Friday, December 26, 2008

Hanukah, Christmas and stuff in between

Since Hanukah came first, I’m going to talk about that. The Root residence hosted us C’ville orphans, as we’re now called, one evening to witness the lighting of the first candle of Hanukah. Being totally ignorant of all things Jewish (except the phrase about sounding like Hebrew), this was a fantastically enlightening evening. The Roots and the Katz (another Israeli family from the second year) recited the story of Hanukah and sang the traditional prayer, even translating it for us. Of course, there was delicious finger food and wine. That was also the first time I sampled Oren’s brilliant Turkish coffee and the guy, bless him, had stoked up the fireplace as well. I headed out “early” (in Darden, early is just before midnight) while some folks stayed behind to watch a movie.

Well, the Charlottesville orphans had so much fun on Hanukah that the Roots decided to host us again, this time for a potluck Christmas dinner. I will spare you the menu, but will tell you that it was delicious and had some fantastic Indian chicken and vegetables and Mrs. Root's finger licking stuffed chicken along with a variety of rice. Great conversation, some pictures and a lot of laughs later we decided to watch a movie of course! This one ended late, not too late though, and only after a round of Oren’s Turkish Coffee!

In between all this, there was a lot of Starbucks coffee trips, drives in the night on the foggy Blue Ridge Mountain highway, shopping trips, movies, long conversations over phone and chat and some spring cleaning.

This whole experience got me thinking about how closeted my vacations were in India. Of course I know all about the Christmas dinner and the joy and cheer, but for me it was always just a holiday! But being here, sharing the festive occasions with other people that I didn’t know from Adams even 6 months back was a fantastic experience. It is to experience this stuff that I decided to uproot from the place I called home for twenty six years, to travel half way across the world and come to Darden. With each passing day, I feel like I am learning so much both inside and outside of school.

It’s strange that as I’m building relationships on the one hand, I am severing some. For the first time in this country, I’m going to move out of a shared residence and get my own place. I know it’s no big deal and a bunch of people choose to do it anyway, but somehow this feels different. There is this exhilarating feeling of independence but there is also a niggling fear of getting cut off from all things familiar. I suppose it’s a natural reaction to change.

There is one regret though – I didn’t get to eat chocolate cake. One of my greatest weaknesses is chocolate cake – all chocolate with nothing white in it! And the one place I did find it, they refused to cut me a piece since they were going to be closed for Christmas and therefore wanted to be able to sell the whole cake. So much for a craving!

So what's it going to be for New Year's eve? I figure a good way to cap off this excitingly unexpected adventure of a year is to watch the ball drop at Times Square... Am I adventurous enough to make a trip to the Big Apple next week? Let's see...

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

On why being idle does not agree with me

So I’m sick. It's not because I’m missing home. I’m not missing warm sunny India either. I’m not missing my mom’s cooking – ok ,THAT I am missing terribly! I do not want to eat one more day of my own cooking!

I am sick because I miss having work. I miss having to race against time to make it to my 8AM class in classroom 180 with all the awesome section D ppl! I miss my learning team. And I am sick of the fact that it gets dark at 5pm and I don’t have a watch on and I am all disoriented about what time it is. And I am also a little sick of the fact that a whole bunch of my friends have gone home or on job treks for the hols and so I miss them – I miss going to the coffee place and wasting away over a cup of cappuccino.

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t have an internship yet and due to the down economy the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel is kind of fading out too. I have tons of work to do – like reaching out to companies and case prep for the interviews. I have apartment moving work to do too – yes I’m stupid enough to move apartments in the middle of the school year. And I should be booking tickets and accommodation for my trip to Seattle early next year. But instead of checking these (and whole host of other things) off my list of to-dos, I am choosing to waste away the time doing I-don’t-know-what. I so hope my mother is not reading this right now.

This is the time I was counting down to since the beginning of the second quarter. I had a ton of plans including hitting the gym (day 4 and counting and all I’ve done towards losing a few pounds is play an evening of tennis) and now that the time is finally here I am unable to shake off that feeling of general laziness and get out of the brain-dead mode.

I am going to try to get up at 6AM tomorrow – maybe all I’m missing is the boot camp rigor. It seems like a good time to check how much self-organization I’ve learnt in this one semester of Darden. I am hoping to have mastered it by the time graduation rolls by so I hope I am at least better than I was before I came here.

I’ll sign off now. Back to my… er… back to doing nothing.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Twenty five percent!

That’s how much of an MBA I am as of today! After a week of finals, the class of 2010 is finally through with second quarter, the one touted to be the most grueling. And what an eventful week it has been. When we weren’t saving the Japanese economy, we were figuring out ways to transport lubricants from one continent to another. One day we were selling healthy jams the other day we sold lumber. After playing the all knowing CEO for a week, I can finally relax at home and be plain old me! There’s just one problem though – I don’t know what to do!

I’m not crazy, I swear! I just don’t know what to do. I feel like I should be doing something, I should be obsessively checking my outlook or I should be booting up to head out to the library. But I don’t need to do any of that. My outlook is free – for all evening! I can’t remember the last time I had a free calendar. There are NO cases to do for tomorrow. I don’t have to head out to the library for anything. All I have to do is get dressed to go party! But I still can’t help feeling all empty on the inside. I remember dragging myself out of bed this morning and vowing to crawl back under the sheets in 7 hours’ time and not wake up till its Saturday. My eyes are tired – you try doing 5 hour exams a day! – but my brain is buzzing.

There are a bunch of parties happening tonight. If you’re one of the really popular ones and have the beer guzzling capacity of a keg, you can go party hopping! I know a few people who probably have been at the corner all afternoon (and it’s not even 7pm yet)! If you went down to Barracks road now, you’d probably find a few Section Social Reps stocking up on the kegs!

What am I going to do? Well after I put away my cases for Q3 – yep, they did it again, they put the case packets for next quarter in our mailboxes, for us to find as we turned in our exams today – I will probably clean up my room and find out where I want to go for the night! One small note of appreciation for the school though. In a bid to be more environmentally conscious based on feedback from us students, the school decided to run a pilot project by giving us one subject in electronic form as opposed to paper. In other words, come Q3, we will have our finance cases on our computers and not as sheets in our binders. When the survey got sent out, I had expected the student response to be in favor of this move and I had also expected the school to do something about it. I had not expected the school to react so fast; they deserve a pat on the back!

I am signing out now; not because I am out of things to say – if you know me at all, you'd know that I’m NEVER out of things to say! But I’m going to be by myself now, to reflect on the semester that’s gone by. It feels like just yesterday that I got that call from Darden informing me of my admission. What do you know, I’m already one semester down, calling this place my home, and not getting enough of my awesome classmates! Time sure does fly when you’re having fun!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The darkest week of Black November...

… is the first week of December. The week that officially begins tomorrow (but unofficially began this morning) is brutal to say the least. A zillion cover letters to write for deadlines that begin tomorrow and culminate in double digit number of resume drops for Friday and some recruiting event or the other for every day of this week. Oh and in case it’s not obvious, we still have to get through 3 cases a day!

In my previous post I’d written about having to churn out cover letters over this break. It’s with more than a touch of regret that I admit that I have not even done half the cover letters I had planned to get done. I’d also planned a spot of studying to get up to speed on some coursework that flew way above my head during classes (no prizes for guessing which classes those were), but of course between waking up well after normal waking hours and going to get coffee from Starbucks, I did not get any of that done. I suppose my to-do list is unchecked partly because of being glued to the television for 2 days in a row with the Mumbai drama.

Finally, a bunch of my classmates are back or on the way back to the Ville. This break was a welcome one and I guess I’m not the only one who’s counting down to the start of winter break. Meanwhile a handful of people who wrote too many cover letters have started cracking bad jokes on Facebook – a sure sign that they’ve worked too hard (finger pointed at AS here).

Facebook reminds me: you know, I never thought I’d be eligible to apply for a job at Facebook! Hell, being able to do a web conference with Google makes coming all the way to Darden totally worth it (it really is every past/present/future techie's dream come true!). Isn’t it cool how many new doors business school opens up for you?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Complete Thanksgiving Meal

Darden hosted a Thanksgiving dinner for all of us international students earlier this week. It was my first ever thanksgiving in the US and I was understandably excited. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t about the food (and I’ll tell you why in a bit). The things I associated with Thanksgiving were all the movies where the family gets together and some embarrassment or feud ensues and of course the thanksgiving episodes from Friends! I wanted to create my own Thanksgiving memory – secretly I was hoping for drama, but hey, the real Thanksgiving is tomorrow so all is not lost yet!

The food now… aah what can I say! I’ve gone vegetarian since I got to the US this time – the last time I was here I was feasting on chicken and I think I overdosed on the stuff. Plus this time I had to listen to a really long lecture from the parents before I got left India about the virtues of vegetarianism – all of which I agree with, mind you – and I met some really vegetarian people too (there is vegetarian and then there is really vegetarian, trust me, I’m not making this up) to serve as inspiration. So I figured I might as well try going green, after all green is the new black (though the currency markets might think differently). Phew I’ve said all of that so now I can say this: I ate the turkey at the Thanksgiving dinner. Relief!

I wanted to experience the real deal, all of the authentic Thanksgiving food. So there was turkey, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie… it was at Abbott and needless to say, it was lip smacking delicious. Add to that the fun company of Denise Karaoli from the Office of International students and a bunch of internationals from my class and you had all the ingredients for a fantastic evening where I almost forgot about the 3 cases I had due for the next day. Oren and I agreed that skipping learning team that night was not going to hold too heavy on the conscience, so we did!

I suppose on Thanksgiving you feel thankful for being where and who you are, for your family and for all the good in your life. My family is far away in India and I don’t need Thanksgiving to feel grateful for having them in my life. Not a day goes by when I don’t miss my folks. But this Thanksgiving, I was especially thankful to my new extended family – all the people I have met at Darden. I am thankful for just being here. If someone had told me back in February when I’d visited the Ville to interview, that I would come back here for school, I would not have believed them. I fell in love with the school but also realized that there were other more accomplished people who deserved to go here. I am thankful that I am here today, calling this place home and sharing it with so many talented and wonderful people. My classmates never cease to awe me and there are some classes where I am sitting, amazed at the sheer quality of the professor before me. There are second year students that are way up there on my list of people I respect, who I wish I had time to get to know better. So while a whole bunch of my classmates are enjoying the holiday season with their families and a lot of them are laboring over the zillion cover letters we need to churn out by the end of the vacation, I am sitting here at my desk in my apartment just marveling at how far away I am from the world I lived in just a few months ago.

Thank you, Darden, for letting me be a part of your universe.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Q2 - Diwali in a suit

We’re into week 2 of the second quarter. I’m not sure if it’s just me but I do think this quarter is far more interesting than the last one yet a little harder too. For starters, I think corporate finance is going way over my head ( or is that because I’ve got it in my head that if it’s got the dreaded finance word in it, then it must be hard) while operations and marketing though more interesting than last quarter, are definitely beginning to pinch a bit. But hands down the most interesting subject we’ve got this quarter is GEM (Global Economies and Markets) and Peter Rodriguez is our professor for that. This subject is very relevant to the current crisis and helps us (ok, helps me, since most of my classmates seem pretty tuned in already) understand the financial crisis better by analyzing the fundamentals that built up to it in the first place. After each class I find myself marveling the amount of insight that my classmates bring to the table in such matters and I can actually feel the difference in my understanding from when I'm going in to when I’m done with the class. The new seating arrangement has me once more in the last row – prime bit of real estate in the class room, mind you – and although a lot of people feel excluded when they sit there, I personally enjoy sitting on my “perch” and taking in all the proceedings below, occasionally participating in the fray myself.

On the recruiting front, it looks like we’re just finishing up with the briefings. Two consulting companies this week and I think we’re done with the bulk of them. With the situation being what it is, the school has been encouraging us to explore off grounds job searches, even organizing a seminar on how to navigate the process with special attention to international students. Outside, the weather’s been cooling down and it’s gotten downright cold in the nights when I walk back to Ivy. Darden and the rest of the ville is looking really pretty with the trees peppered with leaves of multicolored hues and I love stepping on the fallen leaves to hear the crunchy sound they make under my shoes.

Finally, today is Diwali in my part of the world. When I called home last night I could barely hear my sister over the firecrackers in the background. If I had to sum up Diwali in one word for you, it would be this: firecrackers. If I were to sum up Diwali my way in a word for you it would be this: sweets. On this day, it’s custom that we wear new clothes and the sister sent me a new Indian outfit to wear for today. I, however, am sitting here in the library (I know I said I wouldn’t be back here for sometime but I can’t help it, it feels like home!) in a grey suit (grey like the weather outside), munching salty baked Lays because I missed lunch. Happy Diwali to me.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Before we start over

Q1 is over, finished and done with! But in the words of the Surfer Guy (J"B"S, Section D), “the repercussions are not.” I agree with that, but for today, just today, allow me to revel in this sense of freedom that I last felt on my final day at work!

Today we wrapped our exams for the quarter, leaving behind 6 days of myriad experiences as we tackled case after case, crunched a million numbers, and ate more granola bars than I can count on my two hands! As I pushed open the doors of the library after the exam, I was happy just at the thought of not having to camp out there for the next couple of months and constantly speak in hushed tones. I chose not to bid for one of the learning team rooms for the exam, choosing instead to hole up in the library, where I am more comfortable and insulated from a lot of the madness.

Funnily enough, I’m a little disappointed that the exams are over (I hear a range of disapproving noises) because while they were on, I had something to do all the time. Not that I won’t have something to do now, but no exams means having to tackle a whole lot of other work from the “real life” – errands, laundry, resume polish, company briefings prep, all the phone calls I’ve been promising people back home but haven’t gotten round to doing… you get the idea…

So in true Darden case method style, I figured I should make a little note of the key takeaways from this quarter and the exams, to be tucked away till Monday, when Q2 begins.

1. Exams are supposed to be the easiest time at Darden. Why, then, was I so hassled? Back to the drawing board as I figure out where my study-style was messed up.
2. My learning team rocks, but I might have depended on them too much. A lot of exams had me struggling to get something I thought I’d done at LT. I remembered trying to figure it out on my own before LT, and then getting help from the folks there. But turns out I didn’t really learn the concepts as well as I could/should have.
3. Time management. Q2 is much harder than Q1. There is a whole lot more going on then and if that’s not enough, I have signed up for a bunch of stuff that’s going to take up a lot of my time. I have to find a way to balance all of it.
4. Self takes priority. I noticed that when in crunch situation, I tend to forget myself. I stop eating or sleeping properly, and pretty much lose touch with the outside world. Very in-the-box behavior. Must fix it.
5. Decisions under duress – strict No-No. Ok so I know this. And I know it well because my dad hammers this into my head all the time. But I make the mistake again. And again. Strict no-no. Note to self: Apply LO concepts to life.
6. If you hear the voice of your DA professor in your head while you’re taking the DA exam, realize that you could be more stressed about the exam that you should be. Or that the knowledge that the case was written by your own DA professor has the ability to throw you off balance. Or you could be genuinely messing up the exam big time.
7. Keep nail polish handy. I tend to chew my nails a lot during exams. I’d forgotten that habit of mine. Right after I am done with this post, I am going to sit with the file and try to salvage what’s left of my nails. For the next exam, I'll make sure my nails are painted well in advance.

The good thing about the exams is that I have now learnt to flag and categorize my emails pretty well – I do have quite a few to act upon, but they’re all there where I can see them, so that’s good! The best thing, though, is that Q1 is over and I survived! Sometimes it really is hard to believe that I’m here, doing what I always wanted to do and being able to tell the world about it.

In true Darden spirit, the school that never lets you stay idle long enough has started the cycle all over again by leaving our Q2 case packets in our mailboxes. Off we go on another whirlwind ride! But for today, I’m just going to relax at the Section D party and maybe head over to the Moustache competition afterwards.

“And for the sake of time, let’s move on!”

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The Facilitator

Today was our last DA (Decision Analysis) class of the quarter. It was also our last class with our DA professor. Although a bunch of us will be taking the DA electives later this year and in the next, my professor’s announcement made me pause to think back to the quarter that sped by.

Over the summer, during days of trying to figure out Accounting from the Pre-Enrolment modules, I often wondered how I would learn the concepts through the case method. In the case method curriculum, the professor acts more like a facilitator than a lecturer. Take for instance my accounting class. My professor would hand out transparencies to randomly selected students in the class to enter each line item of a balance sheet with the corresponding t-account. These would then be put up on the projector and the student would defend his balance sheet entry while the rest of the class was free to debate and discuss his assumptions and logic and even his handwriting if they wanted!

Our DA class was another innovative exercise in teaching you to convince clients of the soundness of your arguments without resorting to the use of complex numbers and terminologies. Our professor would make us role-play the case – convince Mr. X to go with your decision to either invest or get out of a particular venture or convince Mr. G to sell a certain number of t-shirts at a game. Our class would play analyst, supplying the “chosen one” with the numbers and ideas to support his/her hypothesis. In all these instances, our professors would play devil’s advocate, challenging our stands, forcing us to rethink our answers, planting a seed of doubt so that collectively you challenge the very spreadsheet before you that took you the better part of the previous evening to develop.

The professor chooses to play facilitator, but that does not mean we do not get to leverage his immense experience and knowledge in the area. Our marketing professor is one such example. His classes are peppered with instances and examples from his own professional and personal life concerning companies and brands that we are all familiar with, all delivered in his trademark New Yorker’s humor.

The case method itself is unique, but when you factor in the fantastic faculty that teach at Darden, every once in a while you get that feeling of awe for just being here and part of this society, making you sit just that little bit straighter in your seat. Perhaps it’s no surprise then, that the Darden faculty have been ranked at the top of Princeton Review’s business school rankings.

Here’s one sample of the caliber of the faculty at Darden. Take a look at the video footage of the panel discussion of our professors organized a couple weekends ago, discussing the current state of the financial markets and the causes leading up to it. Abbott Auditorium was packed with students sprawling out on the aisles to watch the hour long discussion.

On that note, let me excuse myself as I prepare for the last class of Q1 tomorrow. it flies!

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Beer Game

Just when you are beginning to tire of bragging to your friends about how hands-on the D curriculum is, you get hit by another of their brilliant teaching methods. Here’s why it’s brilliant. It makes you, the student, feel nice about having one, possibly two, less cases to prepare for the next day and it makes you learn something – in true D style – the hard way. The Beer Game is just the latest of many. I won’t go into the ones that came before the Beer game – my D classmates have done a great job of describing their experiences with those on their blogs – but I will go into the one we had today.

Titled the Beer Game and played very appropriately on a Thursday when a lot of FYs won’t be at TNDC (2 cases for tomorrow!), this was a simulation game played as part of the marketing curriculum. The motive behind the simulation was to learn, among other things, the Bullwhip effect and other typical supply chain problems. Four beer manufacturing companies fight to keep their production process lean and their inventory holding/stock out costs mean. Add some twists and complications to all of that and you have the perfect ale for a good two hours’ worth class time! Playing with my uber-cool section D buddies more than made up for having to stay indoors on a Thursday night and miss all the fun at the Buddhist Biker!

Something I’ve noticed about all the simulation games is that they’re very much like our cases. They give you the basic premise and instructions and throw you headlong into the game. The first round is basically a sadistic-professor-taking-pleasure-in-your confusion round where you screw up big time by making all the mistakes in the book and then some more. Then comes round 2, where you are allowed to strategize a little bit and you enter the game once more, feeling like the king of the operation. But in true sadistic-professor style, round 2 comes with its own little quirks and twists. You are left fumbling for a bit, but you pick up pace soon enough to recover and make some money. Round 3 is where life is good, all rules are relaxed and you are pretty much handed victory on a silver platter – and you still screw up, albeit a lot lesser than round 1. Then you debrief with the whole class. The winner walks away with a prize, in today’s case a tall D glass.

So when exactly did the learning curve go a notch higher in this entire sequence, you ask? That is the best part of it all. You realize you have learnt something new only when you are working on the next day’s cases and you find yourself applying what you learnt on the simulation. And that, my friend, is your aha moment! Mission accomplished. Cheers!

Addendum - 9/26/2008:

I guess I spoke too soon about the simulation games. Here's something I didn't think I would be doing in business school - playing with teddy bears in an Operations class! We were trying to simulate the efficiency (or the lack of it) in the operations of a hospital. In order to allow us to see more clearly and in real time, the challenges faced by a multi-discipline hospital, our professor brought in some teddies as patients and had some of us be the doctors.

Moral of the game: Operations need not always be about factories and machines, but can be cute too and learning is a lot more fun (and memorable) when it's hands-on.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Girls' Night Out

If you know anything about the D life at all, then you will know that Thursdays are our Fridays. Hence the TNDC – Thursday Night Drinking Club, is a big big part of the D culture and with good reason too! Every Thursday night, all of the D FYs and SYs (ok not all, but at least most of them), get together at one of the many pubs in C’ville to let our hair down, meet other people and generally indulge in a little madness, hoping to get featured on the next TNDC mailer.

This Thursday was a little different from the others. A classmate had invited all the women over to her place at the Downtown Mall for some wine, good company and an Alanis Morissette concert. After spending a good amount of time “drinking good wine and enjoying great company” and watching Alanis perform from JB’s rooftop, a bunch of us ladies headed out for dinner before TNDC. After what can be termed as the best 1 hour of the whole week- spent at dinner with the girls- we split, with half the crowd heading to bed and the other half hitting the Boleyn for TNDC.

It was madness in there! The place was swarming with the D crowd and there was loud music and no space to even walk up to the bar! I spotted the good doctor, a fellow Section D'er, who had decided to hit the nightspot for his maiden TNDC, and a bunch of others from class. A drink later I was ready to call it a night, my voice hoarse from having to speak over the music of the live band but in happy anticipation of having 3 whole days to catch up on sleep and food.

Having started out my Thursday in a pretty lousy frame of mind, I was quite uplifted by the time it ended. Cheers to the ladies who made it the best Thursday evening in a long time! You know who you are, and you rock!

PS. I watched Alanis perform Ironic live! Woohoo!

Saturday, September 20, 2008


Ever had a moment when you are suddenly shaken and woken up from a seeming slumber? When you feel like you can see more clearly? A time when you felt your life was spinning out of control and you needed a wakeup call? No? You must be doing everything right then. Good for you!

Well my answer to all those questions is a big resounding yes. I knew I was not doing things right at school. I was going into class with my cases on just done mode – I would stay up late or get up early in the morning to rush through the ones I did not have time for the previous evening – and would go into class and wonder how others had time for such in depth analysis on ALL the 3 cases of the day – all in one afternoon! Things came to a head when one Wednesday, 2 weeks ago, I just did not wake up in time for my first class of the day.

I had been up late the previous night trying to read up my LO case. I wanted to wake up early the next morning to review the DA case for the day (I had been planning to ask my DA professor to call on me that class - my class participation sucks). I wanted to be ultra prepared so that I did not end up looking foolish in front of my class. I guess my system protested the following morning and I don’t remember doing this, but I must have turned off all the 3 alarms I had kept on and gone back to sleep. Next time I woke up, it was 8:45AM, and I had just missed my first class of the day. I walked into class 5 minutes before first coffee. Of course I met with the professor at his office a day later to explain. And he was so understanding about it, that it made me feel guiltier! I felt worse as concerned classmates asked me if I had missed class because I was ill…

What I am getting at here is that it’s the hallmark of the Darden curriculum. It throws so much information at you and so fast that you get blinded with all that is going on. You find yourself scrambling to be at all places and finish all your work. You find yourself becoming myopic, with the only conversations you have with classmates being the cases of the day. Then pre-recruitment activities begin – tightening up your resume, getting you career objectives ready, meeting with SY coaches – and you are wishing you could be at two places at once. You push yourself so hard and then one fine day, your system revolts, like mine did. In my 4 years of undergrad and 2 and half years of work, never have I missed an appointment because I couldn’t get up in the morning. I was a little shaken, but a friend put things in perspective for me – he made me realize I was pushing myself too hard.

When I go corporate 2 years from now, I know that the one thing I will learn way better than even Crystal Ball or breakeven calculations will be time management. Darden’s rigorous curriculum and its forgiving teachers and students allow you to make those mistakes here (rather than in the workplace) without judging you. Though it does not excuse indiscipline, I think this once, I was safe.

Briefings begin and how!

With a bang, that’s how! Last week, briefings began at Darden for us privileged FYs. While the banking guys are definitely having an “interesting” time – BofA visited D on Black Monday – consulting opened with Deloitte yesterday. This marks the season of lunch briefings, cocktail parties, networking dinners and lunches. It also means I’ll be wearing those darned high heels of mine a lot more. Sucks!

As an international, the whole concept of networking is very new to me. I’m not entirely sure how it is done and how much small talk is too much small talk. The one thing I don’t think I will ever master is how to ask for a business card. Luckily for me the two companies I have attended briefings for, made it very easy to contact them post-briefing. Nevertheless, I would be really curious to learn how it’s done. Another important lesson I learnt over the week was to be organized – not in my head, but in my bag! Seriously. At one of the briefings I had to give my card and it took me forever to dig it up from inside my bag. The Monica in me revolted at the mess in there! It would not be the first time either. I’ve pulled out my kaajal pencil when I have been looking for a pen, more times than I care to remember.

Having said that, I will admit that the SYs and CDC have been doing a great job with trying to get us FYs to shed the gaucheness at these networking events. One of the more innovative things they came up with was a speed networking session open to the International Business Society (IBS) and the National Asso. Of Women MBAs (NAWMBA) members yesterday at the PepsiCo Forum. Think of speed dating but for a job, and you get speed networking. It was a great experience and by the end of it I could see my comfort level increasing at delivering my pitch without the umms and aahs.

On a different note, I finally managed to check off one thing on will-do-at-Darden list – write for the Cold Call Chronicle, our very own student run newsletter. It’s not a big article and definitely poorer in comparison to the quality of the other articles on the newsletter, but it makes me feel like I’m contributing to the Darden society and it’s a good feeling.

Spinning off a completely unrelated stream of thought, I had to go to UVA hospital yesterday to visit a classmate who’s been there all week. I looked around to see if it really looked like the hospitals they show on Scrubs and Grey’s Anatomy. It did really look like that, and had Doogie Howser look-alike residents walking around too! Get well soon, AO; Section D misses you big time.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Classes, LT and more

It’s been over a week since classes began and along with classes, we’re also getting set with our learning teams. I should begin with the learning teams for this post, since that is one of the most unique things about this place. The learning teams’ concept is just another expression of Darden’s collaborative culture. They basically organize all their students into groups of 5 or 6 such that each group is almost representative of Darden student background distribution – by nationality, gender, educational and work background. So my LT has 5 fantastic people from backgrounds such as Citibank and the US Marines. There’s a Turk, a desi and a Bangladeshi, apart from three Americans. And all these people bring with them various viewpoints and experiences that make for a very engaging 3 hours spent at our LT meetings every evening. Yes 3 hours. That’s how seriously we’re expected to take our cases.

Last week, D organized some LT team building exercises here on grounds (they don’t call it campus and I wonder why). Named the Voyage of Discovery, it was based on the Lewis and Clarke expedition in Virginia and consisted of a number of events and each event you won in earned you a feather or two. You also had your own flag and motto. Think of the Crystal Maze TV show in modern time and designed around a business school campus. Obviously we took away some learnings from this thing – you don’t think it was just done with the idea of letting you have fun, roaming around the grounds on a sunny day and carrying a scruffy looking flag with feathers on them, did you? Our day of fun was capped with a dinner with our LTs and one second year at one of the many hip eat outs at C’ville followed with what else, but a trip to the nearest pub - this time it was McGrady’s and not the D fav of Biltmore (think $2 pitchers of beer)… fine place that one!

The weekend had some activities organized by the SY students here. The various events up for grabs were community service, tubing on the James River, wine tasting, trip to Monticello, hiking and a few more. Obviously ALL events were overbooked! Saturday evening was another picnic at Flagler courtyard, this time for the FYs and SYs to meet.

So if you thought D-life was all about fun and picnics and booze, then THINK AGAIN. It’s about cases and cases and more cases and still some more cases that will drive you nuts as you try to figure them out and make you go “god damn it, how come I missed that one” when the professor (or some brilliantly smart student) solves it in class the next morning. But the best thing about it is that the classes are so much more rewarding and you actually come away from them knowing a whole bunch more than you did to begin with and you have no idea how! The professors here are absolutely up there and some of them employ very unique methods of cold calling! Perhaps more on that in a separate post – I still have two more professors to “discover”.

Career fair signups are warming up now and I’m kind of getting the feeling that they’re going to stress me out quite a bit. Of course, the whole concept of networking is so alien to us internationals and that in itself is a little bewildering. Darden seems really focused at helping us through this process and in the coming days I hope to be working more closely with the Career Development team to help me with my internship hunt.

Before I sign out, I have to tell you about how every minute feels precious at this place. You could be doing so much and all you’re thinking about is when you’ll go to bed… The day sometimes seems longer than it is, yet it just flies by as you tackle your daily workload which, by the way, is seeing a constant upward trend and refuses to come down. I remember reading about Black November on the blog of a Darden (now) SY. I’m guessing that we’re building up to that one. Here’s where I sign out to go tackle my Decision Analysis case for tomorrow.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Embrace the weird

Today we had our official orientation where Dean Bruner and a whole bunch of other people welcomed us, the class of 2010 to Darden. I was so looking forward to hearing the Dean speak and I wasn’t disappointed. But the most memorable speeches of the evening were by the associate dean for diversity and the President of the DSA (Darden Student Association). I wish I could remember more clearly the 3 point advice each of them had in their speeches. At the time I remember repeating them in my head so that I’d remember them for this post. But in the party that ensued, I think I kind of laughed it all away!

But basically, we had a really good evening. Right after the orientation, we had the class photograph on the steps of outside the Saunders Hall. It reminded me of my J2EE Class photo when I was a trainee at Infosys Mysore. I was late for the photo so I got to stand right up in front. The same thing happened today and I had to stand right up in front – which is pretty good considering that I might possibly be the shortest person in my class! Oh these Americans, they’re so darn tall! Apparently this is going to be a before-after picture, with the “after” picture being during graduation. Hopefully by the time that picture comes along, I’ll be a few pounds lighter. After the picture, a few of us went to hound Marsh, our director of student affairs, to ask him about our section allotments. So yours truly got a preview of the section lists. I’m in section D and I’m so looking forward to getting to know my class and maybe bringing home the Darden Cup from Section A.

Darden hosted a picnic for the CO2010 and their “partners” in the Flagler Courtyard. As is usual, there was good beer and great food. Darden really has it right in the food department! All their meals are sumptuous, considerate (for vegetarians) and generous. A big cheer to the staff at the Abbotts dining room who had this spread put out for us and also for walking around the groups of people with pitchers of beer, always ready to refill our glasses! There were a few tables with chairs around but most of us just rested our butts on the cool grass and enjoyed the food, the fun atmosphere, the great company and some friendly banter. Thanks to the longer summer days, it was 8pm and still light out when the bunch of us decided to call it a night and go to bed early (for a change). All of us agreed that 8AM was a bit too early for classes to begin and that it was going to take a lo..ot of getting used to adjust to this schedule!

Tomorrow is the first day of class. Although there are no cases to be done for tomorrow, we’re going to find out who are learning team members are. I’ll try to write a little more about the learning team concept at Darden. But for now, I’m thinking to myself once again about how cool it is just to be a part of this amazing school. It’s a good feeling to go to bed with.

Note1: If you’re wondering about the title of the post, this was a quote by the associate dean of diversity. He said that every once in a while you will find a member of your class or LT who’s a little weird and unlike the rest. Get to know this one a little more and embrace the weirdness since that’s how you grow and not from hanging out with your own kind of crowd. Made a lot of sense, if you ask me.

Note2:Visit this post on JulyDream for some stats on the CO2010.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

From Chennai to Charlottesville

It’s been a bit more than a week since I got to C’ville, though right now it feels like anything but one week. More like a month really. Amidst the hectic activity that is typical of coming to study at any American university – get the ID, get your bank and phone connection settled etc.,there is the all important and all American socializing that contributes to the late nights ( or should I say early mornings?) and the hangovers. There is also the added headache for internationals like me to get our apts settled (it’s a headache for locals too, but they invariably have a car) and to seek out departmental stores to buy general stuff from and also to sign up for the various loyalty programs that they offer. All to get some discount when you shop next. And we’re not really complaining, after all it’s not like we’re getting our paychecks anymore!

My apartment is limping into settle-ment stage. I think it takes a couple of months for the house to feel like home. I am obviously not getting a car right now. My ambitious plan to get the driver’s test done with before class begins is pretty much abandoned for now and it looks like it will have to wait until the Christmas vacations to be realized. Meanwhile, I’m getting to know some of my batch mates. The three day orientation session has introduced all the internationals to one another. Informal meetings with the American students are happening at the parties. The formal meeting of the entire class of 2010 is on the 17th when we have the welcome address by the Dean.

Our orientation was pretty interesting and engaging. We had workshops on visa status and dos and don’ts, on culture, banks, cell phones, internships, job search, networking and a whole lot of other stuff. One of the more engaging presentations was by Judy Shen-Filerman, an American of Asian descent and an HBS grad on the typical qualms that most internationals and particularly Asians feel at the workplace or in the process of getting that all important job offer at the business school. Our orientation ended with a tour to Monticello, home of Thomas Jefferson (the father of the University of Virginia) organized by the office of student affairs at Darden. It was a good break from sitting pooped up in the (really cold) airconditioned room. It marked the end of a week of late nights and 10AM wake ups and surviving on juice, coffee and cookies!

Alongside the International students’ orientation, Darden has been conducting the pre-matriculation courses in Accounts, Economics and Numeracy for students who feel uncomfortable with these subjects. I had signed up only for Accounts classes and those began today. Although not exactly a case-based course, our professor managed to keep the class well awake on a Monday morning. By the way, classes at Darden begin at 8AM, too early by any standards. But they do supply coffee in abundance at the Pepsico Forum and thank god for that! For a lot of my bleary-eyed classmates at the accounts class this morning, this coffee was the stimulant!

The unique thing about classes at Darden is the fact they are just that – unique! The professor today taught us a bunch of basic accountancy concepts with the example of one student’s “business” of a lemonade stall when she was young. Using her example and with inputs from her and the rest of the class, he taught us an entire balance sheet concept. It made me realize that what I was witness to was a one-time-only performance. The next time Professor Brownlee takes the basic accounts pre-mat workshop (which will be for the batch of 2011 next fall), it will be a whole new student, a whole new example and whole new performance, all over again. It made appreciate what I was part of and made me wish I’d gotten a little more sleep the previous night so that I could be more attentive. I figure that each class – when classes officially begin – will be a unique experience since it is dependent on the class make-up, the case for the day and the professor taking it. And of course, like all do-it-yourselves, it will be a one-time-only performance and for that unique one-time-only group that will be present in the class that day.

Before I sign off for today here is some information for people looking at Darden for the following year of admissions. Despite my lament about not having a car, one can manage very comfortably on public transport and lot of walking here in Charlottesville. There are a number of decent and (sort of) affordable housing options around Darden. The closest are Ivy Gardens and Huntington Village. Both are walking distance from Darden. Ivy, where I’m staying currently, allows you to wake up at 7 and make it to class in time for your 8AM class. All you need to do is cross the road – the crossing reminds me of the kangaroo crossings I’ve seen on the Discovery channel – and you’re in Darden’s parking lot. In terms of transport, there is the UTS system which is University operated and free and covers nearly all the places you’d normally want to go. That apart there is also the Charlottesville buses which are free if you flash your UVA ID (or 75c without it). The Barracks Road shopping mall is walking distance from both apartments and houses Kroger, CVS, Harris Teeter, Banana Republic, Old Navy, MacD, Panera, Chipotle, BofA, AT&T… you get the idea. The Corner and Downtown has a number of good eating and drinking places. Did I mention that Charlottesville is very friendly? And Darden more so!

In my opinion, the best thing about my decision to come to Darden is the strength of internationals here. There are people here from countries I can incorrectly point out on the map of the world and there are view points of individuals from a variety of backgrounds and age groups. Add to that the relative tranquility and laidback atmosphere of this beautiful university town and you have all the ingredients for a very interesting two years of study.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Vacation and back… Part 2.

So taking on from where I left off in Part 1, this one's about Agra and Jaipur... and a few other things.

Agra - Shah Jahan's view of the Taj from his prison cell

Agra: Agra was the next stop on my holiday. On the way to Agra is Akbar’s resting place, the Sikandra Fort. The fort is built with a grandeur befitting the great ruler of Mughal India. A fine specimen of architecture, this is also one of the better-maintained of the monuments he built. In the lawns surrounding the fort, monkeys and peacocks and deer roam freely, in what can only be described as a breathtaking sight. I have never seen so many peacocks together! It is not hard to imagine how it would have been when Akbar had walked the courtyards there or held darbar in those lawns.
No visit to Agra is complete without a mention of the Taj Mahal. Just as its beauty is alluring, so disappointing is the town that the Taj calls its home. Dirty and most tourist-unfriendly is Agra city, my lasting impression of Agra is of the feeling of being ripped off on any transaction you make, be it a tourist guide or a handicrafts seller. Stay at a nice hotel and you will easily forget the disorganized and dirty town you see as you go around in your car. The Taj itself is home to a number of pickpockets, unlicensed guides and street vendors, all promising to sell you the Taj in all sizes for a price tag of Rs.5 to Rs. 5,00,000. But cross the gates and behold the beauty in white marble and you are left speechless. No amount of photographs in magazines or documentaries on the Discovery channels will prepare you for the sheer breathtaking edifice that the Taj is. A good guide will tell you little bits of history and details of architecture that will make the monument all the more spectacular. But even without it, when you enter the inner chamber where Shah Jahan is purported to be buried alongside his beloved Mumtaz, you can’t help feel envy for a woman who was so loved. The Taj is best viewed early in the morning before the marble floors get hot. The Agra fort is another must-see in Agra. Here’s where you’ll feel sorry for Shah Jahan as you visit the chamber where his son kept him captive, his only solace being the distant view of the Taj Mahal that he could see through the holes that were gouged patterns on the wall. Here he died, after spending 12 years in captivity. His body was rowed across the Yamuna and taken to the Taj where he was buried.

Jaipur: From Agra we made our last stop at Jaipur. Undoubtedly the best part of our entire vacation, Jaipur was everything that Agra was not. Clean, friendly and very pro-tourist, Jaipur was an absolute delight. At Jaipur are the Sawai Man Singh Palace and fort, the museum and the Jantar Mantar. And don’t forget the shopping. There’s lots you can shop here, right from Jaipur block printed clothing to silver jewellery to handicrafts. A not-to-miss is the area of the Bazaar that seats the men and women who will henna beautiful and intricate patterns onto your palms. Rajasthani food was delightful, especially the sweets! The only downside of Jaipur was the hot sun that had me tanned about two shades.

I celebrated my birthday over the weekend when I was in Bangalore with my family. Bangalore has got to be my favourite Indian city after Chennai. I love visiting Bangalore but it's always great to be back home because it helps me appreciate Chennai's traffic more. Bangalore is infamous for bad infrastructure which pretty much translates to bad traffic jams on the roads. That apart, Bangalore has a pulse and culture that's unparalleled. Did I mention that Bangalore also has the best pubs? Anyone who knows me will know that I will not write about Bangalore without talking about the Legends of Rock pub. Great music, period. That's enough reason to go there.

Being my last birthday at home for some time to come, my birthday gift was a good time at the pub topped off with some lip smacking dinner. Thankfully, this time there were no talks about growing old(er), since everyone was too busy with all the work we had to do in Bangalore. When I returned, it dawned on me that I have very little time before I have to go. It sucks.

Vacation and back… Part 1.

So I’m back from a whole bunch of traveling. I wrote a bit about the palces I was going to in my last post. Ideally, I would have liked to write a post each about each of the palces I visited simply because they do warrant a piece each. But with going-away day barely a week away, I’m hard pressed for time and therefore I’m going to make it short.

First up my Mumbai trip. I love Mumbai and I was thoroughly pleased to see that it hasn’t lost any of vibrance in the last 5 years that I’ve missed it. I got to meet some friends and generally had a lot of fun visiting places I had not been to when I was living there. Unfortunately we couldn’t catch a show at Prithvi theater but we did catch some good coffee in the historic theater that was started by Raj Kapoor. I got to meet this awesome entrepreneur buddy of my friend and also an old friend of mine who I’d lost touch with. Some shopping and cocktails and yummy maharashtrian food and great company – ingredients for the fun-est time ever!

Haridwar: This was the first stop on my trip. Reason for being there is simply the Ganga. Of the 2 days we spent there, one evening was spent at the ghat watching the evening aarti which is really really beautiful. Haridwar’s ghat or bathing area is built for just bathing. There are stairs leading into the river while a part of the river itself is channeled to flow through a narrow-ish area with bathing stairways flanking both sides. I’m not doing a good job with the description, but the picture below should explain. The first and only way to describe this palce is crowded! There are multitudes of devotees thronging to the banks of the Ganga to wash their sins or take blessings (like me). I did not go there as a devotee – this was hardly a pilgrimage. But the sight of the river and kind of faith that people have for Ganga Mayya (Mayya = mother) kind of makes the whole experience a reaffirmation of faith. Save for this, my view of Haridwar is being crowded, old-world and a little dirty. I guess it’s typical of any Indian pilgrimage town.

Rishikesh: This is about 20kms from Haridwar. Here the Ganga is more placid and cleaner. She is also a lot deeper here. The symbol of Rishikesh is the Laxman Jhula which is a bridge spanning the Ganga. The other side of the bridge is home to the temples and ashrams that play host to the scores of devotees who throng Rishikesh every day. This part of the town is really quaint and is a pedestrian-only area. In true Indian style, there are beggars and cows jostling for space among the devotees and shop keepers who sell you everything from precious stones to Ganga in a bottle.

Devprayag: I haven’t got much to say about this places since I spent only an hour or so here. Devprayag is the confluence of Alaknanda and Bhagirati rivers that then flow downwards fromt here as the Ganga. Bhagirati is the more placid of the two while Alaknanda is faster, with a roar that can be heard some distance away. At the point of confluence, you can see the two rivers distinctly, differentiated by their colors.

Haridwar - Those are real people!

Next up, I headed over to Agra and Jaipur which I will write about in Part 2.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


One would imagine that with a nearly three month vacation, life would be a lot like sitting by the beach on a lazy summer afternoon (under the umbrella of course and slathered with liters of sun block) sipping iced tea. Pop! I just burst that bubble.

Life has been a frantic run over the past few days, under a deceptively calm veneer. I’ve finally managed to clear one of the three pre-matric exams that Darden requires us to take (all in true Infosys Perception© style) leaving me with Economics and Math to go through. And of course all the pages and pages of excel exercises. I should not be cribbing because, as mommy dearest puts it, I need to get used to the idea of actually studying – well she doesn’t put it in such flattering terms – after 3 years of giving up cramming. I guess she doesn’t know that I barely studied in my last year of engineering! Of course she doesn’t really understand the cramming I did for my certifications at the company… All she knew was that it required me to go to work on the weekends and eat pizza lunch at my cubicle! But studying isn’t all it is. I have a lot of shopping that needs to begin. I need to figure out what “Indian” things I need to take that I wouldn’t get in C’ville. We’ve done our google snooping for Indian provision stores and everything, but my mum worries that I might resort to eating out more than required if I’m strapped for ingredients! I need to watch enough tele to satisfy any craving I anticipate over the next two years for Indian television. I've been talking to a lot of old friends, and meeting with as many as I can. There are many goodbyes left to be said. And I’ve got to take my vacation!

I’m beginning my traveling a little late in the summer. This week, I’m heading off to my second favorite Indian city, Mumbai, to spend time with my best friend and to meet a few others. Maybe I can catch some Mumbaikar Dardenites too... Next weekend I’m off on a longer vacation further up north. I’ve always wanted to visit Haridwar, home of the Ganga (note: technically the Ganga originates from Gangotri, a glacier further up in the Himalayas. The Ganga also passes through Haridwar and its sister city Rishikesh, both holy places according to Hinduism. More on these places in a separate post). This is a trip I’ve been meaning to do for a long time, but somehow being in the south made it that much harder to make it. I’ve managed to convince the family to go this time with a fair bit of I’m-going-away blackmailing, something I’m resorting to a lot these days – its working every time, I should add! I’m also covering two more cities that I’ve been meaning to do since ages- Agra and Jaipur. Agra needs no introduction. It’s the home of the Taj Mahal. Enough said. Jaipur again, is tourist paradise. The pink city is home to many a beautiful palace and some rich Indian history. My camera’s going to be working on overdrive, that’s for sure! Once I’m back, it will be time to get the bags out and start packing, counting down days before I have to leave yet again. See, that’s what I find amusing. I read blogs of people in America who are moving cross-country to join school this fall, and of the major farewell parties they’re having and all the good byes they’re saying and how bad they’re feeling about moving. And all they have to do is get on a car and drive. Or at worst, get on a plane. And here I am, along with scores of other internationals that make up the diverse batch of Darden’s class of 2010, traveling to the other side of the globe, knowing that I wont be seeing my family and friends for another two years. Not to mention that should I wish to visit, it’s a 24-hour journey through 3 continents to get here! A certain fellow blogger who had the misfortune of leaving to the US on the same night as I did in January this year, will be aware of the tears I shed at the airport! And all for a 4-month stint. I don’t want to imagine how embarrassed I’m going to be this time!!

So that’s life thus far, my last lazy summer vacation. I’ll sign off now. But there’ll be a lot more action soon. Until then, here’s some other news. The sister also got a job at the company.

Monday, May 05, 2008


I bid good-bye to the company a fortnight ago. It was sudden and I’m pretty sure I missed out a few names in my goodbye email. Funnily enough, I’d been composing that email in my head for the past year and a half, but when it came to actually typing it out, I was at a loss for words. I’d decided that the wonderful people I’d met along the way did not merit a generic email so I grouped them and sent out a different email to each group… I had so much to say…

That last day, as I walked from B4 to the Powerhouse Gate for that last bus ride home, I tried to take in as many of the sightes and sounds as possible… Most of them had become so familiar that I would walk on unseeingly. That day I felt a strange sense of nostalgia – and joy- at my departure from the place that made it all happen for me. I might not have loved my job to the point of being passionate about it, but I loved the atmosphere, the people, the transparency of the organization and I loved just generally being part of it all. The company gave me the freedom to be what I was, to distribute my time between work and all the extra-curricular stuff I was doing and in the process, gave me self-confidence and set a standard for how the workplace should be. If the initial few months gave me my fantastic friends, the latter months gave me a chance to work with some amazing individuals as colleagues. Most unforgettable are my 3 managers from WAG and KRFT – In the span of a year spent working under these 3 people, I learnt more than I did from anyone else. One taught me time management – get to office at 8, leave at 5 and get everything wrapped in that time, including fun! Another taught me the traits of a true manager – team spirit, encouragement, support – be it while helping her team through a downsize or sitting through a quiz as audience after hours just to provide support to her team and see them through to victory or while recognizing the talent in each team member and pushing them to achieve visibility in the organization. My last manager at the company taught me the all-important skills of organizing and conducting meetings and liaising with client folk, while showing faith in my abilities. To all three of them: I may not have been the best or star member of your team, but you made me feel like I was important enough and that gave me the impetus to outperform. I carry the lessons you all taught me all the way to business school. I may never work with you again, but every time I practice any of the lessons you taught me, rest assured I will send out a silent prayer of thanks.

Finally, here is a picture from the company… inspite of monickers like dog-tag and mangalsutra, a colleague and fellow-quitter agreed with me that the pride we felt the first time we swiped our ID cards at the gates of the office was unparalleled and undiminished despite any unhappiness we might have felt or any achievements in the months since that day. I beeped in one last time at the swipe-cards in the reception at B4 that morning and as I handed in my temporary ID card that evening, I walked away with a confusion of a smile and a grimace. I felt sad to leave but I felt happy to have been a part of the experience, a part of the monumental achievement of 5 people who started out on a dream and have never given up since then. I wished I'd gotten to keep my ID card and out that evening at the B4 reception, the way I'd done it for the past two years. But I guess in some ways it's good I didn't. Perhaps that's what's so special about Infy. You can leave, but you can never really get it out of your system. In some corner of your memory, you're always an Infy-ite. I like that feeling...

Here’s to Infosys and it’s bright and prosperous future!

Afterthought: As I reflect on the last couple of days at Infy, I realize I couldn't have made a better exit - I won a general + business quiz held at Shols DC a day before I left. I partnered with a friend and our attendance was very last-minute; in fact, the only reason I was present at the audi was to tell the quizmaster, a friend of mine, that I would have to skip the quiz even though I'd promised to attend. But the sight of that presentation and the curiousity to explore what lay beyond Slide 1 got me sitting there and going through the entire quiz... and even winning it on the tie-breaker! It was good to go out with a bang than just fade away like the countless others.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Lessons from an applicant

For all the help I received from the blogosphere during my application process, here’s my ode to all of you who made your thoughts, experiences and rejections public. I’m grateful for all the tips and all the information gleaned from the gamut of blogs I would visit. I’m pretty sure I’ve thanked a few people, just as certain I am that I couldn’t trace my steps back to thank all those I missed. So here’s what I’ll do: I’m going to put in some of my cents into this post and subsequent ones and hope that someday, when this blog goes public, some applicant will find something of use in here. So here goes!

Discipline. You’re thinking, what’s that got to do with anything? I’m telling you it does. If you have decided to take this little trip here then you have got to have discipline. I didn’t have too much to start with. I cultivated it somewhere midway in my process. I got lucky; I can’t assure that you will too. You need to start early. Take your GMAT a year early if you can and spend the coming year strengthening your profile as you research colleges, courses and essay writing strategies. Ideally you should have researched this stuff before your GMAT – researching will convince you of the need to pursue this line of study and you will know where you stand in the scene. Never mind if you gave GMAT just because everyone else did. Wake up now and do your research.

GMAT is not even step 1. This should have been my point 1. I cannot stress on this enough. A lot of people I know aspire to top 5 US schools because they got a 700+ in their GMAT. Take it from me now: 770 in GMAT may not get you a seat in Wharton (Argue with me that Juggler had a whopping score and she’s in Wharton and I will tell you that Juggler has a whopping personality and stellar talent/intelligence/writing skills… all this in addition to 770/780. Juggler might have made it to Wharton without the 770 too!). On the other hand, 620 in GMAT may not get you rejected from Wharton either. There’s a sane mathematical calculation behind the median GMAT range figures on bschool websites. So GMAT is just like this platform ticket you have to buy. Once you get in, you need to find the right train and your seat too. All of that takes up significantly more energy and time than the GMAT ever will. So, in addition to the GMAT, assess your candidature thoroughly. In other words, go over your profile. You’ll need all the information you dig up.

Essays are the most important part of your application package. There is a reason why bschools have essays. The sooner you understand what the school wants to know, the better off you are. Essays are not something you can write overnight, no matter how good a writer you are. Similarly, essays are not something you can write from a common generic framework and switch school names depending on which college you are uploading the essay for. In fact, I read on one of the blogs that if your essay is such that all you need to do is change the school name in the essay to be ready with a new one for a new school, then your essay is no good. Each essay has to be specific to the school. It’s common logic that the person you are and your accomplishments do not change ( and should not change) from school to school but writing essays specific to a school ensures that you are highlighting the part of your personality or profile that the school wants to read about. Perhaps a school like Darden would want to know if you can work in teams and if you have confidence to speak in a crowd. Maybe a school like Yale would be more interested in whether you have a sense of responsibility towards your community. Here's where all that introspection you did will bail you out. If you've got it, dig it up and say it... Make it sound good when you do! I do not have a spectacular success rate with my applications. But I made sure that I wrote out new essays for each college. My goals essay was essentially the same, but depending on the manner in which the question was worded and the word limit imposed, I rewrote that essay for all 4 colleges that I applied to. Was it painful? Hell, yes! But if you thought this was going to be a breeze then perhaps you should think again.

Optimism. I’ll try to do this one right so that I don’t contradict a previous paragraph. It’s good to be realistic about where you should apply to and should not. But don’t whine to all and sundry that you’re no good. While you're applying to colleges where you think you stand a realistic chance of conversion, it doesn't hurt to look a little higher up too. I speak from personal experience. I refused to apply to Darden because I didn’t think my GMAT/acads were good enough. A good friend brainwashed me into doing it. He said, think of this as your dream college and apply. Worse case scenario – you get rejected. But think of what happens if it works in your favor. I struggled but I managed to get in my Darden application in Round 2. I got rejected from all colleges ranked below Darden. Was it plain luck or something else? I’ll never know. But bottomline is I’m here and I’m writing this post. So there!

Well I’m done for this post. I am sure I have more information to share and I’ll do it over the next few months. If anyone does ever read this and wants me to write about anything specific, then drop me a line in the comments section and I will try my best to oblige.

When Darden Called

And the word is out! I got accepted at Darden’s Full Time MBA program!

And that is why I am back in India, filing my e-separation and hoping to enjoy a few months at home and with the family before I have to leave once more. Suddenly there seems so much to do, to plan, to calculate – all my years of taking CAT comes to use now as I convert Rs to USD and back again, trying to figure out where to meet expenses from. But on a different plane, there are other worries too. How will I adjust to being a student once more, after nearly 3 years as an earning professional? 3 years of not needing to be accountable to anyone for money earned or spent, of being able to eat out on a whim, or buy an expensive book or item of clothing without needing to trace back to monthly budget. All my Indian savings when converted to USD seem to amount to almost nothing, while my USD savings will probably whittle down to nothing by the time I get to Darden.

I guess this is a post to write about how happy I am, that a dream is finally coming true. I cannot shake off the feeling that perhaps it’s coming a year too late, but every time I think of Darden and the 2 years coming up, I cannot help but feel a sense of excitement and adventure. I wrote at the beginning of this year about how I could feel that this year was going to be significant for me, that my life was going to change drastically. That sense of change is heightened now and although there is some fear of the unknown, there is also this feeling that the ride is going to be not without a fair share of excitement. Despite the period of self-doubt that I went through during my application process – I’m hearing that the feeling is extremely normal! – I hear people telling me I’m getting what I deserve and with each passing day I’m convinced more and more that they maybe right after all.

Finally, I know my parents are happy. They’re worried, but they’re happy. They’re worried that I may not want to come back to India again, or that I may not be able to. They’re worried that the process of finding me a husband is going to get more complicated than it already is. But I know that they’re happy I’m going to do what I’ve wanted and to me that’s all that matters.

Reporting From...


The last time you checked I was in Chicago and the next thing you know, I’m back home in India. Sweltering hot, noisy, dirty, crowded, chaotic India. All that and home.

I made this decision to return all on my own. My assignment done, I was ready to begin on a new, longer one right there in Madison. But then all in a day, things changed and I decided to return. I was unable to concentrate on work and I kept thinking about all the million things I had to arrange for and do. I know I’m being all mysterious, but I’m saving the big news for another post.

Madison. What a life altering experience that was. Did I anticipate having so much fun? Or did I anticipate enjoying work as much as I did? Answer to both is a resounding No! It is ironic how, having written off work and The Company as something I do and enjoy in bits (like when I’m quizzing or organizing events here or meeting the amazing people I have at The Company) while cursing to oblivion at other times, I actually began to enjoy work at Kraft. Add to it a fun boss, great location, healthy work hours and great junta. I had fun even when my project looked like it was crashing all around me – ok it wasn’t all ha ha-fun, but it was like challenging-fun, the fun you get when you’re racing against time and each time you fix one hurdle you’re going yesss! Everything was a new experience, best of all being the knowledge that I could actually cook!

So why did throw it all away, that too all of a sudden, to return to India?

Saturday, March 22, 2008

St.Patrick’s day at Chicago

I’d say I chose the best time to visit Chicago last weekend. It was St. Patrick’s day and it was worth all the delays and uncertainty that preceded my travel! I was supposed to drive down with a colleague on Friday evening but a late evening meeting at work ensured I was stuck at office till 630 by which time she had reached O’Hare in time to pick up her husband. But Friday evening wasn’t so bad either because I got to play pool at a friend’s house here!

Early Saturday morning I cabbed down to the Park & Ride on Stoughton to board the CoachUSA to Chicago. Four hours later I was at downtown Chicago by the Amtrak station where I was met by Sibha and Pratap. We walked down to MacD because my tummy was protesting big time and then went on to Michigan Ave in time for St Patrick’s day parade. It was awesome! Drunk people all around and colorful floats preceded my the sound of bagpipes played by men in kilts! There was green everywhere! Whacky hats to green beaded chains to green tee shirts… they had it all! Apparently there is a pub here in Madison that even serves green beer on the day! Parade done with and then it was time to see the famous river-turned-green sight that is a trademark of St. Patrick’s day. We walked past Millennium Park to a canal just before it opens out to Lake Michigan. The water had been turned green by motorboats dropping green dye into the water. A whole bunch of photographs later it was time to walk back a few blocks away for lunch at Potbelly.

After a sumptuous lunch and some needed rest for our feet, we were back on the road again! This time we headed to Sears Tower for a bird’s eye view of Chicago from the 103rd floor. Up until the Petronas twin towers came up in Malaysia, the Sears Tower was the world’s tallest building. Now of course, Taipei 101 is the tallest. The view from Skydek of the Sear’s tower was breathtaking to say the least. The Lake Michigan stretched out like a picture perfect canvas far into the horizon while up close were the roof tops of other famous landmarks such as the Federal Reserve and headquarters of various financial heavyweights. Soon it was time to walk to the Metra station to head to Sibha’s place for the night. We had dinner at the station and had a good one hour ride to Arlington Heights where these guys lived. Sibha and I stayed up till the wee hours catching up on all the news we’ve missed since the last time we met nearly a year ago in India.

The next morning, Pratap drove us to Aurora, a beautiful Indian temple an hour’s drive from Arlington Heights. I had not been to a temple since I’d come to the US, so I was really grateful that they could take me. The temple was beautiful and peaceful and it was so nice to so many desis after such a long time, with little kids in pavadai-chattai and American accented ABCD aunties in salwar-kameez and sarees. It was like being in a cleaner, more affluent India. The food at the temple is very famous among the desis there. It is traditional Tamil fare – idli, dosa, sambar, pongal, vadai, lassi, filter coffee, puli saadam, thayir sadam… We ordered everything they had, and even managed to finish all of it! Of course, we were that hungry! A few photographs later we were on the road once more, this time to the Aurora premium outlet to shop! A couple of hours later we headed back into Chicago.

But Pratap had not had enough of the day so we drove along Lakeshore Drive to the Ba’hai temple of peace. The drive was really beautiful. Lakeshore drive is an affluent part of Chicago, replete with mini castles for homes and the address of the rich and famous of Chicago. The area borders the banks of the Lake and makes for scenic driving. The Ba’hai temple itself was a peaceful, architecturally beautiful prayer hall. We rested there for a while, each one lost in our own thoughts. Soon it was time to hit the roads again. We got home in time for dinner and then called it a day. I left for Madison on Monday morning along with my colleague.

My weekend in cihcago was one of the best I’d had since I got to the US. Good place, great company – what more can a person ask for! Sibha and Pratap took good care of me and more than once I found myself wishing I still worked with Walgreens and that I had come to the US on an assignment with them rather than with Kraft.

I fell in love with Cihcago. Downtown Chicago was vibrant and busy, the way I’ve imagined American cities to be. The suburbs were beautiful too, with wide roads and pretty homes, quite unlike Madison with its laidback, small town feel. Chicago really is the windy city, for a warm week in the Midwest where I did not need my overcoat in Madison, I was all bundled up in Chicago for both the days I was there! I hope to go back there someday before I return to India.

Monday, March 10, 2008

My Cold Call Chronicle

My 3 day adventure of the past week was on its final and finishing leg. Here I was, far away from all things familiar, flying across from Wisconsin to Virginia to interview with my top choice for business school, Darden.

I took off from Milwaukee to Chicago to DC and then finally on to C’ville where a student contact met me at 11pm (bless him!). Along the way I got to talking with a few random strangers, one at each stop and each as interesting as the other. First there was the desi from Chennai at O’Hare, a fellow techie who seemed to have traveled all over the world. On the flight from Chicago to DC there was the healthcare professional from Virginia who worked with GE and we got to talking about books and American history. During the wait at Dulles for the flight to Charlottesville – which was delayed – I got to talking with a Nutrition grad student from NCSU who was on his way to interview at UVA for a PhD.

Onto CHO where the serene town with its trademark red brick buildings made me wish I was already a student at the university. CHO is a typical American university town… not that I have been to any other American university towns. The only other university town that I have ever been to is Oxford (SRM University does not count here!) and so I had little to compare with. However I knew right away that CHO was a charming town that was steeped in liberalism, quite like Madison itself, and multiculturalism where a number of elite, old American families shared breathing space with university students. The Darden School itself was stately and architecturally beautiful, just the way Thomas Jefferson had designed it and the rest of the university; yet its atmosphere was serene and quiet, far removed from the fast paced and dynamic industry it serves to prepare students for.

I arrived at C’ville late on Thursday night, with just enough time to pick up McD for dinner – my third for the day! The Best Western where I stayed was a comfortable and cosy hotel and contrary to its budget hotel image it was really quite generous. I woke up early next morning to mentally prepare myself for my interview. I missed the First Coffee tradition since my student contact had warned me that due to impending exams the following week there would be no First Coffee. I got to Darden at around 10AM and waiting at the admissions lobby for my interviewer to come fetch me. There I got to meet other applicants and man did I feel small!! There was a legal assistant from New York, an equity trader from New York, a product engineer from Atlanta, a healthcare professional and his nurse wife from the RTP… basically really super achiever people. And I was feeling pretty small, I’ll admit! My interviewer came and fetched me and we had our interview for an hour or so. Once that was done, it was time for the special lunch that Darden had hosted for us. Lunch was a formal affair, with all the emblazoned silver finery and a sumptuous buffet lunch. Each table had seven applicants with one Darden professor. Free flowing conversation, nearly invisible maitre d’s, really tasty food and a friendly atmosphere gave me a good idea of what business school in America would be like. Once lunch was through, it was time for a current student to show us around the grounds. She showed us the classrooms, the meeting rooms, the offices of the professors and the cafeteria. Tour over and it was time for me to go back to my hotel. Back at the hotel I relaxed for a little while before I headed out for a walk. I took a really long walk across the university campus to the halls of residence.

I spent my second day at C’ville walking around their very famous pedestrian open air mall. I couldn’t buy much except for a really tasty sandwich lunch at the famous Five Boys sandwich place. I managed to take a few pictures and was back in my hotel by afternoon to relax in bed with the tv on. Dinner was at the Italian place nearby – amazing sandwich, salad, cheesecake, soup, crackers and pink lemonade! I packed it all up to enjoy a tv dinner in the warmth of my room.

Before I realized, my relaxing weekend at charming C’ville had ended. I loved the university feel of the town, with its signature uniform red brick buildings and wide walkways to accommodate the iPod plugged pedestrian or the occasional backpack toting student pedaling away furiously uphill on her cycle to get to her class. Not the kind of place for a shopping trip, but I guess that’s one distraction students can do without!

On my return flight back from CHO to MSN, I met one eccentric UVA researcher – replete with long hair and piercing blue eyes – who was really friendly and very kindly walked me up to my terminal in Dulles. He was also an engineer so we had a lot to talk about. On the flight from Dulles to O’Hare was the med student who couldn’t get his nose out of his neuroscience textbook! At O’Hare was a seemingly endless wait as my flight to Milwaukee kept getting delayed due to weather – I suppose after weeks of snow, O’Hare had issues handling a day of perfect sunshine and warm temperatures! I finally reached home at Madison at around 10 in the night – physically exhausted but mentally rested. I’d need that for the grueling week I had after I returned!

Two of my favorite men on one platform!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Comedy Over Coffee

This poster was seen at my coffee room yesterday. I couldn't resist snapping it up!!
By this afternoon, someone had drawn a hand in blue marker in the blank space below!

At nearly 90 inches of snow for the season here in Madison, I think it sums up the sentiment pretty neatly... Of course this applies to the locals only... and some desis too... not me obviously!

In the words of some smart adman, I'm Loving It!

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The Madison Winter Festival

We went to the Madison Winter Festival last Sunday (February the 2nd). And boy was it fun!!

The MWF is held every year and consists of ski races, Nordic walking, snow tubing, ice sculptures and great fun!! It is held in downtown Madison, outside of the Capitol building. They had dumped tons of snow down there to build a ski track! We went on day 1 of the festival – it just lasts two days.

We watched a few races, ate delicious American style pizza (pizza on a thin base, unlike how you get it in India) and nearly froze our feet!! After all the outdoorsy stuff, we hopped in to great coffee place near the church. It was warm and homely and full of students from the University, studying or doing assignments or surfing the web or just catching up! We spent nearly an hour there, warming ourselves before we headed out once more into the sub zeros!

It was late, the sun had gone down and we had missed the kite flying competition of frozen Lake Mendota. But we still had some fun in store! We drove down to Lake Monona and took a jaunty walk across its frozen surface! Twelve inches of think ice layered the surface of the snow, but if dug your foot into the powdery snow on the surface till you reached the sheer ice beneath, you could see the lapping water underneath – remember what we studied in school about the anomalous expansion of water? No? Google it dummy!

We walked and played and freaked me out by jumping on the surface and willing it to break – yeah that was part of the activity! We met some really drunk guys who were sitting around fishing! That’s right, fishing! They’d dug these round holes at intermittent distances and put in a line with a yellow flag on the top. According to one of the guys who gave us a complete lowdown on how the whole thing works, once a fish gets hooked (pun unintended I assure you), the screw-wound reel starts to rotate and the yellow flag stands erect ( it’s parallel to the ground when you send the reel in) and that’s how you know you’ve got a catch. So then you reel it in like a normal fishing line. After more playing in the snow and walking around, we made it back to terra firma, much to my relief! And we drove back home!

And that was the next brilliant day after the previous weekend when we went to a ski resort!!

Touchdown And A Month Later

I could not keep the tears out of my eyes when I said goodbye. And it wasn’t exactly the kind of good bye I had pictured in my head – and I had pictured it a lot! Outside the overcrowded doorways of Chennai’s Anna International Airport, a hurried peck on the cheek of each member of my family passed for a farewell on the night I left India for the US. I walked on through the crowd and once I was inside the sliding doorway the crowds had enveloped the familiar faces that I was going to miss in the coming months.

Several delays later I was at Brussels with just enough time to spare to get security checked and run to the next terminal for my connecting flight to Newark. It was unreal and with so many desi techies on the flight, I didn’t feel all that bewildered. More sleep later I was at Newark. And that is when the full force of things hit me hard in the face!

America. The land of plenty, of dreams, of fast cars, of Hollywood… of everything that we see on the tele and read in books. As I stood in the queue for immigration, I could not suppress my grin. I was finally here in America! I never thought I would come, but here I was. Everything had happened so suddenly, I had not expected or wanted it even, but here I was. I think I was in shock!! The sights, the sounds, the smells… I was lapping it all up hungrily! All at once, I wanted 360 degree vision, to be able to overhear conversations, observe people, fashions of the day, signboards, hair color, accents… I just wanted to soak it all in! I was in sensory overload and I was scared some, excited some, plain bewildered some, and my arms were aching from carrying too much hand luggage!

Immigration and baggage claim later – which involved fiddling with the alien currency for a trolley dispenser (India rocks, trolleys are free there) – I was running across the length of Newark’s Liberty International Airport to make it to my flight to Madison. Oh I nearly got lost! And they said take a train to the terminal and the very concept was so alien ( all the other international airports I’d ever been to always said take the escalator, or walk-alator, or the stairs or the cart, but train?! Huh!), so alien that I thought I heard wrong and went around in circles! I finally found the air train(!!) that took me from one terminal of Liberty to another one two stops away. And I was running again, for my next and last flight. Running, running and I was in finally! A making-me-claustrophobically small aircraft with one stewardess all the way to Madison. But I was having fun! I was doing what I love doing on trips – people watching!!!

Before I knew it, we were taxing on the runway and I saw the famed Manhattan silhouette, with Liberty and the waterfront! Oh I couldn’t wait to explore, but there would be more time for that later, I promised myself that! I arrived at Madison, welcomed by a blisteringly cold day, and without any of my baggage! Seems like I wasn’t the only who was lost at Newark!

The first few days at Madison were full of questions! I think my roomie completely got sick of me and the incessant questions I was asking! I couldn’t/still can’t stand not knowing, I wanted to experience everything all at once!

Well it’s a month down now, my bags are with me, and I’m settled in my own room well enough to start noticing the not so rosy things about this place. I miss home every once in a while. I think I miss good company more than I miss home as such. I miss being a click or buzz away from my friends, the ones I would chat with everyday from office or home. I miss having hot tea and dinner waiting for me when I get home from work. I miss not having to make a decision on anything – about whether I’m running out of vegetables, whether I need to soak kidney beans tonight for tomorrow’s dinner, whether my shirts need ironing… I miss not having to worry about chopping onions and chipping off a nail accidentally. You know I should really stop writing now, before I get all homesick!

But life is good! I’m feeling as un-independent as I have ever done in so many years. All my independence from home is out the window and I am starting over. Plenty to learn and explore. Work is different from anything I’ve experienced offshore. I’m not the best person here, but I’m learning. Thanks to the internet and a great family and some awesome friends, I’m just a click away from any company I need. Hopefully, there’s something even better at the end of all of this! Even better than a two day snow storm and walking through 9 inches of snow to reach the parking lot from office, and getting frozen fingers in trying to clean the windshield (psst : I loved it!!)! Better than the anticipation of being able to drive in a while. But definitely not better than going down to Charlottesville at the end of this month – nothing is going to beat that and I’m uber excited!!

Welcome to America!


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