Friday, August 31, 2007

First 2 weeks – Let’s get the party started!

Wow, we are almost done with first 2 weeks at Darden and they have been incredible. Cases, Learning teams, Class discussions, self-awareness/reflection exercises, career counseling, club meetings, parties and sports have all kept us really busy, but boy! Did we have some fun!
We started out on Sunday August 19th with a cookout and got an opportunity to meet classmates and faculty that we hadn’t already met. Every one of us was still grappling with the names, our class being 300 odd strong. Monday was the official start and we kicked it off with meeting our section and section faculty. I am in Section E and my enthusiasm was turned to exhilaration on finding exceptional classmates exuding confidence but no ego; everything contributing to excitement and ecstasy for future.
‘Section E – easy does it!’

We were introduced to different departments, people to contact for questions and were informed about Darden and University norms. This was followed up with a career management session. Darden has an excellent approach to career search. It kicks off with finding about oneself, understanding strength and weakness, interests and motivation and then trying to make conscious choices about our future. The second day was purposefully kept similar. First couples of days were pretty much for orientation and getting us familiarized with Darden culture e.g. ‘the first Coffee’ and ‘High touch, High tone, High octane’ philosophy.

Wednesday, however brought an entirely different challenge with first hand exposure to the ‘case method’ and dreaded ‘Darden routine’. We had 3 cases to prepare for the next day and it took me from 2 pm till 6:30 pm to get that done. I grabbed a quick dinner before heading out to discuss cases with our learning team. I forgot to mention that we had already met our learning team the day before and I was totally thrilled with mine. We gelled together well from the start and had great chemistry. Unlike some other teams we were done with our cases before 10 pm.
We kept that up the next two days too.

Classes I must say have been fun. Since all classes are case based and class participation is graded, everyone was anxious to get their point in. Though, we kind of settled down as we went along. It’s great to hear different approaches to the same problem, different perspectives and see people narrate their related personal experiences. Almost every case we find few people related to the industry or the function or sometimes having had a similar experience. We not only learn the text but also learn from each other’s experiences. We learn to communicate better, to listen, understand and empathize. Videos, games and presentations make the class even more interesting.

Come ‘Thursday’ and the party starts with TNDC – Thursday night drinking club, an unofficial but obviously popular group. We had great fun partying till wee hours in the morning with other ‘dardenities’. Not a good idea considering we had an 8am class on Friday. Second years, as you expect, were chilling after their internships. We kept the parties going on Friday and Saturday. We also had an entire day of ‘team building’ activity. Learning teams were grouped into 2 and faced off each other in a variety of events to accumulate ‘feathers’ for prizes. The event was based on historical ‘Lewis and clark’ journey. Though it was pretty hot, we enjoyed our day in the sun and the healthy competition that accompanies such an event. In the end it came down to interesting and fun-filled poetry competition to decide the winners. The purpose was to get to know your ‘learning team’ better and build some team spirit and I guess this went a long way in addressing that.

We had some time to relax over the weekend (though not a lot) and came back to learning teams on Sunday. This would the first full week of the ‘Darden boot camp’ and we were all anxious to see how we fare. Things were not as bad at our learning team as we finished relatively early 9:30 – 10 pm and we even managed to start our own unofficial ‘ACDC – after case drinking club’. We’ll see how long that lasts. I hear that things weren’t as sweet across all learning teams. As the week passed we began to feel the pressure of the hectic schedule. This week we were fitting additional stuff in the afternoon including club meetings, 2 per day 30 minutes each. We were getting used to having no time to ourselves, sleeping very late and getting up early. Before we realized, Friday was here and with only one class followed by a section norms discussion, we got off early. Tomorrow we start the ‘Darden cup’ sports activities with ‘Flag football’. All the sections got together for some practice. I have a feeling that like everything else this is going to be good fun but little more competitive. Let’s see. Anyways, I need to get some rest before I head out. Ciao!

Monday, August 20, 2007

Pre-school madness

Before I talk about what my first 2 weeks in Charlottesville have been like, I want to bring your attention to the recent Forbes ranking that put Darden 4th best Business school in the country. Yuuuuhoooooo!!

The school has not yet started but these past 2 weeks have given me every indication that the school belongs amongst the best. Here is the link to the Forbes ranking for more.

Continuing on… so what has happened since you get admitted to one of the top MBA programs in the country? Of course your immediate priorities are
accept your admission and enjoy the admitted students weekend
quit your job and vacation and maybe travel a bit
Pretty soon, however, you are down to more serious stuff.

I landed in Charlottesville on 8th August. My roommate was already here so my apartment was almost set by the day I arrived. We were able to buy and move the remaining stuff in the next few days.

International student’s orientation started on the 9th with different groups taken us through student life, cultural aspects, career, and academic challenges specific to international students. We were also briefed on student visa, work opportunities, other regulations and university rules. The sessions over two days were very informative and it was quite fascinating to see classmate from all over bringing so much experience and diversity to the table. We were all just thrilled to be in such elite company.

The first week was pretty much lot of social activities and getting to know each other. We did have unofficial soccer and basketball games that seemed like a world cup with people from all over. Some of took foundation classes in Finance, accounting and Math skills. Darden requires us to clear pre-enrollment tests in each of them. Another pre-school activity was to complete 15 hrs (5-10 in actual) of self-discovery and assessments for career discovery purposes. Throughout the week leading to the grand opening we were joined by US students and joined in the fun evening activities. We feel truly welcome by all staff, student affairs and faculty and are pleasantly susprised to see them so well prepared and organized for us as we arrive. Faculty graciously hosted an evening event at their homes that just topped off the week for us.
The official welcome started this Sunday ( 19th) with a speech from our Dean Bruner. His speech has been aptly summarized by my fellow classmate - Christof, read here for more We then headed out for a class picture followed by a picnic.

The first couple of week’s activities have been really fun. All of us have enjoyed meeting our classmates and are really excited about times ahead. However, we have on several occasions be told about the rigor of the Darden program and its slowly beginning to sink it that ‘Time’ is one thing we’ll be very short of. At the same time I feel honored to be here at the prestigious University of Virginia and Darden School with so much tradition and so much to be proud of. When you walk the grounds at Darden, you cannot help but be awed by the brick builds that are symbolic of the foundation and prestige of the school. Looking forward to getting into the thick of things from tomorrow when we start preparing our first cases.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Mysore trip

Cool breeze, partly cloudy skies and comfortable temperature made for an excellent start on Friday morning. We loaded our bags into the mini-van and were on our way by 10 in the morning. It had been a while since I vacationed with my family and was really looking forward to the trip. The plan was to spend most of the day at ‘Wonder-la’ a relative new but popular amusement park near Bangalore. We were in great mood but I wasn't expecting much from an amusement park, after all we were grown up now. Or, so I thought. As soon as we landed there we felt invigorated and quickly jumped on to the roller coaster. Getting rid of the early jitters we moved on to more terrifying rides; I particularly remember the twisting and somersaulting one called x-scream. The facilities at ‘wonder-la’ were amazing much to my surprise. The place was well maintained, clean and offered many eating, drinking and relaxing opportunities besides the rides. Done with the dry rides, it was time to get dirty or should I say "wet". We hit the water slides with races on the uphill racer, some tubing adventures and finally to the scary 'Vertical fall'. It was almost 2 pm and we were wondering where time flew by. After grabbing a quick bite we headed to the wave pool. Again it turned out to be more exciting than we anticipated. Tired, we ate some snacks at the restaurant and headed out. I speak for everyone when I say that we thoroughly enjoyed being kids again.

We journeyed onwards to Mysore and arrived at our posh hotel by 5 PM. After a quick shower we headed to ‘Planet X’ for some more entertainment. It was time for ‘Karting’ and though it was getting late and dark, we showed each other no mercy on the track. 'Olive garden' restaurant right next door lived up to its reputation in terms of cuisine. On this trip to India I have been trying out some Indian wines and Zinfandel from Nasik faired much better than others I had this past month. The dinner was great and prices were very reasonable.

Next morning we planned to head to 'Talakad' and 'Shiv Samudra'. The former is religious place on the banks of river Cauvery and latter a spectacular falls on the same river. We got lost on our way but had an insightful experience of rural Karnataka passing through dirt roads, villages and fields. We stopped several times to absorb the beautiful scenery on offer. Back on track, it was past noon by the time we arrived at 'TalaKad'. We didn't expect it to see anything impressive and this time weren't surprised even though the river was pretty full owing to heavy rains. The exciting part was the ride on the 'coracle', a small round makeshift boat that local fishermen use. Though the ride was relaxing there was a thrilling moment when the boatman does several fast 360 degree spin that almost makes you feel dizzy. Pretty soon we were on our way to our next destination, again enjoying every bit of scenery on route. ‘Shiv Shamudra’ falls were breathtaking and nothing close to what we expected of this little known tourist destination. The falls were split into 2, were quite reminiscent of the Niagara Falls and though not as voluminous they we still pretty comparable in terms of height. I think the excessive rain from this monsoon might have a huge role to play and they may not be the same spectacle a different time of the year. We spent some time there absorbing the scenery and taking pictures. But soon it was time to head back as we planned to reach Mysore before nightfall. We were back in Mysore by 7 pm. Exhausted from the day's outing we decided to stay at the hotel and spend some family time. There was some talk, some banter, some singing, dumb-charades and everything was captured on video. Nothing in the video, I hope, would ever make it public as it would be very embarrassing for some participants. Enough said on that topic.

Day 3 was supposed to be fairly simple and relaxed. On the list was ‘Mysore Palace’ and Infosys Mysore campus which has of late become quite a tourist attraction. We reached Mysore palace too early. It seems that it doesn't open till 11:30 am. We only caught a glimpse of the magnificent palace from outside before we had to skip ahead to the Infosys campus. Those who know me know that I used to work for Infosys not long back, my brothers (elder and younger) still do. So we got in and experienced first hand the spectacular architecture and facilities it had to offer. The office has in its campus a training center for over 5000 trainees along with hostel facilities for over 2000. It is also development center and has facilities such as multiplex, swimming pool, gymnasium, recreation center with pool, bowling alley, sauna, table tennis room, lawn tennis courts, badminton courts and the list goes on. It spans over 400 acres. I guess anyone who visits would be swept of their feet seeing such a spectacle. I recommend that you take any opportunity you get to see any of the Infosys campuses in Bangalore, Mysore, Pune or Chennai and you will see what I mean.
For more try ‘Infosys Mysore’ or ‘Infosys Bangalore’ image search on google
Or check out

After some time enjoying the luxurious facilities we ate lunch at the on campus restaurant. Funny thing happened there. I met a colleague from a client side that I have worked with for the past year and a half and though he had mentioned earlier (before I quit my job) that he might be visiting India, I couldn't in my wildest dream imagine we might bump into each other. And there we were. It’s a small world! Isn’t it?

Relaxed and entertained, we headed back to Bangalore later that evening.

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