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.


Mugdha said...

i know how much you luv the place :)

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Arun said...

I am an applicant to Darden batch of 2012. I am looking forward to being a part of the "close knit" darden community. Reading a chennai person's perspective on the community is something i can relaate to being a chennai-ite myself. Hopefully will see you next year. Happy Holidays


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