I dream often and I work harder to make them come true. Last summer, I lived a dream as I geared up for my wedding. Indian weddings are a gala affair. A compulsive planner, I designed clothes for myself and my family, crafted an invitation website, shopped for favors and the summer flew past in a frenzy. Dhruv and I married on 24th of June.
The month post our wedding was busier as we embarked on another dream together. Both of us had admits to Darden Graduate Business School. A month after our wedding, we came to Charlottesville, Virginia for our MBA. Charlottesville is a small and cozy city, known as home to two U.S. Presidents (Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe). Every nook and corner is picturesque. It has a very outdoorsy feeling and the right mix of rural and urban. Dhruv and I were happy to start our life together in such a beautiful place. Scenic Charlottesville made us believe that we’re indeed on a two-year honeymoon.
Time has never flown faster. Hard to believe, it’s only been a month here. We have had speakers from different industries and job functions at Darden to help us decide our career path. We have completed half a term and exams are due in two weeks. Recruiting for internship starts in a month’s time. Most of the time in my so-called honeymoon is spent in my learning team room, doing the cases with my team members. My coffee and liquor consumption for last one month tells me that I, indeed, am in a business school.
Last one month has been a roller-coaster. I always thought that I am immune to any sort of culture shock. Most of us who are well-accomplished in our respective lives feel the same. However, if you’re an international, trust me that it does require a lot of preparation to get the best out of your two years at Darden. A few experiences are worth mentioning…
- Reaching early..
This is lesson no. 1. Every minute is precious. You cannot waste your time figuring out furniture, cookware and grocery once the classes begin. Also, for internationals, living in a new country is a huge change. It’s bigger when you come to a business school. Socialising is the key here and it’ll be a lot easier if you’re familiar with the surroundings.
- PCAP and the epiphanies…
Against my own skepticism, I decided to reach Darden early and take the PCAP or Personal Career Assessment Program. I am glad that I took it. A business school is a window to the world of opportunities. The downside is, you may get lost. It helped me know myself, understand my priorities, and discover my blind spots. Coming to more tangible benefits, it has helped me frame my career plan and will be helpful in knowing about the prospective employers and ascertaining my fit with a role.
- The vineyards…
Charlottesville has lot of vineyards around. We went to one called Veritas before classes began. I’m not a wine connoisseur but love wine. The vineyards here are stunningly beautiful. Veritas particularly has a live band. We danced our hearts out and I taught Bollywood dancing to my American classmates.
- First coffee..
The classes start sharp at 8 A.M. I have been successful in reaching two to five minutes before 8 everyday. First coffee happens every morning at 9:30 AM, after the first class. This is a very ‘Darden’ ritual and hallmark of Darden’s collaborative culture. Moreover, it’s a huge relief for our sleep–deprived souls.
- Dressing up..
US culture on the whole is very casual. Still, people dress up (at least girls for sure!). In a business school, parties are a norm. At Darden, our weekend begins every night with the TNDC (Thursday night drinking club) and the parties go on. Also, there are a lot of company briefings and senior executives from the prospective recruiters coming over at first coffee. A tidy and smart look always makes a good beginning.
- The cultural mis(fit)
Recruiting for MBA works very differently. It’s geared a lot towards networking and the softer skills. Darden faculty has been immensely helpful in bridging the huge cultural gap that I face as an international. Darden offers tons of resources and opportunities at every step to acquaint us with American culture. From the ‘small talk’ sessions at International students orientation to the scavenger hunts with our learning teams, each experience has helped us bridge the gap.
- Learning teams
The curriculum at Darden requires us to do three cases every-day. We have a batch size of 320, divided into 5 sections. Every student is a part of 6 member learning team. The learning teams have students from different sections and backgrounds. We work on the cases assigned for the next day with our learning teams. This ensures that we not only learn from our own sections but benefit from discussions across sections. More importantly, it teaches us to perform in self-managed teams.
- Diversity @ Darden
My classmates at Darden come from 30 nationalities. It’s one of most uniquely global experiences of my life. I have learnt so many interesting facts about other cultures. For instance, a French classmate and his wife told us that French talk about their food and the ingredients while they eat. At Darden, we learn from each other. The classroom study is completely case based. I look forward to the classes every morning for all the diversity that I gain from.
While Dhruv and I are cruising through our days at Darden at a supersonic pace, the honeymoon-ish feelings disappear often. However, it’s still awesome to be busy together. It’s lot more comforting to go through this huge transformation with someone who loves me and is always there to encourage me. While the honeymoon still lasts for me, I’ll leave you with an amusing video to ponder over my post and wonder what goes into a MBA.