** Warning: Looooooong post ahead
First I must apologize for the extended period of silence. Things have been a little unwieldy since school gave in to summer. That’s right; I am officially done with first year. I have spent the better part of the last few days trying to come to terms with the feeling… I don’t know if I should be happy or sad… Honestly, I feel kind of numb. This year has been a little hard to digest. Typical of the Darden program, so much has been thrown at us this year and so fast, that sometimes I have trouble believing I actually went through the whole year and lived to tell about it!
I remember how it felt at orientation, oh 10 months ago. A sea of unfamiliar faces, everything was at once befuddling yet exciting. There was a sense of nervous expectation, a sort of go getter attitude. I walked in to Darden with dreams that were big for where I came from, yet seemingly modest given the type of school I had come to. The economy was just showing some signs of weariness, but the red alerts had not set in as yet. I may have been $60000 in debt but I felt like a million bucks!
And then the floodgates opened and suddenly it felt like sensory overload. Names gave way to faces, acquaintances became buddies and second years became inspirations to look up to. Suddenly Microsoft, McKinsey, AT Kearney, UTC, Danaher became more than just tickers on CNBC, they were for real and I was sharing glasses of wine with them or corresponding via email. In class, we were talking about real companies, real people, real problems. Excel became my new best friend, my alarm clock my worst foe. On Thursday mornings, it seemed like the night couldn’t come soon enough to go back to bed, and yet there I was letting my hair down at TNDC. Weekends left only a whooshing sound in their wake as they sped by and then there was the 100 case party where I sang till my voice went hoarse, forging new bonds even as I did so. Days merged into nights and days again, and I stopped to take it all in only during winter break, when time seemed to stretch on forever. Soon it was 2009 and with it came a slew of disappointments as the recession had spread its tentacles into our summer recruiting. The upbeat mood of the first semester gave way to more somber countenances in the second semester and expectations we reset and we scrambled to find employment for the summer. Even in the midst of all the self doubt and falling self confidence, I made time for the GBE to Brazil, the best forced vacation in all my life and one that I’m not likely to forget for years to come. Business school taught me to leave my worries behind as I went to explore a new country and was enriched by the experience.
I don’t really know where the last quarter of school went, but here we are. The year seems to have flown by and as I meet people who are joining business school this fall, even the recession seems to bounce off them and their optimism. But for me and my class at Darden, there is something about this recession that has bonded us together like no previous batch at school. We rallied around one another, lauding one person’s success with a bulge bracket investment bank just as we supported the other that got yet another I-regret-to-inform-you email. It was May and 20% of us were without direction for the summer, yet we threw farewell parties and danced our hearts out at the Bollywood, Japan and LASA parties. There were days when I was filled with hope that everything will be ok, yet there were days of despair. On the latter, I was never alone, finding support and encouragement in the success stories of others or just in having lunch together at Café 67. And yet, this much cursed recession forced us to expand our boundaries. People took risks, followed dreams and went where others would not look in a regular year. While someone went to Africa to do economic development another went to DC to work in sustainability. Someone found intellectually rewarding work in an 11 member VC firm while someone else found a window to showcase his Crystal Ball skills to a government firm. Some people traded their dream jobs for more satisfying start up experiences, while others just walked away from the rat race to start their own thing and thus give employment to another classmate through the Batten institute. As for me, I had a strange turn of events. I came to Mumbai to work with the firm that was my dream employer through most of undergrad and my days at Infosys, one I had lost hope in when I chose to pursue an MBA abroad. Not only was this opportunity at Unilever serendipitous, even more interesting is the nature of work I get to do. I am working with one of their most talked about CSR initiatives, the Project Shakti.
I have a ton of impressions from coming back to India after a year. A lot of time spent in commuting has given me enough fodder to ponder and reminisce. And while I miss Darden and its familiarity, I am discovering a different work culture at Unilever, and I constantly compare and evaluate. I also spam my friends’ inboxes with all the conversations I wish I could have with them! But as I go into week 2 of my internship, I look forward to being able to get back to writing about all that goes on in my head.