Category: Life On The Hill

All the blog posts related to my life (and thoughts) at Cornell!

Prefrosh, you’ll be fine.

spring at Cornell, featuring the obligatory cheery blossoms and clock tower.

Spring at Cornell smells mostly like manure.

I wonder if that would be my impression of Cornell springs 10 years from now: the smell of the blooming flowers only masked by the fresh manure laid down by the groundskeepers, but I am consoled by the fact that, well, for the first time in months, breathing in the outside air deeply (not that you’d really want to) doesn’t hurt the inside of my nose (though, going back again to the poop on the ground, it smells like poop, so don’t breathe in too deeply you know?)

Spring at Cornell looks like small birds and prefrosh, carrying their (probably free) bright red Cornell drawstring bags, with their five-by-eight index card name tags hung around their necks. It sounds like parents giving their kids advice, and it sounds like the pre-freshmen asking the current students for directions.

When I got my acceptance letter to Cornell four years ago, I wanted to go to Cornell days too, so I could “make the best decision” (was deciding between Vanderbilt, Cornell, and Georgia Tech). My parents said ‘no’ to spending the money to visit the schools (Other than Georgia Tech, of course, but that was in my own backyard). They told me that, outside of the programs themselves (ex: GT is known for engineering) there’s “very little difference” in all three of these institutions; whichever one I decide, I will probably be fine in and adapt to. At the time, I thought not being able to visit these schools put me at a severe disadvantage in terms of my final decision. I chose Cornell in the end solely based upon the fact that to me, it felt like the better option for pursuing pre-med and statistics at the same time, with the flexibility to switch majors if my plans change.

I ended up loving Cornell–I had my struggles and difficult days, sure, but that would have happened at any of the three schools I listed. I remember there was a period of time in my sophomore year when I felt particularly down–sophomore slump, I called it. That was when I wished I had visited another school, maybe came to another decision.

But the thing is, I also know I probably wouldn’t have made another decision if I had a chance to visit the schools. In addition, I think visiting the schools, while that might have been valuable, wouldn’t necessarily tell me everything I need to know about the school. Admitted/prospective students see a single snapshot of the campus. And at Cornell, that single snapshot also happens to be the most beautiful few days on campus (us students joke about Cornell owning a weather machine that turns on every year when prospective students are visiting), with cherry blossoms (and poop smells) on top. It also happens to be when the food at the dining halls are particularly good, and when the current students are particularly friendly (you can attribute that to the nice weather, I’m sure). Finally, I’m also fairly sure Cornell picks the professors with popular classes (or reputations of actually being good professors)–because you gotta protect the prospective students from the professors who are so smart and accomplished that they fail to recognize you as a human being.

What prospective students don’t see is the freshman year loneliness, the discouragement and burnout when yet again, you tried so hard on a prelim and still failed. The exhaustion that you still felt after consecutive all-nighters and multiple coffees in a single day. The times that you felt  so average and inadequate because your professor said the words “you know?” and “obviously…” far too many times in a lecture, and while the students around you nodded, you just don’t get it. The time when you approached a professor, obviously distressed, but you get a less-than-empathetic response. The times when you spent almost a week in the Olin Library stacks, surrounded by books and little social interaction because you had so many exams in a row. The time when you pretty much had a nervous breakdown after stepping in a foot-deep puddle, because the week was just too much and that was the breaking point for you (sounds really personal, so I will say that yes, this actually happened to me–my boyfriend will attest to that; and yes, it sounds incredibly crazy, but it felt valid to cry and break down at the time). Let’s not even begin on how little the administration cares about their students, starting from the subpar mental health services. Then there’s the toxic pre-med culture, competition, and probably some occasional grade-deflation thrown in between. Freshman and sophomore year, I also remembered feeling lost, unsupported and oh-so-far away from home.

It’s also not possible for prospective students to feel the joy of sledding down Libe Slope on a snowy day on a plastic storage bin lid. Feeling the connection with some of the brightest, kindest minds. Playing in a quartet, then meeting your significant other and best friends through music, then having all of your friends accompany you in your senior recital in your piano solo debut. Meeting incredibly interesting people, all the time. Beating the 9PM boba rush at UTea and just laughing and bumming around with your friends after the last organic chemistry prelim you’d ever have to take. Admiring the gorges and nature on the day-to-day. Taking a class with only the most famous Mozart scholar of our time before he retires. Learning, living, breathing, simply taking in a wonderful learning experience.

Cornell can be a wonderful place, and it has helped me grow–but I also had some dark days here, when I felt like I was just barely surviving. You can’t experience either of those sides, good or bad, fully, by coming to Cornell for a few days. Furthermore, it’s impossible to anticipate how you will fit in, or even what your days will be like here. Sure, you know what the campus looks like, you might attend a lecture or two, you might ask some students for advice–but you won’t truly experience life as a student here until you’re actually a student here. You may have a wonderful visit, commit to Cornell, then hate it. You may hate the visit, end up committing for some reason, then absolutely love it. You could end up somewhere else, hate that place, wish you come to Cornell instead.

And here’s the thing: I probably would have a similar experience at Vanderbilt or Georgia Tech too. Change the proper nouns and place names, and that’s probably exactly what would’ve happened. I’m not saying I made a bad decision, or that I wish I had gone somewhere else–but, if all else was kept equal (for example, degree programs, my career aspirations, etc), and we looked at experience alone, it would probably have been the same. I would have met cool people no matter what, I would have had hard days, good days, sad days, no matter what. I probably would still meet a best friend, still met people I liked enough to hang out with. I would still have met a horrible professor, and probably some good ones too.

So, Prefrosh–don’t worry so much about the college experience itself. It isn’t that there is no value at all to visiting, but if you’re worried about not being able to visit, I promise you will be OK. DO consider the program itself, your career aspirations, where you want to be after graduation, and the cost of attending.

(Feel free to reach out if you do have any questions for me though! ask away while I’m still here~)

Food Diaries Friday: Koko

Koko is a Korean restaurant in collegetown, and as somebody who has never tried Korean food prior to coming to Cornell, the two Korean restaurants in collegetown, Koko and Four Seasons, has changed me into a hardcore Korean food fan (I actually prefer it to Chinese food…). The restaurant has also quickly became a date-night favorite between me and my boyfriend.

Koko has a small storefront, but on any Friday it would be packed, mostly with students. The ambiance of the restaurant is quite cozy, and actually, between the other Korean restaurant in collegetown, the service is actually better. The food has a sort of ‘rustic’ and ‘home made’ vibe to it, and in all the times I’ve been here, I have not been disappointed.

My go-to order here is the dolsot Bibimbap. It’s a pretty ‘classic’ Korean rice dish with an egg, veggies, and your protein of choice. I went with tofu of course–in the case of this dish it’s also cooked in a sizzling stone bowl. If you just get the regular bibimbap, that is just cooked rice with the toppings in a normal ceramic bowl. I usually find that the regular version isn’t hot enough to fully cook the egg, even after mixing.

Bibimbap with tofu, vegetables, and spicy red chili sauce

Topped with the spicy and tangy (with a slightest bit of sweet) red-chili sauce, it’s a delight in my mouth. As for portion size, this is what I get when I’m hungry and it’s very filling.

I also really like this restaurant because it’s vegetarian friendly! Though not catered to only vegetarians, there are a wide selection of dishes that could be made vegetarian. Many of the dishes will allow you to customize with no meat, or add tofu as the protein. My other favorites on the menu are the kimchi pajun (a savory kimchi pancake) and the soondubu jjigae (it’s a soft tofu stew, and you can add other proteins if you would like as well).

Overall, Koko is a great restaurant to eat at for a chill Friday evening and may just get you to fall in love with Korean food.

Vegetarian Friendly? 4/5 (YES!)
Ambiance: 4/5
Price: $$/$$$
Food: 5/5
Service: 4/5

Food Diaries Friday is a series on my blog where I write about my “food adventures” in my last semester at Cornell.

You can read the previous installment here: Pho at Saigon Kitchen

My 22nd Birthday!

Like most Cornell students who weren’t born in the summer months, I’ve spent my birthdays here among my friends. I’m not the type of person to be into big-birthday-bashes, but I have had the blessing to have some of the best friends (and boyfriend) who’ve managed to make these birthdays away from home special.

But first… brunch!

My birthday this year fell on February break for the first time since I started my undergrad education. This was amazing because I just had a relaxing day with no stress of homework or exams.

My boyfriend took me to Waffle Frolic for brunch in the late-morning. It was crowded (a Sunday, after all) but I’ve always found it easy to wait in line with someone you love. Plus, I had never been there before, and my birthday was as good of a time as any.

I ended up ordering an Egg Florentine Waffle, just a sunny side up egg and spinach on top of a waffle with some hollandaise sauce. I also ordered a mocha (a little too sweet for my taste, but good!) It was well worth the wait, and despite the crowd, there were plenty of seats in the restaurant.

Me holding my Egg FlorentineWaffle!

Work, Work, Work

I know I totally said that it was February break and I didn’t have the stress of work, but I did want to get ahead in work. So, after brunch, I headed back to my room to grade for the class I TA for.

Dinner, for those who were in town

Birthday on February break does have a drawback though, that being that a lot of my friends were traveling. Still, we made reservations for dinner at my favorite Thai restaurant, Thai Basil, in Ithaca.

My friends and I at my favorite Thai restaurant

The food was totally awesome, and since it was Sunday night, we were actually the only group in the restaurant for a really long time. The wait staff was quite passionate about getting this picture–both the elephant tapestry in the background and the Thai king. As you can see here, the food looked beautiful. It tasted just as good too!

One special thing about having your birthday here is that they treat you to a fun fried ice-cream dessert. When dinner was done and the wait-staff collected our plates, I saw a disco ball flashing in the corner of my eye. Music started playing, and the staff started singing a rendition of “happy birthday to you” while lighting up a fried ice-cream dessert in front of me. The whole experience was so over-the-top and ostentatious that I couldn’t help but laugh the whole way through. My boyfriend felt exactly the same.

I didn’t get a picture of this as I was too “in the moment”–but I assure you, if you’re ever having a birthday in Ithaca, come here and ask them the birthday dessert! Once the ice cream flames have gone out, we passed the little glass around and each got a taste of the fried icecream. It tasted a little boozy: they definitely put way too much alcohol to get it lit up.

Finally, my friends bought me a cake: a chocolate cake with vanilla frosting from Wegmans:

Yummy cake with my name written on it

It was heartwarming to know my friends thought of this little detail and had gone out to buy a cake for me.

After dinner, I thanked my friends and returned home. It was truly a special birthday!

Final Thoughts

My 22nd birthday was a little heavy on the food, but it was a really fun time spent with friends. It makes me think about all the things I have to be thankful for at Cornell. I’m gunna miss this!

Food Diaries Friday: Pho at Saigon Kitchen

Food Diaries Friday is a series on my blog where I write (and rate) my “food adventures” in my last semester at Cornell (and maybe beyond!). This is only the first installment!

Saigon Kitchen is a Vietnamese Restaurant in Ithaca, NY, located in downtown Ithaca. It’s (unfortunately) not a restaurant that I frequent because it’s inaccessible by bus (using “inaccessible loosely here; it’s just near a bus stop but it’s definitely walkable) so when I’ve gone in the past it’s usually due to a car-driving friend. That said, it’s about a 25 minute walk if you start from the edge of campus in Collegetown (and even less if you bus to the Commons!). The walk is definitely not bad, if the weather isn’t bad and you’re dying for good Vietnamese food.

That’s exactly what my boyfriend and I did a few Fridays ago–I have a lighter Friday schedule this semester (ending at around 4PM instead of 7PM, like last semester) so we started walking down there at around 5:15pm. Even though we got there before six, the place was packed–a clear indication of how much locals and Cornell students alike love this place. We were seated, though, in about 15 minutes.

What I love about Saigon Kitchen is that they have vegetarian options–specifically, vegetarian pho–which is what I get there every time I go. There’s another Vietnamese restaurant in Collegetown (which would’ve been a lot closer), but they only use meat-based broth (I think it’s beef?) in their pho–and actually I feel like I’ve only been to a handful of Vietnamese restaurants that serve a vegetarian version of the famous noodle soup, so naturally I had to get it when I went on Friday.

The pho came with beansprouts and basil (and of course a variety of spicy condiments), but it’s mostly topped with crunchy veggies (broccoli, peppers, carrots, etc–tasted pretty fresh!) and tofu:

Bowl of pho with bean sprouts, basil, mushrooms, tofu, and more veggies

Honestly, it’s dishes like this that helps me feel like I’m not “missing anything” when it comes to being vegetarian. The broth was hearty, well-seasoned, and since it was served with a variety of fresh vegetables and rice noodles, it was also pretty filling.

For the price ($11), I would say it’s pretty fair for what you would typically get in Ithaca (I think compared to the suburbs of GA, eating out in Ithaca is quite expensive)–I wouldn’t say that the portion was large, (in fact a friend of mine from Ithaca told me they’ve gotten stingier with their portions as of late), but it’s enough to sustain you for dinner for sure. Overall, a fun treat on a Friday night if you’re willing to walk a little bit.

Besides, look how happy I was when I got my food!

Me smiling with a big bowl of veggie pho in front of me!