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.


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