Friday, December 28, 2012

From NCR to NCR! (India Wala to Amrican)

Sitting quietly in my apartment in Maryland at 5:30 in the morning, unable to sleep anymore tonight, I reflect back at the past few months. It is 12/12/12 today, supposedly a once in a lifetime experience, but I am quite living these once in a lifetime moments for the last few months.

I have wanted to write for some time, but alas, the strongest urge to write comes when you are alone, really alone, with no one else on your mind, but yourself. You then own yourself and give in completely to what you truly want.

The journey has been exciting, the least to say. From deciding to take the plunge, spending that extra 25% for the masters, convincing myself, convincing family and convincing N.P. Singh, all of it looks like a part of another world now.

Wait, am I flying? May be J But the flight has been serene, enriching and sometimes maddening too. Everyone said, you cannot quantify the benefits of an exchange program, now I know how true they were.
Boarding the flight to Washington, I was excited, yes. But I did not know what to expect.  Unlike my “pseudo European” friends, I had no itineraries prepared, no vast travel plans. I asked my peers, “So, why have you decided on US?” “Well I want to experience the US education system”. Hmm, that’s a good enough reason. But I wanted something more. Maybe I wanted to check if I can be on my own, search myself in these long (or maybe short) 4 months.

My onset into American land was marked with the introduction to the Maratha Gang, a group of 15 odd Mumbaikars, my room-mates and pseudo room-mates for the months to come. They were loud and loving, a little weird but very welcoming J. Thanks to them, I can tick “Understand Marathi” in the new forms I sign asking for language competencies :P.

I had never seen anything like The University of Maryland campus before. 37,000 students, 220 graduate/under graduate courses, 1250 acres of lush green campus. The campus is a city in itself. College shuttles, events, the STAMP became a daily affair. The Smith School was grand and elegant. The infrastructure needs to be seen to be believed. Bloomberg terminals, MAC labs, Case rooms: everything is available to the students all the time. Classes were rigorous and free of attendance, a great departure from what we’ve been subjected to throughout the academic routine. But the voluntary participation made the classes intense. The methodology and techniques are similar in all B Schools generally, but the class size was much smaller and discussions informal. The professors were different too. Hedge fund management was taught by a professional owning a company at the Wall Street! Management consultancy was taken by a professor having 15 years of experience with KPMG.

Sounds boring? :P Well there was plenty of fun too!

Joined by Manna and Vishal, we set to conquer the east coast, interspersed with classes of course! Our first destination was a tour to the National Capital, Washington DC.  A half an hour metro ride takes you to the political capital of the World! And since it was so close, it was the first of the many many visits to the architectural marvel, The Museums were free, and Manna was having fun :P The Walk across the Mall, The Capitol, Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial and of course the World War II memorial in the moon light, dunking donuts in George Washington University, Opera at JFK Centre, long long walks, infinite tours to the Union Station, The Gay Parade at Halloween, Haagen Daez Sundae at gallery Place, North Farragut fiasco, Catching the last train by a whisker, missing the last bus by a whisker, infinite mega bus moments, 2.5 mile walk across Anacostia waterfront to save a dollar (then spending it on a generous serving of donuts/sundae), the amazing buffets, DC baby you will be remembered, forever!
Between the DC visits, there was a lot more places to go. Niagara falls was another such one.  The serene beauty of the place is simply mesmerizing. It simply blows you away. The maid of the mist ride, the 360 degrees rainbow, the trek right under the falls, the night colors of the fall, the beauty needs to be seen to be believed. And it is said, this is nothing compared to the Canadian Side. Well, another trip is definitely due there.

Well, after a lot of travelling around, it was time for some adrenaline rush! Thanks, to HSC discounts, we got a half priced ticket entry to Six Flags. The Joker, Apocalypse,  Superman, Batman. Yay!! But the icing on the cake was the free fall experience and the near miss of the last Bus home. Lol. Who wanted to get to home that night :P

Next up was New York! The city that never sleeps. But we did sleep, ofcourse, in Lower Manhattan. A forced entry in a GS studio apartment, located right opposite World Peace Tower (Ground Zero). All for the price of 6 precious donuts :P. New York was crazy. Time at rocker fellor, the Empire State building, Times Square, Wall Street, Ground Zero, Hop On Hop Off Buses, the chill of the city, the freezing night, Hersheys, search for dunkin Donuts and finding it closed every time L, the non-stop chitter chatter, the $22 pizza L, meetings with old friends, Sunset at Manhattan, The Cruise, The Atlantic, the pride in calling  Delhi’s metro better than New York’s subway, every drop of the city pass was drained and utilized. The New York experience was priceless but alas we had to return.

Next in line was exploring the home town (well temporary home town), maryland. What a wonderful place it is. People don’t need to live in apartments; there are big houses with a porch. It does not snow here a lot. Its so close to Washington, connected via metro yet away from the hassles of the Business world. And the transport system is fabulous! We had a taste of it ;) Commuting 6 hours for a 2 hour Hindi movie, we’ve done that! The fall colors in the Campus and Greenbelt trail, the Artimisia lake and the quiet right in the middle of the city, the hour long trails back to college, Baltimore’s “Mis-red, Mis-Chief”, Annapolis harbor’s night time beauty, the ship (or fish) that nearly went through us :P, the church, the morning coffee, Alexandria’s old town feel, the Christmas d├ęcor, the mysterious yatches, Greenbelt’s countless movies, Shopping at 8 AM, the college shuttles, Federick’s $8 buffet, silver springs and the ben & jerry’s Choco therapy Tub.. you all will be missed!

Virgina was special. Finally went to the beach, though it was freaking cold. And it was my Birthday J. Lost my phone, saw snow, played with snow balls, felt rich with a Car to drive around, Shanendoah’s mountains, sugar loaf mountains, Birthday treat : pizza party in car, it was a rich vacation for us J

Pennsylvania presented us with Philadelphia and Pittsburg. Both very old cities and have a very rich history. Of course, The Dark Knight Rises was shot in Pittsburg, it would have a rich history!  Saw my first snowfall in pittsburg, a truly awesome experience. Highlight of the Philly trip : The chilly weather and the Samosa Chat that sailed us through :P

Food wise, tried a lot of cuisines there. Chinese (its sweet!), Thai( its extraaa sweet), Mangolian (Great experience at the Mangolian grill), Italian (of course the pizzas and the pastas! – from $6 to $22 paid everything and anything), Mexican (A real surprise : taco bell and Chipotle, a must for all veggies!), Authentic American (Thanks Chris for the awesome traditional thanksgiving dinner experience),  and Indian (ofcourse, the favourite!). But food comes second, the sweet tooth needs to be satiated first. From Cold Stone to Dunkin Donuts. It was all a routine :P

Apart from the travelling and the classes, I have learnt a lot on this 4 month vacation. I can live outside Delhi, without my family, which I never thought was possible. I do not want to enter Marketing. I am in love with dunkin donuts :P. I can cook decently and I enjoy it!

I want to travel the world and take each day as it comes. I am glad, I found an excellent friend on my 4 month vacation.