Center for Talented Youth: Lancaster, PA
As I walked down the hallway to my room, I noticed something – there were pictures of squirrels on all of the doors. (I would later learn that squirrels meant first years at CTY.) I was rather pleased with my picture: a terribly obese squirrel nibbling on an acorn. “Stripes”. Stripes was probably the name of the roommate I would be sharing my room with. I hoped that she was a nice girl. My first impression after our split-second encounter was that she was a pleasant girl who wore a lot of mascara. I liked my room too: a good springy bed, a nice desk and rocking chair-like chair, a medium-sized mirror, drawers, a big wardrobe, and there was also a good working air conditioner humming along near the windows! Hurray!
Students eat together with their hall (a group of students in a section to a floor) and RAs (people who watch over a group of students in a hall and organize afternoon activities) for the first two breakfasts of the term, but you’re on your own after that for all meals. I would later learn to love CTY, but it’s a different community from all the other sites (CTY has a bunch of sites all over the place, even one in Hawaii I believe) and everyone there practically already knows everyone and is already in all their little groups so “newbies” had some trouble. I was a newbie, but luckily I had planned to go there with my friend so I was saved from sitting alone and not knowing anything about CTY. The food there was pretty good. There was Asian food, a grill with hamburgers and hot dogs, pizza, salad bar, soup, etc. There was also this section called “Kivo” with kosher food, rolls and wraps, grilled cheese sandwiches, and cheese quesadillas. There was also dessert: humungous chocolate chip cookies, different kinds of cake everyday, and ice cream (which always had a line)!
First impressions are always subject to change. And mine did. My first class was a little nerve-racking. We had to read essays from old dudes like Aristotle and Socrates, which made my brain hurt and required me to read their papers veeeery sloooooooowly. Some of the people in my class are abnormally fast readers, like Top-Hat. When Top-Hat was done with the article, other people were still near half done. Amazing! Our teacher seemed a little nerdy (as all teachers may seem) as did our TA (teacher’s assistant) and as nervous as we were. He kept on saying “um” a lot and his voice seemed a little weird (his trembling was all gone once he knew us better). There were an equal number of boys and girls in out class, seven of each. There was one really, REALLY tall boy named Happy, who later turned out to be the friendliest, and a very good story teller. His stories about his horrible school would always make the entire class laugh. Soon though, we were all comfortable with each other and Fuzzy (teacher) and Suns (TA-teacher’s assistant) turned out to be beyond awesomeness! Fuzzy would show us all these fantastic videos and after a while, “Larry,” a drawing that Fuzzy often used to teach us philosophy, was known as our beloved class mascot. Larry looks a bit like Pac-Man and is used to give the class a visual on the lesson Fuzzy is teaching. Fuzzy would also show us GoogleNews and Twitter so we would know what was going on in the world, which my mom said was a good thing.
We wrote a paper and had a test on the last day and I was very happy with both. We talked about stuff like the brain in a vat: this is the hypothesis that we may actually be brains in jars attached to a machine, making us believe we were living through a regular life as a regular person, not as a brain in a vat. Another topic was whether or not we existed. I distinctly remember the quote “Cogito Ergo Sum” – “I think, therefore I am.” The only thing one can know for sure is that your mind exists. So the physical world could all be a hallucination! We also talked about subjects like dualism – the belief that mind and body are separate; the Chinese room experiment which was an experiment to demonstrate how machines do not understand, and the Mary Experiment – an experiment to see if knowing all the facts of the physical world means that you know everything, and many other topics.
Sometimes our class would collaborate with the class next door to do debates, watch videos or do other fun activities. For the debates there were two sides and then there were the neutral people who would move to the side that had convinced them of their view. We had debates on whether machines could think and whether humans could know if God exists. Both times one side won by a landslide while the other only had one or two people on their side. During the debate about God, a girl from the other class started talking about how cats could sense God … that just made most of the people shift to the other side. (From then on we referred to that girl as the “cat lady.”) On the machines debate, one side just started contradicting themselves resulting in the other side winning. Both were very good debates that helped us learn a lot, while enjoying each other. We also watched a movie about an opera that was very boring and made other people fall asleep. It was a new movie and we were among the first people who saw it. I think the teachers learned to never show that to students ever again though. It was really bad. We also watched two videos about this man named Bill that people really liked but I did not get. (I had my friends explain to me the meaning of those videos later on.)
In the afternoon we would do fun activities that we had signed up for. Activities were also good for meeting new people and I made some new friends. I once signed up for this activity called “Rob Knows Many Things” where we would test the extent of Rob’s knowledge. One great thing about CTY is it’s a place for nerds and it’s a place where you can be yourself, so during that activity we ended up mostly talking about Pokemon cards. Most of the time I signed up for activities with my friends, and tried to sign up for indoor activities. It was kinda hot at Lancaster and if you were outside, you were probably gonna get a bunch of bug bites. After a while I was sick of getting bug bites and wore jeans, like my friend. It was a little uncomfortable, but at least I didn’t get any new bug bites.
On Fridays and Saturdays there would be dances in the evening. People who had been here before and could choose to bring fancy dresses, shoes and jewelry. You didn’t have to get all dressed up though, you could just wear there what you wore all day. The dances were a lot of fun, but my friend and I usually just went to the movie room and saw the movie that they were showing. We didn’t feel like dancing and it made the time pass by a lot faster. During some of the songs there were specific things that people do. Like during the song “American Pie” people form a big circle and then rush to the middle of the dance floor. And there were also “Rave Circles.” At CTY, or at Lancaster anyway, during dances you take two glow sticks on strings (which you can wear as necklaces and carry around with you) and spin them around. People like to practice swinging around the glow sticks whenever they have free time and like to impress each other with new tricks. In rave circles people form a circle and all the people who can swing around the glow sticks go into the middle and show their stuff. All those whirling lights in the dark of the dance floor makes for an impressive show. During one dance two RAs did a planned dance to Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way.” Huzzah! The dances are an awesome part of CTY even if one just wants to watch.
The weekends were a time for relaxation and the only days you could do your laundry. We didn’t have any classes except for study hall on Sunday, but otherwise we had a lot of free time on our hands. You could sleep in on the weekends, but I woke up super early on Saturdays to do my laundry because I didn’t want to do it on Sunday and you had to get there early or you would have to wait a long time for a dryer. There were eight washing machines and eight dryers per building, but the first week two of the dryers were broken so I had to wait around an hour for one. It only takes 37 minutes to wash, but an hour to dry. I didn’t like waiting in that hot room for an hour just to do my laundry! My friend told me that it’s even worse at the Johns Hopkins site where they only have around nine washing machines FOR THE WHOLE SITE!! That’s why there’s Internet at Johns Hopkins: people need something to do while waiting, according to her. And there’s no Internet at Lancaster, (you need a password which some students have actually cracked before) probably so that students can concentrate on their studies or something. On weekends you could watch movies or go to the farmer’s market, or just hang out. My friends and I played cards, played computer chess, and typed up stories on a laptop that Tomato, a friend, brought. On Sunday there was “hall bonding” where the hall would all do something together. My hall just went onto Netflix (RAs and instructors had Internet access) and watched the movie “10 Things I Hate About You,” a movie that is based on The Taming of the Shrew, and episodes from “Bones” and “Parks and Recreation” while pigging out on junk food, cup noodles and cup ramen, and SKL. Fun! Halls would also walk over to Turkey Hill (gas station shop) to buy stuff. Turkey Hill got a lot of business from CTY students. A very popular drink sold at Turkey Hill was strawberry-kiwi lemonade, also referred to as “SKL.” CTY had to put a limit on how many bottles of the stuff people could buy, because apparently people literally would bring along suitcases and fill ‘em up with SKL. Turkey Hill literally ran out and other people didn’t get the chance to buy SKL, which wasn’t fair.
There was also a talent show which most of the people in CTY went to. Most of the RAs went because they had to bring their halls to dinner (some had their day off) but most of the teachers didn’t for some reason. The talent show was very amusing to watch with students performing Korean songs, and RAs doing songs like “Single Ladies” and “Old McDonald.” There was also an RA and teachers dance-off. I think that was a tie. I didn’t think that the talent show would be anything but boring, but I was wrong, and thoroughly enjoyed the show.
The last day of CTY was very sad and many people were crying. I can totally understand. I was a little reluctant to go to CTY because I thought that it would kind of be like summer school, but I was completely and utterly wrong! I loved my experience at CTY and had loads of fun – three weeks was just too short! I hope to return to CTY and take a course as cool as Philosophy of the Mind and with as extraordinary instructors!