating people. They have been kind enough to let me reproduce their names for this post: the first, David Steinberg, is a crossword genius, although he does not refer to himself as such; he completed a New York Times Monday crossword – which I have learned now is the easiest of the weekly rotation of NYT crosswords – in under 5 minutes. His record is, I believe, somewhere in the region of 2 minutes! He is also spearheading a project to digitise all the old NYT crosswords that were written before the current editor was appointed: Will Shortz. He has the tendency to make an obscene number of puns! By the end of the programme, he had gotten many in the house crossword-crazy! The other has possibly the best name I have yet to hear: Jackie Chan. The funny thing is, apparently his parents were fully aware of their life-changing decision! The obvious jokes were made quickly at the start, but he also provided much of the late-night “man-talk” – as others would later come to call them – conversation material.

These “man-talks” discussion topics could be separated out by week: speculation, despair and general silliness. In retrospect, the factor that would mark, but not cause, the transition were the stories of Jackie Chan’s “escapades”, which were, in chronological order, cute & funny, insightful & wise, and final. I shall purposefully keep it as vague as possible, you know, because this is, after all, the internet! Returning onto the topics of inside jokes, I would tell them about the different areas of London; from these, David, being unable to control the amount of puns he makes, developed an entire arsenal of jokes based on London, including using an Airline name to signify an area of London he would like to visit eventually, based on the stories I told him. A whole other host of other inside references were also developed based on the typical American camp occurrence: relationships!

Of course, this had to come eventually in this monster-sized post! The following will almost certainly surprise many of the people who know me, given my social awkwardness and my previous inability to talk to a member of the opposite gender, whom I may find attractive, as shown by the fact that, two years ago, I could not talk to a girl sitting next to me on a delayed 3 hour flight! So it goes.

Anyway, my situation was named “The Manhattan Project”, this being the first of three large events within my social circle – look at that! I had a social circle! You could probably guess the other names!

Note that, again, names of individuals have been concealed! If by calling someone “the *location* person” I am not characterising them by location, I am just using that as a point of reference. Anyway, on the 3rd day, a Wednesday, I, along with a girl from Los Angeles and a few others, were assigned the “Photography” activity, which involved walking around the Stanford campus and taking photos of the interesting places the RC would take us. We went to the Engineering Quad, rolled down the hills there (or up the hill on occasion!); we went to various fountains and we also went to a rather strange exhibition of wood sculptures, but overall, and rather interestingly, I was able to talk to the LA girl, astoundingly!

One additional thing that had to be mentioned was the poor guy in the neighbouring house, who claims we bullied him! He was talking in a rather quiet voice to me about something. Spanish, I believe, and his classes. He mentioned the word “poco”, at which moment one of the California-based girls ran up to us and proclaimed, “You’r name is Paco? Hi Paco!” From that moment onwards, the group of us would refuse to call him by his real name, only Paco instead!

One of many such sculptures

The Engineering Quad

After the supposed 11:00pm “lights-out” the speculatory “man-talks” commenced. I made a comment about liking the LA lady – some purposeful alliteration there. Please excuse the rather teenager-y nature of this part! I am not very experienced in writing publicly about this stuff! Anyway, little did I know about this whole embedded system in US camp-going teenagers’ minds, which I now call “The Camp Protocol” – or TCP, If any of you get the tech reference – would be set into motion. Before I knew it, an entire plan had been orchestrated, by the Mr Chan, no less, in less than 4 days for me to get a few minutes alone with her. I heard of this, as I remember, 2 days before the planned date. All very silly, I now realise, but it was fun nonetheless! Anyway, because I am socially behind, as I have stressed many times in this post, I have never had the opportunity to ask anyone out to a dance, for a meal or just in general! So, I was naturally petrified; however, I had to follow the plan! The idea was for me to met her on the balcony at 11:30am on the Sunday, after the visit to Capitola Beach the previous day and before the Stanford Youth Concert. I was told that her friends would ensure that somehow. I already knew how this was going to turn out!

The newly constructed Bing Concert Hall

The Capitola Wharf next to the beach

Jackie and David were in our room with me, playing “The Final Countdown” by Europe from his phone at around 11:20am. I will never hear that song the same way! Anyway, despite the clear superiority of the organisational power of the camp-going teenager, things went wrong – as I had expected – where the girl did not want to go onto the balcony, but that that was sorted out quickly somehow. I was still in the room, petrified. I was then instructed to go out to the balcony, three dire minutes behind schedule! I had different versions of possible events going through my head: “what do I say?”, “What if she says yes?”, and of course, “What if she says no?” were all contending for processing time in my head! I walked out and ditched any story I may have been planning, on the spot. See how spontaneous I had become?

I began with “this is becoming crazy!” referencing the entire orchestrated plan. Things proceeded as things do, but the outcome was what I had been hoping for! I texted Jackie “Yes; Yes”, which was code for “she said yes; yes to come down and say “yay!””. We had this all planned, you see! There would also be a “Yes; No” scenario, where nothing would happen afterwards, but there was the amusing thought of a “No; Yes” scenario as well! We excluded that as an anomaly in the otherwise efficient system. All of this is very clichéd and, if I dare say so, typically American*, but I thoroughly enjoyed the process! So it goes.

Unfortunately, despite the success of the “Manhattan Project”, the relationship as a whole – if you want to call it that – did not work out: I am hesitant to go too much into detail; they are not that interesting, just personal! I can only speculate, but I believe I slipped up somewhere within the following two weeks; I can not be sure where though! In any case, I apologise to her for anything I did, be it one event or an accumulation of many. I do sincerely hope that she finds all the success in the future, whatever the form of that success.

Did I do that right? I guess we shall never know!

Moving swiftly on, there were, of course, other relationship stories! David, the crossword wiz had his own escapade the following week, but that ended almost 3 seconds after it had begun in what had become to be known as “The Thursday Bomb” and was codenamed “Hiroshima”, as the logical historical progression dictates.** Again, nothing the readers would find interesting happened; it was just a lot of drama, to the extent that the head RC had a talk with us three in our room to work out what had happened. Nothing much happened. It was teenage overreaction and drama. All the more fun!

This was the topic of discussion for most of the 2nd-week “man-talks”, hence the aforementioned despair. Indeed, Jackie’s interests were revealed [guess the codename], but very little was undertaken, given the limit of time available. This is partly the reason why this debacle was changed onto Version 2 of the code-naming protocol and was thus called “The Cuban Missile Crisis”. Given that the camp is for “gifted youths”, are you surprised that we versioned the different code-naming protocols, or that we even had code-naming protocols themselves? You should not be!

Third-week “man-talks” were just silly. They was a bunch of “would you rather” questions, involving deserted islands, teamwork and London, alongside some conclusion speeches from each one of us. Mine involved the words, as I remember it, “Gentlemen, it has been an absolute pleasure being your roommate.” We had a resolution: we could each ask each other three questions relating to either their lives or any happenings at EPGY over the previous three weeks. That was very fun, and I know that at least one other person was interested in the content of our “man-talks”, but she shall not find out! What happened in Room 217 stays in Room 217!

Aside from this, there may have other interesting things going on, but of these, I had very little knowledge. I often had evening conversations beside the basketball court that was next to the house with someone, who would say that I had a “deep man voice” (I have yet to hear that repeated!) to discuss these and other matters! All of this, while on occasion stressful, was in retrospect very informative and fascinating for me as a person, not to mention the laughs we all had later on! She was one of the culprits in the orchestrated “Manhattan Project” and was, as far as I remember, eager for it to be executed as soon as possible, while I wanted to delay it! Indeed, I was even told by someone – who looked very much like a CIA agent when wearing sunglasses – about his story with a girl he liked outside of EPGY turning out to have (to him) an unexpected sexual orientation. So it goes.

Alongside my first time asking someone out, there were also many other firsts for me! Writing a research paper based on scientific literature was new to me, which made the task all the more challenging! Three weeks is the longest time I have been away from family, and that on the West Coast – a place I had never before been to. However, perhaps most amusingly, it was also the first time I slow-danced – purely in a platonic fashion, mind you, with the aforementioned person I would talk to beside the basketball court! Indeed, I had not been rid of my social awkwardness: after about 1 minute, she (jokingly, I hope!) stopped and said, “you are far too awkward!”. So it goes!

I apologise: this post is already at 4,000 words, but I have much more to write about! If you want, take a break here! It’s not going anywhere soon.

Evenings were always rather enjoyable. After dinner, there was free time, during which various things would be undertaken: a common sight was a large game of poker. One person would always deal, never failing to be present when called for a game! I asked her whether she liked dealing. She said something along the lines of, “No, but I prefer it over playing”. There were also “Spotlight” sessions, where people would be interrogated by the other 45 members of the house. Common questions were “pet peeves?”, “most embarrassing moment?”, etc. I have a few highlights from this! One person, originally from India, was asked what his biggest fear was. He replied, “Claustrophobia. I guess thats why my parents say I was born quickly”! Pet peeves ranged from protruding nipples through cloths [that person even forced her father to tape them down once!], girls “writing less-than-three less-than-three on their friends’s posts, and my own one, people not following the unwritten rules of the London Underground. However, perhaps the highlight was the head RCs question: Who would win in a battle of equal numbers: pterodactyls that can poop chainsaws or grizzly bears with machine guns for legs? This debate went on for a while and eventually became a staple Spotlight question! It even went so far that one of the AI guys is currently writing a simulation for the situation! We are avidly awaiting the outcome. I am on the Pterodactyl side. Proof is here.

One of the RCs also had the rather nice idea of the “Kudos box”: one would write on a piece of paper, “Kudos to …. for ….” and put it in the box for it to be read out after evening announcements were over. These were always very enjoyable! The Kudos box was also used to get people onto spotlight: “Kudos to ….. for doing spotlight”. I managed to get a few myself, amazingly, for giving out British coins to the fascinated Americans! I had about £2 on me in small change, £3 in £1 coins and a £2 coin, that would be reserved for someone! By the end of the 2nd week, it was all gone – so thats £7 –  to people asking for them and me handing them out to people, most noticeably my roommates, who both received a £1 coin. The £2 coin went to the LA girl. I do hope she still has it: they are not particularly easy to come by, and I believe the one I gave her had a non-standard tail-side design!

Oh, another thing that annoyed the hell out of me was the US paper size of 8.5 x 11 inches, while the entire world uses the A4 standard – a ratio of sides of 1:sqrt(2), the silver ratio. That means that if cut in half, it will maintain the same ratio! Genius, right? Not so to the Americans*. They even have 8.5×11” binders, which are even more annoying!

As I was “The British Guy”, during one activity, we played a very enjoyable game of Jeopardy! One of the topics was “Magna Carta”. It slowly evolved that our team would always choose the Magna Carta questions just because they had “the british guy”. I knew nothing of the Magna Carta. We came last. So it goes.

Its actually astounding how much I can write! Jackie did the clever thing and wrote a daily journal while he was there. I am reliant on my memories and a list of “moments to remember” I wrote shortly after leaving! One thing that has helped me remember what happened was listening to the music played on the trip. “The Final Countdown” is now probably the most influential for me, but there are others! The person from Beijing sang “Let her Go” by Passenger, which is a lovely song, during the talent show; “California Gurls” by Katy Perry, although it is a horribly popular song, features on the list as well; but perhaps best of all is “It’s All Coming Back to me Now”, by Céline Dion, which two of my RCs sang on stage at the talent show! Just watch. It is priceless!

There were many other activities, given that I was there for three weeks! A few, however, stand out, most noticeably, the three excursions to Palo Alto (twice) and the Stanford Shopping Centre – or as the Americans would unceremoniously say, center*. I would always be accompanied by my French friend on the Palo Alto trips and we would patrol University Drive in search of fun things to do, all the while laughing at the pitiful attempt of the “Paris” restaurant to emulate French food and having fun with the Apple Store employees. One thing that I have noticed is that the retail personnel in the US is much more receptive and talkative than those in the UK, which makes for a very nice experience! The other time at the Shopping Centre, I accompanied three from my house – who had called themselves the BBCs [I am not sure whether it was coincidence that this is the same initialism for The British Broadcasting Cooperation] which stood for “Big Bitches Club”! So it goes.

To where did I accompany them? Well, into Victoria’s Secret, under their request, no less! Actually, I had to also literally drag Paco, who accompanied us, in as well! Being European (!), I did not have much of a problem with it and we had a good laugh when a VS shop assistant told me, “you know, a lot of men come in here looking very uncomfortable and not knowing much about what they want. If you ever shop for a lady of your own, you must know three things: Her cup & bust size, her underwear size and what her ‘preferences’ are”. Now that I think about it, I think that she kept the notion of “preferences” as vague as possible on purpose! So that was a life lesson I learned. What surprised me more was that VS had an outlet on the Stanford campus! Well, you know, college, right?

Palo Alto Transit Center

All things must come to an end, however, but before we embarked on the all-nighter on the final night, I had to say goodbye to my friend from a different house, who lives in New York: given that I have family in NY, I am almost defiantly going to see her again, but don’t get me wrong, I will make every effort to see all my friends from EPGY! We met on the first day and had stumbled across each other basically every subsequent day, almost like we were stalking each other! I called her my stalker. She called me hers. So it goes.

While running around campus to find her, I bought some Stanford merchandise, as required from a college visit! When I finally found her, I also met someone in a different house from the UK (finally!). A few days of Facebook messaging later, I now have a new friend in London, thank goodness! It would have been depressing if I had no new London-based contacts after the 3 weeks!

Dawn on Mayfield Avenue, at about 5am

So, there was the all-nighter. I was knackered by 8am, my campus departure time for Flight UA901, gate G200 from San Francisco International. We had watched two or three movies. I had prepared my not-so-sturdy-anymore backpack with a rip in it, charged my electronic devices and overreacted again about United’s incompetence. I was armed for the 11 hour return journey. Wearing my ugly, baggy trekking trousers and a t-shirt that was far too large for me, I marched downstairs and headed for the bus, while receiving possibly the greatest send-off I have yet to experience! The majority of the house was there, offering hugs and handshakes and farewells. As far as I can remember, I hugged the South Korean, who had accompanied me on the bus from SFO on the first day, last! What a nice sense of completeness! The only person not there that I would have liked to said a final goodbye and thank-you to was the girl from LA, but out of everything good that happened, I could not justify complaining about it, rather strangely for me, if you have read any of my other posts!

The main communal area of Casa Italiana after the all-nighter

On the bus, I had a 45 minute long conversation with another British girl, who actually does not live far from me! I believe we plan to meet up some time in the future, which would also be very nice. She told me to watch Dr Who. So do my friends. I will eventually. I promise. Please do not kill me for not watching it. So it goes.

At check-in, my bag was 14 pounds overweight, they told me. How the hell am I meant to know what 14 pounds is? I asked them for a conversion into, you know, the world mass standard measurement unit apart from in America*, kilograms. After a surprised look and 5 minutes of back and forth, it was about 6kg, which I had already calculated on my phone, but did not tell them. Sorry United. Give me my inflight entertainment next time.

I could not fit 6kg into my bag. There was no way it was going to stay intact! So I asked, “if I remove, say, 3kg, will the cost be any lower?” “No,” was the response. Right. I was somewhat pissed and tired now. I ceremoniously removed the bag from the scale, opened it and my backpack and proceeded to move heavy books that I had in my backpack (to keep the suitcase weight down) into the suitcase. This was then placed back on the scales. 20 pounds, I believe, whatever that is. “Right, is the cost the same?” I asked. “Yes,” was the surprised response. I paid, but I exploited the system flaw. Sorry United. Give me my inflight entertainment next time, or at least, functional in-flight Wi-Fi when you advertise it.

San Francisco International terminal

I met that girl from the UK, whom I met on the final evening, again for a nice short lunch before she had to board her flight. I spent the best part of an our on my iPad, leeching of the airport WiFi to download a few more films. I boarded the plane, again a Boeing 747-400, last, given that I was in boarding group 5. I noticed that the flight number, for the LHR-SFO flight was UA900, and this flight was UA901, which would have meant that the plane I was about to board had just arrived from its daily London-San Francisco stretch. Interesting, I thought to myself, but this information has very little to add to this already far too long post!

My London-bound 747-400

My LHR boarding pass

The flight itself was lovely. Again, The Economist was insightful, the movies, amusing, and the company, talkative: the man sitting next to me had a fascinating story: he had started his own business in retail and brand representation, is the best way I can put it. Simply put, they analyse the demographic data of an outlet’s custom, and tailor its layout and representation to suit it. Did you know know that the Victoria’s Secret outlets in Italy have the check-out obscured, while in Germany and the US, they are in clear view, due to the different cultural quirks in each demographic? Neither did I. I now know even more about VS. So it goes.

Sunset over Greenland on the Great Circle Route. The picture was taken from the emergency exit window.

I landed in London at 7:35am, after my UTC night-time flight. The all-nighter ensured that I got at least 4 hours of sleep on the flight! I approached immigration. The UK boarder force are a nice bunch of people, if you have not done anything wrong, that is! I proudly swaggered through the EU Citizens line, looking at the ever growing non-EU citizen line i.e. the Americans. What a nice turn of events*! With a fully loaded 747-400 coming in from the US, one would have thought that the UK Boarder Force would have had more than two officers to serve that line. Allas, no. Looks like the US and the UK are equally as incompetent at timetabling their officers effectively. So it goes. I got through with a nice “welcome back” from the officer, to be greeted with the standard Terminal 1 poster: “Welcome!”

The “Welcome” poster that greets all London Heathrow Terminal 1 arrivals

What a nice sight! Although my affections for the UK are not as strong as those, say, of a UK national, it was nice to be home! I then started to ponder what I have mentioned in the introduction: is campus life right for me? I must say that the three weeks at Stanford were some of the most memorable in my life and I would be hard-pressed to think of a better thing to have done in those three weeks, but all the same, assuming acceptance is not an issue, would I enjoy going to Stanford, or indeed the US overall? The question I have to ask myself initially, is whether I would prefer the East or West coast. For me, the West coast is very far away from what I call home, Europe. For me to pay £1000 each time I want to come to Europe for holiday or to visit my family in the UK and Austria, seems a but excessive. Indeed, even my US-based family are all on the East coast! In that respect, it is better to go to the East coast, right? But, you see, Stanford! It’s such an amazing place! But so are MIT, Princeton, Notre Dame, Harvard, etcetera, etcetera.

Then again, I also have to think about tuition! The US costs are crazy, and I do not really want to take out a student loan. European Universities are much, much cheaper, and, especially the one I am looking at in September, has been called “The MIT of Europe” – the ETH Zürich. The advantages of me going here, aside from the monetary costs, would be that I get to practice and perfect my German, thereby giving me a full second language, as well as being within my home continent, while having a comparable level of international diversity as that of a US college In addition, my future professional network would be based largely where I would like to live and work and not across one of the world’s largest oceans. As mentioned, I am visiting it in September for a day, so we shall see how I like it!

Another question I would like to raise is that of a campus. Campus life is, as I have learned, very fun! One does not have to worry much about the annoying little things, like phone and internet access, as well as food and accommodation all being supplied. I just worry that in a campus environment, you can be isolated from the wider world. I mean, I hardly left the Stanford campus, and why would you ever need to? Everything you can imagine is on campus, even a barber shop! I guess that’s what attracted me to the MIT campus when I visited: you are integrated with the city, somewhat. Imperial College is very much in that situation: there are various buildings, but all within the context of South Kensington, so the students are roaming around an exciting area of London, while also receiving a world-class education. I can imagine, only hypothetically, that one can learn much more about the world in a non-campus university than a campus university, and thus be prepared for the world of work and play when the four years are over. Indeed, one can also argue, and my head is arguing this internally consistently, that that it is only four years: you might as well enjoy yourself on a campus university, but then again, is it really worth the exorbitant fee?

I really do not know, and it will only be after I attend one of the Head-start courses at a UK university that I will have a better understanding. In any case, I would be reluctant to attend a UK university, due to the lack of diversity in the courses offered and the fact that it would not be much of a change or challenge for me, given that I grew up here! If anyone would like to discuss the matter, I am more than open to conversation! Just look at the Contact Me page.

The view of campus from the tallest building: Hoover Tower

In any case, it is high time I finish this post off! As I embark on my A-Level studies in years twelve and thirteen (junior and senior year, for those in the US) and begin to ponder the great questions of life and my future that will undoubtedly present themselves with the difficulties of choosing a university and the pressures and interests of my parents to go to the US – on my mother’s side – or stay in Europe – on my dad’s – I will look on at my time at Stanford with fondness. I have to consider whether I want to go again next year: I do not want to start comparing the two experience’s and try to emulate my unforgettable time this year. I do not want to take the risk of tarnishing such a great memory and to get more friends, with whom I will want to stay in contact with, as I have made so many this time around! One, who lives in Chicago – the basketball conversation person- is planning on coming to the UK next year, and I am honestly very excited for it! My French friend and I have agreed to meet up sometime in the future, potentially when I next go to Paris or Marseilles, and of course, if I am ever in California, I will have to get back together with my roommates and all the other friends I have made there, including the poker dealer! It is highly likely that I will be going to New York before the summer, and even then, I have to meet up with my NY stalker, as well as take a 20 hour train ride up to Chicago to meet up with the Chicago girl!

About the train system. Its a 20 hour journey for a 1145km distance, meaning the trains go about 57 km/h (35 mph) – its actually a bit faster, as the tracks make a northerly curve and do not make a straight line between the two cities. That, for a rail connection between two large cities is rather silly. It’s about as bad as the UK rail network, which, although extensive, is also really slow! My mother is not going to like me saying this, but I have to say that the German, French and Austrian trains can go up to, I believe 300 km/h (186 mph). Using a German Inter-city Express train on that same length would be an approximately 3.8 hour journey (1145/300)! How’s that for infrastructure? Of course, Elon Musk’s Hyperloop is a different story altogether.

So, I guess the only thing left to do is say thank you to everyone who has made my summer as great as it has been, from the crew at Imperial to every single person at Stanford, even if I did not get to meet you. The catering staff, the housekeeping staff, the premises managers, the EPGY administration, the Stanford Pre-colligate Studies Department, the bus drivers, the teachers that wrote my letters of recommendation (without which I could never have had the above experiences), the network administrators, the book store shopkeepers, the Starbucks staff, the course instructor, the Victoria’s Secret assistant that taught me “the three things”, but perhaps most importantly, the residential counsellors and students, especially in my house, Casa Italiana. You have all made my summer! There are obviously people and events that I have failed to include, but seeing as this post is by far the longest I have written – totalling in at over 7,700 words – I hope you will forgive me! I wish the RCs all the best in their future studies and lives, while I also wish the same for every single student at EPGY.

I leave you in a rather clichéd manner, which I generally hate to do: an extract from the horrible, diabolical, but applicable song “California Gurls”: “you can travel the world, but nothing comes close to the golden coast”. I have yet to travel the world, but I must say that I would not exchange my memories of the so-called “Golden Coast” for anything!

Until next time, goodbye.

The archway towards the main quad on the dawn of departure
A lovely moment from the final evening, not soon to be forgotten

Editors note: I would like to thank Jackie Chan, David Steinberg and the UK-based person I met on the final evening of this experience, all of whom are mentioned in the above post, for their contributions  to and time spent reading and checking the post before publication for accuracy and spelling errors. I guess you could call the post peer-reviewed! 

*please note, I like America! It’s a free country with a free market, not undertaking terrorist activities or getting involved in humanitarian crimes [some may argue otherwise in their history, but hay, look at Germany or Austria’s history!] , so they are all right with me! These quips are just all in good humour! Trust me!

**I must apologise for using names of the events that involved the loss of over 200,000 lives during World War 2 to describe such activities. I sincerely hope that for the good of mankind, nuclear weapons never have to be used on such a scale again and that Nagasaki and Hiroshima will be the only nuclear catastrophe references that will ever be used.


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